Sunday, December 31, 2017

2017, A Recap

Below is my traditional month by month recap for 2017.


A small glimpse of the remodel.
From the moment I moved into what was supposed to be "our" house, the Narcissist made it extremely clear that I was an inconvenience to him, disrupting his life. He told me I needed to move out on January 26th, 2017, the same day that I officially turned over the keys to the apartment.


After the "Reno Run 4 Love."
February was devoted to volunteering with the local FRC team. I welcomed it as a distraction, as things at home were not going well. The Narcissist and I also ran a four mile race together. I was hoping it would be a fresh start, but he had drastically different plans.


Just chilling with my Olive Thief in my own apartment.
It is safer to live alone than to live with someone who does not want you.
The Narcissist continued to make it very clear that he wanted out of our marriage. Shortly after our third wedding anniversary, I realized I needed to give him what he wanted because my life was on the line. His abuse crossed undeniably into the physical realm when he went to inject my Solu-Cortef straight into a bone on March 10th, 2017.

I had to escape and escape fast. I moved into a casino for a few days as I started the proceedings for a divorce. Eventually, I was able to pick up keys to my own apartment with the incredible support of my family and a few friends.


I am Clearly Alive.
April was dedicated to surviving the minefield of divorcing a Narcissistic abuser. Dear readers, I hope you never have to experience that. It is beyond terrifying. But I am Clearly Alive.


I love my family. I could not have escaped without their support.
On May 11th, 2017, the judge signed the divorce decree making it legal and binding. Later in the month, I visited Texas for a work conference. This allowed me to meet up with my family afterwards.


When fleeing an abusive narcissist, I had to abandon a great deal of personal property.
I moved back to Texas in a single Relo-cube and a loaded up Toyota Matrix. 
I left Nevada in June. My employer understood my situation and fully supported my move to safety. My parents helped me finish packing up what limited items I was able to recover after the divorce. Before I left, I was able to visit Tahoe one last time to say good-bye. It thanked me by snowing. In. June.


Disneyland!!!! Where I am celebrating my Freedom.
To start out July, I attended Kaboom Town by myself. I am Amber Nicole. And I am back. I also sought professional counseling to help process the trauma from the past few years. Towards the end of the month, I made a trip to California to visit my parents, explore Six Flags Magic Mountain, see Disneyland, and ride bicycles along the beach.


Clearly Alive and FREE!
I was finally able to swim in the ocean with my cortisol pump.
In August, I met up with my mom in Florida. I was able to experience a life long dream of mine, however the severe sunburn did require a trip to the emergency room for IV fluids. The ER staff was amazing and they validated my decision to escape my covertly physically abusive marriage.


Hanging out with former coworkers at Oktoberfest.
These guys were around during the Nightmare Crisis of 2013.
So many things have changed since then.
September was filled with multiple job interviews in multiple states. While traveling to one of those interviews, I had a less than pleasant encounter with the TSA. The end result was a HUGE win for advocacy efforts, with 47,000 people receiving information on Adrenal Insufficiency. I was also able to attend Oktoberfest with former co-workers. At the end of the month, I accepted an incredible job offer that relocated me to a new state.


My mom and I carving pumpkins.
October marked my first month at my new job. I have a wonderful manager, supportive team, and a role where I am able to shine. I did have to visit a local ER for IV fluids, which was supposed to set me up with a local endocrinologist. However, that doctor was uncomfortable treating me due to my cortisol pump. My parents visited me for my birthday, and it filled their hearts with so much joy to see me thriving in my new location. I also was given the birthday gift of OVER 250,000 blog views! To my Clearly Alive community, thank you.


On a three mile run / hike.
In November, I completed two 5k's, winning awards in both of them. I also started an oil painting class. One of the ladies from that class graciously invited me to spend Thanksgiving with her wonderful family. I added to my own little family with the adoption of Henry Glitch, but I did end up back in the ER for more IV fluids. November also marked the 5th anniversary of this blog.


Cortisol pump strapped to my arm. Blue skies in the background.
Ready for adventure.
On my last day in the office for 2017, I was giving a coworker the spark note version of this past year. He confessed he had no idea how I survived so much. He looked at me straight in the eyes and passionately stated "2017 has set you up for an absolutely amazing 2018."

