Tag Archive | communication

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.

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?

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.

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

Stock-Image-Separator-GraphicsFairy11

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.

A Letter To Patients With Chronic Disease from An Experienced MD

#HonestCommunication

About three months ago, I stumbled across a really interesting essay written by Rob Lamberts, MD on his blog at Musings of a Distractible Mind. The essay discusses in-depth and honestly how chronically ill patients remind doctors of their own humanity, fallibility and failure. This is something I have understood for a while but not been able to put into words.

Now that I have finally found a primary care provider who respects me and who I respect in return, I am a lot more hopeful about my future. All as a result of my ability to put trust in her. I do not, however, expect her to fix me or even necessarily tell me what is wrong with me. I do believe she is doing her best to figure it out, and she seems to believe my pain. Ahhhhh, miracle of miracles, I found a healthcare professional who actually cares! Novel, exciting, and entirely needed. 🙂

It seems the missing part of my previous relationships with doctors (not all of them, some of them are just plain jerks): I needed to show them the compassion I wanted to receive in return. This is just an excerpt from the wonderful words of Rob Lambert in A Letter To Patients With Chronic Disease:

(http://more-distractible.org/musings/2010/07/14/a-letter-to-patients-with-chronic-disease)

…We are normal, fallible people who happen to doctor for a job.  We are not special.  In fact, many of us are very insecure, wanting to feel the affirmation of people who get better, hearing the praise of those we help.  We want to cure disease, to save lives, to be the helping hand, the right person in the right place at the right time.

But chronic unsolvable disease stands square in our way.  You don’t get better, and it makes many of us frustrated, and it makes some of us mad at you.  We don’t want to face things we can’t fix because it shows our limits.  We want the miraculous, and you deny us that chance.

And since this is the perspective you have when you see doctors, your view of them is quite different.  You see us getting frustrated.  You see us when we feel like giving up.  When we take care of you, we have to leave behind the illusion of control, of power over disease.  We get angry, feel insecure, and want to move on to a patient who we can fix, save, or impress.  You are the rock that proves how easily the ship can be sunk.  So your view of doctors is quite different.

Then there is the fact that you also possess something that is usually our domain: knowledge.  You know more about your disease than many of us do – most of us do.  Your MS, rheumatoid arthritis, end-stage kidney disease, Cushing’s disease, bipolar disorder, chronic pain disorder, brittle diabetes, or disabling psychiatric disorder – your defining pain –  is something most of us don’t regularly encounter.  It’s something most of us try to avoid.  So you possess deep understanding of something that many doctors don’t possess.  Even doctors who specialize in your disorder don’t share the kind of knowledge you can only get through living with a disease.  It’s like a parent’s knowledge of their child versus that of a pediatrician.  They may have breadth of knowledge, but you have depth of knowledge that no doctor can possess.

-Rob Lamberts, MD

Written July 14th, 2010

(Read the essay in it’s entirety at http://more-distractible.org/musings/2010/07/14/a-letter-to-patients-with-chronic-disease.)

So there you have it; part of the reason why you scare your doctor/nurse practitioner, the reason why you make them uneasy, agitated, and defensive. The author of this letter isn’t blaming his patients for making him feel like a failure, but he does go on to give us some tips for creatively gaining some ground with our doctors and reducing the tension in the exam room so everyone can behave like adults and no harsh “I don’t know what to do, your situation is just too complicated” gets thrown out there. Phrases like that effectively shut down communication and trust between you and your doctor. It’s as if they just slammed a door in your face. Of course, when we collapse into hysteria and start screaming for someone to fix us (um…. yeah, that might have happened, maybe…), that sort of thing can also shut down communication pretty quickly, just for example.

The step by step tips the author gives for cultivating a good relationship with healthcare team members should help to get things off on the right foot with a new doctor, or even mend a relationship with one of your current doctors. The latest poll of MD’s from 2013 Pain Report found that 1/4 of primary care doctors believe that all their fibromyalgia patients are exaggerating or even faking illness altogether (yikes!), so there is always that chance that you could be stuck with one of those jerks. In which case, don’t mend anything, just BAIL. Get out!!! Find someone else. Search the chronic illness support groups in your area for suggestions of primary care options who take your health insurance. (Hint, those support group websites often have lists of local lawyers for helping you file for disability and even local charities that can help with food, electrical, and mortgage/rent costs.) Then, once you’ve found a new doctor, use the author’s suggestions to build a rapport with him or her..

I know how frustrating the search can be, but I can promise you there is a huge, staggering, massive difference between a doctor who is a bad fit and the right doctor. Even with the right doctor, part of being chronically ill is understanding that no one understands us. We are always, to some extent, alone in our illness. Each of our pain is unique, it is not like anyone else’s pain. No two match up exactly. Therefore, no doctor will have the same take on it as the next. This is one reason why the author advises that chronic pain patients keep their eggs in just a few baskets; only seeing the same few doctors who are all in connection with each other and can actively manage your illness instead of bouncing from specialist to specialist to specialist.

