‘Tis the Season

Thanksgiving snuck up on me this year. Not that there weren’t enough hints. Two weeks ago, as I sat in my optometrist’s office, Christmas carols wafted through the waiting room. Since then, I’ve noticed Santa statues guarding the aisles at CVS, holiday wreathes decking the doors at Home Depot and Black Friday sales clogging my email.

Oh, wait, was I talking about Thanksgiving?

Hard to know which season it is, or to remember what the holiday is supposed to be about. You don’t even see those hokey turkey decorations anymore in stores—you know, the ones with the cardboard heads and tails connected by honeycombed crepe paper bodies—or garlands of fake autumn leaves. As soon as the pumpkins and Halloween candy go on mark-down, the Christmas decorations come out. Given the commercial Black Friday competition, I’m betting it won’t be long before we’re confronted with holiday mega-sales starting November 1.

The weather is no help, either. Although we avoided the crazy snow that whomped Buffalo this past week, the polar vortex that swept through New England threatened to turn November into January. I now have seven ulcers on my fingers and one persistent sore on my inside right ankle. I am going through bandages like confetti. Some of these ulcers developed weeks before the freezing weather, but several emerged in the past few days, despite my best efforts to protect my hands. Way, way too cold for this time of year, and my fingers are not happy.

A reader recently suggested taking a vacation in Hawaii. This idea has some appeal.

Even as frigid temps made me cranky last week, however, we’re now enjoying a mild interlude before a Nor’easter that could bring at least a half-foot of snow by Wednesday evening. Thank goodness I already put the snow tires on my Prius.

Snow or no snow, I’m looking forward to the approaching holiday. Every year, we get together with our cousins for a wonderful meal, football games on the flatscreen TV and the comfort of family and friendships. And I have much to be grateful for. . . .

Our daughters are both thriving in their respective graduate school programs.

I have a full plate of work for wonderful clients.

We have a beautiful home on a quiet street with good neighbors who wave and say hello as I walk Ginger around the block.

Ginger is 16 and still has “pep in her step,” as our vet notes, with amazement.

Al has made it through yet another sale of the hospital where he is a social worker, and despite the less-than-desirable health insurance provided by his new employer, we have managed to cover our deductibles for my medical expenses (at least, so far).

I’m holding my own with my health. It never gets easier, but I have enough experience with scleroderma that I can figure out work-arounds when my hands aren’t cooperating or my feet need extra support or my body just needs more rest or time to do whatever it is I’m trying to do.

I am blessed with loving family, good friends, a supportive synagogue community and enough resources to live a modest, comfortable life. I have access to some of the best medical care in the world, right in my own backyard. I work for myself, set my own pace and own my own time.

And I can write.

Time for Thanksgiving, indeed.

Photo Credit: smilla4 via Compfight cc

Evelyn Herwitz blogs weekly about living fully with chronic disease, the inside of baseballs, turtles and frogs, J.S. Bach, the meaning of life and whatever else she happens to be thinking about at livingwithscleroderma.com.

In Praise of Naps

It’s 2:30 in the afternoon on a dreary, rainy Monday, and my brain is going on strike. I have spent the morning meeting with clients near Boston, which required more than two hours of commuting in a steady downpour, followed by an hour-long phone appointment when I got back home. The conversations were all meaningful, stimulating and productive.

But now I can’t fathom the idea of sitting at my desk for the rest of the afternoon, and I have a lot of work to do. So I set the timer on my iPhone for 20 minutes, lie down on the couch with a cozy blanket, and go to sleep. I wake up a few minutes before the timer sounds, totally refreshed. My mind is completely clear. What a gift.

Years ago, when I was in grad school, I first discovered my mental low point between 2:30 and 3:30 p.m. (unfortunately, back then, I had a class during that hour, and even though I found the content fascinating, I struggled to stay awake). This circadian cycle is offset 12 hours later—if I wake around 2:30 a.m., I can’t get back to sleep until at least 4:00 a.m.

