Maybe someone else could use it too?
Chronic illness warriors are great at pushing through, but as we all know, that is not always the best or healthiest option, although sometimes it seems like the only option. Pushing through can lead to a flare up that sets us back for days, weeks, or even months. Rest is a real job with chronic illness. No matter how we may be feeling, even if it’s better than usual, every single day consists of maintenance and making difficult choices that can help or harm us in the quest for balance. Most of the choices you have to make are things the people around you cannot understand. That makes it even more difficult to prioritize our own well-being in stressful situations.
To all those who wrestle with the guilt surrounding being chronically ill or in constant pain, I am right there with you.
Love you guys!
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.
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.
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.
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’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.
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.
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.
More reality checks when it comes to chronic pain and opiates, via a super smart fellow blogger! So happy to print this and put it in my medical binder for those idiots who think I should just suffer endlessly, needlessly, and be happy for the privilege.
It’s just so wonderful when people form an opinion based on facts and not histrionics.
Hooray for using our brains!
Pain & Opiates: Perceptions vs Reality
1. false: Opiates take pain away completely.
TRUE: Opiates do not remove chronic pain, they do not numb pain like Novocain, they merely dull it enough so that it isn’t all-consuming.
2. false: Pain is the body trying to tell you to stop, so you shouldn’t take opiates to cover up the pain signals.
TRUE: Normal pain is an alarm to take action, but chronic pain happens when the alarm gets stuck in the “on” position – the switch itself is broken.
3. false: Opiates make you dull, confused, and non-functional.
TRUE: When used for pain relief, opiates allow people to be more active and functional, get out of the house and socialize, sometimes even continue working.
4. false: There are other pain medications that work just as well as opiates.
TRUE: Opiates are the most (and often the only) effective medications for pain.
5. false: Opiates have severe and permanently damaging side effects.
TRUE: Opiates have fewer and lesser side-effects than most of the other medications prescribed for pain.
6. false: You will get addicted if taking opiates.
TRUE: People taking opiates for pain are statistically unlikely to become addicted unless they already have addictive tendencies (5% chance). However, regular use of many medications causes dependence after your body has adjusted to them.
7. false: If you take opiates for too long, you’ll get hyperalgesia.
TRUE: Opiate-induced hyperalgesia is extremely rare in humans, and this scare tactic is based on just a handful of very small research studies.
8. false: If the pain is constant, you’ll get used to it and it won’t hurt as much.
TRUE: Pain that is allowed to persist uncontrolled leads to changes in the nerves that can eventually become permanent.
9. false: Opiates work the same way for everyone.
TRUE: Different people get the same amount of pain relief from widely varying dosages because our bodies are all different in the way we “digest” opiates.
10. false: It’s better not to take opiates because they damage the nervous system and cause hormonal imbalances.
TRUE: Persistent pain results in the same kind of damages to the nervous and hormonal systems.
11. false: You should not take opiates because your pain won’t improve.
TRUE: Chronic pain can only be treated, not cured. Opiates are often the best means available to treat the devastating pain symptoms until a cure is found.
12. false: If you start taking opiates, you’ll just have to take more and more forever.
TRUE: Most chronic pain patients finds a stable dose of opiates that works for them. If doses need to be increased, it is usually because the pain condition gets worse over time.
13. false: People only want opiates for the high.
TRUE: When taken as prescribed for chronic pain, opiates do not make you “high”. The same chemicals that make illegal users “high” go toward dulling the pain instead.
14. false: It’s better to tough it out.
TRUE: Denying people pain relief sentences them to a life of unnecessary suffering.
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“The patient uses opioids to relieve pain and maintain a normal relationship with the real world; the addict takes opioids to escape from reality.” – Ronald Melzack
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Many people disabled by chronic pain are unfairly accused of lying and faking, so here’s some myths from that category too:
1. false: People who complain about chronic pain are just trying to get SSDI.
TRUE: Most people disabled by pain desperately want to work. Many had to give up high-level, well-paying positions and now live in poverty on SSDI. There may some fakers, but this is not a reason to deny SSDI for truly disabling pain.
2. misleading: If injured workers are given opiates they are unlikely to return to work (statistically true)
TRUE: This is probably because their injuries are serious enough to cause chronic pain and require opiates, not because the opiates are keeping them away from work.
