Tag Archive | chronic invisible illness

A Spoonie Poem for All With Chronic Illness

My friend Misty is a Lyme Disease fighter, and she’s been fighting it for more than fifteen years, though she was diagnosed within the last two years, about the same time I found out I had fibro. We grew up in the same small little town towards the Oregon coast, and since I never went to high school with her, being sent off to private school instead, we didn’t have an opportunity to speak for many years. Thanks to the magic of facebook, we are back in touch. I’ve learned a lot from Misty.

In addition to being a totally courageous and fabulous warrior kindred spirit, she is also a mom to two little ones. She just had her second, against all odds, against everything she’s been told by doctors about her prognosis. She keeps searching for a cure on her own, she keeps educating others about tick borne diseases, and she keeps building her family. She fights LD with a holistic, carefully researched approach. That kind of honesty and determination deserve some love. Though I wish she had her own blog to record her thoughts because her writing is incredibly strong and poignant, you can understand why a mom to a little boy and a new baby girl, a mom who suffers from advanced Lyme Disease, does not have the energy to keep up a blog. When she posted this poem on her facebook, I had to ask if I could share it on her behalf, because I’m feeling really lost and this piece of writing calmed me down and reminded me that as much as I’m feeling rejection right now, there is a lot of love in the spoonie community, enough to make up for what I’m missing. We are never fighting chronic illness alone, no matter how geographically separated we are, we spoonies do such a great job of always lifting each other up with what little energy each of us has.

I’m really delighted that Misty said I could share her beautiful poem, and I hope it helps someone else feel less alone and more understood.

THIS IS DEDICATED TO ANYONE SUFFERING FROM CHRONIC ILLNESS:

by Misty Perkins
when all your talents are unusable
All your intelligence faded away
That spark you had has flickered
When all your motivation taken away
When all the things that define you are gone
what is left at the end of the day?
When memory fades
All you feel is confusion and rage
When your bones ache
And your body disobeys
How do you answer when they call your name?
Are you really you, when you’re not the same?
When you can’t find yourself
And you’re lost in a daze
Does anyone care to trouble with the maze
Will they see you there, or pass on by
Will they hold you tight
Or watch you cry
When you have no one else, and you’re lost to yourself
How do you cope, when no one can help?

I don’t have the answers to those questions, but I am closer than I was a few years ago. Progress, not perfection!

Thanks you, Misty, for allowing me to put your poem on my blog so others could benefit from it too.

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

INvisible Project – Emily Lemiska | Klippel-Feil Syndrome

Like any fourteen-year-old preparing for high school, Emily Lemiska felt self-conscious about her appearance. She wasn’t worried about her weight, hair or skin. Emily was self-conscious about her abnormally short neck. She asked her parents to make an appointment with her pediatrician to take a look. Emily, her parents and her doctor alike were shocked when an X-ray showed she had Klippel-Feil syndrome (KFS).

via INvisible Project – Emily Lemiska | INvisible Project.

Klippel-Feil is a spine disorder characterized by the fusion of two or more cervical vertebrae, which decreases range of motion and flexibility in the neck. It is known to cause pain, especially later in life, and increases the dangers of even minor trauma to the neck. With reports estimating the condition occurs in one in 40,000 live births, KFS is considered a rare disease. Emily’s case is even more atypical in that seven of her vertebras, C2-T1, are fused.

Fortunately, Emily was asymptomatic, with no pain or discomfort. Nor did she appear to have any of the additional abnormalities – ranging from heart defects to hearing loss – sometimes associated with KFS. Although she could no longer participate in some of her favorite activities like playing volleyball or riding rollercoasters, which put her at risk of whiplash or other injuries, she was able to maintain a normal life. While doctors continued to monitor her neck annually, her health thankfully stayed the same. Although she felt a little isolated because of her condition, for the most part, instead of worrying about KFS, Emily was able to worry about the usual teenage woes like boys and grades.

Determined to experience life to the fullest, Emily left her small town in Connecticut to attend Northeastern University in Boston. She excelled in her classes, formed friendships with a tight-knit group of honors students, and met her now-husband, Dan. She was extremely active in extracurricular activities, serving as editor-in-chief of the literary arts magazine, vice chair of student media and copy editor at the newspaper. Even with her busy schedule at school, she managed to work part-time and volunteer on a regular basis.

In 2008, after a semester abroad in Barcelona, Emily graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in English. She accepted a position at Mass General Hospital in the public affairs department, where she served as editor of the hospital-wide newsletter, spearheaded communications campaigns and interacted with local media. Her job was chaotic at times, but she loved it. She took pride in her work and became a valuable asset to the team.