When I was in the early stages of scleroderma, freelancing as a writer, I had to take a nap nearly every afternoon. The disease was exhausting, and there was simply no way to get through the day otherwise. It’s been decades since that phase, and even as I’m often tired mid-afternoon, I usually power through. Often, it helps to walk Ginger. Fresh air works wonders for the mind.

But I realized from my experience Monday afternoon that it pays dividends to listen more closely when my body is trying to tell me to lie down. I’ve resisted naps for a long time, in part because I don’t want to lose precious hours to sleep, and in part, because I don’t want to backtrack to those early years of illness.

Twenty minutes is a perfect interval for a nap. I’m tempted to call it a “power nap,” but that phrase suggests you need to justify napping, so as not to seem lazy. Really, it just felt good—not too short to make me feel even more weary, and not to long to make me feel wasted for the rest of the day. I returned to my desk, ready to get to work, and made it through my entire task list with great efficiency.

I don’t expect to take a nap every afternoon. It all depends on what I’m doing and how I’m feeling. But I certainly won’t think of it as slacking off or backsliding with my scleroderma. I will consider it a worthwhile investment in my health, well-being and ability to do what I need to do. Not bad for 20 minutes.

Image Credit: “Our Sleeping Beauty,” by J.S. Pughe (1870-1909), illus. from Puck, vol. 41, no. 1041 (1897 February 17), cover. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Evelyn Herwitz blogs weekly about living fully with chronic disease, the inside of baseballs, turtles and frogs, J.S. Bach, the meaning of life and whatever else she happens to be thinking about at livingwithscleroderma.com.

Around the Block

I’m not yet used to earlier sunsets. It always takes me a few weeks to adjust when we turn back the clocks for standard time. On Friday afternoon, I was running around, trying to finish errands before sundown, which heralds our Shabbat observance, and just made it home as dusk settled. Whew.

Back to my desk on Monday, I lost track again, this time because I was immersed in my writing, only to realize it was nearly 4 o’clock in the afternoon and I had not yet walked Ginger. I should have taken her out when it was brighter and warmer after lunch, but she needed the exercise. I did, too.

So, despite the darkening, chilly fall afternoon (for me—others I passed were in fleece vests or zip-up jackets), I donned my down winter coat and a hat, clipped Ginger’s leash to her collar and headed out the door.

A lungful of fresh air immediately helped to clear my brain, woolly with words. Ginger paused by the huge pile of dried leaves in front of our curb to explore the many and varied, fascinating scents. Our walks take longer this time of year, until all the leaves have fallen and city streets are swept clean. I have to urge her to keep walking so my hands don’t go numb.

“That dog is amazing,” commented our neighbor, walking her puffy little pooch in the opposite direction. Our white-faced golden is 16, but still can pull me down the street if she has a mind to. My neighbor’s dog decided to lie down in the street and watch us, but Ginger, whose nose is better than her ears and eyes, ignored it and kept on snuffling, leading me slowly forward.

Around the corner, two boys in shirtsleeves shot hoops in a driveway. Everything glowed with a deep orange patina—the piles of rakings along either side of the street, the Norway maples that still clung to a few golden leaves, Ginger’s fur, the errant basketball that rolled across our path. “How are you?” asked the boy as he ran to retrieve it. We exchanged pleasantries, and he loped back to his game.

A friend wisely observed over the weekend that all the frightening headlines (Ebola! ISIS! Washington Gridlock! Climate Change!) that describe a world in seeming collapse don’t really square with everyday experience. Most people are good. Many strangers can be trusted. A 12-year-old boy can be polite to a woman walking her old dog around the block.

As we rounded the next corner and headed up a slight hill, the sky turned salmon and violet. For a few astounding seconds, the trees and leaves seemed infused with an etherial, rose light. If I hadn’t left the house with Ginger at the exact, too-late moment, kicking myself for forgetting about the time change, I would have missed it.

Home again, dark settling in, I rubbed Ginger’s ears and thanked her for inspiring me to get out of the house. Sometimes the best part of the day is the part you wanted to avoid.

