Tag Archive | Joint Hypermobility Syndrome

Staying Present During A Flare Up

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

Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome Medical Emergency Information Cards

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

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

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

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

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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.

Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome Hypermobility Type: A Genetic Predisposition to the Development of Various Functional Somatic Syndromes | The Pain Relief Foundation

What follows is a truly fascinating look at why so many Ehler-Danlos Syndrome patients (especially Hypermobility Type, also used to be called EDS-III or Type 3), including myself, languish in pain, not taken seriously, waiting for a correct diagnosis. I accurately fit every requirement for EDS and was born with bilateral hip dislocations, a hole in my heart, and Spina Bifida Occulta affecting both my lower spine in a visible dimple and then at the area where the disc C2-3 should be I have instead two fused vertebrae not caused by injury or surgery. Those same physical therapists and radiologists have told me that I have craniocervical instability, but the PT couldn’t do much about it except help me find exercises that were somewhat safe for my neck.

In a slow car accident involving a semi truck with three trailers hitting my car on my way to work, I sustained two fully torn vertebral discs, and at least four other bulging/slipped discs. That much damage from a car accident that didn’t even total my used vehicle? Totally a give-away for Ehler Danlos Syndrome. I know that Spina Bifida is somewhat more common in EDS families, but I don’t know if there has every been an official link acknowledged between the two, although being born C-section with dislocated hips should be a pretty good indication that I had faulty joints. It’s crazy that my doctors continue to ignore my pleas for a solid EDS diagnosis even though I fulfill the Beighton and Brighton scales/scores on every move, and even though as a child I was known in my gym as “rubberband girl”. That was in comparison to all the other ages of girls there too, some of whom competed and did very well, but were never as flexible as me. I injured myself too many times and healed too slowly to keep it up into puberty . Isn’t that almost the same story of every person with EDS who participated in rigorous and physically demanding sports not knowing they had a collagen problem?

Further proof comes from my mom’s knee cartilage disintegrating in one night of dancing, according to her, and never being the same afterwards. Also the way we scar, and the hormonal imbalance most of us have. All the hip problems, bowel problems, arthritis and vascular issues that run in my family? Probably tied in to EDS genes, is my best guess, and those are all definitely areas of the body affected by collagen or lack thereof. All areas of the body are affected by collagen production. The craziest part is that I have instead been called a liar, been misdiagnosed several times and then called a liar again, which I pushed through only to be assigned many of these so called “wastebasket diseases” for which there is no real standard of care that works for all or even most patients. I know, horrible, horrible name, “wastebasket disease” and it sucks to be in that category because many doctors actually treat you like trash. At the best they mean well but have no idea how to help you significantly.

I don’t know why I have been diagnosed with JHS since my birth, back when it was known as Benign Hypermobility Syndrome (benign, my ass), but in texts now JHS and EDS-HT are medically acknowledged to be the same disease with the exact same treatment recommendations except that with the diagnosis of EDS my doctors may understand why tiny doses of opiates have never and will never cut it. I’m so opposed to any kind of surgery until they understand if I require more anesthetic during surgery than a non-EDS patient.

When I was young and injured myself pretty much once a month, doctors would look at my bones on x-ray film and say that they looked like the bones of a much older person but that I should be fine because I have bigger bones and that should help protect me. I’m not fine, doctors! Help!!! Send me a time machine or at least a geneticist who will take me seriously! I have already lost so much mobility and flexibility, and my spine is so harshly curved now in two places that it is starting to be difficult to get dressed, my fingers get stiff and spasm a lot more, as well as dislocate with the slightest of tasks, even typing. It’s not super painful unless they dislocate in a specific way. There are places it’s happened so many times I don’t notice it except when the joints get stuck and won’t move, like my knees for instance!

The studies that have been done recently say that 90% or more of all EDS sufferers have no idea what is wrong with them, or they know but can’t see a geneticist to confirm, due to lack of clear diagnostic criteria and no clearly defined specialists who commonly deal with the genetic condition. Then there is the often prohibitive cost of genetic testing. I can see why so many of us get left to rot. And there are probably a good deal of high functioning EDSers out there who weren’t dancers or gymnasts and who didn’t abuse their bodies as much as I did, and their life will likely be normal enough that if they learn of it, it will be because of having a child who has EDS, more than likely. I want to find out before that!!! That abundance of undiagnosed EDSers living with the disease seems backed up by all the patient populations they examined in the below article. The high occurrence of fibromyalgia alongside EDS-HT (around 50% of the fibro patients had EDS markers, and around half of the studied EDS population were found to have all key fibromyalgia symptoms) makes perfect sense as outlined by the last reblog I did from EDS InfoThat post deals with the fact that Untreated Chronic Pain is a Medical Emergency, where chronic pain states are explained as often arising from untreated acute pain after trauma, which is totally true in my case. I was too young to be in real pain, because that’s a thing, and my car accident wasn’t impressive enough that I merited correct dosage of narcotics, and I was shamed into not asking for them as often as I needed them.