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1. Source for addiction statistic:
I found this article which I had written about on Facebook before I had a blog. The first time I read about this girl’s story I felt so alone, so overwhelmed and out of control and consumed by pain that I cried the entire time I was reading it. I didn’t yet realize how many of us were going through the same thing, or how many friends who truly get what chronic pain means that I would meet along the way. I just knew the desperation, anger, and denial that I was piled under. Fortunately, times have changed, or at least my perspective has. I can still really sympathize with this girl, and understand where she is coming from, and I am still incredibly grateful to her for writing her story at a time when I felt hopelessly isolated. This may have been the first time that I realized if more people were less afraid to speak out about chronic pain, we might be treated like human beings, eventually.
My Story: Looking for a New Doctor
National Pain Report
May 26th, 2014 by Kitty Taylor
I’ve had chronic pain as far back as I can remember. It got unbearable a few years ago after a serious injury. My body won’t forget the pain and it feels fresh as day one without medication.
I recently moved to Colorado from Nevada after being with the same doctor for many years. Now I’m having a hard time finding a new doctor willing to prescribe the medication I’ve been taking. I’ve found plenty of clinics that say they specialize in pain management, when in reality they are rehab clinics. Their sole purpose is to wean you off narcotics and put you on highly addicting medication, such as Suboxone or methadone. Some clinics are treating pain with Suboxone long term. That was not the intended use.
Then there are pain clinics, usually the spine centers, that only do injections and don’t prescribe drugs. I wish they would distinguish in their business category what they’re really about.
The first clinic I thought would be helpful turned out to be a Suboxone clinic. On my second appointment there they told me outright that I wouldn’t be continuing on the same medication and that I would be going on Suboxone. If I didn’t agree that, I was told they’d cut my doses so low I couldn’t handle it anymore. So I canceled my next appointment with them.
Drugs like methadone and Suboxone (which may or may not help the pain) are just as dangerous and the addictions to them are intense. The withdrawals are unreal. Coming off the medication I’m on now would be painful, but having to come off one of those could cause months, not just days, of withdrawal and pain.
Not only that, but imagine if you couldn’t get your next dose of methadone or Suboxone, you could end up in a coma! Any doctor that says there aren’t side effects and the withdrawals aren’t bad is lying.
It’s been four months since my last appointment with my helpful doctor and I’m still looking for a new one. One clinic I had a referral to, the doctor refused to accept me as a patient. It’s taking so long to find a doctor and I’ve got to find one quick! There are so few listed and so few that prescribe narcotics or are honest about what they practice. If you are rehab clinic you should not be advertising that you manage pain.
I’ve certainly been made to feel like a drug seeker and nothing more since I’ve moved. My last doctor never made me feel that way. He was caring and compassionate from day one. The only complaint I have about the visits there was that the DEA had them scared to prescribe medications that I had been on for a long time. My medicine and schedules were altered based on word from the DEA, not what my doctor felt was right for me and not what was working for me.
My daily function is greatly decreased since my medications were screwed with and it’s getting worse. First they took away Soma and it was painful trying to find another muscle relaxer. Even the one I’m on now sucks, but it’s better than nothing. Some of them I think were causing more muscle spasms and cramps. It was so bad I looked like I was having a seizure.
Then they couldn’t prescribe more than four oxycodone pills a day when I was on six. They couldn’t even prescribe Demerol anymore because the DEA and the county were having so many problems with it. The hospitals stopped keeping it and the pharmacies stopped ordering it because of theft and robberies!
And this was my response, a year ago:
“This is so much like my story. The way she talks about having to deal with “pain clinics” who only push methadone, or who only push Lyrica and Savella, or who only do injections. None of them have the ability to actually treat acute flare ups. I know from personal experience that even when a procedure at a pain clinic goes wrong and they have caused you intense and unrelenting pain, they do not offer any help, just tell you to calm down, because you’re scaring other patients, and “if it’s really that bad” to go to the emergency room. Pain clinics are a gimmick. A glimmer of hope that turns out to be bullshit when you get up close, every time.