Evelyn Herwitz blogs weekly about living fully with chronic disease, the inside of baseballs, turtles and frogs, J.S. Bach, the meaning of life and whatever else she happens to be thinking about at livingwithscleroderma.com.

Au Naturel

Every fall, as the days grow shorter and the temperatures sink, I start looking for a new sweater to add to my collection. This can be a challenge. While there are plenty of warm-looking sweaters on store racks, especially as the holiday shopping season fast approaches, you have to be a fiber detective to be certain they’re really worth buying.

The less expensive the sweater, the more likely it’s made of synthetic materials, such as nylon or acrylic. Pretty as that pullover or cardigan may appear in the store, and attractive as the price tag may seem, it’s usually not worth the purchase. Not only do synthetics wear out faster with repeated washings—they really don’t keep you warm.

I’ve learned from many buying mistakes that polyesters and their man-made fiber cousins trap perspiration, which only exacerbates my Raynaud’s—chilling my body and numbing my hands.

So I always read labels inside the garment before buying a sweater. My latest find was a wool/alpaca blend, three-quarter-length taupe sweater by Ellen Tracy for $49 at TJ Maxx. I wore it for several long days over the past weekend and stayed comfortable through hot/cold cycling of heating systems in private homes and board rooms. Definitely a worthwhile purchase.

A good wool sweater, with proper care, will last for decades. I have three long-sleeve cashmere sweaters that I bought at Bloomingdales about 20 years ago that are only now wearing through at the elbows. They were investment buys back then, but I certainly got my money’s worth of wear.

Best fibers for sweaters, in my book, are wool and cotton. Rayon, which is man-made but derived from wood pulp, and silk, are favorites for blouses. Linen is also worth considering as long as you don’t mind wrinkles. All natural fibers have the wondrous ability to wick away sweat and allow your body to breathe—essential for moderating body temperature and avoiding chills.

Layering, of course, is the other key to staying comfortably warm in winter. But layering synthetics with natural fiber garments essentially traps air and cancels out any advantage of the breathable fabric.

So here’s to all those wonderful, warm clothes derived from nature’s bounty. Thank you, sheep, for your wool that keeps my body from going numb this winter season—and many winters to come!

Photo Credit: kygp via Compfight cc

Evelyn Herwitz blogs weekly about living fully with chronic disease, the inside of baseballs, turtles and frogs, J.S. Bach, the meaning of life and whatever else she happens to be thinking about at livingwithscleroderma.com.

Social Graces

Who ever invented the practice of eating at a party while you’re standing up? I enjoy social gatherings with friends and family for special occasions, but I am a klutz when it comes to balancing hors d’oeuvres plate, napkin, utensils, plus a drink, all while milling about in a crowd and chatting.

It’s gotten to the point that I often stick to just a glass of wine or seltzer, and pass on the finger food. I can’t eat without drinking, or I risk problems swallowing. And I can’t manage the plate and the drink with my hands, and still eat, without risk of dropping everything. As for the finger food, with so many bandages, I don’t like eating with my hands, anyway, especially if the food is drippy or the least bit oily.

This is not the most serious problem in the world, certainly. But it is a challenge, and I do feel awkward unless I can find a place to sit and enjoy the nosh, or at least one of those high tables that are designed for standing and eating at a party.

Portable food courses are, I suppose, just another way our casual lifestyle finds expression. Why be constrained by formal seating arrangements when it’s fun to mingle and eat at the same time? When I was younger and my hands worked, this was fine.

But the older I get, and the less nimble my hands become, I really do prefer a sit-down meal. Even party buffets, when you take a plateful of food and find yourself a seat on the couch or a chair, create coordination challenges. Balancing a plate on my lap while trying to manipulate knife and fork, especially if they are made of plastic, is a recipe for a spill. It’s hard enough to grasp the thin plastic utensils, let alone apply enough pressure to cut food with the so-called knife, without sending the food skidding onto my good clothes or the floor.