Emily found an outlet from her demanding job in the form of running and weightlifting. She liked the way physical activity made her feel, and the doctors who continued to monitor her encouraged an active lifestyle. She had no idea that an upcoming five-mile run would change the course of her entire life.

That springtime “fun run” around the Charles River in 2011 would be the last time she ever ran. The day after the race, Emily was startled by brutal shoulder and neck spasms that crippled her with pain. When they didn’t subside in a few days, she made an appointment to see her doctor. He was perplexed. X-rays and MRIs didn’t reveal any reason for her sudden symptoms. He assumed she strained a few muscles, prescribed Valium and a neck brace, and suggested taking it easy for a few weeks.

The next two months were torture. Emily couldn’t use her arms or lift anything without excruciating muscle pain; even typing at work irritated her shoulder muscles. With every movement, her entire spine felt as though it was being yanked. Walking and riding the bus to and from work became dreaded endeavors, and any vibration caused unimaginable discomfort. Getting through the workday became her sole focus: she quit exercising, stopped volunteering at the local library and declined invitations from friends. Dan and her two roommates had to help her with even the smallest tasks, like making dinner and cleaning.

The symptoms only intensified. In July, Emily woke up before dawn to discover her left side completely numb. Terrified, she called her parents and then took a taxi to the emergency room. Again, the doctors were at a loss.

The ER visit led to a consult with a neurosurgeon. Within minutes of reviewing her neck imaging, the physician told Emily and her dad that she had another abnormality besides fused vertebrae: a tethered spinal cord. This neurological disorder is caused when spinal cord tissue attaches to the spinal column, limiting the movement of the spinal cord. He also discovered that in the same area, Emily had diastematomyelia or a split spinal cord. In hopes of halting the progression of these conditions and lessening the pain, he proposed emergency neurosurgery to untether her spinal cord.

Dan’s commitment never wavered despite the stress on their relationship. In fact, he embraced Emily more fully than ever, proposing to her three days prior to her operation. In the days leading up to surgery, Dan began referring to her as his “brave little toaster,” a reference to the 1987 Disney movie about an animated toaster who faces many obstacles on his journey to find his owner.

The six-hour surgery, by technical standards, was a success, and the spinal cord was freed from the spinal column. After seven days in the ICU, she went home to Connecticut to finish her recovery. Determined to return to normal life, Emily went back to work only a month and a half later. She immediately realized she had returned too soon. The pain returned quickly and with vengeance.

For the next year and a half, Emily put on a brave front as she tried to keep the life she loved. Work was excruciating – she would sneak off to lie down in the conference room, come in late and leave early, and work from home as much as possible.

“I was absolutely miserable, but too stubborn to show it outright. By the time I got home at night all I had the energy to do was cry. I felt completely dehumanized by pain.”

Weekends were no longer spent enjoying all that Boston had to offer. Instead, she would lie in bed, trying to recover from the week before and prepare for the one ahead. All the while, the muscle spasms and nerve pain were unrelenting.

Her frequent doctor visits left her discouraged as well. While following the doctors’ suggestions, nothing subdued the pain. Because her muscles were irritated and her spinal cord increasingly sensitive post-surgery, treatments like physical therapy and injections would sometimes even exacerbate her issues.

In December 2012, Emily made the difficult decision to leave her position at Mass General Hospital. Much of how she defined herself was her successful career. Quitting was a huge loss, but she had no choice. With Klippel-Feil being a degenerative syndrome, Emily had to slow down. She needed to change tactics, and instead of constantly playing defense against her aggressive symptoms, she had to go on the offense. It was important for her to protect her baseline so as to not regress further.

Back in Connecticut, Emily and Dan moved in with her parents for six months before finding an apartment nearby. Emily’s dad now drives her wherever she needs to go, and her mom, a registered nurse, attends all of her major doctor’s appointments. This extra help has been much appreciated – knowing that Emily would not be able to work, Dan is attending law school in hopes that his career might make enough income for two.

To manage the pain, Emily takes more than 10 pills a day. Eager to be free from the side effects of her medications – including fatigue and mental cloudiness – Emily continues to pursue treatments that don’t come in tablet form. She and Dan also hope to someday start a family, and the drugs she takes are not conducive to pregnancy. Among the options she is considering is a spinal fusion surgery. This would entail implanting rods and screws to reinforce her spine. Although it might be her best option, there are great risks involved, and doctors are not sure whether it will help significantly. The rarity of her case means it is impossible to know whether it’s the right decision – there is nothing to compare to, no KFS studies to point to a positive outcome.