I can’t do cortisone injections, I can’t take most antidepressants, nor steroids, nor do I care to, I am taking Lyrica and two different muscle relaxers at the same time for spasms and I also take all the usual Vitamin D, B-12, magnesium, zinc, rosehips, tart cherry extract, etc, that seem to help maybe? Who knows. The only time I have ever gotten any relief from this pain is after six hours waiting in agony at an Emergency Room, watching junkies and fakers get treated with more dignity than you, because you refused the little cup full of oxycodone and valium (I had already taken my personal comfortable limit of oxy while waiting in the ER, and I told them so, and I don’t do well with valium, it causes panic attacks and it’s written so in my charts if they had payed attention). One time I was told rudely to leave the ER, and then billed $600+ for the pleasure of being treated like human garbage by a very bitchy ER doctor after waiting many hours to be seen. Twice I received actual pain relief that lasted maybe five hours and was the only relief from the hell of fibro that I have had in two years. I haven’t been to the ER in over a year, but I think about how the ER is always full of people who feel better than me. The ER is a very, very, VERY last resort at this point, however.
I’m not even functioning anymore, I’ve been in way too much pain for way too long. I’m just trying to get to a place where I have enough moments in a day to take care of myself properly. I’m not even close to that level on my current treatments. Most days I can’t brush my hair or take a shower. Most days I spend two hours doing a task that should take fifteen minutes. Most days I am overwhelmed and unable to advocate for myself.
The point she makes that I think cannot be overstated is that chronic pain patients don’t abuse medications. Then we wouldn’t have them when we need them. The pain is real and we would never want to not have the ability to treat it.
We are just as scared of finally finding the right drug (can it please be a non-opiate, non-psychoactive drug?) that makes the pain bearable only to have it taken away again, as we are terrified of the pain we are in continuing unchecked. And we are scared of addiction, too. And scared for our organs. And scared for the changes in us caused by taking pain medication. We’ve weighed all that. The pain warrants the medication, or we wouldn’t take it.
The pain is already changing us, rewiring our brains, making us shells of the people we were before, and turning our bodies against us. If there were something better, we would certainly take that instead.
I understand her panic and her logic and I really feel for her.”
Phew, so that’s me a year ago. I don’t regret writing any of that, because at that time it was all true from where I was standing. It’s important to note that I was extremely depressed, and had been disappointed and disillusioned so many times. I had a primary care doctor who believed I was faking, no way of seeking relief except the ER, and I very much didn’t understand what was happening to me. At the time, open therapy was doing very little for me. I spent more time staring at my psychologist in total confusion than I did processing or talking things through. She would ask me questions like “what kinds of self-care routines are you doing on a regular basis?” and I would look at her like she had grown a second head, and she would push, “you must be able to think of one self-care activity, I don’t care how small it is.” I was still confused. Self-care? As in, my needs had to take precedent over others before I was at the point of throwing massive temper tantrums, crying uncontrollably in public and at work, and having ten panic attacks in one day? How was I supposed to even start? What did it all mean? Was this lady crazy? I was supposed to get better, not spend more time wallowing in “my needs”.
That’s my thinking a year ago. The level of brain fog I was enveloped in at that time is pretty evident, and there isn’t a lot of built in logic to my ranting, but I wasn’t even aware yet that my cognitive abilities had been taking a nosedive over the past two years. I knew I had Fibromyalgia, but I didn’t know much about it or much about what my life would look like in a year. To be honest, when I typed my response to that writer on National Pain Report, I didn’t even know if I’d be here in a year. Two girls with Ehler-Danlos Syndrome responded to my posted response on Facebook; one is a dear friend now but was someone I had just met at the time, and another I was too self-involved to reach out to in return. Currently, I am haunted that I didn’t reach back, more than I am bothered by anything that I did write. Reading through this outpouring of my own overly raw emotions made me wince, but seeing how I ignored another spoonie’s attempt to connect gave me actual regret. Both girls have EDS and encouraged me to push forward to a diagnosis.
I still don’t have the diagnosis, but I am treating my joints with much more care and attention and I am seeking physical strength instead of allowing fear of injury to mandate every activity. I also do finally understand what self-care is and have a long, long list of ways to recognize and put disordered thinking in perspective, but I am still learning more every single day. I would no longer characterize my life as hellish. Some days are indeed horrible, but I have good days too, and I am more prone to seize them now than a year ago.