Anyhoo, rant aside, the article is an elegant, and unique, explanation of so much that is difficult about navigating in the world of chronic illnesses and differential diagnoses.

Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome Hypermobility Type: A Genetic Predisposition to the Development of Various Functional Somatic Syndromes

Introduction

Functional Somatic Syndromes, conditions characterized by functional disability and self reported symptoms rather than clearly demonstrable organic problems, are a common contemporary health issue [1]. Each medical subspecialty seems to have at least one somatic syndrome for patients whose symptoms cannot otherwise be medically explained. These include: irritable bowel syndrome (gastroenterology); fibromyalgia (rheumatology); tension headaches (neurology); and chronic fatigue syndrome (immunology) [2]. In recent years, however, a significant portion of these patients have gone on to receive a diagnoses of a little known connective tissue disorder: Ehlers-Danlos syndrome hypermobility type (EDS-HT), formerly type III [3]. In this literature review, I will discuss the features of EDS-HT, explore EDS-HT as a possible unifying concept for various functional somatic syndromes, illuminate further implications of the described findings, outline a set of diagnostic criteria that should be implemented by healthcare professionals in functional diagnostic medicine, and propose a novel way of thinking about functional somatic syndromes.

Ehlers-Danlos Hypermobility Type (EDS-HT) Overview

 EDS-HT, considered to be one and the same with joint hypermobility syndrome (JHS), is a relatively common, frequently underdiagnosed heritable condition which predisposes those afflicted to chronic, widespread musculoskeletal pain and a wide variety of articular and extra-articular features purportedly linked to constitutionally abnormal collagen. The diagnosis is primarily clinical in essence and is largely based on the Beighton score (a simple system used to quantify joint laxity and hypermobility) and medical history. It is predominantly of autosomal dominant inheritance, though the molecular basis of EDS-HT is still largely unknown except for a minority of patients mutated in TNXB and COL3A1 [4]. Skin biopsies may show alterations in collagen fibril morphology [5]. Early literature fixed the frequency of EDS as a whole to 1 in 5000, with EDS-HT accounting for approximately half of all registered cases. However, due to it’s vast underdiagnosis, a presumed frequency of 0.75-2% has been proposed for EDS-HT [4].

Hypermobility and the Autonomic Nervous System:

The Missing Link for Various Functional Somatic Syndromes

When first described, EDS-HT was considered to be a relatively benign condition, with acute and chronic joint instabilities as it’s unique clinical consequence. Recently, however, accumulated experience on the management of EDS-HT patients elucidated a more complex clinical picture. In particular, subjects with joint hypermobility appear to be more prone to developing a range of functional somatic syndromes [3], including fibromyalgia [6], chronic fatigue syndrome [7], headaches [8], complex regional pain syndrome [10], gastrointestinal functional disorder [11], pelvic organ prolapse [12], and orthostatic intolerance [13].

An underlying dysautonomic process may explain many of the aforementioned functional somatic syndromes seen in EDS-HT individuals, which are present in practically all major body systems. Leading research suggests that the pathogenic relationship between dysautonomia and congenital laxity of the connective tissue is primarily attributable to the pathological deformation of the brainstem and upper spinal cord from occipitoatlantoaxial hypermobility and cranial settling [8]. In other words, craniocervical hypermobility and instability, and the resulting deformative stress of repetitive stretching and ventral brainstem compression, appear to underlie the observed autonomic dysfunction in hypermobile patients [9]. As demonstrated in pathological reports of fatal cases of traumatic brain injury and numerous animal studies, repetitive stretching of nerves can lead to clumping and loss of neurofilaments and microtubules within the axon and promotes neural apoptosis [14][15]. Strain also alters the electrochemistry of the nerve by decreasing the amplitude of action potentials [16] and increasing calcium influx into the cell [17]. When you apply this research to the context of hypermobile individuals, the underlying process of autonomic nervous system dysfunction becomes palpable. Unsurprisingly, the histopathological changes in neural axons that are undergone in these situations would not show up on any routine diagnostic test. In extreme cases, however, cranial settling and a reduction of the clivo-axial angle may be demonstrable on MRIs, but typically only when imaged in the upright position [8]. This would explain why many of these patients’ diagnostic imaging reports state negative results.

In accord with craniocervical hypermobility findings, recent studies have suggested that up to 70% of patients with hypermobility have orthostatic intolerance and other forms of dysautonomia. The orthostatic effect in EDS-HT individuals may also be compounded by abnormal connective tissue in the vasculature, which results in an increase in blood vessel distensibility in response to the augmented hydrostatic pressure that occurs during orthostatic stress. This leads to exaggerated blood pooling in the lower extremities with a resultant tachycardia [18]. While these findings were predictable, a reversed frequency study, wherein hypermobility was measured in patients diagnosed with Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome, a prevalent form of dysautonomia in young people, found that an extraordinary 53% of participants met the diagnostic criteria for EDS-HT [19]. Furthermore, when hypermobility was measured in individuals diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, a condition with a longstanding, established association with orthostatic intolerance [20], researchers found that 25% of Chronic Fatigue syndrome sufferers had generalized hypermobility [21]. This phenomena, though, is likely of multifactorial consequence, as dysautonomia, chronic pain, and sleep apnea secondary to ventral brainstem compression can result in poor sleep architecture and chronic fatigue [22][23][24].

Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome Hypermobility Type as a Systemic Condition

 The autonomic nervous system problems associated with hypermobility, alike various functional somatic disorders, are present in practically all major body systems. In the realm of gastroenterology, for instance, dysautonomia in the form of vagus nerve damage (which may result from craniocervical instability) can result in delayed gastric emptying [25] and affect bowel contractibility, causing nausea and the so called “irritable bowl syndrome” [26]. Moreover, the underlying collagen abnormality of EDS-HT itself is systemic. Insufficient collagen may reduce sphincter tone and increase distensibility of the gut wall (which is likely to influence the function of surrounding cellular mechano-receptors), resulting in decreased gastrointestinal motility, gastroesophageal reflux (GERD) and/or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). In fact, over 50% of EDS-HT individuals have GERD and/or IBS [4][27]. When hypermobility was tested in patients diagnosed with functional gastrointestinal disorders (which include IBS, functional dyspepsia, and functional constipation), an astonishing 49% were found to have joint hypermobility and many of those patients went on to receive an official diagnosis of EDS-HT [10].

When it comes to neurological manifestations, headaches are among the most common complaint in the EDS-HT population [4]. As a consequence of occipitoatlantoaxial hypermobility, drooping of the cerebellar tonsils and obstruction of the cerebrospinal flow at the craniocervical junction can result in intracranial pressure [8][28]. In addition, rapid fluctuations in blood pressure and inadequate cerebral perfusion on upright posture caused by dysautonomia may lead to migraines [29][30]. People with lax joints are also predisposed to cervicogenic, tension, and new daily persistent headaches arising from musculoskeletal dysfunction in the temporal mandibular joints and the upper three cervical segments of the spine [4][31].

As a consequence of ligamentous laxity, rheumatological complications among the EDS-HT population are commonplace. Chronic pain in patients with joint hypermobility stems from a predisposition to injury from daily minor trauma to the joints and ligaments [32]. Unstable joints may also lead to frequent dislocations, subluxations, sprains, and stretch injury to the nerves traversing hypermobile joints, further increasing the risk of developing chronic pain states such as arthralgia, repetitive strain injuries, and complex regional pain syndrome [4][9][33]. There is also a high incidence of muscular pain attributable to myofacial spasms. Tender points consistent with fibromyalgia are often palpable, especially in the paravertebral musculature [34]. In frequency studies, the prevalence of fibromyalgia in EDS-HT participants was established to be 30% [35] and the prevalence of EDS-HT among fibromyalgia subjects was found to be 27.3% [6]. One theory for the origin of pain in fibromyalgia ascribes it to excessive muscle stress, which may increase the excitability of nociceptive ends of the muscle [36][37]. Joint instability in hyperlax individuals may result in sustained muscle stress (an overcompensation mechanism for loose and injured joints) and over stimulation of nociceptive nerve endings (which are poorly supported by defective collagen fibrils) [38]. An alternative, although equivocal, theory has suggested that biomechanical disturbances in the cervical spine may play a role in the pathogenesis of fibromyalgia. In a controlled study of 161 cases of traumatic injury to the cervical spine (primarily “whiplash”), fibromyalgia was diagnosed in 21.6% of those with neck injury verses 1.7% control subjects with lower extremity fractures [39], bringing us back to the notion that craniocervical instability, and the subsequent neurological damage, may be the underlying process in the development of functional somatic syndromes.

Further Implications of Discussed Findings in the Diagnosis and Management of Functional Somatic Syndromes

 These observations suggest that a careful examination for hypermobility and connective tissue abnormalities should be an integral part of functional diagnostic medicine. Pathological deformation of the brainstem and stretch injury to neural axons due to an underlying congenital ligamentous laxity, as discussed here in the case of EDS-HT, or acquired ligamentous instability, such as whiplash, may indeed be the missing link in the pathogenesis of various functional somatic syndromes.

In a literature review of functional somatic syndromes, Wessely and colleges concluded, “a substantial overlap exists between the individual syndromes and that the similarities between them outweigh the differences” and “patients with one syndrome frequently meet diagnostic criteria for another” [40]. For this subset of patients, generalized joint hypermobility may represent the common milieu for functional somatic syndromes with ubiquitous manifestations. The predispositions EDS-HT imposes would further explain why many of these patients are affected profoundly by emotional arousal (as it’s mediated by the autonomic nervous system) and muscle tension, and why patients with different syndromes share non-symptom characteristics such as sex (as joint laxity is more pronounced in females) and develops at a relatively young age (as EDS-HT is heritable, and hence, lifelong) [4][41].

