Tag Archive | chronic fatigue

Staying Present During A Flare Up

It’s a major challenge to remain present despite the feelings of despair about all my worsening symptoms and lack of options that I am staring down. At the same time I’m always trying to figure out more and more about living inside my energy envelope and enduring the chronic pain, the lack of predictability, the severity and suddenness that my symptoms frequently come on.
Fortunately, a louder part of me than the despair knows that it’s important to grow and learn from this never-ending flareup, otherwise I am just surviving hour to hour, living in fear, and that isn’t enough for me. I’m greedy.
I want to get to a better place so I can really live again, within my limitations. So I can make my mark, however that is possible. It has to be possible. Everything is so hard now, but I know who I am, and I know who my friends are. I’m stronger than ever in some ways, and I am learning to forgive myself for the weaker parts.
Even when all I can do is breathe, it helps to remember that just being alive is amazing and improbable. I am so grateful for days when I am capable of seeing past the storms overhead. It’s okay that I can’t do that every day, because I’m doing my best.
from Instagram: http://ift.tt/1ENzmMI

Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome Medical Emergency Information Cards

Handy to print out or save to phone in case you end up in the hospital: edsemergencycard

This card is to go with my post on How to Use the ER in Case of Chronic Pain Emergency, which has gotten over 50k views in just under a year! I never thought anything I wrote would be shared to facebook 10k times, or viewed 50k, or shared all over Pinterest, or anything remotely close to that, honestly, especially in my first year of blogging. I’m so thrilled and so thankful for the opportunity to share what I have researched and witnessed firsthand about living with chronic illness, chronic pain, disability, and mental health challenges.

I will be hunting down more relevant alert cards and posting as I find and edit them. Please feel free to leave suggestions in the comments below, and I will do those first!

#ehlersdanlossyndrome #emergency #alertcard #justincase #infographic #chronicillness #chronicpain #EDSawareness #EDS #hypermobility #dislocation #subluxation #JHS #hointhypermobility #hypermobility #severepain #EDSalertcard

from Instagram: http://ift.tt/1cOstTW

Not Pretending

I hesitate to admit this, but it’s important. Before i got sick I was already pretending to be normal, pretending to be happy and productive and on some sort of trajectory, but I was just as lost as I am now. I have been dealing with severe anxiety disorders my entire life, ADHD, obsessive behaviors too numerous to list, occasional bouts of treatment resistant depression, insomnia, self-injury, severely restricted eating or binge eating depending on the year, as well as growing up with chronic pain to a much lesser degree than now in the form of frequent dislocations/subluxations, migraines, and dizziness/nausea, all of which went untreated for a long time, or treated but not correctly.

Now that I have a series of chronic illnesses/conditions, my mental health is under the microscope constantly. It has been enlightening but also terrifying. Not being able to hide my mental health or my physical health anymore is the part I’m still trying to accept. I’m used to being miserable to a degree and pushing through, always pushing through, and to have my body take that ability away from me has caused some serious grieving.

The thing I was most commended for other than my test scores was my ability to pretend like I wasn’t hurting while I was, both physically and mentally. All of the bits and pieces that make me my own person are also things that drew negative attention when I was younger, and I have trouble getting over that still.

My response to the negative attention, eventually, was to reinvent myself to be as normal as possible, as plain as possible, to not stand out too much, and to deny my artsy, nerdy, angsty side the freedom it wanted. Now I’m left with artsy, nerdy, angsty as things I need to learn to be proud of and to embrace again. I want to, I really do.

can you remember who you were before the world told you who you should be?

Those parts of me which long for the freedom to reinvent myself into the person I really am are winning. My hair is teal, my clothes are whatever the hell I feel like, I have been writing more honestly and openly, and I have picked up a paintbrush again.

So the path is there, I know what I need to do, but I’m scared to be myself again. For so long I’ve been this average-intelligence, straight, workaholic, brown-haired, plain-clothed girl who kept the ugliness and the oddness to herself, absolutely devoid of the desire to write the darkness inside of me or to paint it, only allowing thoughts out through a careful filter, and calling that happiness. It wasn’t. Neither was it sadness, exactly. I was just going in the wrong direction.

The reality is that my careful filter is broken now and only works in fits and starts… I can’t be anyone other than the person I have always been underneath the normal life I was trying to build around me like armor. I still love the interests I have cultivated while lost and wandering through life; I still love to garden, bake, and make my own home and beauty products. I absolutely still love my boyfriend, as well as this house and our cat. This is simply my soul wanting me to unleash it in any way possible in my new life, with my new limitations. I need to find a purpose, yes, but I also need to find myself again, be kind to myself instead of denying myself the freedom to be weird and potentially wonderful. So much anxiety must be tied up in the act of pretending not to be excited about the things that truly make me happy.

I don’t fully know what my happiness will look like now, but it will look different than the one I pretended was right for me.

To be honest, I’m relieved.

There are parts of me that are stronger than ever, and then obviously there are parts of me that are so weak that they have stolen life and time from me. But I am a survivor. This is me surviving. It might not be pretty, the struggle can get ugly and mean in an instant, but I have always survived, and I will continue to do my best. That will have to be enough.

I’m not any less okay than I was yesterday or the day before, I am simply not willing to pretend to be better or different than I feel. Some days I am still a suicidal teenager and some days I am a sage adult, and many days I bounce back and forth between the two. However, both are okay, both are me, and I am always going to be a survivor, even when I have no idea what else I am.

The term survivor implies that someone came through or currently resides in hell, however, and that is the part that people seem to forget. The struggle is what breaks you, but it is also what rebuilds you. We cannot be the same after we travel through nightmares turned reality.

Not the same, but certainly still me.

I am just too exhausted to draw a silver lining on my clouds today. Today it’s okay to acknowledge the storm overhead. To be soaked in it and shivering and afraid of the power behind it, but to remember that the sun also exists, just beyond those clouds.

More Exhausted Than Ever

Right now, I will do something very small and have to sit down immediately after or during a slightly more rigorous task, and it’s not the pain that’s knocking me down so hard, although there is a lot of that, I’m just pretty damn exhausted. Like, my bones are way too tired to walk to the mailbox or make it down the stairs to the garden, but I’m still able to fight through and manage those things sometimes. It’s very confusing. Overall though, the fatigue has ramped up to a point where I’m scared a little.

This is not meant to be a bid for sympathy or anything, I just have to have a place to put all this down and get it out of me. My body won’t allow me to do much of anything else and even writing has me fading in and out of consciousness because it leaves me so fatigued. To be completely honest, I’ve been feeling a lot worse lately. I pushed myself trying to create a small business that was never going to happen, and in many other areas of my life, and none of my accomplishments have added up to anything lately, not even one completely clean room. I have learned a lot and there were tiny moments of excitement and victory, but that isn’t anything I can put on my resume, really.

It’s depressing to feel like your health is going in the opposite direction that you’re aiming for. A lot of us are familiar with that feeling though, unfortunately. It’s just another part of chronic illness unless you can find a treatment that works. For a while things will hold steady symptom wise, and then a cluster of new ones will pop up one after another, which is what has been happening recently. Not every single new symptom stays around long-term, some of them will just last the length of this particular flare up, and some of them will attach themselves to my illness and they will be added on top of my daily already unmanageable pain, fatigue, and bodily systems that are completely out of whack. But these new symptoms will not be so courteous as to show up clearly on a test. Just abnormalities here and there, nothing to make an easy diagnosis off of. It makes my head spin trying to get a clear grasp on even the list of weird things that have happened with my body, and a lot of it isn’t stuff I feel comfortable sharing.

This flare up has brought with it a bout of sleep paralysis episodes, limb tremors and increasing muscle weakness, much worse than usual chest pain, rib dislocations, absolutely unpredictable new headaches and some severe migraines that actually got the better of me and landed me lying down until they subsided, hip subluxations on both sides, knee instability and weakness, poor typing and speech, including mixing up words, writing something completely different from what I was intending or thinking I was writing, forgetting phrases and words, increased inability to finish a sentence because I can’t remember why I started it, using big words but forgetting all the small ones, dizziness, trigeminal neuralgia attacks that feel like being struck with lightning over and over again in the same spots on my face, occipital neuralgia that is like being chiseled into on the back of my head, or like someone is grinding a screwdriver as hard and slow as possible into my occipital nerve, tmj issues making it a challenge to eat/smile/talk too much, jaw dislocations hundreds of times a day, lack of coordination and hand dexterity as well as random violent spasming when I try too hard to control my muscles for extended tasks like painting and typing, really painful joints all over, fatigue so heavy I feel like my veins are full of lead and my muscles are made of tissue paper and my bones are filled with cement, GI issues which all of a sudden include throwing up just about every other day, and delayed stomach emptying with all the associated nausea and pain and hating food/food hating me, possibly gastroparesis but I’m hoping not, problems associated with migraineurs even when the really severe head pain is not present (olfactory hallucinations, auditory hallucinations, light/sound/smell sensitivity, big blurry spots or color spots in my vision, things that look like shiny, constantly moving sprinkles all over my field of view, thinking things are moving when they aren’t, as well as not being able to track movement very well), falling asleep suddenly after exertion with no warning, feeling like I’m walking on razorblades and broken glass, sudden moodswings mixed with lots of feeling hopeless or just numb and dissociated from my disobedient body, muscle cramping, brainfog that is stronger by far than my Ritalin prescription, not understanding what people are saying unless they repeat themselves a few times, some obsessive behaviors I cannot stop doing and ptsd flashbacks, skin that hurts like thousands and thousands of nettle stings, and just so much more, but it would take so long to list, and this is why seeing a doctor once every 3-6 months is totally and completely unhelpful.

And I’ve been like this for two and a half weeks now, and it keeps dropping new surprises on me so I’ve got no idea when it will let me go…

I lost 15 pounds, and that was startling and positive. Not sure why I was so startled, I think it’s hard for me to notice the healthy changes I make and pat myself on the back unless some kind of tangible progress comes out of it, but lately I actually have noticed myself doing better at picking the salad from the garden over chips or pasta on the side, I’ve been back into yoga in bed, and in my better moments I try to sneak tiny bits of yoga into my day, with my arms close to my body and not pushing my flexibility to it’s max because I’m not in that kind of shape and my body can and will bend too far in every direction if I don’t watch myself in a mirror while I do it.