Part of the shift towards receiving better care requires that we as patients always remember that the person we’re dealing with, underneath the title that shows us they attended a lot of school, is a human being who is capable of making mistakes and feeling guilty, defensive, or embarrassed by those mistakes. It is not our job to puff up our doctor’s ego by saying they did a good job treating us if they did not, However, it is also not our job to tear them apart when they are trying to do their best, even when we are just desperate for them to pay attention to our agony. Trust me, I get that, I have been there for more than a year straight not that long ago; just a total mess in every doctor office I went to, and every visit was a bad one that year. I left in furious tears far more often than I left composed.

Instead of going in dreading and fully expecting a fight, now I strive to help my doctors, nurses, and specialists more easily understand me by following some basic etiquette and planning for my time with providers more carefully. Thanks to the author of this article I am lucky to have found a great doctor-patient relationship with my new primary care who is a joy to see. She holds my hand when she has bad news, she is warm, compassionate, smart, and determined. I finally have an ally in my primary care! Finding such a gem of a nurse practitioner does not end my struggles with chronic illness, but it is a huge relief. Now when I encounter a doctor I cannot see eye to eye with, despite practicing compassion towards them, I am much more confident in identifying who will work with me and who is too jaded or disrespectful to be a good fit. I’m still learning how to implement all the advice the author laid forth so clearly, but after years of bad doctors and me being a bad patient in response, I think the cycle is broken.

A Letter to Patients with Chronic Disease is one of those essays I would recommend to all patients with chronic conditions, and it is one I wish I had read earlier in the onset of my illness. It found me at the right time, though, and I am so grateful.

In case you need to copy and paste the address of the original letter, here’s the url: http://more-distractible.org/musings/2010/07/14/a-letter-to-patients-with-chronic-disease

my dear friend, A Body of Hope, wrote a companion piece explaining with a touch of humor just how frustrating it is to depend on doctors, and a clip from Twin Peaks (eep!) making it all clear as day.

Here is the her post: Warm Milk: Physician Frustration. Head on over and check out all of her insightful and inspiring posts. Her sense of humor is flawless, and I am always and forever in debt to her for helping me get started here.

Coping with Loneliness When You Are in Chronic Pain

You know that feeling of being excluded from everything?

Yeah, I didn’t think I knew it either, until the last few months went by, with me watching everything “normal” people do with their summers. This is the third summer I have been in constant pain, unable to enjoy gardening, camping, hiking, biking, kayaking, and driving to the coast or the mountains spontaneously. Meanwhile we were only invited to three social functions, all of which were barbecues at friend’s houses, and we couldn’t go to one of them because it was a terrible, terrible day for both my boyfriend and I. He is recovering from his third hip surgery in three years and is in quite a severe amount of pain any time he moves too much, too fast, up and down stairs, in and out of the car, up and down to pick something off the floor, or any number of other common daily tasks. We try our best to help each other out with our respective pain levels, and there are a few things we’ve both gotten good at doing to quiet the other person’s pain, and that is an amazing thing to have found in a lover.

The not-so-amazing news is that we have lost all of our old friends, and are down to a list of people smaller than the number of fingers on one hand. It was a sad process to have lost those friends, it makes me feel like there is something wrong with me that makes me not worth loving or helping like those we have helped in the past. At the same time, we haven’t had jobs or been well for more than 3 years, we do not have money coming in except for food stamps, and nothing has gone right for us for so long it seems like one long, super effed up joke being played on us. But still we help our friends, even if others have said they don’t deserve to be helped, we give people that chance, and sometimes multiple chances. If someone needed something from us, all they ever had to do was ask. Even after I became sick and my boyfriend had gone through the first of several surgeries, we were happy to share what little we did have, whenever we had it. Sadly, only one of those friends is still around to now reciprocate with his time and abilities. B, if you read this, we think you are just fantastic. But even B has a chronic health condition of his own, so his faithful friendship really only proves my next point. Some sparse few of the people I have known in the past have stepped forward to express concern or let me know they know someone else with one of my conditions and I appreciate all those moments of compassion as well. The vast majority of my old friends have been ignoring my illness for years, I’m lucky if they acknowledge it once a year, and then only with either great judgment and loaded words, or like they just remembered “something is wrong with me”. They even ignore direct pleas for help, which are beyond difficult for me to make. I struggled for weeks about asking my mom for a little bit of money for the first time in years (besides the occasional medical bill that has to be paid up front, she helps me out with many of those things, like MRI’s). I don’t have anyone, even family, left who can actually help me. Not always through a fault of their own, in my mom’s case it’s debt and planning a wedding and being all the way in Indianapolis while I live in Portland that prevents her from providing any assistance most of the time.

In stark contrast to our original group of friends jumping ship as soon as possible, my new (and renewed) friendships with people who are dealing with chronic illness and pain are so much more enthusiastic, transparent, supportive and understanding, not to mention loyal. I know that the girls I talk to honestly about my illness and who talk to me about theirs in turn are my friends no matter what happens, no matter if one of us gets completely better tomorrow. Not all of my spoonie sisters have illnesses or even symptoms that match, but we understand each other because this is a lonely corner of the world to walk in and if you find anyone else here along your journey, you pick them up and carry them with you until they are strong enough to walk next to you.

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