I feel gratitude and empowerment when I take care of myself these days, not selfish guilt, but it took reframing my thoughts, repeatedly. Of course I still forget to make myself a top priority sometimes. There are always improvements to be made, but I am confident (another new development) that I will continue to make necessary changes and seek out information that helps me cope. In the mean time I am trying to find joy in small wonders. Any little victory is cause for celebration. Today, I’m happy that I have made progress since my diagnosis. Visible, written down, real progress. All the hard work has been overwhelming at times, it has even felt like I have slid backwards more than I have been able to put one foot in front of the other and keep climbing, but in one short year, the small changes I have made have taken me a long way from not knowing if I wanted to be here in a year, to planning for the next five, ten, twenty years of my life. I am even starting a business with a close friend, something I thought was ripped out of my grasp by illness which has actually become much more possible because of the life adjustments I have made to accommodate the chronic pain that dogs my every move.
It just proves that accepting and processing what illness means for me personally, minus the guilty nagging voice in the back of my head, has made all the difference. I think others around me may be frustrated by how little I can seem to accomplish in a certain amount of time, but I now realize that this isn’t their journey. It’s my journey, at my pace, and that’s healthier than continuing to constantly feel like a failure for struggling to keep up with everyone around me. I don’t have a magic finish line that I can get to and be “recovered”. The best I can do is the best I can do, end of story. I will work with what I’ve been given, and I will be grateful for what I can do on any given day. Sometimes that means just breathing in and out for hours, nothing else, and sometimes it means charging at life like I don’t know what pain and illness even are.
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.
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!
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.
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:
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
Distraction Therapy and Art Therapy, rolled into one happy technique for doodling away the pain. I really do love this idea and immediately decided to go buy a few of these coloring books for adults!
This is one I sketched with pen and meticulously colored in with cheap watercolor pencils so as not to go insane while I was working at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, in the theater, in the dark, well before I had this kind of chronic pain or illness:
I totally remember how calm I felt while I did this and think this might be a new favorite distraction technique. Big thanks to Moongazer for the wonderful idea and for sharing it with everyone!
Distraction Therapy was first mentioned to me by an Occupational Therapist after my surgery but when I asked her for ideas (expecting her to have loads up her trained professional and experienced sleeve) she basically shrugged at me and googled ‘meditation’
So it is worth sharing snippets and suggestions amongst ourselves, methinks.
I find that sometimes, especially during a flare up of my FM, when the pain pills aren’t quite enough, sleep isn’t happening, and I am either too ‘foggy’ or bored or just plain restless for other things to occupy me – there is something I sometimes turn to as a distraction.
I have actually ummed and ahh’d a bit over posting about this, because I imagine there are people out there who might find this amusing, silly perhaps. But I saw another post about it the other week and decided Stuff it!! I will write about it.
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With a chronic illness or two (or five), it can feel, especially at first, like all mental growth and development is in limbo, that it is all so beyond you. Your ability to focus, care, be motivated/inspired, or be fully present in life is even suspended, and it takes a huge amount of effort to immerse yourself in any part of your day, from work to free time, pain can be so overriding that it even becomes difficult to focus on your significant other’s needs like you used to, or even to be aware of them. You feel terrible about these things, we all do. No one likes to have to compare our old selves to our new selves post chronic-illness.