Accordingly, articular hypermobility can be assessed by using the 9-point Beighton score, which assigns one point for each side of the body on which the patient can (1) passively dorsiflex the 5th finger >90 degrees with the forearm flat on the table, (2) passively appose the thumb to the flexor aspect of the forearm, (3) hyperextend the elbow beyond 10 degrees, and (4) hyperextend the knee beyond 10 degrees and one point for forward flexion of the trunk with the legs straight so that the palms rest flat on the floor. If a patient receives a Beighton score of 4 or more, a referral to a geneticist or rheumatologist for further evaluation is recommended [42]. If cranial settling and a reduction in the clivo-axial angle is suspected, and upright MRI may additionally aid in diagnosis [8].

With this hitherto unobserved connection comes a new line of treatment for a subdivision of patients with functional somatic disorders. Physical therapy, in the form of exercises that strengthen joint-supporting muscles, and bracing may provide joint stability and help minimize articular injury [4]. Elimination of brainstem deformation by straightening and stabilizing the craniocervical junction (via fusion surgery) may also improve pain, neural functioning, and quality of life [8].

Conclusion: A Paradigm Shift in the Etiology of Functional Somatic Syndromes

Disorders that lack “objective markers” are usually considered to be functional, not “organic.” This implies to some that the symptoms in functional somatic syndromes are physiological manifestations of psychosocial factors, a view that enforces an insular attitude to the etiology of disease rather than an interactive holistic approach. Consequently, when investigative results are negative, management is commonly limited to reassurance about the (apparent) absence of disease and occasionally psychiatric therapy. These treatments, however, are unpopular with patients, have low coherence rates, and seldom provide long-term therapeutic relief [41][43].

An alternative explanation is that the organic abnormalities are undetectable through cursory diagnostic testing as the underlying mechanism may be histopathological in origin, or, as seen in the case of upright MRIs on EDS-HT patients, the body may not be in the problematic position when testing takes place. The overly common cognitive error overshadowing high-tech medicine –that emotional issues are the underpinnings of illnesses lacking objectivity– must be overcome. While it is sufficient to say that, like virtually all known illnesses, psychosocial factors do play some role in functional somatic syndromes [1], an over emphasis on medically unexplained symptoms as being psychological bases causal reasoning on a negative. An absence of evidence does not denote an absence of organic disease –it simply means that the conditions that were tested for are not present in the individual and there is an infinite realm of alternative possibilities, such as EDS-HT.

Functional somatic disorders can only be successfully managed in the healthcare setting once a comprehensive understanding of their nature and treatment is acquired. The recognition of Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome Hypermobility type, and other disorders involving ligamentous laxity, as a possible physiological mechanism underlying various medically unexplained symptoms will help bridge the gap in physicians’ minds between described physical complaints and apparent negative test results in a subset of patients. Henceforth, in the wake of this disclosed correlation, further investigation into the role hypermobility and connective tissue abnormalities play in the etiology of these conditions, alongside a redefinition and modification of the diagnostic criteria of functional somatic syndromes, is essential to study of medically unexplained phenomena.

via Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome Hypermobility Type: A Genetic Predisposition to the Development of Various Functional Somatic Syndromes | The Pain Relief Foundation.

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.

New Site Header

I tried to make a new header and improve my blog’s layout a tiny bit, but I just can’t decide which header image I like the best, out of all the ones I have made. I guess I haven’t knocked my own socks off yet with any of them, so until then this blue beach scene will have to do. Reminds me of the coast in oregon on an especially pretty day, mixed with the hand-painted watercolor cards my grandma used to send on birthdays.

Check it out, tell me what  you think:

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You can see I did decide to change the wording of my tagline from “survive with chronic pain” to “live well with chronic pain” as I think that’s a better goal for me now, more than a year out from my diagnosis of Fibromyalgia, about a year out from learning that I also had Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Joint Hypermobility Syndrome, and Spina Bifida Occulta, and about six months into realizing that I haven’t been making as much progress as I would like, because I also need to deal with  several anxiety disorders, including PTSD. It’s been three and a half years since I was in an auto accident that changed my life forever. I no longer am content with “surviving” because it’s not enough, I want to do more than just get through the day. I want to thrive, chronic illness and pain be damned.

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Right now I’m really trying to remind myself to just make one or two changes at a time since I have another blog to get off the ground right now and don’t need to be spending so much time over here, but I can’t seem to stay away. At least I’m taking my own advice about making small changes one at a time instead of trying to overhaul the entire theme in one day.

Pain and Opiates: Perceptions vs Reality | EDS Info (Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome)

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

via Pain & Opiates: Perceptions vs Reality | EDS Info (Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome).

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.

= = = = = = = = = = = =

“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

= = = = = = = = = = = =

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.