If she does choose to have surgery, Emily knows that it may not be a full solution. She hopes that the right combination of Western medicine and complementary therapies might bring relief. An epidural nerve block, for example, decreased nerve pain in her face for a short time. Acupuncture and massage also help with the pain, as does wearing a neck brace and heat and ice therapy. To keep the rest of her body active, Emily stretches every day, goes for short walks several times a week and recently began swimming. All of these activities require modifications; for example, she swims using a snorkel mask to avoid having to move her neck to breathe. But Emily says that doing an adapted version is far better than doing nothing at all. The goal of being a mom and publishing her personal writing one day drives her to stay positive and proactive during her search for better answers.

Emily’s life has completely changed due to the progression of her disease. She has had to redefine herself entirely. Not being able to work, having put such emphasis on her job, has been a major loss. She misses her hobbies, like running, playing the piano, cooking and volunteering. It especially bothers her that she can no longer help others, but instead, is the one who constantly needs help.

“It is hard to be 28 and unable to enjoy life as much as I want to,” she says. “My to-do list and my body don’t see eye-to-eye. Each day I have to find a balance between pushing myself enough to feel accomplished, but not so much that I’m hurting myself.”

Emily still does the things she loves, but in small doses with lots of rest in between. And even though her activity is limited, she says she never feels bored. To keep busy, she reads, listens to podcasts and TED talks, takes online courses, meditates and writes. She continues to do occasional writing projects as a freelancer, but only as the pain allows. She also enjoys taking trips with Dan and having friends over to visit. Emily jokes that even with all she does, it’s difficult not to feel like a professional sick person. Much of her daily routine consists of taking care of herself, scheduling appointments and dealing with insurance and disability paperwork.

While initially denied disability earlier this year, thanks to help from a state health care advocate, she was approved in September after a long appeal process. The stress of being disbelieved and misjudged was difficult to take. Knowing there is a negative public view of those needing to use disability benefits, she wishes others understood that the majority applying for help really need it. Like her, they want to work but are truly unable to due to severe health limitations. Without assistance, she is incapable of supporting herself. In fact, she and Dan had to rely on food stamps for a few months just to get by.

Emily is not ashamed talking about her personal trials, even financial ones. In fact, she is very open about the truth many in the pain community experience every day, even when it is hard for others to hear. She feels if more people were open about their hardships, there would be fewer stigmas and less misunderstanding about chronic pain. She believes sharing struggles does not make a person weak or vulnerable, but shows strength.

For this reason, Emily keeps a blog. Not only is it personally cathartic for her, but it is also a way for family and friends to stay in the loop. Occasionally, posts are so widely shared that they serve to help increase awareness about chronic pain among individuals outside her inner circle.

Emily believes all who live with pain should keep some sort of blog. It is a way to express emotions that might otherwise be difficult to release, while allowing those who know you a chance to understand more about your challenges.

Through her experiences, Emily realizes that giving up is not an option. If she could stress one thing to her pain peers it would be to become an expert on their particular diseases. “You have to advocate and fight for your care. Answers may be difficult to find, but never stop searching or hoping. It may take time, but the medical community makes advances every day. You don’t want to be the one to give up the day before they find the treatment the helps you.”

Emily keeps abreast of developments in spine care through Google Alerts and by reading research abstracts from medical journals. She stays on top of her own care by requesting and reading her medical records, bringing a list of questions and taking notes during appointments, and getting multiple second opinions when necessary.

Emily also stays connected and informed through the resources she receives from the Klippel-Feil Syndrome Freedom. This small, grassroots nonprofit is trying to help people afflicted with the disease obtain support, strength and information. Created by other Klippel-Feil patients, the organization is personally dedicated to the cause.

Through this group, Emily finally met another individual with this disease, fourteen years after her diagnosis. Being able to connect with someone like her was life changing. For the first time, Emily did not feel so isolated and alone in the world. She had met someone who fully understood – and she was delighted to see that this fellow patient had two children of her own.

In her small way, she is doing her part to advance care for KFS patients. She is working on a KFS survey to collect data on patterns of abnormalities, symptoms and treatments tried. She hopes the results will help inform the medical community while empowering those living with the devastating disease. She is also planning a holiday fundraiser for 2015 – featuring a skeleton key holiday ornament – with proceeds benefiting KFS Freedom.