And I respect that, very much so, and do not want to take away from the reality of those moments. Though I often try to emphasize the positive on this blog, I will be honest, there days when I have to write the positive message I want to say over and over again until I really believe it, or skip the “fake it till you make it” approach and wait to post something until I feel less cynical about life. I am often stumped by my own depression, my own guilt. My illnesses and pain often overwhelm me and leave me so hopeless I can’t even bear to write about it. I never want to trivialize the absolute difficulty of living in constant, unrelenting pain that threatens to burn you alive with its intensity. During times when I feel that terrible and dysfunctional in every way, I tend to shut down, pouring my energy into worry, fear of rejection, and often anger, among other negative emotions. I do not believe it is anyone’s “fault” if they feel upset about something. There is always, always, always a reason for why people feel and act the way they do, and though that may not excuse behavior that is harmful towards others, it also provides a framework for starting to understand those in all stages of recovery or maintenance with a chronic illness. Just because some of us happen to be really good at dealing with pain, and some of us do not handle it as well, does not make those of us who are struggling any less worthy of love or admiration for where we are in our life and what it has taken us to get there. It also does not give someone who is in a better place mentally, or who feels like they are in a better place, the right to demerit someone who is just starting out on this journey, or someone who is picking themselves up from the depths of hell for the 42nd time and trying again, or even someone who isn’t yet aware of the path in front of them and can only focus on their own misery all of the time. These are all stages of the same state of existing and trying to thrive with a chronic illness. We are no better or worse than anyone else in pain, or bedbound, or learning to walk again, or even than someone who has given up, spiralled deeper and deeper into the sadder side of illness. No one wants to suffer. We were not born aiming for misery. At no point did someone walk up to us and sell us this illness, we did not choose it, we would do anything to be better, and many of have done everything. This is hard. Bottom line. You are allowed to have days, weeks, months, years, where you feel like a failure. You are allowed to grieve, hurt, or be miserable. You are allowed to scream, cry, or feel the hollow, numb, hopeless apathy wash over you for a time. These are your emotions, you are supposed to feel both highs and lows, and all things in between.
No one gets to tell you that you aren’t dealing with your illness in the best possible way for you, even your doctor’s advice needs to be taken with a grain of salt and a deep knowledge of what is right for you, in a long-term sense. Listening to your intuition is confidence boosting, I promise. We are all doing our best, even if the whole world makes you feel like a scab on a wound stuck on the back of society, that is not our fault, and it is not forever! Nothing is worse than being stuck in the negative side of emotions, and on top of that, also feeling guilty for your own disordered thoughts.
Dear spoonies, you are doing the best you can. Please, please, try to take some comfort in the fact that there are people out there who know how hard you’re working, how every single day is a massive achievement, and how determined you really are underneath the tears, the desperation, and the bad habits that will not be dealt with right now.
You don’t have to think positive all the time. You can be loved anyway, no matter what side of the emotional spectrum you are currently leaning towards. You are still worth just as much when you are sad as when you are happy, so please don’t feel like just because you are depressed, you are worthless. Depression is a part of this. A study from 2008 at Northwestern University shows how pain actually changes our brains, and it takes some time to adjust to that change and figure out how to work around what you have been given. We are all different, there is no formula for everyone to achieve optimum happiness, and anyone that insists there is might not be as brilliant as they appear.
CHRONIC PAIN HARMS THE BRAIN
In a new study, investigators at the Feinberg School of Medicine have identified a clue that may explain how suffering long-term pain could trigger other pain-related symptoms.
Someone who tells you that it is possible to be chronically ill your whole life without dealing with bouts of depression, obviously hasn’t suffered any major trauma in their life, either that or they are in some deep denial. Whatever the reason for their skewed logic, don’t listen to that crap. Illness can be traumatizing, but you are safe in thinking your thoughts, no one has dominion over what you feel, you are in charge, you are allowed to experience the ups and the downs in life without censorship. Just in case you don’t have a safe place to be yourself in all of your disease’s ups and down, I am always honored to listen and encourage. No one should ever have to do this alone. Chronic illness is an adventure best enjoyed surrounded by those who understand and commend your quiet everyday courage just in getting up each morning to a body that does not behave and a life that is more stressful than most. I admire each and every one of you, even if we haven’t met yet, I know you’re trying and I’m rooting for you.
Beautiful spoonies, you all fight so hard, and that makes me so proud to be a part of this wonderful and supportive community. Even if we’re depressed from time to time, we are still fighting to be here in a meaningful way, and very much deserving of finding that. ❤
Getting organized with chronic pain is no small task. But it is necessary on so many levels. One of the major secrets, the dirty untalked about secrets of the chronically ill, is how hard it can be to stay on top of even basic daily tasks no matter if you’re having a good pain day or a lousy one. Being disorganized can make it hard to take spontaneous advantage of the good moments, because we often feel overwhelmed and out of control all the time. Reducing mental clutter is the antidote, or at least part of it. Since I didn’t exactly start out organized, it’s been an uphill battle, one I probably wouldn’t have been prepared for if I hadn’t been fending off chronic pain and illness for years.