That said, my solutions for party-eating logistics are as follows:

  • Don’t load up your plate. Less to cut, less to spill and, of course, less risk of overeating.
  • Find a quiet corner where you won’t get jostled while you eat. This also addresses a second issue having nothing to do with scleroderma and everything to do with aging—I have increasing difficulty hearing what someone is saying when there is a lot of background noise.
  • Even better, find a seat in a quiet corner with a table where you can rest your drink while you eat.
  • Best of all, invite your closest friends at the party to join you in your above-mentioned quiet little corner. That way you can enjoy your food, your drink and a good conversation. If you spill something, your friends won’t care. And they’ll help you clean it up.

Image Credit: Le Sortie de l’opéra en l’an 2000, Albert Robida, c. 1882, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, courtesy publicdomainreview.org.

Evelyn Herwitz blogs weekly about living fully with chronic disease, the inside of baseballs, turtles and frogs, J.S. Bach, the meaning of life and whatever else she happens to be thinking about at livingwithscleroderma.com.

Clean Hands, Warm Heart

Somewhere I once read that Donald Trump’s aides carry alcohol wipes for him, so he can clean his hands after every handshake. I don’t know if it’s true, but he has a reputation as a germophobe, so I wouldn’t put it past him.

sanitizerMuch as I don’t want to have anything in common with The Donald (although the equivalent of even a small percentage of his fortune would certainly be nice), I, too, am in the habit of cleaning my hands frequently when I’m in public.

In my case, however, I have a good excuse. I have far too many digital ulcers that provide super highways for bacterial infections, if I’m not careful.

So I am. Careful. Almost to the point of being obsessive/compulsive.

Recently I’ve been using mass transit more often when I have commitments in downtown Boston. Driving and parking can take up to an hour-and-a-half each way, sometimes even longer, depending on traffic. Taking the train enables me to get work done instead of wasting all that time driving. It’s also much more relaxing. But I never travel without my little bottle of antiseptic hand-cleaner.

I’m always cognizant of when my hands touch surfaces that many other hands have touched—like door handles between train cars or escalator handrails on the way to the T (Boston’s subway) or those straps or metal poles that you need to grab in order to stay upright when the subway jolts and jerks. When I arrive at my destination, out comes the hand-cleaner.

Other points of contact that make me wary: ATM consoles, those ubiquitous ball-point pens that are always handed to you for signing your credit card slips, doors to public buildings and magazines in doctor’s waiting rooms. Once I’m back in my car, out comes the hand-cleaner. I also keep my own pens at the ready.

Public restrooms, of course, are high on the list. I recently saw a video clip of The Doctors talk show that discussed where the most germs reside. It’s not the first stall, by the way. We all avoid that one. It’s not even the toilet seat. It’s the toilet paper dispenser. Think about it. Then there’s the door handle on your way out. So, my latest solution is to pour some hand-cleaner in my palm as I leave and rub it into my hands as I walk. (Washing my hands with soap and water doesn’t work because I have too many bandages.)

If all of this sounds a bit paranoid, well, maybe so. But I have had far, far too many serious bacterial infections in my fingers over the years. The pain can be excruciating. Sometimes I have ended up on IV antibiotics for months. Thankfully, it’s been a long time since that’s happened, and part of the reason, I am certain, is that I’m so careful.

My method is not foolproof. And I go through a lot of hand-cleaner. But the bottom line is that it certainly doesn’t hurt. And as long as I’m not insulting anyone by whipping out my hand-cleaner after a handshake, then why not? Minimizing infections—and excessive use of antibiotics—is well worth being a tad obsessive. Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean that bacteria isn’t out to get you.

Photo Credit: coolmikeol via Compfight cc

Evelyn Herwitz blogs weekly about living fully with chronic disease, the inside of baseballs, turtles and frogs, J.S. Bach, the meaning of life and whatever else she happens to be thinking about at livingwithscleroderma.com.

