At 68, I imagine I have earned the right to say no to activities I do not wish to do. I have distinguished my likes and dislikes, my preferences and disinclinations. As long as I’m not breaking the law or disrespecting others, I should be able to plan my days.

But last Tuesday, I found myself acting well out of my comfort zone. I was teaching a piano lesson.

A bit of background here: I started playing piano when I was 5 and have a bachelor’s degree in music education. Because I did not enjoy it, I didn’t practice the piano much during college, and for the last quarter century, I ceased playing altogether. I still have the knowledge, but my finger dexterity is seriously lacking.

When I was asked to teach these lessons, I looked around our community but found no one else willing to impart this knowledge to a beginner. I love the student’s mother and am thrilled to get to know the student, who is about the age of my much-loved and sorely missed grandchildren. Therefore, after much consideration, I agreed. Nonetheless, it is a stressful situation.

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A handful of oral medications and a heart rate graph sandwich the term

Stress causes many symptoms

This stress manifested in a serious cough. A familiar ache started in my chest and pushed through to my back, between my shoulder blades. It affected my speaking and singing. A growing lethargy enveloped me. Instead of walking around the house, I trudged from one room to another.

This has happened before. It is a symptom of my cold agglutinin disease, or CAD. But were these current symptoms related to stress alone? Or did the stress trigger my CAD?

I can’t blame all of these returning symptoms on piano lessons. Other stressors in my life trigger my breathing weariness. This weariness is hard to describe. I can get a complete and full breath, control my breathing, and show no signs of acrocyanosis, the bluish discoloration of the fingers or toes. But I get tired and achy as I breathe. I have a recurring cough. It is a definite signal to give in to the tiredness and get some rest.

Fortunately, right now, I can rest. Two elementary-age boys live with us, but my husband has flexible responsibilities and can handle them right now. We can order food so meals are covered. Therefore, I can remain in bed with all the necessities addressed.

Three boys ranging in age and an older man sit around a large, wooden dinner table. A blue wall with a window is in the background. Plates of food, silverware, and condiments are on the table.

From left, Yem Tipagau, Boi Tabuni, Mike Lott, and Afin Tipagau enjoy a family dinner together. (Photo by Mary Lott)

It took me several years to learn how to handle things when my CAD symptoms become prominent. A sign that also shows up at these times is brain fog. This can be described as an inability to focus one’s thoughts. It includes a shortened attention span and difficulty remembering things. I’ve had to learn that, at these times, it is perfectly OK to do nothing.

A normal day versus a brain fog day

I’ve learned to handle these days by planning for one of two types of days: a normal day or a brain fog day. A normal day will see me shopping, managing laundry, cleaning the house, writing, web designing, exercising, and cooking.

A brain fog day is spent mostly in my bedroom doing nothing specific. Pokey, my dog, will be stretched out on the corner of my bed, sound asleep. That’s his job, to be with me.

I binge-watch short videos on the internet. Being at the age that I am, I also binge-watch “Magnum P.I.,” “The Big Valley,” “The High Chaparral,” “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” and other shows from the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s. If I had a swimming pool at my house, I would float and soak up some natural vitamin D.

It isn’t entirely doing nothing. I may answer short emails. I brainstorm writing topics. I carry on lengthy conversations with myself and fix the state of the world. If only people would listen to me!

Things have come to a climax today as the boys’ school lets out for summer break. I expect my stress to deflate tomorrow when they step onto a plane and return to their family in an interior town. I will have no immediate responsibilities when they go. A quieter household will aid my body’s immune system in dealing with CAD symptoms and return life to normal.

To answer the question about whether stress triggers CAD, it doesn’t matter. The CAD symptoms have returned, and I must deal with them.

Note: Cold Agglutinin Disease News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Cold Agglutinin Disease News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to cold agglutinin disease.

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