Cheerful and determined, Emily chooses to live in gratitude. While Klippel-Feil is progressive, she knows she is blessed with an amazing support system. Her parents, friends and husband go above and beyond to show her she is loved and that she is never alone. Her doctors aren’t sure how much worse her condition might become as time passes. But Emily is not giving up on life; rather, she is embracing it.

“People often seem surprised at how positive I am,” says Emily. “We all have a tendency to underestimate ourselves. No matter what life throws at you, you can and will find a way to live the best life possible.”

Resources:
Klippel-Feil Syndrome Freedom –

Klippel-Feil Syndrome Alliance – http://kfsalliance.org
Klippel-Feil Syndrome Alliance Facebook page –

https://www.facebook.com/KlippelFeilSyndromeAlliance

via INvisible Project – Emily Lemiska | INvisible Project.

A Book for Moms With Chronic Pain and Chronic Illnesses!

I know I haven’t been around in a while and I’m very sorry, life has been so crazy and my typing and thought process so poor that I’ve been taking an unintentionally long break. I have been writing every now and again, but mostly on Tumblr and Instagram, and sometimes for images I make in photoshop. Maybe I should post all those soon? I have also written about thirty drafts on WordPress that have been eaten, gone unfinished at the last minute, or that I am too embarrassed to post right now (and maybe ever). I will get back into the swing of things slowly but surely in the next month.

But, for now, I was stumbling through Amazon, and found this book and it just about made me burst into tears. I want kids so badly but because of EDS pregnancy dangers, my family history of Spina Bifida occulta and neural tube defects, the strong possibility that I have the MTHFR gene mutation, and a bunch of other factors, including a total phobia of doctors (I can’t even get into that on here or I will freak out and lose my relative calm for how much pain I am in and the fact that it’s 3:30am).

Though I want children desperately, what I really want and desire above a biological child is to adopt. I’ve always wanted to adopt. There will always be kids out there right now who need families. It seems so against my values to selfishly have a child via birth when I know there is little chance that child will not suffer like I do, and when I know that my ability to be a good parent to a very young child is never going to be strong enough. The thing is, I have a lot of love to give and knowledge to share, if not a lot of physical ability. Unfortunately, I will still struggle with very basic mom things, like shopping for clothes, or food for that matter, or taking them places at all, and cleaning isn’t getting any easier or more feasible lately though I try really hard. I’ve always wanted to be the perfect mom, but I think a large part of chronic illness is accepting that even healthy people don’t live up to that, therefore I certainly won’t.

I will be a good mom, I think, but I will have to work really freaking hard at it, and it will take everything that I have to give and more. Even if I do adopt a child, I am worried that I will feel like a failure as a mom no matter how much I try to cut myself slack for what I can’t control.

Seeing this book helped me a little. Knowing others are struggling with this, and that enough people even to sell a book about it.

Has anyone actually read this to their kids or bought it for themselves/future reasons? I hope there are more books like this out there by the time I am able to foster or adopt.

Why Does Mommy Hurt? by Elizabeth M. Christy

Why Does Mommy Hurt?: Helping Children Cope with the Challenges of Having a Caregiver with Chronic Pain, Fibromyalgia, or Autoimmune Disease

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.

Stock-Image-Separator-GraphicsFairy11

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:

grape seed oil love

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.

Tool Box : Resources for the chronically ill

A thoughtful, well-made list of extra steps to take when you are experiencing a flare-up of symptoms, no matter what illness(es) you may suffer from. The author, Audrey, was diligent about this list and surveyed others to get a more complete array of options. I feel like there is something on this list for all of us, and as Audrey says in the post, “Because, let’s face it, when we are in the throes of a serious bout of turmoil, we forget. We forget to reach to those resources we so carefully crafted, selected. We forget the hours we poured into trial and error sessions to find what works best to help us and when.” She is so right. I love having a place to refer to when I am hurting so bad I can’t steer my thoughts away from the illness and pain. Even if I don’t feel capable of doing everything on this list, I can always do one thing, and the more I practice these techniques, the better I become at accepting and making peace with my illnesses.

My Chronic Lessons

Tool-Box

Having a tool box is essential to coping with a chronic condition whether it be pain, illness, depression or some other continuous issue. A tool box helps us get through moments, sometimes days and maybe weeks but the true purpose is to help us see passed the hard moments we don’t know how to manage.