I’m so exhausted that it makes me laugh that I’m adding yoga back into my days but I can’t shower more than once every five days. Priorities slightly skewed? I don’t know, a shower is one very big expenditure of spoons that you’re committed to once you start, and yoga I can stop any time it hurts me, I can modify it to hurt less or not at all and to be done lying down even, and I dole out spoons one at a time to each little micro-session which is much less punishing on my body than taking a shower. God I miss being able to do that every day. The stupid shit we take for granted when we are healthy, I was so greedy taking two or three a day during sports and summer or just to get warm in the winter, and I never imagined I would ever give up my obsession with being sparkly clean every single day. It hurts to think about stuff like that though, and in general I just try to accept that things are the way they are and not ask “why me?” too much.

Not being able to shower is a big gauge for how much of a toll this has taken on me. The things I would have never given up if I had a choice, the gardening every day and walking for hours, the freedom of driving and earning a paycheck even if I didn’t enjoy the job or the commute sometimes, my clean house, the freedom to work out or go out with friends whenever the mood hit me, frequently visiting vintage shopping and buying fancy coffees just to treat myself, painting whenever I had a creative idea come into my head, preserving and cooking food especially when it came from my garden, baking bread almost every day, fashion, being able to complete deadlines and not be a total flake, being able to plan my next day and stick to it,

I feel bad enough on a daily basis that younger me, who had a damn high pain tolerance, would have been asking to go to a doctor almost every morning. But I don’t go even when it gets to be unbearable, because it’s so discouraging to be told more than once every 3-6 months that there is nothing new to try, nothing else to do that is in my price range, nothing, nothing, nothing, and to be treated like a drug seeker, a whiner, a lazy kid who can’t be bothered to get a job, when I just want to get better. I just want some hope, some kind of a future to plan on and look forward to. I don’t want to have to take these drugs. I don’t want to have to take two sparse and precious oxycodone just to get through taking a shower. This is not something I constructed to get out of working. I miss working. I’m young, my ability to work was my future and now I’m very lost.

I’m reaching for that point towards acceptance of my illnesses and new life where I can start to explore my talents and try to find more solutions, more small improvements, more joy in my life. I feel like it’s both close enough to grab and pull closer and simultaneously so far away that I fear I just can’t get there. I know I can only take it one day at a time and keep looking for the small victories, the shiny bits and the lessons learned no matter how painful, so I can quietly celebrate my life for those wonderful things amidst the chronic fatigue and pain.

You Don’t Always Have to Feel Grateful That it Isn’t Worse

So, I’m going to just say that things have been pretty bad for me right now. I have so damn many health care, financial, and emotional needs that are not being met, and after three and a half years of waiting my turn, I need something better than this, I need more, I need to live and have hope and at least try to get treatment for some of these problems. But just because I need something doesn’t mean it is possible. Money is an asshole that way. All ways, really.

I am still grieving the loss of a dear friend, and I talk to her at night when it’s quiet like this, and I think she hears me, but I don’t even know how to put into words how much it hurts to obliviously type her name on facebook like I’m going to see her there posting updates, and then to realize that no one gets to hear her sunny voice again. Who knows why it takes so long for the shock to wear off and the sadness that won’t lift to settle in. It’s like my bones are crying now, and I feel her absence physically.

All these things coupled with isolation and excessive pain levels with secondary depression, plus a nasty chest cold have made me a slightly more bitter girl, and I apologize for that, but then again, I kind of don’t want to apologize. Though it’s embarrassing to go off on an angry rant and publish it and re-read it the next day and not recognize who wrote the words, I did write it, and I did mean every word when I was writing and that tells me that someone else out there can maybe feel less alone if I continue to allow myself to occasionally write the lows, the times I don’t cope well, that my chronic illness brings.

The reason I’m suffering this week is simple. I went out, I lived a life for a week with two social calls an hour away from my house, and the consequence for my actions are a dire flare up and infections, even though I practiced preemptive rest, stayed hydrated, slept beforehand and loaded up on vitamins. That’s what the fuss is about, for any non-spoonies reading this. That’s why I’m “obsessed” with my illness and I never seem to win. You can do everything right and chronic illness is still a merciless, evil, cold hearted f*ck who will laugh at your plans, your support network, your therapy progress, your talents, and even your basic needs, and which will deny you access to them all from time to time.

I’m not trying to paint a grim picture, or a “poor me” kind of portrait, I’m trying to say that all spoonies, no matter how small you may see your contributions to be, all spoonies are important. You are important and you matter.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          atleastitisntworse

I guess I’m leaning towards the idea that if I don’t censor myself, I will probably help more people feel accepted and welcomed into the chronic illness community. We don’t have to have rainbows shooting out of our asses all the time to be valued and welcome members of the online spoonie community. I like encouraging people with stories about good days and things I am thankful for, and I won’t give that up, but I also don’t want to be missing a whole group of spoonies who feel pretty worthless and unaccepted by the rest of the chronic world.

Everyone needs a place to belong, even the undiagnosed, the doesn’t-quite-fit-the-diagnosis patients who are still in limbo, they need our support more than anyone. That is a stage in my journey where I was bitter every single day for at least a year.

So I’m going to perhaps post more vehement pieces than usual and not hold myself back. I will stop telling myself I can’t write on my worst days unless I have a good attitude while I do it,because that’s not therapeutic for me, for one thing. I do factor in here too, somewhere, I think.

The reality of being ill is that you will have some good days, some of us get more or less of those depending on our situation, some of us don’t have good days physically, but almost all spoonies eventually get to the point where you can have a series of bad days that you can handle emotionally, and those bad days will make you proud of yourself later on without too much soul searching involved. You endured and even conquered your illness for a while. You got through it without snapping and that’s to be commended. But it’s not to be expected from you. Positivity during hardship is not the only “right way” to cope. Because look what happens next; you overdo it or the weather changes or you cough funny, you have a medication reaction, or you develop a new symptom or allergy and things get complicated.

“Didn’t I just get through another hard week like this?” you think to yourself. It drags on, but you get through it, kind of numb and just making it day by day. And then not-so-wonderfully, another health setback; you have to take care of someone else who is ill, you get asked to another social function you can’t get out of, you have to attend three doctor’s appointments in one week, or whatever else it is, but it adds onto the pile you had not quite dug your way out of from last week yet. But you get through that week, and the next one too, though on the bad days you’re just counting the hours, you can’t even take it day by day things get so overwhelming. Months go by like this, a cycle of debilitation and not-quite-recovery only to be met with more medical problems, more stress, more debt, more isolation and eventually the bitterness that you thought maybe you had “gotten past” can sneak back up on you.

I’m not saying you are required by spoonie law or something ridiculous to feel all of these things in these specific ways for these reasons. I’m just setting the stage for those who are being hard on themselves for not coping as well as they’d like, and for people who may not understand what suffering from an invisible illness can be like when you aren’t improving.

No matter how you cope, or how well you “keep calm and carry on”, you still deserve to be commended. You’ve gone through a lot, and you should feel safe and understood when you are being honest about your pain. Honesty is not negativity.

Wishing everyone extra spoons, low pain days, and super soft fuzzy blankets that don’t hurt you while you’re sleeping. ❤

I Am Not Your Inspiration: The Problem With Inspiration Porn

Disability doesn’t make you exceptional, but questioning what you think you know about it does.” – Stella Young

The danger of being viewed through the lense of the “inspiring cripple” archetype is that it was created by ableists as a tool used to invalidate those who are struggling. It means that people expect things from you that you weren’t even capable of before disability, muchless after. It’s such an unhealthy way of approaching people who are ill, as if we are not trying hard enough unless we can plaster a fake smile on our face and say we’re doing well, when actually we are struggling in ways that only a small percentage of the population can understand. The notion of the inspiring cripple does not leave room for the uncensored reality of the chronic illness spectrum.

If you are able-bodied and do not experience mental illness, I am not your inspiration. If something I say or write is helpful to another spoonie, then that is why I am here and it makes me happy to be helpful whenever possible, but I don’t want ableist individuals thinking that my refusal to cry in a corner every day makes me somehow better at being sick than someone who can’t stop sobbing and wishing for death. I am not any better.

I am not “trying harder” than anyone else and I will not be used to shame someone who feels like they can’t handle their condition. I still feel like I can’t handle being chronically ill on a regular basis.

I am not your feel-good story. I am a deeply flawed human being with constant, unrelenting chronic pain and many other debilitating conditions and symptoms, too. My choices are give up and die, or keep trying to find a reason to wake up and to put food in my mouth once a day. Sometimes that is a genuine struggle. Sometimes I do not get out of bed, and I do not put food in my body, and that does not make me pathetic or weak, it makes me sick. I have good days and bad days and I have given myself permission to have both.

I am so very tired of inspiration porn, aimed at the general public and unapologetically using those who are physically disabled, suffer chronic pain, or live with mental illness and/or neurodivergence. Inspiration porn wants you to say “well, it could be worse, I could be that poor person in a wheelchair or that teenager with a cane, therefore I’m not allowed to feel shitty, ever.”

Bull. Shit.

I am happy to answer any and all genuine questions about my life, my coping strategy, my illnesses, or anything else that someone is interested in, provided that the person asking is not just going to use my answers against me later. I am not interested in answering questions that are actually just thinly-veiled judgemental commentary on how I deal with my pain and other symptoms. I wish that my abled friends could just acknowledge that my reality is not something you can comprehend if you don’t live every second of every day in pain, knowing that the pain is life-long or progressive.

If you are not sick in a long-term sense, please try to understand why you cannot compare my life-altering, completely debilitating daily pain to the last time you had the flu, or the time you broke your arm, or even the car accident you were in, unless one of those things resulted in a long-term illness, disability, or chronic pain disorder. Flus, broken bones, and car accidents may be unpleasant, but after some healing your life resumed as planned, so you have no idea what it is like to live in my body, the body that has caused me to slowly, against my will, forget all my dreams and plans for the future. Please realize that every pain is experienced differently and is unique to each individual who is suffering. Comparison of one disabled person to another person, disabled or not, is never okay. We are not brave for the things healthy people think we are brave for. We are not brave for simply existing, we are not brave for going about our day as normally as we possibly can. Attitude does not differentiate a “good” cripple from a “bad” cripple. Inspiration porn is pure victim blaming, and society has unfortunately picked up this nasty habit.