Just a Cold

I’m kvetchy. I have a cold, and I feel crummy. I know there are many more serious maladies out there, and this too shall pass and all that, but right now, my nose is stuffy and I’m schlepping around with a box of tissues and a plastic bag in hand because I’m going through the tissues so fast, and I’m coughing and sneezing and, and . . .

4048824638_c249f3e4e6_oOne of the things I hate most about colds is how they set off my Raynaud’s and joint aches in the first 48 hours. I also hate struggling to breathe at night and not getting a good night’s sleep. My nose is so narrowed by scleroderma that nasal congestion can be a real challenge.

And I hate being in the middle of cooking and realizing my nose is dripping and having to stop what I’m doing, grab a tissue, blow, toss it, clean my hands so I don’t make the rest of the family sick, then go back to what I was doing, only to have to repeat the same rigamarole a few minutes later.

And I hate coughing so much that I can’t finish the meal I just cooked.

But most of all, I hate the fact that everyone refers to this condition as “just a cold.” Because minimizing a respiratory virus to “just a cold” status means that everyone walks around with “just a cold” and gives it to everyone else, instead of staying home and taking the time to get healthy. And not spreading their germs.

When I was a marketing director in higher education, I used to urge my staff to go home if they started sneezing or coughing a lot, to get better and to spare the rest of the department. Sometimes this took a bit of persuasion, because we’re all conditioned to keep working with “just a cold.” Usually I prevailed, however, and most everyone in our open office space appreciated it. And stayed healthier, as a result.

Being cognizant of how we’re not doing anyone any favors by walking around when we’re sick is particularly relevant in light of the news media’s current obsession with the Ebola virus. Ebola is often fatal. It is scary. It is transmitted by direct contact with an infected person’s bodily fluids or contaminated objects, like needles or syringes.

But Ebola is nowhere nearly as contagious in public spaces as influenza, which can be deadly and is spread by sneezing and coughing. By people who don’t bother to stay home when they mistake the flu for “just a cold.”

Consider this a public service reminder to get your flu shot if your immune system is compromised or you have asthma or other respiratory complications. Or any kind of chronic illness.

I’m going to get my flu vaccination this weekend, at a free clinic offered by my health care provider. That is, assuming my “just a cold” has finally cleared up.

Meanwhile, I’ll be loading up on fish oil and Vitamin C and hot tea and soup. And kvetching.

Thanks for listening.

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Evelyn Herwitz blogs weekly about living fully with chronic disease, the inside of baseballs, turtles and frogs, J.S. Bach, the meaning of life and whatever else she happens to be thinking about at livingwithscleroderma.com.

Futurecast

I wore my long winter coat this weekend. Not the heavy-duty one, but the medium weight, good-for-when-it-gets-below-50F-degrees-coat. And a warm hat. And gloves.

Book of SnowflakesIt’s only the beginning of October, but I’m already pulling out my sweaters and sweatpants, fleece vests and scarves, wool trousers and skirts, as the temperature sinks. This is always the time of year when I feel a bit self-conscious about bundling up while my neighbors are still walking around outside in windbreakers. But I’d rather be warm and keep my hands from turning purple and numb.

According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac website (is it just me, or does that sound like an oxymoron?), this winter in New England will be “much colder than normal, with near-normal precipitation and below-normal snowfall.” Looks like we’re in for a bit of snow before the calendar year is over, then just a lot of frigid temperatures until mid-March.

That is, if you believe the Almanac’s predictions. They claim 80 percent accuracy.

We were discussing this with family and friends at Al’s cousin’s home over the weekend. Those who commute by car and park on city streets were rooting for the Almanac—less to shovel sounded pretty good after last winter’s snow emergencies. For me, however, the words “much colder than normal” are more forbidding than snow storms (until the snow piles so high there’s nowhere to put it).

My winter weather trepidations are tempered by living in a landscape so romanticized by Currier and Ives. New snow is beautiful. It’s clean and sparkly and magical. I always enjoy the mystery of the first snowfall of the season, how it transforms trees into spun sugar.