Now, I’m not talking about an actual Craftsman tool box because it’s a bit big and unrealistic for most of us, but if you find that helps, awesome. I’m talking about a box of resources for all the challenges we face on an on-going basis. Sometimes it helps to have an actual box with these things listed inside, perhaps on slips of paper, or filled with happy thoughts, other times an excel or word document, notebook, fridge magnet, or other key reminders. Because, let’s face it, when we are in the throes of a serious bout…

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7 Cups of Tea: Free Online Chat with an Active Listener or Therapist

Introducing the free mental health resource 7 Cups of Tea to anyone who hasn’t heard of them before.

If you need someone to talk to, any time, this is a great website to save in your favorites. All chats are anonymous, and you can either connect to the first available listener or find someone who fits your needs from their list of therapists and listeners.

7cupsoftea
 Free, anonymous, and confidential conversations. All sessions are deleted.

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7 Cups of Tea is a safe, non-judgmental online space to talk it out with trained active listeners. You can even connect with a therapist or active listener whose specialties are of interest to you or your particular situation. There is also group support if that is more your style.

7 Cups also offers a set of thorough self help guides to consult, including self-help for chronic pain, as well as for anxiety, college life, and even one for entrepreneurs who are struggling with their start up companies. There are a wide variety of topics covered, you may be surprised to see a self-help guide for something you thought not that many people struggled with. They keep an expanding library of articles about specific mental health topics, such as this post on Mindfulness.

There is a lot to see on this website, and a lot to remind us about basic self-care during the tougher times in our lives. The self-help guides might seem repetitious for spoonies and those living with chronic pain, but our mind plays tricks on us when we are at our lowest, and the simplest of ways to practice self-compassion and healing slip through our fingers. That’s why it’s a useful website to bookmark and visit often, even when you’re not planning to chat with an active listener. I have added 7 Cups of Tea to my Chronic Illness Resources Page. Any online resource like this is just fabulous, and this is one of the best I have found. Plus, it’s FREE, and free is an awesome price. Especially for those of us who are prohibited from working by our illness or pain. Stock-Image-Separator-GraphicsFairy11

Volunteer Opportunity Alert:

If you’re looking for a volunteer opportunity that you can do any time from home, this may be perfect for you! They are always looking for new Active Listeners to train so that more people can receive one on one attention.

Click here to begin the sign up process

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Suggestions?

If anyone has any suggestions for self-help websites or free online therapy, please leave the URL below in a comment and it will be added to my Chronic Illness Resources Page.

So You Want to Date a Sick Person?

So You’re Healthy, and  You Want to Date a Sick Person?

Like, Really Date? Here’s what you need to know:

Millions of Americans suffer from chronic illnesses. Millions of young (<35) Americans suffer from chronic illnesses. And, millions of young Americans suffer from chronic, invisibleillnesses. I’m one of the third kind, and if you’re healthy, and want to be in a partnership with someone like me, this containssome of what you need to know.

1. Think about it. Are you sure?

If you said “yes” before beginning this sentence, the answer is actually “no”. For the good of all of us: if you enter into a relationship with us, you have to: 1) be sure you want it, and 2) ensure you’ve spent at least ten hours finding out about disability, and the illness(es) in question. You have to think about it. Are you going to be okay leaving something you really wanted to go to because they’re not feeling well? Are you going to be okay with many late night ER visits? Do you understand that they may never be able to, or want to have, kids? And, it’s on us (hear that, sick people?) to try to explain what it’s like to be the partner of a sick person. Hopefully I can do some of that work here.

*That said, take forums made for disabled people with a grain of salt, because they’re generally not representative of what daily life would actually feel like

2. Try to understand, and to really understand. But most importantly, internalize that you probably never will be able to.

We have to deal with a lot of well-meaning but misdirected “advice” every day. Some of us hate it less than others, and some days no matter how little it bugs us it will probably send us into a tailspin. Understanding that we are having an experience entirely foreign from the one you live is the best way to minimize advice coming from you.

Some things we do don’t make sense, and we can’t communicate it to you. Why is it that I can lift a box, but not wash off a fork? I don’t know how to explain it, but that doesn’t make it any less true! Also remember: “Third party perspective” is an invaluable resource, for any relationship. If you’re going to be in the relationship, it may be good to find a few other people who are also SOs of people with invisible disabilities.

3. We will always be highly variable, and occasionally inexplicably variable.

Some days, we feel good enough to make plans. Occasionally, they are ambitious plans. However, that does not mean that that should form an expectation. If I say that tomorrow I want to do research on how to start that company I had been thinking about for ages, and tomorrow comes, and I’m not doing it immediately, it’s not because I don’t want to start that company. It’s because Ican’t. And yes, believe me, I know I said tomorrow I would do that.