= = = = = = = = = = = =

1. Source for addiction statistic:

http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/magazine/issues/spring11/articles/spring 11pg9.html

via Pain & Opiates: Perceptions vs Reality | EDS Info (Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome).

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

Hypermobility = Unstable Joints = Two Black Eyes

Wow, I sure feel like an idiot. Also I’m miserable, so whatever lesson I was supposed to learn, I think I got it now, universe! Seriously, you can stop!

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Until last night around midnight, I had not slept for 68 hours. At all. I don’t usually end up forfeiting more than one night at a time to Chronic Pain, but this time she went ahead and took two full nights from me, and then some. Bitch. Anyway, I was hurting from trying to have one of those as-enthusiastic-as-before-I-got-sick nights of fun with my boyfriend, but ended up accidentally injuring myself absolutely everywhere while we were at it. Waking up a couple hours later on Sunday, I realized there was no way I was going to be able to get out of bed at all unless I got up right then and there, so at 5 am on Sunday, Chronic Pain began her longest winning streak against my sleep since the car accident.

I don’t remember everything from this entire time period, and you can kinda see why in the picture!

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I know I laid down to go to sleep both nights, but that both nights, nothing happened, so rather than stress and get frustrated in bed, I got up and paced around the house, smoked a cigarette, drank a glass of water, wrote in the hard copy journal I sometimes keep, did light stretching, self massage with the DaVinci tool and the back buddy, and ten minutes of breathing. Still awake. Okay. Rinse. Repeat. Rinse. Repeat. Damn it, sun is shining, guess I am up for the day. Same thing the next night, only I was in even more pain and way more loopy, and my limbs were shaking and sore and muscles all over felt torn and limp.

I was wall-walking, which is how I navigate my house when my balance and motor skills start to go, or when my vision is not what it should be. Unfortunately I had just moved a bunch of furniture earlier in the week to create more open space in the living room for my business partner and I to actually get some work done and set up the play pen for her little boy. Instead of guiding myself to the couch with familiar furniture, I ended up with one leg collapsing out from under me just as I took a step, then realized I didn’t have anything to grab onto. So my nose grabbed onto the side of a table or just the floor, I’m not quite sure, and I blacked out for a second (actually have no idea how long I was out…), came to on the hardwood floor in my living room, close to the couch, but not close enough, and realized that my hand which was cradling my throbbing nose was full of hot liquid. Shit. Shitshitshit. “Chris! Hey… honey, can you help me?” I remember calling loud enough to wake him up as I made my way towards the bathroom. The bleeding took kind of a while to stop, and for obvious reasons after knocking myself out like that, I couldn’t go to sleep that night either. Yesterday crawled, I kept nodding off until my cortisol levels caught up with the day again around one or two pm. Coffee couldn’t help me, but I kept trying. I was so excited to sleep last night, finally, that pain be damned, I had already done an hour of relaxation including meditation, visualization, gentle yoga, and working on my breathing, so I was out cold in under 5 minutes after crawling beneath my pile of blankets. I woke up at 5 am to my right leg screaming painfully at me because all the blood had for some reason stopped moving around in it, and it was throbbing and immobile, and hurt like I always forget is even possible, all my toes twisted and curled up in unnatural positions. I had to stretch the toes out by hand after I dragged my dead leg over the side of the bed and mostly succeeded in not screaming when it hit the floor. Excruciating is the only word for trying to get blood pumping in a limb again once it has pooled there. So even last night, though I slept, I was up and down again.

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And that’s what my black eyes and nose looked like when I woke up this morning, so I won’t be leaving the house for a bit unless it’s an emergency. Haha, embarrassing!

If this cycle is going to keep repeating as it has been for the last year or so, I am going to need some kind of pain relief, obviously, to make it possible to sleep during flare ups at the very least, so I can break the cycle. Being able to sleep is the only way to begin to crawl my way out of a severe long-term flare up. Haven’t I shown that I’m willing to try anything and everything, haven’t I given it all a real try? What works best should be available to me, but it is not. This whole demonization of opiates has hurt so many innocent bystanders, and it has hit the chronic pain community so hard that many of my friends who were on pain contracts and have been dropped recently have reverted back to unhealthy coping mechanisms and self-medication. After years of success working with their doctors they are being treated like junkies, and I think being treated like that actually produces more addicts than anything. Anyway, tangent over, back on subject: I usually (since the car accident anyway) cannot sleep at least four nights a month because of pain, and I have accepted and adjusted to that. Unfortunately it’s been more like six or seven nights just in January so far, and that is starting to increase my pain even more. This is one giant vicious cycle that I want out of so badly. I don’t sleep or nap during the day, it’s part of the mystery with my case, and it confuses my doctors a lot, but to me it’s just my personality. I also can’t “catch up” on sleep from one night to the next because sleeping extra hours equals severe pain that I have learned the hard way to avoid by setting an 8 am alarm, just in case I manage to sleep in that late. My schedule is as consistent as my pain allows and I thought I was improving, but this latest increase in pain and accompanying strange ramping up of other symptoms has left me concluding that was just hopeful optimism.