Ableist propaganda would have us think that if we are not using our illness to transform ourselves into an inspiration, we are just wasting space and burdening those around us. Do not buy into that trash! I am sorry for each and every person who has ever felt like their pain or illness is the punchline to an ableist joke. Those of us who are ill are allowed to make jokes, we are allowed to seek out the humor in our situation, and it is despicable that people would use that coping mechanism against us. Yes, I use sarcasm to cope. Yes, I use humor to cope. No, that does not mean I’m cured or experiencing less pain or “getting better at dealing with it” as so many have said to me. It means that if I don’t laugh about this, it will crush me.

My medical decisions are not up for discussion unless you are another spoonie, and even then, I retain the freedom to completely ignore any and all medical advice that doesn’t come from my doctors. I even retain the right to ignore medical advice from doctors that does not make sense or goes against my beliefs.

I certainly won’t be basing my medical decisions off of an abled friend’s (ex-friend’s) suggestion because they feel like they have “observed my pain” (read: been annoyed by how much I talk about it) for long enough that they are unreasonably comfortable making sweeping declarations about my use of medication, or with stating that I “pity myself” (read: retreat from overwhelming and triggering situations so I can take care of myself appropriately) sometimes. Fuck yeah, I do pity myself sometimes. I refuse to apologize for that.

The abled seem to possess an unlimited capacity to confuse my online and in-person honesty and unwillingness to sugar-coat reality with what they view as pity-seeking behavior and weakness. Saying I have an incurable illness is not pitying myself, it is the truth. I am allowed to speak the truth, my truth, and I am allowed to remark at the depressing reality of chronic pain. Ableism makes accepting the reality of our illness that much more difficult. If I said I never have moments of self-pity I would be lying, and that helps no one. I have every right to be upset about my conditions and to grieve over the losses in my life as a result. And so do other spoonies at any point in their journey.

It is just grotesque that there are people self-righteously using those of us struggling with mental illness, cancer, or chronic invisible illness (to name a few) as their motivation, or to shame others with similar struggles. I don’t want my accomplishments to ever be used to make someone feel inadequate.

The myths that are perpetuated by inspiration porn make it harder to be honest about what we as spoonies experience, which is why it’s time to start calling ableism out wherever and whenever we see it. Just because one person with MS can work a full time job does not mean that another MS patient is faking their inability to work. It’s such a simple thing, to validate someone, yet we don’t do it enough.

You wouldn’t worry about being polite when calling out racism or homophobia, so why would you worry about offending people when you call out their discriminatory attitudes towards chronic illness, disability, neurodivergence, mental illness, and chronic pain?

Things Have Been Moving Really Fast Around Me

But I have (mostly) managed to keep up, which is no small thing to me at all! With all the pushing myself I’ve been doing, I’m ready for the much needed rest I will be taking starting today.

This week has been action-packed for me, although for a healthy person it certainly doesn’t sound like much. I got to spend a whole day out of the house at my mom’s wedding reception, and then made it all the way to the teaching hospital and back two days later with her help, and then on a very short grocery shopping trip later that night with my boyfriend (where I was so out of it that I bought pretty much only chocolate, hahahaha). Two days later we made smoked pulled pork, homemade macaroni salad, and dinner rolls from scratch (all incredibly cheap but incredibly perfect for sharing with a crowd, which we have gotten smarter about now that we are super broke!). We took the food all the way from our house to the part of Oregon I grew up in, which is about an hour drive, and I did not collapse or fall asleep somewhere during that trip last night, but I had to sit out the games because of how unstable my joints are and how bad my head and neck are already hurting. I have been using the preemptive rest method to gain some strength ahead of events I know are going to sap me of energy or take a great deal of time and probably a bout of extra pain to recover from. It’s difficult to recover from that much activity while I am still steadily decreasing my dosage of Lyrica (down to 1x 75mg pill per 36 hours!!!), but I will recover. It will take a while, but I had fun this week and saw my mom and even my extended family, so it’s worth it!

Resting consciously, including not overdoing it mentally and avoiding sensory overload, has really helped me this month, but it has meant that I cannot do nearly as many things as I would usually force my body to do, especially when it comes to gardening and housework.

The next step which I will start along with the rest is adding more stretching and walking for five to ten minutes at a time back into my schedule, but seriously every part of my legs hurt right now, my feet feel bruised from standing yesterday, and my knees are throbbing, none of my joints want to stay in their sockets and none of my muscles want to help them out.

I had a pretty extreme limb tremor last night in my right leg that lasted for almost twenty minutes, and that twenty minutes of having a rapidly spasming/twitching/bouncing leg has left even my fingers exhausted and all my joints stiff from trying to force my muscles to relax and stop freaking out, which ironically made me tighten up even more throughout my entire body. The tremors aren’t really painful or a problem in and of themselves, they are just not my favorite to deal with in public, and it does make my leg prone to giving out on me if I have to walk while it’s happening.

My real problem is my mouth, I have severely swollen gums and an impacted molar on my right side as well. I have an unusually small mouth and have no idea how I never needed braces growing up, but my teeth have always been very straight with no gaps and only some flouride damage to deal with. In the last several years, things are different, and the overcrowding is causing problems left and right, and could even be contributing to my TMJ disorder, migraines, and neck pain. I don’t even have enough room for all my normal molars to come in, so I have been dealing with the pain of teething for as long as I can remember. I not only need my wisdom teeth removed (holy hell, I need them gone so badly), but I also need some of my molars to be taken too, especially this very swollen and impacted one that has finally poked most of the way through my gum but is now pushing the molars in front of it sideways. Getting all those teeth out may even help with the severity of my jaw clenching issues, which when tested at PT have ranged between 7x and 30x more tense than an average person’s jaw, and that was while using every last relaxation technique and cognitive behavioral therapy.

The challenge will be finding someone who is skilled at dealing with patients with severe TMJ, and then I magically have to be able to afford it. The jaw pain has been getting worse and worse, and to have an impacted or worse molar is excruciating, especially that close to all those sensitive nerves in the back of my jaw. I’m used to my face hurting pretty awfully because of Trigeminal Neuralgia, so I am able to tough it out most of the time but sometimes I just want to rip my teeth out myself they hurt so badly. Now is one of those times. It’s even affecting my ear on that side.

To make my time eating even more fun, because TMJ disorder and dislocations and messed up teeth weren’t enough, in the last month or so I have developed some awful and nearly constant food allergy reactions. I have sores on my tongue and a sore throat that never fully goes away, and my lymph nodes are angry at me after every meal. I only eat once a day, and I have cut out a bunch of foods including all acidic fruits (goodbye homemade marinara sauce, goodbye morning smoothie, you were nice while you lasted) and anything with vinegar (goodbye kombucha and all my favorite homemade salad dressings), beer/cider, yogurt and sour cream; seriously so many things are gone from my diet, that’s not even close to the list!!! And even cutting all this stuff out, I’m still having issues every day with these horrible sores on my tongue and throat. I obviously need an allergist as well as a dentist at this point, but I can’t afford it with my insurance deductible not being met yet.

Basically my mouth is full of fire and I have no appetite and I am having trouble eating even when I want to, so maybe I will finally be losing some weight until I can see a few doctors? That’s the most optimistic thing I can think of right now, because seriously, this sucks. I need medical help. I have needed it several times in the last month and not been able to go because I simply owe too much money to everyone after three years of not being able to pay my bills. There is no hope for money coming in, and I am just in too much pain to brainstorm ideas or set up a kickstarter or re-apply for disability again. Blegh, so instead of thinking about any of it, I’m gonna go back to resting and reading. I am way too overwhelmed, and I know part of that is just sheer exhaustion and needing to recover from the constant setbacks of over-activity every few days for the last week and a half. I will regroup and hopefully have a plan of attack… although right now I’m very much stumped.

Days have been slipping past at alarming speed, and I’m constantly confused about what day/time it is and even where I am, but I’m learning to let go, or at least I’m trying to learn. Right now all my body needs is for me to respect it, listen to it, and try to figure out what the hell I’m allergic to on my own. Worrying about my memory is just going to stress me out even more.

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On a lighter note, my psychiatrist says I am making progress lately, and that fills me with hope and even a little pride and self-love. She also complimented me on my skin and hair, which I really have been taking much better care of now that I’m using a homemade grape seed oil, baking soda, dead sea salt and epsom salt scrub with calendula petals from my garden. Grape seed oil is the queen of all lightweight skin moisturizers for sensitive and/or oily skin, and no weird reaction after I put it on like when I use any store bought lotion, no matter how “organic” or skin-friendly. I get a 16 oz bottle for $7 using the Amazon subscribe and save program, I really like this one from NOW Foods:

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For my hair I made up a dry shampoo in about 30 seconds from equal parts bentonite green clay, indian red clay, and arrowroot powder, and it helps keep my ridiculously long locks from tangling, or looking limp and lifeless between showers. My scalp seems to really appreciate it, too. I love having both recipes on hand, but it would still be nice if I could shower more than once every three or four days. Working on that, though. I think if I just get a big fluffy bathrobe and put it on as soon as I get out of the tub and go lie down for fifteen minutes, I would probably be dry by then, and maybe saving the energy on drying off would allow me to get clean more often. Oh, spoonie problems. I’m past the point of pretending now. I’ve realized it’s entirely necessary that I make some changes to my lifestyle in order to retain what independance I have. Ignoring things that would make my life easier is no longer an option. Now it’s just a matter of finding enough money to make the modifications I need, and figuring out what actually helps me live a better life.

All I have kept down today is coffee, water, and crystallized ginger, and barely on all three. Even the ginger can’t save me from this nausea, pain, and extreme fatigue, coupled with dizziness and eye issues. See, I tried to be positive and distract myself from the reality of chronic illness, but then I took it right back to how bad I feel because it’s literally all I can focus on right now. I’m just getting through one hour at a time right now until my body catches up. I know others can sympathize with that sentiment, but I would never wish it on anyone. Nobody should have to understand, because no one should have to deal with this all the time.

#spooniestrong

Chronic Lessons: Then and Now

When I first came down with an invisible illness shortly after being in a car struck by a semi-truck, things looked pretty bleak.

My thought process after six months of dealing with the constant doctor visits and physical therapy, with the pain, fatigue, and fevers, was that either me or my illness was gonna go. Both of us were not gonna share this body.

Fix it or kill me. That was my motto. I could not conceive of a world in which I could not work, but in which I still had value. Value despite a dollar amount I was bringing in. No part of me wanted to accept that I would have to learn to live with this, or that my life not only had to be paused, but also that I may never be able to participate in the same ways as before no matter what I tried to cure myself. We hadn’t even started talking about disease processes or autoimmune or anything at all other than injury from the car accident, but I was frustrated that I just kept getting worse the more work I did to heal.