I wanted to cry as I allowed his words to sink in. There were several times this past year that I honestly did not believe I would make it. But I did. I celebrated Christmas with my family before my mom and I headed out on our seven day cruise in the Caribbean. Although, I did have to make another pit stop in another ER for IV fluids the day before I got on the boat.

As for 2018? Heart says it best: "ONWARD to GOOD THINGS!"

My motto for 2018.

Here are my recaps for 201620152014, and 2013.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

The Christmas Tree

A year ago, I hosted Christmas. It was a very chaotic time in my life due to the Narcissist, and I was unsure of what buried memories lay hidden in the box of decorations. I was dreading opening it this year, but ultimately decided I could do it with the help of an extremely playful kitten. My recent journey has been about creating new, healthy, safe memories. I was going to dive in and open this box.

I can do this.
This year, I had to purchase a new Christmas tree. Because I am living in an apartment, I opted for a 7ft pencil tree that came pre-lit. With Adrenal Insufficiency, it's all about saving spoons. A skinny tree that can be assembled in less than ten minutes was perfect for me.

Kitten has never seen a tree before.
As I was assembling my new tree, I realized that Mr Henry Glitch has never experienced Christmas before. This became quite obvious when he continuously pounced on each section as I removed it from the box. He did not know what this new thing was, but he was determined to defend his territory and attack it!

Every light is a potential toy that should be eaten.
For the past five years, I have created a picture ornament representing a happy time during that year. My family had that tradition growing up, and I decided to continue it. As I did not have the desire or the strength to unwrap my photo ornaments this year, they remained in the box. Perhaps next year, but for this year, the wound is still too fresh.

Tail! Tail! Tail!
Fortunately, the smaller tree has the benefit of requiring fewer ornaments to look fully decorated. I only unpacked the ornaments from my very first tree, which were a combination of Wal-Mart and Target final clearance. I even removed the ornaments on the lower portion of the tree as an attempt to reduce temptation for the kitten.

Too much stimulation. Kitten is exhausted.
Since I am being honest, I know that it is only a matter of time before Henry Glitch topples this tree to the ground. But, when he does, it won't matter because all of the ornaments are indestructible. My Olive Thief already tested them when he knocked down my tree in 2012.

At first, I was mad.
And then I realized I had a cat COVERED in glitter.
Any time I looked at my sparkly cat, I just laughed.
I was able to unpack some of the Christmas decorations, but not all. That is ok. Perhaps next year, I'll be more ready. However, this year, I do have an absolutely gorgeous tree complete with two fur-babies who add much joy to my life. And that is more than enough.

The guardian of the tree. Beware of his judgmental glare.
Merry Christmas, Y'all!

Saturday, December 2, 2017

A 5k in the Cold

I mentioned to a coworker that I was thinking about running a few miles on the dread-mill over the weekend to celebrate my six months of freedom. He asked why a dread-mill when there was another local 5k? I did not care that I only found out about the race the day before or that I would be running it alone. I drove to packet pickup less than twenty-four hours before the race and registered.

Rocking another Zazzle awareness item before the race.
I am still getting used to this weird season called fall. Most of the previous places I've lived only have summer and mild winter. From what I gather, fall means that you are going to freeze in the morning, be comfortable at lunch and then freeze at night. This race was in the morning. I froze.

Photo is from before the race. My nose was already numb.
There were two paramedics on bicycles for the race. I did go up to speak to one of them, but it was not to test their knowledge of Adrenal Insufficiency. I wanted a picture of my zazzle shirt and my sweet running pants.

Once again, I sprinted across the finish line. But there was no runner to pass. I was racing against myself, seeking that unexplainable joy.

Joy. Pure joy whenever I finish a race.
After the race, I found the sheet of paper where the times of everyone were posted, but something was wrong. I could not find my name. This concerned me, so I went over to the timing booth and asked about it. Because I had registered so late, my name was not yet associated with my bib number. But the man in the timing booth would fix it. He also mentioned I should probably stick around for the awards ceremony.