I have always had some pretty wicked ADHD that I hid throughout childhood with a high IQ and a love of books. I could still focus, sometimes really, really well, but only on things I deemed interesting and not too intimidating. As a kid that wasn’t such a big deal, it just meant I never progressed beyond my fifth grade abilities in math, and that I almost never turned my homework in. Somehow I still managed to be a merit scholar in high school and get mostly good grades. At the time, I used my then-resourceful brain to figure out how to navigate around the many daily challenges brought about by a complete lack of focus. I did so by setting up reminders for myself, making tons of lists, setting alarms on my phone, sticky notes on the walls, writing on the back of my hand long after it was considered socially acceptable, and generally learning how to fake that I had my shit together.
Unfortunately, my ADHD and forgetfulness have only been getting worse as I age. And then, lucky me, chronic pain and brain fog got added to the mix just over three years ago. Even worse, the IQ that I used to rely on seems to belong to some other person I barely recognize now; my brain feels walled off from me by layer after layer of cotton. Every now and again I get a glimpse of the old me, the smarter me, but it happens less and less.
Eventually, it got to a point where I couldn’t stand by, watching my brain wither in front of me. For the longest time, I was finding myself frustrated to the point of tears, often multiple times a day. Not from pain usually or even frustration about how long I had been in pain, but instead from how hard it was to remember even basic things. It was an adventure, a frustrating one, trying to keep a thought in my head long enough that I could find a pen and notebook and jot it down. I love lists, but all of them summed up, spanning several different notebooks, often scattered about the house and used by other people… it was all starting to drive me insane, not to mention take up too much space and time. I was losing very important information like appointment times, phone numbers I needed, receipts, everything was getting lost!
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, so I decided to stop crying about my frustration and start trying to make changes. I downloaded about a dozen different To-Do List apps, all free, all promising me increased productivity and less mayhem. The first few I tried just made me angry. No way to reorganize the list, clunky slow programs, things that worked on the tablet but not the PC and the other way around, no way to keep crossed off items visible, no way to make different lists or different subheadings within each list. I was just wasting more time, and getting more frustrated. Keeping digital lists seemed like it was not going to work for me. Then I started using ToDoist, and for the first time I had some hope for an organized brain, and a few more glimmers of the old me!
Oh so many notebooks have been saved from my scribbling and constant list-making by this app! I downloaded it specifically to keep track of each online earnings website I am a member of. It has made the whole experience of making money online manageable instead of the complete mess it would otherwise be. Under the website names, I list each task I do that gives me a confirmation number to keep track of, and I keep my earnings up to date on each website. I also keep track of how many times I have cashed out on each website, what referral programs they each offer, what requirements there are such as cut-offs for cashing in, and the date of pay out if they only do so once a month, as well as due dates for canceling trial memberships.
With my newly downloaded app in hand, I started transferring my piles of written notes and ideas into organized sets of lists with subheadings and due dates where appropriate. It took a while, but I finally got all of the most important info about my life into the app and I am so proud of myself! I use it multiple times a day because it syncs across my tablet, phone, and laptop. It saves itself every time you enter a new line. A major bonus to me is that you can share projects with friends or invite them to help you finish a list, which is perfect for the at-home business I’m starting with a good friend in the beginning of 2015. Consistency is usually a problem with me, especially with the ADHD, but once I see a benefit, it’s hard to go back to a less efficient way of doing things. Right now I’m using the ToDoist app constantly on all my devices while I brainstorm, when I think of needed groceries, and to keep an organized, up-to-date list of medical information, in addition to a current list of my online earning activities.
I really have been striving this month more than ever before to be as organized as possible, and ToDoist helps me because it makes keeping track of my whole life so automatic and easy. Using ToDoist to record everything has allowed me to let go of the nagging thoughts that were occupying my brain so I have more room for the bigger stuff that really matters. Sold!
In general, I feel much more in control now that I am using ToDoist instead of keeping four or more different notebooks with me all the time and still not being able to find that one thing I need. Plus there are keyboard shortcuts to help improve productivity with the app even more. Love!!! I am still going through all my really old paper lists, like pages of handwritten records of what seeds I have saved for my veggie garden, and pulling information I need out of them to put into the app. This whole process has been the second best thing to replacing my broken, useless brain with a new, improved, cleaner, less anxious one. Going back through those old lists I can see all the things that I have accomplished in the last year, despite all the brain fog and frustration, and I am not feeling as hard on myself as I was before I saw all of that progress on paper.