This week in particular the meds that are supposed to make me fall asleep and stay asleep are making me feel wired and wide awake, and the meds that are supposed to help me focus and get through the day are making me want to curl up in a ball somewhere dark and sleep it off. That makes it hard to want to take anything at all, the only thing that keeps me on my regular maintenance doses of everything and keeps me slowly decreasing the Lyrica is knowing how awful the withdrawal effects are on top of an already painful day (previous experiences where I thought I had taken my pills, only to figure out the next day, in extreme pain, that I had actually missed one or two doses, or accidentally falling asleep with nothing on board, or thinking that I was magically cured for a day and not taking my meds. Oh, how I have learned).

Lately my whole-body pain has increased, as have my migraines, and though I have met this change by continuing my small exercise regiment and getting up at the same time, eating healthier and limiting my caffeine and sugar intakes, it has just continued to roar brighter and higher, an ever-increasing, agonizing bonfire blazing across my brain.

I have found that beyond a doubt, not a one of my current meds helps with breakthrough pain or flare ups. and I have to wonder how I am supposed to be increasing my activity levels and taking on more and more responsibilities while I am just getting worse and there is absolutely zero relief from the resulting negative impact on my health. Being in so much pain that I can’t even catch an hour or two of sleep is just unacceptable. I’m not headed for better health by pushing myself like this, I’m headed for new scary/weird symptoms, extra agony, and perhaps even total physical collapse.

I have been saturating myself in a mixture of all of my topical treatments combined into one super-pain-gel, with extra crushed up arnica tablets, drops of essential oils, high CBD/CBG hemp oil, castor oil, and everything under the sun that is considered a pain-killer or anti-inflammatory. I whip this concoction up often when I am in more pain that usual, but this time it is not working as previously, so I called up my compounding pharmacy to find out how much ketamine they can cram into one of these creams for me. Turns out, three times more than is in there right now! I am so relieved, that might actually help me! They also add something called LDNs to topical treatments, and if anyone has any experience with LDN’s either topically or orally, for chronic fatigue or fibro, please, please, PLEASE leave me a comment with your take on it! I am fascinated.

My boyfriend actually found the article about them as relating to fibro pain, so thanks to him at least I have something new to try that doesn’t necessarily have to be ingested (my kidneys need a break!). I am really encouraged that he researched my situation enough to find that potential solution! On the other hand, there is still no verbal reassurance from him, no open communication, no emotional honesty from him, and no two way conversations. Just…. Trying not to be so upset about how I think he feels towards me and focus more on how I feel towards myself. In the end, in order to be in a true relationship I must have the strength within me to keep trying to thrive, all on my own. My strength doesn’t come from him. Even if it would be so nice to have his verbal support, not having it won’t kill me. So progress has been made on my side in the relationship, and some progress and gestures have been made on his part. I have been kind of cool and reserved towards him, and that’s because in between my own bouts of emotional honesty, I have noticed how there is never a reply from him, never any comfort besides physical, and unfortunately I can’t always tolerate back rubs, hugs, and tilting my neck or moving my jaw for kisses. Plus, with all my abandonment issues and PTSD, I have to be careful to disengage from my most co-dependent behaviors, such as changing my emotions to suit his mood. The goal is to do this without hurting his feelings, but it’s rough. It’s hard to explain to him why our relationship is less healthy than is ideal, and it’s hard to keep pushing for what is better for both of us. I got us into this mess by dragging so much baggage, trauma and emotional damage from my childhood unknowingly into our relationship. He did not choose to be in the role that he is in now in our relationship. I just keep talking and hoping some of what I say is making it through and hitting its mark, because I have no way of knowing for sure. Sometimes my own fears cause me to act out, and that seems to be the case here. The reality is that he does many small sweet things, he tries, he wants me to be happier, he wants us to keep working towards a better tomorrow. Even if he doesn’t know how to communicate it at all, and he doesn’t know how to say the words I need to hear from him, he loves me. There is so much room within that love that together I know we can shape our relationship into one that is truly honest, content, respectful and forgiving. We will get there, that goal is a lofty one even for a couple not dealing with Chronic Pain. On this issue, Pain can kiss my ass, that jealous creature is not taking any more people out of my life than she already has.

Right now I am at a cross roads with my life in so many ways. I find out in the next three days, hopefully, if I am qualified to stay on my mother’s health insurance. Super Stress! If not, I lose everything concerned with my health which I have so delicately balanced in my life right now; all my access to medications, doctors that I need to continue seeing, the teaching hospital, my psychiatrist and mental health care in general, and to top it all off, Fibromyalgia is not a covered condition under the state-run health insurance. Great. Fucking great. So there’s the cause of much of my anxiety lately. As usual I procrastinated, and as usual I didn’t have most of the information I needed when it would have been ideal to have it, but unlike usual, I didn’t let my ADHD and brain fog stop me from getting everything in on time, early even, and following up with them. I have sticky notes, alarms on my phone, tasks on ToDoist, etc, anywhere I can slap reminders to stay on top of this stressful issue. The idea of losing access to any quality healthcare is terrifying beyond words, I do not even feel capable of contemplating how that will go if I am denied.