I won second in my age group!
Although I ran this 5k twenty seconds faster than my 5k with a mission, I did not run it fast enough to claim gold. Instead, I was awarded the silver medal. I am enjoying running in a significantly less competitive market than Dallas. Not only have I been able to return to one of my loves, I keep receiving tangible rewards for my efforts. It's some pretty good motivation for me to keep at it.

Another medal to add to the collection!

Saturday, November 25, 2017

A 5k with a Mission

One of my coworkers asked if I was interested in running a local 5k. Of course I said yes! Since moving, I have been able to more regularly run. I am working on building back up my running base. I would love to be able to try to touch some of my PR times from before my Nightmare Crisis in 2013.

At the start, rocking my Zazzle shirt.
This was my first race since the Reno Run 4 Love back in February. It was a very enjoyable course and it allowed me to view some of downtown. Though the end of the race was entirely uphill. Thank you, race directors.

Us crazy kids were smiling as we ran uphill.
I was just so happy to be able to run.
I had warned my coworker that I love to sprint at the end of the race. Some races I am able to sprint faster than others, but I never cross that finish line without giving it my all. As we rounded the last corner, he told me the finish line was up ahead. If I was going to kick at the end, I should do it now. I headed his advice and went for it.

She's smiling as she gracefully crosses the finish line.
Meanwhile, I sneak up on her from behind and BEAT HER!
When I sprint at the end, I am not doing it win the race or better my time. I do it because I get to experience an unexplainable joy. I am accomplishing something that I previously viewed as unobtainable due to my disease. Though, if I happen to pass someone in the last 100 ft of the race, and if that happens to make the difference between first and second place in my age group, you will not find me complaining.

All smiles after the race.
I did not realize that I won my age division until later that night. My coworker and I did not stick around for awards because we wanted to eat breakfast at an amazing diner that accommodates gluten free. A good race requires good food and good fellowship at the finish.

Rocking my Zazzle race shirt and my grif-grips pump protector.
These past few years have been filled with ample unknowns and uncertainty. I was forced to pack my life up into boxes over two years ago, and I am just now allowed the freedom to unpack. With that freedom, I am also able to rediscover some of my favorite activities. One of those activities is running. As for the prize for winning my age division? I don't think it could be any more perfect.

Clearly Alive.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Introducing Henry Glitch

When I first met my Olive Thief, he was so small he had to be bottle fed. He was an orphan found with his two brothers in the wall of our welding lab at my university.

My first sighting of the runt, with the most pathetic squeak.
SMAW is climbing on his back.
I fell instantly in love with him and knew I had to have him.

Try to say no to that face.
If you have a heart, it's impossible.
Over the years, he has been blessed with friendships from a multitude of different fur-babies. The one that influenced his personality the most was that first dog. Mr Darcy taught my Olive Thief important lessons such as "Growl at the door when you hear a strange noise" and "It's not polite to fight with claws." Also, "If you ever need water, just drink from the toilet."

Mr Darcy, thank you for your amazing influence on my kitty.
A few years later, my Olive Thief had the opportunity to spend a couple of months with my cats from high school. They were not quite sure what to make of the rambunctious thing that disrupted their routine.

Missy, being a typical calico, was less than thrilled about the new addition.
Buddy was open to playing.
As I started my career, I took Buddy and my Olive Thief back with me. They were able to develop a deeper friendship after the separation of the diva calico.

Sweet babies.
Before I moved to Malaysia, I returned Buddy to my parents and the Olive Thief stayed with a friend. My Olive Thief was without another furry friend for over a year. He then was introduced to the sweetest of dogs. She was so relaxed around him, even though he constantly wanted to play.

Tail! Tail! Tail! I will attack the tail!
Sweet Echo just sleeps on.
A few months later, I was able to foster two additional cats. While Miss Charlotte had zero desire to do anything with my Olive Thief, Toby became good friends with him. It was similar to his companionship with Buddy, which it filled my heart with joy.

Occasionally, Miss Charlotte would play nicely with my Olive Thief.