But here’s the thing: we don’t have any idea what tomorrow will look like. Sometimes tomorrow looks like a warm breezy September day. Other days, tomorrow we wake up and the first thought we have is “Wow, I actually feel like I’m going to die.”

4. Understand that one of the biggest hurdles is that we do not look like we are sick.

Even to ourselves! If I look healthy, society expects me to act healthy, you expect me to act somewhat healthy, and worst of all, I expect me to act healthy. I feel like I should be able to do all the things that normal 20-somethings do, except that doesn’t happen, because impossible things generally don’t happen. Cue me feeling guilty, and blaming myself. And no one else understands, because I don’t look sick, and because, why would anyone ever complain about not being able togain weight?

5. Don’t judge us for how we medicate.

Do you have any idea how long it takes to get into some of the specialists we need to see? Months and months. If my body is breaking, and it’s going to takemonths for me to see someone who may even have a possibility of starting to fix it, you bet your ass I am going to be forced to self-medicate. Yes, even the “scary” medications. Let’s take opiates. Sick people are not addicted to opiates. Sick people take opiates to be able to function. Every sick person I know has been able to stop opiates cold turkey no problem after they’ve finished a round of needing them. But guess what? When you need them, you fucking need them.

Accept that you don’t know what it’s like. And, accept that the stereotypes don’t apply in this instance. We’re not doing it to be “doped up” or forget our problems. We’re doing it because although we acutely know what our problems are and would take a good doctor’s appointment over vicodin in a HEARTBEAT, we also know that that appointment is a long way off, and we need to not be incapacitated. I’ll let you in on a secret: it’s kind of like a competition within ourselves to see how long we can go without taking something that will make us feel better. Today I cried because I felt like a failure for needing pain medication.

Also realize that things do not work the same way in our bodies or our brains. Normally, I am extraordinarily uncoordinated, and fall often (without reflexes). When I’ve had sedatives, I become not just graceful, but exceptionally clear-headed compared to before. Brain fog: it’s a thing, it comes from pain.

6. Don’t have your primary desire be as a caretaker.

Some of us want partners. Of those that want partners, sometimes we will want to be taken care of. But, regardless of if we want you to be our caretaker, it is not a good idea to start a relationship with one person’s primary role acting as caretaker. The difference between taking care of and being a caretaker is enormous. Self-sufficiency is important, and it’s a skill we all have to learn. Sometimes, we will need help, and we will call you. But dependency is easy to fall into and hard to get out of, and it will destroy your relationship.

7. Sometimes us being sick will suck, a lot, for you too.

Sometimes we will be on medications that change our personality. If we’re on steroids, we’re probably going to be cranky. Some of us have Raynaud’s, partial seizures, vagus nerve dysfunction, adrenal dysfunction, and other conditions which can make us temporarily moody.  Most of us don’t sleep well. Most of us have a hard time with food.

If you’re lucky, you’ll be dating one of the kind that is pharmacologically self-aware, and they will be able to tell that something is making them some way other than normal, and try to fix it. Unfortunately, some of us don’t know when we are acting differently, which is compounded by the fact that most of us have so many possible explanations for everything that it would be very difficult to find the culprit. And sometimes, we can’t change it at that moment. You don’t take steroids unless you need them. It’s also pretty hard to balance your hormones.

8. No sympathy. Empathy, but never sympathy.

Do not ever fall into the trap of what I like to call the “adversity inferiority complex”. This is when you compare my problems with yours, decide that yours are less worthy, and hold them in. This is a recipe for disaster. Partly because it breeds resentment, and partly because it’s actually a lot easier for us to help others with their problems than to always focus on our own. So a lot of the time, we will be happy to help you, even (and maybe especially) if we are feeling shitty, because then we have something else to focus on. Also because if you truly want a relationship, the only way you’re going to be able to have one is to go through things together. And trust me: we want to hear about your struggles.

It should be established that if we’ve hit a major threshold and just can’t, then maybe there can be a safe word that means “I really can’t right now, but I want to very much, can we schedule a time to talk later?”

9. Talk with us.

Talk with us about it a lot, and take time making this decision. Because if you do, it requires a lot of trust from us. And as a sick person, Trust is both the scariest thing to give out, and is a finite resource.

10. Most of the time, when you think we’re mad at you

We’re worried you’re going to leave, because we’re sick.

