Tag Archive | GAD

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

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.

Artist Perfectly Illustrates How Different The World Looks With Social Anxiety

via Distractify | Artist Perfectly Illustrates How Different The World Looks With Social Anxiety.

I’ve gotta say, this gets it pretty damn right. Not to say I’m proud of that, just that the artist captured my unjustified complete terror at what for the average person are very ordinary events. And made me giggle, too. Enjoy!

Answering the Phone

Going Out to Eat

Running

Going to a Bar

Going to a Party

Coming Home

When it comes to explaining just how different the world is to a person with social anxiety issues, College Humor’s illustrator Shea Strauss has hit the proverbial nail on the head.

 

via Distractify | Artist Perfectly Illustrates How Different The World Looks With Social Anxiety.

In Honor of Rare Disease Day 2015: The Difficult Diagnosis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BEIGHTON SCORING SYSTEM for Ehler-Danlos Syndrome:

Beighton Score Chart: Evaluating for Ehler-Danlos Syndrome

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

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

Here are the various types of Ehler-Danlos Syndrome:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related Media for Further Research:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rare Disease affects Millions

Pledge to Blog For Mental Health

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

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

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

five things to remember

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Psychiatry Changed My Life For The Better

How’s that for an obvious title? Okay, I mean, seriously, you all know that chronic illness affects us mentally as well as physically, and it isn’t about being a “strong” or “tough” or “capable” person. It isn’t about being good or bad. It is just logic that feeling crappy physically will bleed over into every other area of your life, too. Sometimes we need help getting the thoughts and memories swirling around our brains out in a productive, constructive way. When I’m alone, the chances of finding productive solutions to my problems are much lower than when I work them through with a therapist, but until recently, I had never met a mental health professional who knew how to talk to me. My current provider is a completely different story. I am overjoyed that I took that first step and called her office back to set up an appointment. It is like everything in my life was on hold until I met her, and then suddenly I started to see options everywhere, where before I felt helpless to change my situation.

I have been in and out of therapy throughout my life, but only ever with psychologists and therapists, never have I had the opportunity to see a psychiatrist, though I have wanted to for a long, long, long time. There is a massive difference between open therapy with my past counselors and going to see my psychiatrist. First of all, she’s kinder than anyone else I’ve ever talked to. I am usually so self-conscious that therapy is useless for me, I can’t wind down enough to think clearly or say what I mean. Not so this time around! It’s not fun, and it is work, and I do struggle with being open with anyone about my past or my innermost thoughts and worries, but it is worth it, and she makes it so much easier than my last few tries with therapy.

Many of us already know that trauma in childhood and chronic illness later in life are connected, especially for women because the mistreatment actually leaves scars on two areas of the brain for girls, versus just one area of a boy’s brain that is most affected by trauma. Perhaps this helps to explain, in addition to other factors, why chronic illness is often seen as a “women’s issue” and Fibro is diagnosed in women four to five times more often than in men. Either way, childhood trauma, abuse, neglect, and rejection are all linked to physical pain, and that is not insignificant for many of us. What I did not understand was how it was affecting me as an individual chronic pain patient, or how to do anything about it.

The hardest part was deciding to go back for my second appointment. I instantly felt comfortable with her but I was still judging the entire situation the first time I saw her, and weighing the pros and cons of emotional vulnerability. I was having a relatively lucid day and I think I came across as a lot more put together than I actually am, but I’m sure she could tell that I wasn’t really. Deciding to continue with the second appointment was so difficult because I started remembering things I did not want to remember, and it would have been really easy to blame the fact that I was seeing a psychiatrist instead of the people who caused the trauma in the first place. I wanted to get out of having to work on myself, and when the flashbacks started a week or two after my first appointment, I thought I had a good reason to not see her again.

However, some small part of me was ready to face everything this time, and the rest of me followed reluctantly. I went to the second appointment, I was honest about the flashbacks, and I was honest about fears and issues I have had for so long that I was beginning to think they were normal. It felt terrifying, I walked out of my second appointment numb and shaky, but reassured that I had a partner to help me work through things I wasn’t ready to deal with all by myself. Though I was still not sure how I was going to cope, I felt lighter having let it all out of me and having someone actually hear me.

Fast-forward three months later and I am pleased to report that the flashbacks don’t happen nearly as much. I have woken up mentally in ways beyond just feeling better emotionally: I am more confident in my needs and my value as a human being as well as in my abilities, I am looking forward to the future by making plans that reach out years ahead, and I have more coping tools than ever in my arsenal against chronic pain.

I am not saying with absolute certainty that I could not have gotten this far on my own, but I know that if I did progress this far alone, it would have taken so much longer, and been very difficult, and who knows what the end result would have been, really, except that I am so, so, so glad that I’m not doing this by myself.

I would urge anyone who is on the fence about pursuing therapy to start with a knowledgeable, extremely compatible psychiatrist that they trust from the start, and to be as honest as possible no matter how terrifying. From there you can figure out the appropriate kind of therapy for you. Therapy isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach, in the slightest. Another major benefit for me was that seeing my psychiatrist helped to solve long-standing questions I had regarding the nature of my anxiety and inattentiveness, for starters. Getting the appropriate diagnosis can help so much fall into place that you weren’t even expecting, especially if you’re like me and you feel a need to try to fit the puzzle pieces together as much as possible.

The work is certainly not done (and it will never be), but it is started, and that is pretty awesome considering how stuck I had been feeling the past two years. Just by getting a little bit unstuck, I no longer just survive my days, hoping for each one to end as quickly as possible. Wanting to change and not knowing how is both frustrating and overwhelming. I’m much less frustrated and overwhelmed now that I have an ally in my mental health and am learning the tools to carve out a life for myself despite severe and yes, depressing, amounts of pain that I deal with every day. I’m learning to stigmatize my own mental health less, to avoid behaving like a victim in areas of my life that I am not helpless in, and to look for positives in places I would not have bothered before.

Just writing that I was gaining ground six months ago would not have been possible and here I am, trying to write about it as often as I can.

If you’re feeling stuck, just keep looking for your opportunity, and know that it will come.

Until then, you’re doing your best. You are good enough. You have value and choices. People care about and love you, even if you don’t know it yet.

Wishing everyone extra spoons and days with less pain than usual. ❤

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