That black ball of fluff is Toby. He needed his ears cleaned.
My living situation changed and I had to leave that state as soon as possible. I temporarily moved to a location that introduced my Olive Thief to two additional dogs.

Eventually, they learned how to share the human.
I state all that to give y'all background. I have a social kitty that has lived with four different cats and four different dogs. He does better in a community. Now that my life has stabilized, I decided it was time to give him a friend. Dear readers, I would like to introduce Henry Glitch.

This sweet boy is five months old.
I cannot wait to see what sort of adventures are in his future as he joins our Clearly Alive family.

I already know that they are going to be good friends.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Why Blog? Five Years Later.

Five years ago I published my first post on this blog.

My name is Amber, and I live with an incurable disease. How's that for a conversation starter?

Five years later, I am still starting conversations. I am still choosing life. I am still choosing optimism. And I am still choosing to share some of my stories here.

I am still Clearly Alive.

I will admit that it has been quite an adventure, with a few unexpected turns.

For example, I have lived in eight locations, three states, and two countries.

I have also had eight endocrinologists, three of them were horrible, and two of them were amazing.

I got married.
Three years later, I found myself escaping an abusive marriage.
I will admit that was never in the original plans. But I am both free and safe now.

With regards to my adrenal insufficiency...

Four years ago, we discovered that the Sodium Lauryl Sulfate in Qualitest hydrocortisone was poisoning me and it almost killed me. That one blog post alone has 25,000 views and way too many people stating "Me too."

On a more positive note, two years ago with the help of some of my engineering friends, I launched my theoretical steroid curve plotter tool. That tool has been used almost 10,000 times and has enabled many to achieve a higher quality of life.

I gained access to the cortisol pump a few years ago and learned a completely new method of treatment for this disease. With that, I discovered how much cortisol influences every area of the body.

Most recently, I had an adventure with the TSA that will result in 47,000 people learning about Adrenal Insufficiency. I am incredibly humbled by that.

And now?

I am six months post divorce.
I have an absolutely amazing engineering job where I am well respected.
I have a crazy kitty that still tries to steal my black olives.
I am thriving on the cortisol pump.

I look forward to continuing to learn about Adrenal Insufficiency and to share some of those stories with y'all.

After all, I am still Clearly Alive.
And I challenge y'all to join in with me.
Let's see where this adventure leads.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

The Retrieval of the Olive Thief

After the divorce from my abuser was finalized, there was no pressing reason for me to remain in Nevada. I decided to move back to Texas to be surrounded by family while I sought new employment.

After months of closed doors and promising interviews that led to no where, I accepted an absolutely amazing engineering position at a reputable company. The job required an out of state move, and a rather rapid one because they wanted me to start as soon as possible.

I packed up a few suitcases and traveled with my aunt to the new state but my Olive Thief could not travel with me for the initial move. I secured keys to my own place as soon as possible so that I could return to pick up my cat. He is a critical member of the Clearly Alive family and I did not want to be separated from him any longer than absolutely necessary.

I've had this cat since he was this size.
He and his two brothers were orphans found in the wall of the welding lab at my university.
I decided to do a turn-around trip in order to fly him to my new home. My flight to Dallas was at 8AM. My flight from Dallas was at 7PM, on the same day. In between landing and leaving, I would pick up the kitty. That's a challenging itinerary for someone with fully functional adrenal glands and I was about to attempt it solo. But I needed my Olive Thief.

In my correspondence with the Disability Branch of the TSA, I learned of a special program designed to help people with disabilities navigate TSA security:
"TSA Cares is a helpline for travelers with disabilities and medical conditions. TSA Cares agents have received special training to provide callers with specific information about the screening of travelers with disabilities and medical conditions. In addition, you may provide a TSA Cares agent with a flight itinerary before upcoming travel. The agent will notify TSA officials at the airports to allow them to prepare for your screening and assist you through the screening checkpoint. You can contact TSA Cares toll free at 855-787-2227 (Federal Relay 711) from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. EST from Monday to Friday and 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. EST on weekends and holidays. We strongly recommend that you contact TSA Cares no later than 72 hours before travel.