Another nice feature of ToDoist that keeps me organized is that I can add due dates to each thing, and then I can easily see what out of all my various projects is due today, this week, and later on this month. Once I cross something off, it stays on the list, just in a lighter shade, until I delete it purposefully. That is perfect for me, sometimes I need to see all the steps I have taken previously in order to figure out a project. Having due dates for posts I’m writing, like this one, has helped me focus first on what needs to get done each day instead of floundering for hours, wondering what I should be doing. I’m considering that alone a huge victory because my brain fog often will not let me remember something long enough to even find a pen to write it down. Sometimes I used to spend hours looking for something I completely forgot to write down in the first place. This is much, much, much better!
Plus it’s free!
Here’s the official website:
And the Google Play store link:
Does anyone else accidentally assign music to certain periods in their life?
I’ve been doing that since I was… little? Like 9 or 10 at the latest. It used to be that I would pick a song that reminded me of a feeling I had while reading a book. I was reading a book a day, sometimes more, and each novel got its own song, and those songs served as really great triggers to remind me of the entire plot/emotions of each particular book. I don’t do that anymore, but every month or so a new song or an old one will float into my subconscious and stay there, playing on and on. The one that keeps getting running through my head right now is Suffer Well by Depeche Mode.
Yes, I have always had this affliction for Depeche Mode, The Smiths, The Cure, New Order, Joy Division, Bauhaus, etc. Classic goth music. Sleek, a little shiny, still as awesome as it was the day they conceived it. Make fun, I do not care! 🙂
I have loved this song forever, well, since 2006, when I was still in high school. But last month when I started listening to music again, I found it on my ipod and Dave Gahan and I got reacquainted. We warmed up to each other pretty quickly, I remember how I felt when I first heard it, all my suffering was psychological and stress-induced at that time, and my take on it was more about my how the antidepressants I had just been told to start taking were fucking my body and brain up in ways I hated. Now, listening to it again, I found something much more positive in this track.
Dave Gahan sings “Just hold on…. Suffer well. Sometimes it’s hard, so hard to tell.” Amen.Yes. It is hard to tell. I feel like people should be able to see the pain in my eyes or all around my body like fire, but they cannot. Only if I start acting off or unresponsive does anyone catch on. I’m still not used to it, I don’t know if I will ever get over feeling like it is arcing off my body, surrounding me in a fiery red that people should be able to see from a distance. The pain is so overwhelming that I keep thinking it must be visible, somehow. I stare at my betraying limbs, wondering how something that looks normal other than the spasms and twitching could possibly cause so much pain, and how, how, how can it look so normal?!
Lately my body has been plagued by infections I am having trouble getting rid of, but which I refuse to treat with western medicine yet because I know my body will eventually fight them off, naturally and more healthily than with more pills than I already take. One after another the severe infections appear, and then when I think I’m done with them, the cycle seems to start over, all over my body. I make progress, slowly, until I get sick or knocked down by a flare up for a while and my immune system tanks. I know I will prevail if I take care of myself correctly. It’s a learning curve.
This is where I take a page from an excellent Depeche Mode song, and try to suffer well, since the suffering seems quite inevitable right now.
I will also strive to care less that it is so truly hard to tell how much pain I am in. I am smiling on the outside, so I cannot hold those who mean well around me accountable. That is what words are for, after all! Definitely something for me to work on in the future!
I hope that if you are suffering tonight, you are enduring it well. I know that sounds odd if you haven’t been dealing with a chronic illness, but all my fellow spoonies will understand that I mean it with all the love in the world. Our suffering is not always avoidable, but we can choose how we handle it with practice.
I don’t mind failure, I relish in it, honestly. Without failure there would be no success, no learning and no growth.