Nonetheless, snow, by definition, means the temperature is below freezing, and my body just doesn’t adjust easily to the shift. We’re not there, yet, but as I walked Ginger, our 16-year-old golden, around the block on a sunny, crisp fall afternoon this Sunday, I could feel the season’s change in the wind.

Was it still, technically, summer just about a month ago? I have more digital ulcers, more bandages. I’ve turned on the heat pumps to warm the first floor of our home while I write in my small office, just off the living room. I’m wearing long sleeves and a warm cardigan.

Snow or no snow, the idea of “much colder than normal” sends shivers throughout my body. Nothing to do but make sure I have enough layers and brace for whatever winter weather lies ahead. At least we still have the best of the fall foliage to enjoy for the next couple of weeks.

Would I ever move to a warmer climate? I don’t know. I love my home, my community. Much as I struggle with the temperature shift each fall (spring brings its own unique challenges, too), I love all four seasons here.

So, pile on the sweaters and boil up the oatmeal. Colder weather? Bring it on.

Image Credit: Illustrative plates from Snowflakes: a Chapter from the Book of Nature (1863), a collection of poems, extracts, anecdotes and reflections on the theme of snow and the snowflake.  See more: http://publicdomainreview.org/collections/illustrations-of-snowflakes-1863/.

Evelyn Herwitz blogs weekly about living fully with chronic disease, the inside of baseballs, turtles and frogs, J.S. Bach, the meaning of life and whatever else she happens to be thinking about at livingwithscleroderma.com.

Fine Tuning

During this past week, amidst so much bad news—the spread of Ebola in West Africa, the sudden eruption of Japan’s Mount Ontake that killed dozens of innocent hikers, the escalation of air strikes against ISIS in Syria, wildfires on the West Coast and more—I have been singing.

I highly recommend this as an antidote to scary headlines and other depressing thoughts.

In particular, I sang alto in a quartet accompanying our cantor and choir for Rosh Hashanah last Thursday and Friday. We’ll sing again this coming weekend, when Shabbat coincides with Yom Kippur. So we have another rehearsal this Thursday night.

This is a good thing. It’s wonderful to have the beautiful melodies of the High Holiday liturgy circling around in my head, blocking out all the bad stuff.

Services were lovely and uplifting, but it took quite a few rehearsals for me to feel really good about singing again. It’s been at least 10 years since I participated in a High Holiday choir, and I’ve never been part of the quartet. So it was a bit of a shock when we began rehearsals about six weeks ago to realize that I had gotten quite rusty. Despite more than a decade of playing instruments and singing in choirs, when I looked at the sheet music, I could not recall the names of all the notes.

Understand that I played violin for 11 years and was concert mistress in my high school orchestra.

What was happening to my brain? It actually scared me. Early signs of dementia? Age? Fatigue? Some crazy aspect of scleroderma? I didn’t know.

With practice, thank goodness, the notes came back, and by our second rehearsal, I began to regain my ability to sight-read.

A second challenge, however, was tied to scleroderma and its nasty partner, Sjögren’s Syndrome. Although I can still vocalize well, my range is more limited than in the past (I used to be able to sing second soprano as well as alto), and sometimes the notes come out warbled or off by a half-step, because my mouth is dry and I can’t always control my swallowing or how my throat opens.

I figured out how to compensate for some of this by remembering to breathe from my diaphragm, rather than straining my throat to sing louder. But I do have limits. I need to breathe more often, breaking phrases, because my lungs just won’t hold enough air. And if the group goes flat, I cannot hit the low G. Impossible.

I was feeling a bit awkward about all this, wanting to hold my own in the quartet. But then I realized that I had better fill in people, so they would understand and I could do my best for the group. Both the tenor and bass are physicians, and all are friends, so when I took the leap and explained about my health-related issues, everyone was quite supportive. This was a relief. I no longer felt self-conscious, and I certainly enjoyed singing all the more.

We received many compliments after services, how our voices enhanced the experience for the congregation. And we loved singing together. Once we learned the music, we enjoyed the added, serendipitous benefit that our four voices have natural resonance. Truly a delight to harmonize.