Despite all of this

Most of the time it will be like being in a normal relationship with any two people who like each other. Every relationship has hurdles. These will be some of them. That doesn’t mean that most of the time, you will even be aware we are sick. But, these are things you need to know for those times.

yesireallyamsick, dating, disability, chronic illness, mental illness, physical illnessinvisible illness, medication

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My Response to YesIReallyAmSick on Tumblr:

The author totally hits the nail on the head, especially the last part about when we seem angry. I was with my boyfriend for years, actually planning a future as his caretaker (he had been told he needed major hip surgeries spanning a few years of total recovery time), before my car was hit by a semi truck on my way to work. After my initial 50% recovery in the first six months or so, slowly I went downhill again, until I finally became too sick to work or ignore what was going on any longer. Our story is a little different in that we were both healthy when we started dating and living together, and in the same year, we both had life-changing medical happenings, and not in the good way. Suddenly, my boyfriend and I found ourselves unable to work normal jobs or participate in life as much as we would like. Young, sick, and in love. How hollywood. Except it is nothing like a movie.

The relaionship started out so classic; chubby goth nerd girl dates tall former football player. I fell in love right away, and told him so, but it took him another year to decide he wanted me too. We never dated like regular people, even then. We hung out in our apartments with friends and at friends’ apartments, we cooked eachother food and drove around the city aimlessly, because we were too broke to go to bars, and we didn’t ever do the dinner and a movie thing. We have spent every single night together since the first night, except for one this last year in which I slept at home while my boyfriend was in the hospital overnight after a surgery. Our first date was five months into our relationship, just before we moved in together. It was a camping trip, our first together but one of many to come. I think I surprised him by actually knowing how to throw a baseball. And by how much I wanted to hike, explore, and never go home. Things are so different now, and it almost hurts to recall the person I once was.

I worry about the toll it takes on him to be picking up my prescriptions now, taking me to appointments because I have lost the ability to do so myself, remembering what I cannot remember while I am talking to my doctors, and most of all seeing me in pain and miserable and not being able to fix it like he fixes everything broken. For his sake, I wish I did not have this long list of medical problems, but for my sake I am somewhat grateful that I do, something I cannot explain fully in this post, but which I try to convey through most of my other writings.

The major downside to falling for someone while living with a chronic illness is that it is heartbreaking to know I place limitations and higher-than-reasonable expectations on the love of my life. He is going back to school since he cannot work his old labor intensive jobs anymore, and we live off of his financial aid, which will have to be paid back eventually. It’s not a glamorous life, we are broke, broke, broke, and what money we come by goes towards medical supplies and prescriptions, for both of us, but mainly me. Money is a thing that unfortunately will limit our plans as well, because I am truly sick and I cannot just skip picking up my medicines, even though they sometimes come out to $800+ out of pocket in a month. This is not what I imagined. This is not what I planned for. This is not what I worked so hard for. But it is reality. And feeling sorry for myself is not my style.

Therefore, in our relationship I do not regret all that we have been through together. I know without a doubt that he loves me, that he will stick by me in sickness and health, and that I will do the same for him. Many couples do not have that bond, and again, I defer some level of gratitude to my illness.

The divorce rate for those with chronic illness is very, very depressing. It hangs around 75% of marriages. So many relationships destroyed by the difficulty of fulfilling the vows they exchanged: “In sickness and in health.” I hate those statistics. I hate that I am fighting those odds now too. But I love the man I am with, and I have seen him do whatever it takes to be with me, and he has seen me do the same for him. I have slept for a month on the couch while he healed from his surgery in a hospital bed in the living room, during a massive flare up. I did not struggle to make the decision to do so, because if he needed me I could not hear him if I slept in the bedroom, and at that point he needed me often. He has driven me an hour each way to appointments even while his hips are killing him. I have cheered him along while he chose a new career path and went back to school, and I have supported unquestioningly his need to take a few semesters off for grief and for surgeries. He has supported my difficult journey and allowed me to find my voice and my way again post-diagnoses, even when it meant getting fired from my job and beginning the terrifying process of applying for disability as a 20-something recovering workaholic.

To say that we are dating is a white lie. We are nesting, we are living together, we are committed, but we do not get to “date” each other like other couples do. We have not been out to eat in over a year, easily. Our frequent camping trips, which I always considered the most romantic dates of all, have become one night mini-adventures, which we both suffer from disproportionately and can only manage once or twice a year. Our long drives to nowhere to look at houses and gaze at scenic areas of Oregon have stopped. Our couples-daydreaming of a future on a farm have ceased. When we talk about having children of our own or adopting, our eyes hold bittersweet, cautious hope that we can still make real the dream of little ones, no matter what happens.