On the days in between flare ups, before I knew what a flare up even was, I insisted to myself that I was cured, and I was horribly let down and unprepared for every single episode or new symptom that manifested.

When people told me it would be easier and better to approach my illness from a place of positivity, I was furious, because they were making the assumption that I wanted to live with pain in every part of my body, and I really did not, at least not at that point. I had just recently been perfectly healthy, my body and brain up to any challenge set in front of me. How could I adjust to being so drastically limited and in so much pain I couldn’t even drive or work a full shift? It truly seemed impossible.

It also felt like when people tried to encourage me to make peace with all the unknowns and all the debilitating symptoms they were implying that mind over matter would cure me, or at least allow me to live a ‘normal’ or fulfilling life. Again, a life without a job and my recently hard-won independence seemed so completely unfulfilling. I went straight into defensive language, outbursts, and isolation at the first suggestion that somehow I was expected to be strong enough to cope with physical weakness, fatigue, pain, sensitivities to sound, light, chemicals, smells, and touch, energy crashes, cognitive dysfunction, lack of ability to work or drive, and the accompanying guilt and grief that go with losing your place in life right after you gain autonomy over it for the first time. I could find so many more reasons to be upset than to be optimistic. It felt like everything I loved had been ripped away, like all my choices had been taken from me. Of course that isn’t true, but for newly diagnosed or undiagnosed pain patients, especially at a young age, it’s entirely common to feel like it is the end of your life and nothing good will ever be possible again unless it comes packaged as a complete and total cure. The temptation is to retreat and hope that you can pick back up again where you left off when you feel better, and that’s acceptable with temporary injuries and illnesses, but with chronic illness there are often no “feel better” days, and there is only so much hiding from life you can do before it becomes apparent that life is going to continue, albeit differently.

I still have moments where I think I can’t handle it, and weeks where everything spins around me and I hope hope hope I will still be okay when it all lands again. I still fear for my future, I fear for my relationships, and feel insecure about my lowered libido, frequent whining, fitness level, and inability to contribute financially. Those things are part of being human though, if I didn’t experience some guilt and upset over them, I wouldn’t be me.

Amazingly, I have learned a lot through illness. I have learned to be patient no matter how uncomfortable or unhappy I am. I have learned to take care of and prioritize myself even when it feels selfish and lazy. I have learned that internalized ableism is what makes me feel that way, and that ableism does not do me any good, especially not when it has become a part of my own thought process. I have learned the importance of asking for help, though I haven’t quite mastered actually asking for it. So much has sunk in; things that I was resistant to when fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome first reared their heads. I wonder if I am even the same person anymore, but not in a totally negative way.

I have learned above all that there is not as much wrong with me as there is with a society that teaches people to base worth off of income earned, sexual intensity, physical ability, and even intelligence. There is nothing wrong with having an excess of one or even all of those things. But there is nothing inherently better about possessing those things, either. Except that it certainly makes your way in life a lot easier to have money, health, sex appeal, and unlimited brainpower. Maybe that’s what I like more about myself now; it’s not that easy anymore, I can’t just draw on one of those things and call myself a better person for having it. I can’t reassure myself with meaningless attributes, and that is its own kind of blessing. I have to concern myself instead with things like courage, persistence, kindness, and even that elusive thing we call happiness. Amidst all the pain, being ill has given me something wonderful; it has allowed me to seek out those true, meaningful, beautiful traits in others, regardless of what value society has assigned to someone.

I’m actually surprised that the person I was ten years ago has grown up into a person who does not hate herself and who rarely wastes energy on disliking others. It’s a pleasant realization. I really believe I must have hated myself to treat my abled and active body with such disdain, and to have thought I was so boring when my life was always so full of unique friendships and passions, and to have constantly been comparing myself to others and feeling so shortchanged. Not to say I don’t have moments where my body is a source of insecurity, and I certainly get frustrated with the slow, meandering pace that my brain operates at now. Somehow though, over the years, the negativity has become tempered with “but tomorrow I will be grateful for what I do have”.

A lot of my current (relative) level of peace has to do with getting almost all the way off of Lyrica and starting to paint again (more about that soon!). A lot of it has to do with this blog and the wonderful people who have introduced themselves and the strong sense of community that lives here. Also through the groups I have been invited into because of my writing here. A lot has to do with therapy, some of it with self-therapy techniques, and some with the actual, lasting progress I have made along the way. It’s easy to look back at three and a half years of illness and feel overwhelmed with all the life I have not lived in that time. I had planned to have a career and a child by now, and perhaps to have bought my house.

Ten years ago, I would have only seen that big dark cloud of not measuring up materially to the person I had set out to become, and I never would have noticed all the glints of silver lining to be found from where I’m standing in the rain. Three years ago, I feared there was no happiness or peace to be found amongst the terror and the overwhelming nature of being sick in my early twenties. Two years ago, I knew that others lived with diseases and still had fulfilling lives, but the knowledge just made me angry. A year ago, the knowledge that others out there were dealing with similar things and did not want to die every single day started to give me hope, and this blog helped me find those people and learn the self-acceptance that I needed so badly.

Now, I want to start to figure out what I can do to give back, but I have taken a pretty big set back this week by conscious overexertion so I could spend time with my family and my mom while she was visiting Oregon for ten days. During my recovery from this, I will be writing more and pondering what I have to contribute, and where the chronic pain community would be best served by what I do have to offer.

Thank you for reading my blog, thank you for reaching out to me, thank you for being so understanding and gentle, and so patient. I couldn’t have done it without you.

Do You Have a Favorite or Inspiring Book that has Helped You Through Illness or Chronic Pain?

I just received Toni Bernhart’s ‘How To Be Sick’ from my mom while she is visiting Portland for a week, and I’m super excited to read this one, but holding it in my hands made me realize how much I read about chronic illness online and how weird it is that I have never picked up a single book about it the entire time I have been ill. That is odd, right? I used to read a book a day, for about a decade between 3rd grade and the middle of high school, and then suddenly reading and I broke up. I also broke up with writing at that time, and didn’t look back except with nostalgia and faint longing to be able to sit down and pour everything I wanted to say out on a few pages and be free from it. I’m not really sure what happened, if I just lost faith in my intelligence and abilities, if I wanted to focus on other things creatively, or if it’s because I started working and suddenly reading and creativity both were not as important as before.

For whatever reason, it’s been a long time since I’ve read more than a book a month (even less lately), although I read voraciously online and peruse a wide variety of articles from scientific journals to nonfiction, self help to romance, blogs to buzzfeed, human interest stories to medical news, campaigns and conspiracy theories. You name it, I probably stumble across it and get sucked into reading about it all day long at least once every few months.

Since I read every day online, I figured maybe part of my self care routine and something to help recharge my creativity could be to set aside just ten minutes at first each day to read printed media, more if I care to (and I usually do). It’s been interesting because most of the books I have picked up to re-read from my extra-super-nerdy childhood do not interest me, except the books about space and quantum physics, and the collection of beat poets and writers I still love so very much. I have made a promise to myself to buy a book a month from now on, and the next one is Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur, but after that I have no idea!

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Right now, I’m looking for books that focus on similar themes to ‘How To Be Sick’, especially the mindfulness aspect, but also things that may appeal to caretakers and are eye-opening or have been life-changing for ya’ll.

I you can think of any books that have particularly helped you on your journey, or that have spoken to your as a caretaker, I would love to get suggestions for my next read after ‘How To Be Sick’.

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Hopefully I will be able to update more frequently in the next few weeks and read more blogs, both things I have been seriously neglecting. I have some new paintings to share, and they’re not extravagant or anything to get too excited about, but it just feels good to be creating something, no matter how small or simple.

In Honor of Rare Disease Day 2015: The Difficult Diagnosis

I would like to take a moment to recognize that February 28th is Rare Disease Day.

The name implies that not that many people are affected, but that’s a totally false assumption. There are way more of us than you would ever guess! Many of these diseases are so rare that physicians do not know how to test for them, would not recognize the symptoms, or take adequate steps to obtain diagnosis. There is only room for a certain amount of information in each person’s head, and I’m not implying doctors aren’t doing their job, just that there are probably many more who live with rare diseases than are currently counted on the tally, which is already estimated at well over 300 million worldwide. I live with rare disease, I know many who do as well, and let me tell you, a rare disease is a special kind of hell burden. Doctors think you’re crazy for even bringing up genetic testing, they think you’re a hypochondriac if you tell them what your symptoms and odd blood tests match from all your painstaking research, which if you have a rare disease, you absolutely have to do, and they scoff at the mention of names they’ve only briefly skimmed in texts and never seen in real life.

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My rare diseases are ones that are actually fairly well-known, though doctors usually don’t know much beyond a one sentence summary (if I’m lucky), so finding proper treatment or even a specialist with a depth of knowledge on them is difficult. My path to finding a diagnosis is not over yet, and what I have managed to find out has been like pulling teeth. I know I’m one of the lucky ones just learning as much as I have so far.

When I first gathered the courage and research needed to talk to a doctor about Ehler-Danlos Syndrome, her immediate reaction was to call me fat. Yes, really. She looked at me, puzzled, and said, “Isn’t that a disease for tall and thin people?” and I had to bite my tongue, hard. I also had to accept that she was not going to help me with this. Not now, and not ever. She simply thought I was nuts, even though I match 100% of both diagnostic criteria. It was humiliating, I felt lower than dirt and like maybe she was right, maybe it was all in my head, I was making this up for attention or so I didn’t have to work anymore. She had me so confused at a difficult time in my life when I didn’t realize that pain affects cognitive abilities, and she definitely abused her position of power as a doctor, numerous times. I started to internalize all her comments about my psychiatric health, personality flaws, and physical unattractiveness. I lost trust in myself completely because I thought I was either dying or a liar, and I couldn’t figure out which one.

Unfortunately for my entire story, really, I was in the middle of a lawsuit with a company whose semi-truck hit me, so I didn’t want to switch doctors, even though she was pretty incompetent and wouldn’t sign off on X-Rays for months after my car accident, not to mention that she made me cry and hate myself and panic for days after every appointment. This doctor often repeated with obvious frustration that there weren’t a lot of options, she didn’t know what else to do for me, and that my panic disorder was obviously the root cause of all my problems, not my car accident. Sigh… there’s much more to my dealings with her, I have a long list of quotes that would make you cringe! But telling me it was all in my head was her favorite. She did it in writing, even.