However, just because failure doesn’t scare me, the thought of having to go through a lengthy process like applying for disability more than once is unbelievably daunting now that I am dealing with several chronic illnesses. And since I have the focus of a golden retriever puppy on a walk…
What was I saying? Oh yeah, since I completely lack all concentration whatsoever, I have had to develop some strategies for getting around my deficit. It has been about keeping it simple, being less self-conscious of my mistakes, and looking for positive reinforcement in the smallest of victories.
That was just a list of stuff, so here are some examples: If I want to paint tomorrow, I know I can’t expect to complete a piece start to finish in one day. I have to pare down tasks into steps, or pick smaller goals now, like just sketching my idea out one day and then doing a couple coats of gesso the second day. When something turns out not quite right when I do finally get around to painting on the third day, or maybe the fourth or fifth, I just try to focus on the process more instead of the final result. Even if it turns out looking more like a muddy field than a work of art, if I can use that canvas as a learning tool for teaching myself a new technique (or how not to use a new technique), then I go ahead count it as a victory, whereas before I would have gotten mad at myself.
I think one of the most valuable things that being chronically ill has taught me is how to view failure as success. I have become very good at being my own inner cheerleader (see, I’m doing it right now!). There is always a silver lining, and there always has to be. Every time I find one, I win and Chronic Pain loses. It might not even seem like much at the time that I find the little shiny piece of gold in all the shit, but it is everything when I look back.
This year was the year of perspective and organizing my thoughts, and one of the results is that I finally decided I am not weak. I have been through too much and stayed true to myself for too long to be weak. I might be writing this in a jumbled mess of words that will hardly make sense when I go back and try to fix it up into some semblance of English tomorrow morning over coffee, but I am writing, not wallowing. I’m changing my story by choosing to find the victory in the very small. So that later I can look back and see happiness.
Being grateful is my new go-to emotion.
If I’m feeling numb or distant or like I want to spiral down and down, I pick out one thing I can still do, one personality trait I am grateful for, and one thing that happened that day to be thankful for. Sometimes I just write the answers over and over again until they carry the meaning they need.
Of all the surprising benefits of being grateful, the one that strikes me right now is that it actually makes it easier to feel like I have all the reassurances I need, so I do not need to seek them from other people.
I only figured out in the last year what it means to truly find good in everything, and to make that spirit of thankfulness a priority. I was so ready for a change internally that when the gratitude that people had been telling me about for so long finally sank in, it became a part of my daily life almost immediately and with not nearly as much effort as I thought. Looking back, I started small and worked my way up to being able to write a list of positive affirmations almost every day. Writing those lists has been an incredible experience in the last three months. Now when I feel lost, I can look at the page after page of lined notebook paper and find myself again.
If you are fighting a battle with a chronic condition or chronic pain I especially hope you have the power of gratitude on your side, maybe not right now, but in the future at least. It doesn’t take my pain away, but it is almost like a blanket that keeps me warm no matter how cold the winds in my life are blowing (it’s freezing here, lol).
Easy is absolutely nowhere to be found in my new post-illness life, although people on the outside looking in must think I am lazy and everything is handed to me while I sit back in comfort and make demands on everyone around me, that simply is not the truth. In all this craziness, gratitude helps, that’s for sure. My life isn’t easy, I just make the best of it. Hard to prove, though!
Fortunately, all that matter is that I know how much grueling, non-stop work is going on even on those all-important rest days when I seem my laziest to the casual observer. Among the changes fostered in me when I adopted gratitude into my outlook, it’s finally getting easier not to care what people think. I have always been so self-conscious that by age 10, even sitting with my family in a restaurant, I was sure I was so hideous that everyone must be laughing at me, and every “her” I heard, I was sure it was me being discussed in all my disgusting glory (my self esteem was not the greatest, as a kid), so gaining some ground there is awesome, to say the least.
Apparently when everything else falls apart, we get time to explore ourselves, and pull all the good things we have buried back up to the surface again.
It honestly feels like all this soul-searching could be the most important thing I do for myself in my entire life. I am grateful for the chance to pursue it.
Throughout life, my soul has somehow been buoyant enough that even when I am dropped from a great distance into an inky black ocean as vast as any imaginable, I may sink down and appear lost at first, but then gradually the plummeting stops and, finally, I slowly begin to float to the surface again, towards the air and the light.
Just knowing that the sinking stops, that it can only last for so long, sometimes that’s enough.