So I’m looking forward to our Thursday night rehearsal and to singing once again this weekend. And I hope our quartet will find more opportunities to sing together. The world is overflowing with bad news, and I don’t want to lose those notes again.

Evelyn Herwitz blogs weekly about living fully with chronic disease, the inside of baseballs, turtles and frogs, J.S. Bach, the meaning of life and whatever else she happens to be thinking about at livingwithscleroderma.com.

Photo Shoot

On my desk, next to my computer screen, rests a black-and-white photo of me at age three, my braided hair in white satin ribbons. I’m wearing a plaid dress with puffed sleeves and a white Peter Pan collar, holding what I think was a stuffed toy deer, sitting in a folding chair in the back yard of our home. Like most little kids, I loved having my picture taken, and I’m grinning happily at the camera.

Not so, now. I don’t know at what point I began to hate having my picture taken. Probably sometime around the seventh grade when, like most teens, I started to feel too self-conscious about my facial flaws. Many women I know feel this way—we’re all far too aware of our imperfections in a society that values Photoshopped perfection.

But scleroderma adds a whole new level to my camera shyness. Recently, I needed an updated portrait. So I asked a friend who’s a good photographer if he would do the honors. We did the shoot outside in about 10 minutes, as he zipped through digital shot after digital shot and kept me laughing.

The next day, he sent me a set of images to review, most of me grinning at the camera. But as I scrolled through, my heart sank. Oh. My. Even after all these years with scleroderma, it is really hard to see how it has distorted my face. Friends who know me don’t notice, because I’ve had the disease for so long that the way I look is all they know.

But for me, it is still a shock. Although my skin has loosened somewhat with time, excellent medical care and a dose of serendipity, it remains abnormal. My wrinkles are not the fine lines and soft creases of my 60-plus contemporaries (even as I’m grateful to have wrinkles, because when the disease was worse in my 30′s, my face was tightening to the point that it was uncomfortable to blink). Rather, because my skin is still thickened, my wrinkles resemble corduroy welts of varying widths. My mouth is tight around my broad smile. The nostrils of my generous nose are narrow. My eyelids are too thick to open fully.

In short, I look a whole lot older and odder than I think of myself. I don’t care about the salt-and-pepper hair. I still have my teeth (well, at least, most of them). Maybe it was the natural lighting, which can be quite unforgiving. But. Wow.

One of the hardest things about this disease is how it damages your looks. It is deforming. There is just no way around it. When I look at myself in the bathroom mirror, I often am not wearing my glasses, so the impact is softened—a bit of self-delusion, perhaps, but it also makes me feel better.

The reality is, I’m always still hoping against hope that I’ll get my face back. I wonder what I’d look like without scleroderma, just normal aging. What would it be like to once again have a relaxed mouth, a nose that isn’t pinched, eyelids that open all the way? What would it be like to have gentle lines rather than deep creases?

I know this ruminating is both self-defeating and self-absorbed. Beauty is only skin deep, and all that. But there is a real loss involved here, and it takes a long time to make peace with the fact that scleroderma ages you prematurely and is so unkind to whatever lovely features you may have once had. You need to dig deep to summon self-respect and compassion for who you are, for all that you are, despite damning social standards.

In the end, I selected the most forgiving image and forwarded it on. The pictures told the truth. This is how I look. The contrast between what was and what is remains in my head, and those whom I love and who love me don’t care.

Friday evening, I sat on the living room couch as Al gave me a much-needed neck massage—too many hours at the computer. I told him about the photos. “I look so old,” I said, discouraged.

“You don’t look old to me,” he answered, softly. For some men, this would be a throwaway line. But not Al. He meant it. And that made all the difference.

Evelyn Herwitz blogs weekly about living fully with chronic disease, the inside of baseballs, turtles and frogs, J.S. Bach, the meaning of life and whatever else she happens to be thinking about at livingwithscleroderma.com