Nevermind that I had actually been diagnosed with two relatively serious spinal injuries once we started taking X-Rays and MRI’s, and they were dire enough to warrant my two neurosurgeons getting excited and thinking they were going to get to cut into me. Both of them were told politely that for me, back surgery is not for curing pain, it needs to be done for a more compelling reason, or in the case where surgery will stop further degeneration. Neither one of those things is true for me, and neither doctor really believed that they could improve my pain in the long run. They both just wanted to “cut and see”. No. I have enough problems without botched spine surgery! In addition to the torn disc in my lumbar and the one in my cervical spine, there are also a set of birth defects including the Spina Bifida, plus 11 Schmorl’s Nodes (central disc tears that protrude into the vertebrae below), nerve root cysts, a random scarred area of my spine about a centimeter across, height loss and disc desiccation, bulging discs, disc degeneration/arthritis, and best of all, completely unexplained extra cerebrospinal fluid trapped in odd places in my spinal column, even two years after the car accident. I was told that none of that stuff was a big deal, but I beg to differ! At 22 I had more problems with my spine that most people in their 70’s or 80’s. That is not “normal”. As far as figuring out what out of all those issues is causing me pain? I don’t think it even matters at this point, studies have failed time and time again to relate MRI changes of the spine to specific problems. We all seem to experience them differently. Supposedly other people whose spines look like mine can actually function as if nothing is going wrong in there. Good for them. I guess I’m just rare on all accounts!

Ehler-Danlos Syndrome, Spina Bifida, Fibromyalgia, CFS/ME and Occipital Neuralgia

I sought out the local teaching hospital in desperation, starting at the pain clinic where I was, somehow unbeknownst to me, diagnosed with fibromyalgia, hyperalgesia, allodynia, and neuropathy. Since no one bothered to mention that I had been diagnosed with those things, I was still frantically looking for answers in a myriad of other directions, while waiting two months for my referral to rheumatology, where I finally figured out what was happening to me, or at least found out that I had been right all along to keep pushing, and to not let any MD stigmatize me into silence.

My primary care at that time still didn’t believe that I was in real pain, even after emailing back and forth with my fibro specialist, and I’m pretty sure she thought fibromyalgia was a fake diagnosis. She told me she was sure I didn’t have it even after two specialists diagnosed me months apart, at the most reputable hospital in the state. “Other people have it so much worse, just get over it” (not necessarily as true as she thought it was… I was just very stubborn about hiding how bad it had gotten because it made me seem even crazier). “You’re a smart girl, I don’t understand why you can’t figure this out” (thanks?). “If you would just eat right, this wouldn’t be such a big issue” (Wanna come over to my house and cook healthy every night and watch me throw it up later because many “healthy” foods hate my body? Didn’t think so… I’m doing my best. Food doesn’t cure chronic illnesses, though it does help). “I can’t do anything for your pain, but you should really start taking longer walks” (this was a favorite of hers… infuriating when you are trying to decide if walking to the toilet is even an option right now). “You won’t get better by taking time off work, you just need to try to get through it.” and best of all: “Oh, is that your sympathy cane?” Phew. Right. Because if you can’t see it, you must make the person feel terrible for having it. I struggled through years of increasingly aggravating (more like tortuous) physical therapy and massage, while my other symptoms began to make themselves known and I pushed them away, in denial.

It was all related to panic attacks, I told myself. Calm the fuck down, Jessi, then it will stop.

Except, it didn’t stop, even on a massive dose of 3mg per day of clonazepam, which works out to about 9mg circulating in your system at any given time, more if you’re a slow metabolizer.

I was stuck with that mean, bitchy primary care doctor, throughout the three years of wasting what little energy and brainpower I had on a lawsuit that failed because I was too exhausted, sick and in severe, never-endingpain to focus on seeing it through.

In the end I went into the office of the attorneys who represented the company that hit me, just me and my boyfriend, and I talked them up a couple thousand from the measly couple thousand they offered. I made the attorney I was arguing with leave the room to talk to his boss at least eight times, and after three years of work and hope and being told my case was worth hundreds of thousands because my life had been utterly destroyed by this accident, I was dropped by my lawyer within a month of my court date and told for the first time that the accident didn’t ‘look big enough’ to have ruined my life, and a jury would think I was malingering. I gave up, something in me snapped after three years of putting so much hope into being fairly compensated for what had happened to me on my way to work and all the torture I had endured since, all the tests and all the ER trips and the days spent in woozy pain land.

We closed the case in the enemy’s plush, modern law practice, at the beautiful inlaid table, in the room with soaring glass walls overlooking a rooftop garden and downtown Portland. When the attorney picked up my signature off the table and began to turn his back and walk away, I felt my soul deflating. I had been keeping strict wraps on my panic attacks for months up until that moment, but my body took over right then. It started as a swelling in my chest and a ripping sensation in my throat, and then a noise that sounded more like a dying animal than an upset human tore it’s way loudly out of my lungs. I am not sure how long I sat there and screamed at the top of my lungs, my boyfriend trying to close the curtains while people came up to the glass room like I was a monkey in a zoo, staring in at the girl freaking out for no apparent reason.

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What my doctors are starting to understand now, years later, is that I was so affected by the car accident because I was a perfect storm of bad genes, PTSD related scars in my spine and on my brain, and birth defects; a ticking time bomb that exploded when I was hit, and set in motion a cascade of chronic illnesses.

Ehler-Danlos Syndrome is congenital, and it often comes along with a host of other rare conditions, such as Chiari Malformation, POTS, OI or other autonomic nervous system failures falling under the category of dysautonomia. Having a tethered spine, cognitive impairments, Occipital Neuralgia/Migraines, Trigeminal Neuralgia, TMJD, Spina Bifida, Chronic Fatigue, and Fibromyalgia are all associated as well, among many other issues. There are two scales to help you figure out at home if you may need to bring Ehler-Danlos up with your own doctor; one is called the Brighton Scale, and one is called the Beighton Score. Either one is accepted as the standard for diagnosing the disorder in the absence of genetic testing, but it’s easy to measure both scores at the same time.

BEIGHTON SCORING SYSTEM for Ehler-Danlos Syndrome:

Beighton Score Chart: Evaluating for Ehler-Danlos Syndrome

It is extremely important to know if you have EDS, especially if female, one of the reasons being it can be an issue with pregnancy. In addition, it affects your connective tissues, which are not just in your joints, they are in your organs and throughout your body as well. It’s also important to know that if you suspect you have it, the treatment is not much different for EDS type III Hypermobility (the most common) as it is for severe Joint Hypermobility Syndrome, so even if you can’t get a formal diagnosis of EDS, insist on them writing the severity of your JHS in your medical charts for a more discerning doctor to pick up on later, hopefully, and then do physical therapy for hypermobility, but carefully and only under the guidance of someone who knows how to improve muscle tone around the joints without stressing them too much or risking them subluxing or slipping out!

There are 6 main subsets of Ehler Danlos, but even more variances than that exist within the condition when you get really technical. Some are much, much worse than what I suspect is going on with me. I have a friend I greatly respect and admire, who actually managed to acquire not one, but two forms of the rare disease in utero.

Here are the various types of Ehler-Danlos Syndrome:

The main six types:
Classic Type I, Classic Type II
Hypermobility Type III
Vascular Type IV
Kyphoscoliotic Type VI
Arthrochalasia Type VII A-B
Dermatosparaxis Type VII C

The actual meanings and specifics of all these diagnoses is variable and too lengthy to go into detail on here, but for more info, feel free to head over to EDNF.org (Ehlers Danlos National Foundation) which has a lot of good info for patients and physicians alike. I am still trying to hunt down a doctor who will agree to genetic testing, but in the meanwhile I am doing my best to learn to avoid subluxated joints and painful dislocations as much as possible.

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“More than 350 million people worldwide suffer from a rare disease. If a disease affects fewer than 200,000 people in the United States, it is considered rare. There are currently about 7,000 rare diseases identified worldwide, and approximately 80 percent are caused by genetic changes. These diseases are often chronic, progressive, complex, life-threatening, and affect the quality of life.”

via Global Genes: Is Genetic Testing My Path to Diagnosis?

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I was born premature. For many reasons that were unavoidable at the time, my mom was on medications that are now considered seriously unsafe to a fetus and one in particular which has been straight-up recalled by the FDA, called Terbutaline, to keep me inside, and to keep her alive while medical emergencies kept cropping up. It was not a fun pregnancy for my mom and it was her first, and I think in the disaster of incompetent doctors I just got lost in the shuffle. I was pronounced a healthy baby with a minor heart murmur and bi-lateral hip dysplasia, and no one even noticed the Spina Bifida and hypoplastic vertebrae. I can’t blame them, when you’re contemplating heart surgery on a preemie infant, I suppose there are enough things to worry about without actively looking for more issues. Now it is tested for regularly, and monitored for in families with a history, though it is not entirely clear if genes, environment, or more likely a combination of the two, are to be blamed for it’s appearance in a fetus. However, we do know that it happens within the first four weeks, and the risks of having a baby with Spina Bifida if you have it yourself are much higher than for someone without it, but are also greatly reduced by taking 4mg of folic acid a day. Doctors vary on how long a woman should be taking the folic acid for optimum results, but all say a very minimum of a month, some say a year, of taking a regular dose of folic acid and other prenatal vitamins before attempting to become pregnant.

My father has Spina Bifida Occulta as well, and the same cracking joints that get stuck, but he is the opposite of flexible. I, however, was a gymnast nicknamed “Rubber Band Girl” by my teammates because I was so damn bendy. My younger brother has Spina Bifida too, and is also still insanely limber and never ‘grew out of it’ like he was told, and has joint pain as well. I was much more active than him as a kid, involved in gymnastics, swimming, ballet, tee-ball/softball and just about anything else I could attempt my hand at.

My pain has skyrocketed uncontrollably throughout young adulthood, especially since my car accident, but before that I had pain that I thought was either normal or “no big deal” (although you could see by my declining test scores throughout middle and high school that it was a big deal) and tried to play it off in a variety of ways. I especially remember that getting picked up as a kid was something I dreaded with the wrong person, because too much digging in my armpits or hips or back was insanely painful. As a child and throughout being a teen, my hip used to pop out while I was lying in bed, and I would be frozen, silently screaming like the wind was completely knocked out of me until I could force it back in. But that was “normal”?