Our future is murkier now. Will I be able to carry a child to term? Will I be a good mother? If he needs more and more surgeries will I be able to care for him, and children, when I often can’t even care for myself? Will my condition ever allow me to bring in money again? Can I homeschool and make everything from scratch or is that ridiculous? Is there a way to minimize the impact my illnesses have on my lover and my theoretical future children, without compromising my treatment? Will I deteriorate further the older I get? Am I sure I can’t just snap my fingers and get rid of all these issues, go back to the way we were and the innocent daydreaming of a happy, hard-working, fulfilling life?

Yes. I am sure. But only because I have tried it a few thousand times to make certain.

happiness

I am just like you. I want to go hiking this summer, want to drive to the desert, or the coast, or the mountains spontaneously. I want to work hard and play harder. I long to have ordinary twenty-something nights; to once in a while get drunk with my old friends and run around downtown in the rain in heels, with no coat, until 4am. When the radio plays a song that stirs my soul, I get excited and daydream of concerts and dancing with abandon while all the hipsters stand there, swaying to the band with their hands in their pockets. If friends and family tell me about their relationship issues or financial struggles, even their aches and pains, I have a deep well of empathy and understanding no matter how bad I am feeling. When people tell me to buck up, pray harder, or stop trying to attract so much attention with my illnesses and injuries, I am furious. Wouldn’t you be angry if you had channeled your over-zealous work-ethic into trying literally everything to cure yourself, from conventional to the very odd? I have a right to be furious if people insinuate that I am lazy or not trying hard enough, or that I want attention, nevermind that I worked a year and a half past the point of spending most of my days sobbing or trying not to sob while working because I just hurt so much. I did not choose my broken body. Every small task feels like a marathon to me, but on the surface it’s not possible for most people to see how much I struggle with small daily activities that others take for granted.

I still have ups and downs in my moods that have nothing to do with being ill, but I also have moodswings that are out of my control, either from imbalances in chemicals in my body, or from medications I take. Talking to me with an open mind is the only way to find out which it is. Sometimes I don’t even know I am acting strangely.

Every day I have to ask myself if I can really allow the person I love so much to suffer along with me. I have to ask myself if he wouldn’t be better off finding a healthy girl who can bear him the children he so badly wants and take care of him like he deserves when he is hurting. Someone not so damaged would be great for him, right? But that is the voice of insecurity and it takes up real, vital energy to worry, and we are in love. That is all I need, I hope it all he needs too, I trust him to choose what is best for himself. The fact that he loves me and I love him holds the answers to my painful questions. I would so much rather focus on the love between us than the uncertainty the future holds. Unfortunately these thoughts and fears do resurface often or I would not be writing about them at all.

To be honest, I am often scared of losing the love of my life to sicknesses that I never wanted. I am scared because the man I love can get up and walk away. I cannot. I am stuck with it, with the late night ER visits and furtive internet research on my conditions. with medications that I hate taking, with horrible insomnia and a libido that disappeared completely, with support groups and symptom logging, with severe, non-stop pain that changes my personality and rewires my brain. I am bound by a very finite amount of energy each day and there are dire consequences for overstepping my energy envelope. I cannot opt out of this delicate balancing act (or disastrous mess, depending on the day), but my partner can. Yet, he chooses to be by my side.

The trust has to be immense between us to make it work in a long term sense. The communication has to be from a place of equality and respect, and it can never stop happening, or the relationship essentially shuts down too. We have very ordinary couple problems, as well as very specific troubles relating to illness, grief, disability, and pain. Our relationship has been through more than most sustain in a lifetime of marriage.

Talking about chronic illness and its effect on our relationships is hard, because love is vulnerable. There is so much at stake. There is a person we cannot bear to lose, or a potential to meet and fall in love with someone we cannot bear to lose, and our illness absolutely will impact that person negatively at times. That is not the stuff of the average happily-ever-after, but it is mine.

I do not regret the powerful sway that love has had over my life in the last six years of coupledom. His heart is something I would not trade for wealth, for wisdom, or even for wellness.

Still, I worry, because even the strongest relationship is not perfect, and I have added so much stress to our lives by becoming ill. Stress that just isn’t healthy for anyone. I care about and love my boyfriend deeply and do not want to be the one part of his life that holds him back from finding his own happiness. It is a delicate and complex balance to communicate with my partner enough, about the right things, while somehow not over-sharing all the time. I’m terrible at the balancing act between too much and not enough information right now, and that absolutely causes problems. That is just one tiny example of the difficulties of putting love into action while dealing with the cards dealt by chronic pain and illness.

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