The Passenger Support Specialist (PSS) program was created to assist passengers with disabilities and medical conditions. Passenger Support Specialists receive specialized disability training, including how to assist and communicate with individuals with disabilities. Although they are not always available, the goal is to have a PSS in the vicinity of an airport’s checkpoints to provide proactive assistance and resolve traveler-related screening concerns. You can request a PSS at the checkpoint, or you can ask for the assistance of a Supervisory Transportation Security Officer."
This trip would be a perfect opportunity to try out these two services. I had no fear about my flight to Dallas, but I was incredibly nervous about my flight back with a cat. I did not want to introduce myself to any paramedics. I called TSA Cares.

The man I spoke with recorded my name, flight itinerary, and my concerns. He stated that when I got to the first TSO who is checking ID's, I should ask for a Passenger Support Specialist or a Supervisor. The officer will help me through security and there should be no issues.

The flight to Dallas was uneventful. I had to wait longer than I would have preferred at the rental car counter but eventually I was on my way to retrieve my kitty.

"I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you.
Now stop leaving me!"
It took me one week to pick him up and bring him home.
I decided to return to the airport ridiculously early in case there was an issue going through security.

Waiting in line at security.
If the cat is in a blacked out carrier, his anxiety levels decrease.
At the ID station, I showed the TSO my disability card. On the back of the disability card, I have taped an educational card provided by Adrenal Insufficiency United. This makes it more difficult for TSA to ignore information about Adrenal Insufficiency. I told the TSO that I had called ahead using the TSA Cares line and I requested a PSS or a Supervisor in order to assist me going through security with my cat.

I printed this off after my encounter with the seasoned TSO.
Sometimes I show it, sometimes I do not.
It depends on how I am feeling.
The TSO called for a supervisor because their particular check point did not have any Passenger Support Specialists. When the supervisor arrived, I informed him I have a medical device, a serious medical condition, and that I would like to opt out of the scanners. I was also traveling with a cat and I did not want to cause any trouble going through security. I disclosed how one of my recent encounters with a seasoned TSO required the intervention of paramedics, and I would prefer to avoid a repeat experience.

He treated me with the utmost respect and allowed the Olive Thief to return back into the safety of his carrier as quickly as possible. Once again, my suitcase was flagged for a secondary search. I believe some airports are now hand searching every bag that contains food. I was allowed to observe their screen, and they actually requested that I unlock my suitcase for them.

Once my bag was cleared, I received a pat down. My pump site was visible in the back of my arm, and the TSO completing the pat down had no issues. It took perhaps a total of ten minutes to clear all of security, with a cat.

"Please tell me you're taking me to a better place."
My Olive Thief was quite popular at the airport. Many people had never seen a cat on a harness with a leash before. I had one lady ask if she could take a picture of him to send back to her daughter. I had no idea I was traveling with such a celebrity!

Cat on a leash in my lap.
My face is slightly puffy here due to increased steroids.
I definitely upped my dose for this full day of travel!
The flight back, the Olive Thief was completely silent. He felt safe and secure in his carrier, which was actually lined with one of my pillow cases. This was actually his fifth flight in his six years of life. I remember when I told that to the veterinary technician, her response was "Your cat has flown more than me!"

"Just because I can fly, doesn't mean I like to fly.
Can we stop moving? Please?"
By self identifying to multiple TSOs before the security screening began, I increased the probability of being treated appropriately. I do not like to view Primary Adrenal Insufficiency as a disability, but truthfully, it is. Because it is a disability, we gain access to additional resources.

The presence of the supervisor and his help with my luggage drastically reduced the amount of stress of the experience. If any of those in the Clearly Alive community are apprehensive about traveling through airports, call TSA Cares. Ask for a Passenger Support Specialist. Ask for a supervisor to help you through the process. You have a medical condition, and there is no shame in requesting reasonable accommodations.

Will I utilize this service again? Maybe? It depends on the situation surrounding my flight. Most of the time, I have absolutely no issue navigating security. However, I do know that these resources exist and I will not hesitate to utilize them when necessary. I encourage y'all to do the same.

PS- Kitty was ecstatic to finally arrive at his new home.

We have a very happy Olive Thief.