The Spina Bifida pain presented itself mostly as tailbone pain and low back pain throughout my childhood and teenage years. I could do more sit-ups than anyone else in a minute, in my entire grade, boy or girl, but I had to be on the cushiest stack of floor mats or I couldn’t even do one. Laying on a hard surface would make me sweat with pain. Again… why that was normal, I don’t know. Anything that requires lengths of sitting or lying on something hard left me wondering if I was going insane, or if I should tell someone how much it hurt. It took until last year to get a formal diagnosis of Spina Bifida added to my chart, but I am so glad I know now and that I know to seek medical advice before becoming pregnant, if that is an option for me at all in the future.

From my rambling about it, I’m sure you gathered that Spina Bifida is one of these rare diseases as well. It is widely screened for now, thankfully, and there is even a surgery that can be done in utero to close a hole in the spine of the fetus if the problem is very severe. People with Spina Bifida who are looking to conceive can obtain genetic counseling to see what their chances are of birthing a non-affected child.

website-cover-WRDMonth-2-1600x1200

I had planned to write more, and maybe I will come back and do some more work on this post soon, as I just learned that this entire coming month is dedicated to raising awareness for rare diseases.

Related Media for Further Research:

http://www.rarediseaseday.org/ – An organization dedicated to bringing to light rare diseases and their causal factors. Networking for patients.

http://globalgenes.org/rarelist/ – A comprehensive list of almost all known rare diseases, with links to organizations where possible. This website also has toolkits for various life situations that face patients and caretakers, as well as packets for starting a fundraiser for rare disease. They have quality images for spreading awareness through social media as well. Most of the ones I used in this post come from their press release packet.

https://www.rareconnect.org/en – Hosted by trusted patient advocates, this is a place where rare disease patients can connect with others globally.

EDNF.org (Ehlers Danlos National Foundation) has a lot of good info, for patients and physicians alike. It also includes a section on how to find a diagnosis, and many of my friends have stated that emailing the organization can help push you through to an interested specialist as quickly as possible.

http://chronicillnessproblems.tumblr.com/EhlersDanlosInfo – An awesome collection of information assembled by a fellow blogger. Incredibly thorough and way more in depth than my little synopsis! She also has a wealth of links and research included, which is nice for those of us who like to learn as much as possible.

http://www.spinabifidaassociation.org/ – For 15 years the Spina Bifida Association has been seeking answers, spreading knowledge, and connecting patients. This website has a great selection of information for patients, practitioners, and caregivers.

Rare Disease affects Millions

Pledge to Blog For Mental Health

Blog For Mental Health http://blogformentalhealth.com/ is an official project set up to help raise awareness for Mental Health education through the stories we share on our blogs. The aim is to educate and eradicate stigma. To become a part of the project, all you need to do is write a post and take the BFMH pledge.

“I pledge my commitment to the Blog for Mental Health 2015 Project. I will blog about mental health topics not only for myself, but for others. By displaying this badge, I show my pride, dedication, and acceptance for mental health. I use this to promote mental health education in the struggle to erase stigma.”

I found this little encouraging poster for those of us with chronic pain or chronic illness experiencing some of that unpleasant guilt factor:

five things to remember

This pledge to Blog for Mental Health is perfect for me, as I am always attempting to combat the stigma that chronic illness carries, especially that which is lobbied against chronic pain patients. Much of what is thrown at me by way of an excuse for a doctor or nurse to not treat my pain is that my anguish is “all in my head” and therefore they have no responsibility to help me. I think that’s bullcrap, even if it were “just in my head”, where does a doctor who is not a psychiatrist or psychologist or any mental health professional at all, get off deciding that arbitrarily? It seems like having a psychiatric disorder severe enough to cause me to feel severe pain for no reason whatsoever, pain coming purely from my thought process; that wouldn’t be the kind of issue a doctor should just brush off so arrogantly, so hurtfully. What those doctors, one after another, were really saying was “you just need to toughen up and get over it, or you must be faking your problems or exaggerating a lot.” How much trust do you have in the healthcare professional who has sympathy for neither physical nor mental pain? Zero, the answer is most definitely ZERO.

Mental health and chronic illness go hand in hand, especially when pain is involved. It automatically becomes more important and more difficult to maintain our self-worth and sense of value. There is inevitable guilt, grief, and even moments of complete terror and helplessness to be worked through when living a life with chronic illness that sets limitations on us and impacts our daily life. It changes everything to be sick. In light of all that upheaval, it seems pretty clear that we cannot fully achieve the kind of healing we are looking for, whether that is complete recovery or simple acceptance, if we don’t address our conditions from every possible angle, with a major focus on supporting mental well-being for those managing chronic conditions.

I do try to be as emotionally honest as possible in this blog, but from now on I will be paying extra attention to making sure I fully and accurately convey the feelings that I am truly dealing with, rather than the feelings I wish I was having. That will force me to start identifying my own emotions more, which can only be a good thing as it will help me discover patterns and triggers, which is a major goal of mine this year.

In addition to taking the pledge to Blog for Mental Health, I promise to spend more time reading and commenting on fellow mental health bloggers’ work, and will seek out new research and interesting coping techniques, while striving to be more open about my own mental health journey in the process.

To kick this off, it seems logical that I state clearly that in addition to my many other invisible illnesses, my diagnoses include several anxiety disorders (well, more like all of them…), PTSD, depression, and ADHD. There’s more, I feel like, but I’m distracted by the fact that I usually don’t like to write down that I have depression or PTSD. I have always believed that they are my fault, some massively shameful character flaw that I could (and should) just ignore until they go away. That view has changed, but it still doesn’t sink in that I do not need to feel guilty or ashamed of those parts of myself. Slowly, ever so slowly, I’m relearning everything I thought I knew about mental health and I am getting used to taking it easier on myself in the process. I didn’t choose mental illness, or chronic pain, but I am doing the best with what I have been given.

I’m honored to take part in the Blog For Mental Health 2015 project. Check out the BFMH website and take the pledge!

To celebrate being involved with this wonderful project, I will be updating my Resources page with several mental health subsections with support groups, research websites, and anything else useful that I can dig up around the web.

Hope this finds you in a low pain day, beautiful spoonies. ❤

Being Sad Doesn’t Make You a Leper

With a chronic illness or two (or five), it can feel, especially at first, like all mental growth and development is in limbo, that it is all so beyond you. Your ability to focus, care, be motivated/inspired, or be fully present in life is even suspended, and it takes a huge amount of effort to immerse yourself in any part of your day, from work to free time, pain can be so overriding that it even becomes difficult to focus on your significant other’s needs like you used to, or even to be aware of them. You feel terrible about these things, we all do. No one likes to have to compare our old selves to our new selves post chronic-illness.

And I respect that, very much so, and do not want to take away from the reality of those moments. Though I often try to emphasize the positive on this blog, I will be honest, there days when I have to write the positive message I want to say over and over again until I really believe it, or skip the “fake it till you make it” approach and wait to post something until I feel less cynical about life. I am often stumped by my own depression, my own guilt. My illnesses and pain often overwhelm me and leave me so hopeless I can’t even bear to write about it. I never want to trivialize the absolute difficulty of living in constant, unrelenting pain that threatens to burn you alive with its intensity. During times when I feel that terrible and dysfunctional in every way, I tend to shut down, pouring my energy into worry, fear of rejection, and often anger, among other negative emotions. I do not believe it is anyone’s “fault” if they feel upset about something. There is always, always, always a reason for why people feel and act the way they do, and though that may not excuse behavior that is harmful towards others, it also provides a framework for starting to understand those in all stages of recovery or maintenance with a chronic illness. Just because some of us happen to be really good at dealing with pain, and some of us do not handle it as well, does not make those of us who are struggling any less worthy of love or admiration for where we are in our life and what it has taken us to get there. It also does not give someone who is in a better place mentally, or who feels like they are in a better place, the right to demerit someone who is just starting out on this journey, or someone who is picking themselves up from the depths of hell for the 42nd time and trying again, or even someone who isn’t yet aware of the path in front of them and can only focus on their own misery all of the time. These are all stages of the same state of existing and trying to thrive with a chronic illness. We are no better or worse than anyone else in pain, or bedbound, or learning to walk again, or even than someone who has given up, spiralled deeper and deeper into the sadder side of illness. No one wants to suffer. We were not born aiming for misery. At no point did someone walk up to us and sell us this illness, we did not choose it, we would do anything to be better, and many of have done everything. This is hard. Bottom line. You are allowed to have days, weeks, months, years, where you feel like a failure. You are allowed to grieve, hurt, or be miserable. You are allowed to scream, cry, or feel the hollow, numb, hopeless apathy wash over you for a time. These are your emotions, you are supposed to feel both highs and lows, and all things in between.

No one gets to tell you that you aren’t dealing with your illness in the best possible way for you, even your doctor’s advice needs to be taken with a grain of salt and a deep knowledge of what is right for you, in a long-term sense. Listening to your intuition is confidence boosting, I promise. We are all doing our best, even if the whole world makes you feel like a scab on a wound stuck on the back of society, that is not our fault, and it is not forever! Nothing is worse than being stuck in the negative side of emotions, and on top of that, also feeling guilty for your own disordered thoughts.

Dear spoonies, you are doing the best you can. Please, please, try to take some comfort in the fact that there are people out there who know how hard you’re working, how every single day is a massive achievement, and how determined you really are underneath the tears, the desperation, and the bad habits that will not be dealt with right now.

You don’t have to think positive all the time. You can be loved anyway, no matter what side of the emotional spectrum you are currently leaning towards. You are still worth just as much when you are sad as when you are happy, so please don’t feel like just because you are depressed, you are worthless. Depression is a part of this. A study from 2008 at Northwestern University shows how pain actually changes our brains, and it takes some time to adjust to that change and figure out how to work around what you have been given. We are all different, there is no formula for everyone to achieve optimum happiness, and anyone that insists there is might not be as brilliant as they appear.

Chronic Pain Harms the Brain, Study Finds

CHRONIC PAIN HARMS THE BRAIN

In a new study, investigators at the Feinberg School of Medicine have identified a clue that may explain how suffering long-term pain could trigger other pain-related symptoms.