Most days it is a major struggle to get anything done at all, and even though I have only been able to shower once every four or five days, I just keep doing the one or two tasks a day that I am capable of, and that has so far in the last month added up to a rudimentary business plan, a super organized list of links to wholesalers, ingredients, prices, as well as display and packaging ideas, and recipes for many of the products we will be attempting to make. Only the best and most useful will actually end up on our first line at the end of spring. So again, progress is happening, but it feels unfairly limited because of how little I can do at one time. The old me would have products done by now and ready to be packaged, she would have designed the logo, created a website, written ten blog posts and scheduled them out in advance, and started working on the final draft of the business plan. Unfortunately I am not the old me, and my current level of ability will just have to suffice. I know i can make it work, I just need to stay consistent. Having this driving focus on an overall goal for the future is helping me stay sane during this gnarly week of flare up, but it’s also making me a little crazy. If that makes sense.

I am aware that I cannot continue pushing this hard indefinitely, and yet I’m not ready to decrease activity. I have finally found a few passions left in my life, like painting, writing, helping friends during difficult times so I can be around when they are thriving again, advocacy, staying educated about clean eating and chronic disease research, designing, and starting our small business. I finally looked Chronic Pain in the eyes and told her off by doing things that are incredibly painful, and which take weeks to recover fully from, and enjoying them, instead of worrying about the inevitable fiery backlash from fibro and chronic fatigue and hypermobility. So even though the pain is seriously awful, I’m not finding myself ready to stop.

Maybe I’m just crazy. Maybe I’m being unrealistic and stubborn. Maybe this is false bravado. No matter the reason, I have tasks piling up that need tackling, and this business is no longer just an idea, it is happening, and so I have to keep pressing forward, pushing through the brain fog, this newest stupid injury, and the severe fatigue and pain, all in order to keep seeing the incredibly slow, but present, progress towards a higher goal.

I am slightly dismayed that throughout my life I have always wanted better and been willing to work on myself, but somehow measurable progress has still been so incredibly slow as to seem non-existent or even backwards at times. Even getting close to figuring out what is going on underneath the obvious is a long up-and-down journey that I am still on.

My one truth, and a major consolation lately, is that I have never passively allowed myself to suffer, even when I whine like it. I am always seeking some kind of alternative to my present situation, and I have nearly always achieved those goals. Often the changes were not positive like I intended, but instead were more closely recognizable as manifestations of the trauma sustained throughout my childhood. Basically, my reactions to the perceived ever-present dangers and perceived constant rejection from those around me are what have been reinforcing unhealthy coping, despite my best efforts. Knowing that puts some of the power back in my hands.

I am not a small child anymore. I can handle almost anything that is thrown at me. I am not helpless. I am not unlovable, my emotions are not disgusting, and I do not have to accept unfair criticism from anyone.

Phew, I guess I had a lot to get off my chest after not really blogging for so long. Sorry for the length of this mess of a post! Thank you for reading if you made it this far!!! ❤

Even with two black eyes and a very swollen and throbbing nose, I refuse to quit. Bring it on, Pain. Let’s see what I can get done today, despite your ugly presence. Keep trying to stop me. I’m not scared of you. Eventually I will be able to put you in your place, but until then, let’s be very clear about something: I own my body, and you, Chronic Pain, are just along for the ride.

Having this blog and meeting so many strong and wonderful individuals who are not defined by their illnesses has changed me in ways I would not trade for anything.

If You Can’t Get Rid of It, Make Room for It

I cannot “fix” fibromyalgia, JHS/EDS, CFS/ME, Spina Bifida, or Occipital & Trigeminal Neuralgia. They are simply things I have to make room for in my life, understanding that I actually have a longer list of medical conditions than that by far, that are not going away on their own, and that have no cures. Say you found yourself in this position of going from healthy to completely unwell in less than three months. After a year or so, it becomes unbearable to the point of not being able to work a 9-5 job anymore, then not even a very part-time (12-18 hours a week) job, despite your very best efforts. No one understands what’s happening to you, including yourself. But it’s always something, it seems, every day. From crippling pain to autonomic dysfunction to dislocations to migraines to allodynia to candida overgrowth to skin lesions; name a symptom and it’s probably happened many times.

So this sucks, you think to yourself. I mean, sucks doesn’t even begin to cover it, but you grieve, you mourn, you see red, you get hysterical, you completely melt down. Allow that. It’s making room for the illness in your life. This part just hurts, on every level. But it’s worth it. There is so much happiness in life left, even with the things that have been taken away by illness.

I implore you not to not feel guilty for going after those things which please you, and which are still very much possible. Maybe this wasn’t the plan all along, but life is not over. It is being rearranged. You still have control, even when it doesn’t seem like it.