– See more at: http://www.northwestern.edu/newscenter/stories/2008/02/chronicpain.html#sthash.dRdjvMuf.dpuf

Someone who tells you that it is possible to be chronically ill your whole life without dealing with bouts of depression, obviously hasn’t suffered any major trauma in their life, either that or they are in some deep denial. Whatever the reason for their skewed logic, don’t listen to that crap. Illness can be traumatizing, but you are safe in thinking your thoughts, no one has dominion over what you feel, you are in charge, you are allowed to experience the ups and the downs in life without censorship. Just in case you don’t have a safe place to be yourself in all of your disease’s ups and down, I am always honored to listen and encourage. No one should ever have to do this alone. Chronic illness is an adventure best enjoyed surrounded by those who understand and commend your quiet everyday courage just in getting up each morning to a body that does not behave and a life that is more stressful than most. I admire each and every one of you, even if we haven’t met yet, I know you’re trying and I’m rooting for you.

Beautiful spoonies, you all fight so hard, and that makes me so proud to be a part of this wonderful and supportive community. Even if we’re depressed from time to time, we are still fighting to be here in a meaningful way, and very much deserving of finding that. ❤

The 1 Year Anniversary of The Worst Week

I have been through some extremely tough things in my life. Up until this time last year, I refused to say that any particular day or week or month was the worst of my life. It wasn’t worth thinking about, really, lots of it had been bad, but lots of it had been life-shaping, wondrous, or a learning experience, and it all balanced out in my mind.

Last year, this same week, I was sitting in a hospital sobbing, begging the universe to give us back my boyfriend’s father, who was in a coma after having a stroke. He had been rushed to the hospital within minutes of my boyfriend’s mom, Pat, noticing that his speech was odd, and that in the bathroom there was shaving cream everywhere on the walls and the floor. She was so on the ball, and we are so lucky that she was, because he had been about to get in the car to drive them both to our house. Who knows what would have happened, but it would have been so much worse and more traumatic for my boyfriend if they had both been in the car when he lost control of his body. We rushed to the first hospital he was taken to. He couldn’t speak, but he kept smiling, which was weird and scared me, he rarely smiled unless it was for a very important reason. I told him with the least tears in my voice that I could manage, that he was the best dad a girl could ask for, and he smiled at me and nodded a little, and I do not know if he understood me or not, but I am glad that the next and last thing I said to him was “I love you dad.”

He was not the normal stroke case, they were limited in that they could not administer the regular drugs because he had platinum in his head from a surgery to correct an aneurysm a decade prior. But the fact that he could indeed wiggle his toes and fingers these first few hours, and move his face and nod at us, even stand and follow some basic commands, it all seemed so promising. We were sent home by Pat to get rest, and within hours I came down with a violent case of the swine flu. That was Sunday, and it was the last day Dave knew who we were. We had no idea what was happening or what was going to happen, what it all meant. There was only shock.

That week, every morning we would go to the hospital as the sun was coming up, there were no visiting hours so we just got up and went there straight out of bed. I didn’t shower, I was in a horrible pain flare up and my body was playing host to a gnarly bug and just couldn’t manage through the whole routine, but I did pull on a dress every single day for some reason, and I do not know why. Every day I was not allowed to go back and see him at all, because of the swine flu. I sat outside the ICU on a bench with a bucket and a box of tissues and cried my heart out for hours at a time. No one looked at me or paid any attention to the girl directly in front of the ICU doors, crying and taking rounds of pills every two hours.

That Friday my boyfriend was scheduled to have his third major hip surgery in as many years. We obviously did not think it was a good idea to put him under while his father was in a coma. He cancelled the surgery he had waited almost a full year for and arranged his school schedule around, because there was just no way. And I am so glad that he didn’t go through with it.

Sometime towards the end of that week of fear, shock, and grief, I had an appointment up at OHSU, the teaching hospital in Portland, at the Frida Fibro Clinic. I was so delirious and sick. The pain from days of sitting on benches in front of the ICU in odd positions had overwhelmed me, and then the sadness for my boyfriend, his mother, and the father I had for five years all crashed around me louder than anything else. My aunt and uncle drove me to the appointment so my boyfriend could be with his mom. I was already not driving because my arms were not strong enough and did not always respond to my commands, and the side effects from the meds plus brain fog were so great that I often did really stupid things even if my body was working. I felt crazy and I was baffled at that time, because I had been the first girl able to bench 160 in my middle school. I had been effortlessly stronger than most people my entire life, and now… nothing in my body seemed to be obeying me.

Up until that point I had already been dealing with chronic pain for two years and one month, but I knew nothing about living well with a chronic illness yet. To my sorrow and guilt, it was difficult for me to even snap through the pain and be there for my boyfriend emotionally. That was so unlike me. I have always been there for those I love in their times of need, not just when it was convenient, but always. For some reason I couldn’t understand at the time, it was like my brain was wrapped in layer after layer of cotton and nothing could get in or out. Mainly out of fear and desperation, I kept my appointment. I wanted to find an instant fix that meant I could go home and help my boyfriend, support him in every way possible. I knew I was doing a terrible job and it was breaking my heart.

At this appointment I was kind of expecting to find out if I had fibromyalgia or not. It had been discussed briefly as a possibility in my previous appointment at OHSU’s Pain Center. I didn’t understand that there was no further test than the quick poke test I had done a month prior at the pain clinic, which I had heard her and her PA mention I “failed” but that was all. They had sent me to get a bunch of blood testing after that appointment, testing that got seriously screwed up by their clinic. After telling me the blood draw had not been done correctly, there had been no further news from anyone in between appointments. So I was completely horrified when the nurse practitioner that I was seeing glanced at a chart and said bluntly, “I see you have fibromyalgia, I’m sure you have prepared a bunch of questions to ask me. We also need to find out if there seems to be anything going on in addition to the fibro that needs to be handled by a rheumatologist.”

My brain kind of exploded. I saw rust colored shadows closing in around me, started sweating profusely, felt dizzy and my stomach went sour instantly. I didn’t connect any of that to the fibromyalgia she had just discussed, but rather I was still trying really hard to believe all the doctors prior who had told me it was all in my head. If it was all in my head, I could just… snap out of it, right? To have a name for it though, and one whose meaning I understood only a fraction of (but which seemed ominous even then), and to experience that in the middle of the grief I was already feeling hollowed out by… I was in no way prepared to hear my diagnosis that way. There’s no good way to receive life-altering medical news, but there are some really terrible ways, and my pain doctor somehow forgetting a whole month earlier to tell me she had diagnosed me then and there with fibromyalgia was one. If I had known I could have researched, I could have digested the news far better in a time when overwhelming sadness for my family was not my constant concern.

All I remember from the rest of the appointment is being sick. Nothing she said made it into my distracted, shocked, grieving brain.

A year later, a lot has changed, but grief for my boyfriend’s father’s  passing is not any less present, any less sad. We miss  Dave terribly, but we have done so much to make him proud this year. My boyfriend has since made it through two semesters of full time course loads, passing everything, getting some solid A’s on half his classes! I am so proud of his strength. At the same time, we finished up the basement to our house, and by “we” I mean all the pressure and responsibility that Dave was taking on with our house remodel fell on my boyfriend, who did not have the depth of knowledge on engineering, or building experience, that his father had. All the plans for the remodel were up in Dave’s engineer brain. We knew nothing about permits and where everything was and who to call, so it is entirely a testament to my boyfriend’s strength of character that it got done by October so we could rent it out.

When Dave passed, even the concrete was partially ripped out, every wall was gone, the plumbing wasn’t done, the electric was started but not finished, there was literally nothing down there. Now it is a fully functioning separate apartment, complete with electric fireplace, beautiful 6×4 ft shower tiled in stone, and an updated kitchen. We finished it while our roommates were moving in, so I do not have any pictures of the final project, but it’s a lovely two bedroom home. My partner also had to replace our vanity and sink upstairs in our bathroom in that time, plus fix up the other apartment that is attached to the back of the garage, a one bedroom cottage -style house with it’s own fenced part of the yard.

It has been a tsunami of change. The poor guy also rescheduled that major hip surgery in March, which took a brutal four months of recovery. I slept on the couch for all of that, so I could be near his recovery bed which was set up in the living room. Some of the things that have been accomplished in 2014 seem impossible. That one week exactly a year ago brought about so much change, so much grief, so much pain, personal strength and family closeness.

Though this week is the anniversary of the worst one I have ever been through, the week we lost a father, and the week I learned of my diagnosis of fibromyalgia, among other events, to my surprise we are still standing a full year later, and thriving even, though the grief is real and ever-present. Every day this year has been a struggle. Yet, there is still so much left to be thankful for, and we have done such a good job of finding those things. I feel blessed to be able to look back on a deeply sad year and still see the good, the progress, and the positive changes within both myself and my partner.

This holiday season, I hope everyone is willing to look back on a year that might not be perfect, and still see how it fostered (or forced) growth, resilience, and self-respect to blossom inside each of us. This was not an easy post to write. The changes this year brought about were not ones I would have chosen for myself, or my partner, but I am proud that we have done our best and we have always kept going, just like Dave would have wanted.

In loving memory of a devoted father, the man who built the foundation the rest of our lives are supported by.

Nothing will ever be the same without you, Dave. We miss you terribly. Most of all, we celebrate all of the wonderful things you did for your family. We are learning to talk openly about your accomplishments, the amount of time you got to spend with your son working on this house, and all the times you made us laugh; the things we miss the most about you. I hope that you are as proud of us as a family as I am of your son.

On Pushing Myself

Throughout all of this blogging experience I realize I have made a mistake. I often write as though my body is this weak thing that never gets off the couch and that I never use like I used to. While it’s true that almost every day is a series of compromises compared to my old life where I never stopped for a minute, there is still actually very little time in my life for rest. I am trying to make more. I am trying to encourage others to make more room in their lives for real, relaxed rest. But I know how hard/impossible that is with people who depend on you.

My body is not frail and weak, not by design any way. In my past life, I used my body every day for real, repetitive physical work, and then I came home and worked in the garden and on fixing up our home. I find it hard to give up those habits of the past me. The problem I see with continuing on like I am, without ever learning how to put my rest first, is that I know people with fibro who work full time and have continued to work without stopping since their diagnosis, and I see those friends take handfuls of pills now to keep on their feet, and they are miserable every second of it. None of them have improved by relentlessly pushing through the pain. They seem to regard their bodies with pure hatred, and I feel so bad for their struggles. Not to say I do not know some successful working friends with fibromyalgia, but those who are successful have learned to adapt, change, flex, and yes, compromise. They are not attempting to live the exact same life as before their illness hit.

There is acceptance before there is success, with a chronic illness. Acceptance does not mean giving up, it means finding another way forward. I am trying to find that way, but I don’t know where to look.

The other aspect I must find is balance. From past experience, the less I move, the more I hurt the next morning. However, too much movement can also send me into a horrible flare up. Other times, it’s just the tiniest sneeze or attempt to tie my shoe that send me into a downward spiral of pain and nausea and anxiety. I cannot seem to figure it all out. The longer I sleep, the more I hurt the next morning. If I don’t sleep enough I hurt more too. On and on like that, until it becomes more evident than ever before that having fibromyalgia and ME means I live a life balanced on the blade of a razor. One wrong move sends me plummeting into an abyss. The climb back out of which is terribly arduous and depressing and takes everything I have, every single time.

Until I can learn to stop falling (with the understanding that it will get better but never stop completely) the best I can do is to become better at getting back up again. The falls are inevitable, really. My ability to stand back up, to keep fighting, is all that keeps me from staying at the bottom of the abyss.

This determination to keep going, it demonstrates beyond a shadow of a doubt that my body is not weak. It is fighting. I am fighting. FMS/ME can’t take everything from me.

I will keep pushing myself. And I will keep doing more and more physical activity despite the pain, but I will not pretend that I do not have these illnesses. Not to myself and not to anyone else.

I am not weak, I am still always on my feet, never napping, never stopping for too long. There are those days when I do feel weak, but it is temporary. And I am thankful for my still-strong, still active body. Though I am mostly housebound and cannot figure out driving or working with all my meds and issues, I do not sit in one place with my heating pad more than once a week, except at the very end of the night, in bed. I do not lounge on the couch, I do not lay down in bed. If I need to lay down, it’s usually the floor that I end up on, because I’ve pushed myself that far and suddenly I am done moving, and even crawling is a challenge then. Some days pass me by and I feel like I have barely even participated in them at all, and sometimes I have nothing to show for myself, no matter how many time I paced back and forth, doubled over in pain every few minutes, trying to remember to do a task that has slipped my mind, yet again. But wallowing in bed is not in the script. If it gets that severe, I will know, my body will force me into bed, but it is not there yet and I will fight with everything I have to stay on my feet even if I get nothing done, even if the pain has me by the throat and chest, and I stare off into space and create jumbled garbage when I sit down to write and paint, even if I doze off in my chair for a few minutes at noon, and snap out of it by using the pain of doing the dishes to wake me up. It’s war. Whatever means necessary, you know?

This is life, fighting a long battle with a group of cruel illnesses who are using my body as their host. Tonight, after I have spent all day floating in a strange haze, I cannot be angry at myself for doing my best today despite the severe brain fog that plagued my every heavy step. The laundry is somehow done, and I managed to take a shower for the first time in four days, which feels like absolute heaven. I am snuggled up in a long sleeve waffle knit, two layered zip up hoodies, leggings, loose pajama bottoms and two pairs of soft cushy socks. Yes, it’s coooooold here!

Being cozy despite not being able to get comfortable, I have to reflect that many are not warm inside this winter, and I am so lucky to be here in this house wearing all these soft clothes, clean and dry. Suddenly my world is brighter and kinder, and I am transported out of the pain of my body and into my surroundings, able to participate again for a brief time, and thankful for every second of it!

capturinggratitude

If it is a particularly painful or fatigued day. I will allow my body to dictate some of the events of the day, but not all of them. It is enough that I keep trying to find my way, right now. As long as I do not give up, then this is learning, and it is messy and unpleasant and even at times thrilling. There are things my body can still do that would not have seemed possible a year ago. But there is also the agony of steadily increasing pain over time, the horrible fear that my strength and toughness will be outstripped by my worsening illnesses someday. I cannot get rid of the fear completely, but I can choose to not let it take me hostage. Who cares what tomorrow brings, because there is no controlling that. However, I do have control over my reactions, and that is enough to get from here to a better place, in time.

I can choose to live, right here and right now, no matter what is happening with my body. There is so much power in that.

Invisible versus Visible Pain: Awareness

❤ ❤ ❤

Love that image.

Sadly, we start to use this sort of language against ourselves after a time… It has to stop! Shame and guilt need to be taken off the shoulders of the chronically ill and those in chronic pain, there is enough to deal with besides having to “prove our pain” to anyone.

No one chooses to suffer constantly. No one. We all want to be happy, healthy, contributing, but you never know what someone’s suffering amounts to unless you have to live under the same burdens and restrictions.

Stream of Conscience: The Chronically Ill Are Tougher Than Nails

Us spoonies are tough stuff. We deserve more recognition for how great we are doing when we undertake a task that is dreadfully painful and will probably cause later repercussions. Having the courage to do small amounts of work that healthy folks take for-granted; experiencing pain and fatigue at unimaginable levels, and persisting anyway, time and time again. Everyday with chronic illness is someone else’s nightmare, and still spoonies find a way to cope. That is bravery. When one of those magical, unscripted moments where we take our illness by the throat and tell it who’s boss finally does happen, we don’t want to be afraid that pushing ourselves will lead to someone using  “well, you did it yesterday!” against us later. Just because we did something one day does not mean we are at all better. It could have even set us back a week or two, no matter how small the action.

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For instance, I drove my boyfriend to the hospital last month for severe hip and back pain. It was horrible. First time I had driven in over a year. I sat in the hospital sobbing like I was the patient that needed assistance. When we got to the ER, they immediately took my boyfriend and I back to a room, he talked to a doctor for a second, and then they gave him IV valium and dilaudid without so much as making him feel like a drug seeker, not one time. My boyfriend’s doctors kept coming in with boxes of tissues for me and judgmental faces, like I didn’t have a right to be in so much pain. I pushed myself way farther than normal taking him to the ER that day, and I was hurting, but pain alone doesn’t usually make me cry in public.  Truthfully, I was also crying about the fact that I will never be treated that well in a hospital, I will always be treated like an addict when I am in the most need. I have been turned away from ER’s and Urgent Care many times because “they don’t manage chronic conditions, that’s what your primary care is for.” OMFG, REALLY?!

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Just like with me driving my boyfriend to the hospital, doing something once does not mean I can do it again tomorrow. The next day I was almost unable to get out of bed, and by “almost unable” I mean it took two hours and a handful of pills and I’d rather not talk about it. Pushing through the pain is not always the best choice for those of us with chronic pain, it can and will cause flare ups that are disproportionate to the thing that set them off. One less painful day or one easier week does not mean I am cured (but they are really, really, really nice!). Going outside will not cure my illnesses. Trying harder isn’t really an option since every single day I am trying with all my ability to not let this illness get the best of me. I am not a mooch, I am not lazy, I do not enjoy depending on others for help. I did not ask to be in this much pain or to burden the love of my life with my conditions. All I can do is keep putting one foot in front of the other, like so many others dealing with chronic illness and chronic pain. We are tough because we have to be. It’s not an optional character trait.

When I have these conditions in remission enough to drive, I will get us in the car and head straight for the coast or the mountains. I know my boyfriend wants me to be able to drive again. I do too, so much! But wanting is not the same thing as being able to make it happen. It’s beyond frustrating… it’s a kind of frustration and desperation that try to drag me deep down into depression. I want to be able to assume these responsibilities again, I really do, because emotionally it felt great to drive him somewhere when he needed me, but the way my body reacted to all the movement, walking, sitting, twisting, was enough to convince me that my driving days are on hold again for now.

Despite the pain and restrictions of having several chronic pain conditions, my favorite phrase is still “I can do it” even when I really can’t. It might have taken me an hour to get that glass of water, but damn it, I did it myself. I try to push my limitations as often as I get a chance, in order to feel human.

Healthy or chronically ill or somewhere in between, we all push our boundaries to feel alive. It’s the difference between existing and really living. I’m going to keep pushing myself as so many other spoonies do on a daily basis, and if that allows me to get back to driving eventually, even better! I’m tired of hearing what I “should” be doing… instead I’m just going to do what I can and be happy about it, every day. To everyone else out there struggling with what others think you should be able to do, it gets easier to stand up for yourself every time! No guilt, we didn’t ask to be sick!

The Autonomic Nervous System & Why It Matters

Please help spread the word about malfunction of the autonomic nervous system and the many chronic conditions it can cause. There is no cure for dysautonomia, it is an invisible illness, and from day to day and person to person the symptoms vary widely as does the severity, so life with any of these illnesses is a roller-coaster, to say the least. Some people are just dizzy all the time and may not even realize that it isn’t normal, and severely affected individuals faint every time they stand or even sit up for a period of time, sometimes just a few seconds.

No one bothered to teach me about the autonomic nervous system. In a perfect world, doctors would explain these things to patients who are experiencing classic symptoms of ANS malfunction, as I am, and they would explain just how involved the ANS is in so many processes throughout the body. Normally, when you are in pain or experiencing stress, your autonomic nervous system ramps up your blood pressure, makes you sweat, and elevates your heart rate. When the pain or stressor is gone, your ANS should quiet right back down again, returning to baseline (and you with it). Yet, the ANS can become part of a long-term issue like chronic pain as well. It can become so agitated that it is constantly hyperactive; constantly on. This can exhaust your body and cause a cascade of other symptoms, some of which may be unexpected such as chronic fatigue, gastroparesis, severe migraines, adrenal fatigue, increased chronic pain, and immune issues.

First, it’s important to understand just how much the autonomic nervous system matters. It is involved in most involuntary actions in the body, such as heart rate, blood pressure, digestion, kidney function, and temperature control. Imagine never being the right temperature; always being too hot or too cold. When I say “too cold” I don’t mean in a mildly uncomfortable way, the way it feels to be out in the cold too long for a regular person, instead it can actually be quite painful and feel like it’s coming from the inside out, stinging and zapping your skin anywhere it touches articles of clothing or a draft hits it. Standing up with dysautonomia is like climbing Mt. Everest on bad days, and the constant headaches and digestive issues get old, fast.

Here is a pretty good overview of what Dysautonomia is, who gets it, what treatments are available, and other useful tidbits of info about ANS malfunction, so you can help spread awareness this month;

WhatIsDysautonomiaInfographic

Image by Rachael Rodriguez.

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