The guilt is the tricky part. Illness and pain can make you extremely bitter and withdrawn, and they can also make you extremely fierce, creative, and compassionate. Let’s be fierce, together!

I can’t cure myself, but I can and will continue to gain strength and happiness. In that spirit, I have been exploring new avenues that I couldn’t see myself taking before I was ill. The options to write, to be an artist, to be a graphic designer, to start a small business, to create and teach and advocate, all these things were possible before, but I had no idea. Now I know that I can do things in my life that will make me happier than any path I was on before. I have been through hell, and will continue to visit that territory throughout life. But I am not unhappy. There is plenty of beauty, life, love, and creativity left in me still. As there is so much beauty and love in you as well! ❤

Spoonies travel a lesser-taken road, but we do so in style, I believe! Especially when we band together for awareness and advocacy.

Invisible versus Visible Pain: Awareness

❤ ❤ ❤

Love that image.

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

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

Chronic Pain Visualized #1

Chronic pain isn’t easy to express, not in words or pictures. I have struggled to express how chronic pain actually feels through art. My paintings are abstract multimedia pieces, and for the most part they’re just so I have something bright to look at around my house. They leave the onlooker with no idea that I suffer with every brush stroke, every adhered scrap, every swipe of the palette knife. These five artists, however, have managed to express so many of the things I feel every day, but have no idea how to show people a visual representation of.

Since I’ve been feeling particularly lousy and in way more pain than is even normal for me, I’m gonna go ahead and let this count as a blog post? I want to do a whole series on art relating to chronic illness, but we will see. I’m so disorganized!

1. Of course, let’s start it off with Frida, who had a pain syndrome that many have speculated was fibromyalgia, as well as severe and debilitating chronic back pain which she has portrayed so clearly here. I have always loved this self-portrait, entitled “The Broken Column” even long before I developed clear symptoms of fibro:

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#SpineDamage #NerveDamage #FracturedVertebrae #DegenerativeDiscDisorder #HerniatedDisc

2. The damage done to my low back from getting hit by a semi truck. Now I feel like this when my back goes out, which is kind of a lot because of the addition of Spina Bifida Occulta and Joint Hypermobility Syndrome:

Pain1

#HerniatedDisc #DegenerativeDiscDisease #Scoliosis #Lordosis #Osteoarthritis #EhlerDanlosSyndrome #JointHypermobilitySyndrome #SpinaBifidaOcculta

3. Nerve pain, just imagine those lines about an inch underneath your skin, until it’s basically in your bones:

pain7

#Neuropathy #NervePain #NerveDamage

4. This one reminds me so clearly of the one sided occipital migraines and trigeminal neuralgia which I am constantly dealing with:

pain4

#OccipitalNeuralgia #TrigeminalNeuralgia #OccipitalMigraines #TMJ

5. Sad but true. This is what yoga feels like now. I am always telling my boyfriend that it feels like my spine is trying to rip clean free of the rest of my body, just like this:

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I’m not posting these for pity or for shock value, sometimes it helps me to have a visualization of my pain ,because it helps me to picture it disappearing while I meditate. Other times I just want to know I’m not alone. I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels a little bit validated when they see their chronic pain taken seriously. These artists take pain seriously, but they also managed to turn their pain into something creative. Using pain as inspiration for making beautiful things or things that others will relate to is a huge goal of mine as a formerly creative person. Illness can’t have my creativity, and these honest portrayals of the agony of chronic pain help me remember that art and the freedom it gives us is such an integral part of healing. Time to start painting again!

Chronic Pain Awareness Month

Chronic Pain Awareness Month

September is Chronic Pain Awareness Month

I hear it echoed over and over again by my friends, my self, and chronic illness writers across the web. The hardest part is getting those around you to understand what chronic pain takes away, not only from your physical capabilities, but cognitive abilities, focus, social functions and so many other things, too many to list. What the general public and even caretakers and close friends may not know is that chronic pain changes everything, from taking a shower to driving to thinking clearly in a meeting to not cutting a major artery in a surgery. Some days, I feel lucky to have done the dishes even if I did nothing else that day. Sometimes just surviving is overwhelming. If I can do nothing else, on my days when I am resigned to a chair or the couch, I want to help spread the word about the real bravery of the men and women who wake up each and every morning in unending, unforgiving pain. In addition, I desire so much to ease the transition for newly diagnosed patients with chronic illness through education, advocacy, and compassion. As a community of chronic pain patients one of the most pressing issues is to get a realistic, non-romanticized version out to the public of what it is like to be ill and not be able to rely on your body, or even you brain, depending on the day.

I am the same person I was before my illnesses took hold, but I am also different. I speak differently, and I speak about different things. I spend most of my day distracted by pain, and looking for a distraction from it. I am sure that the people around me no longer believe all the crazy things that are happening within my body can possibly be happening to one person, all in one month, and that is part of the stigma of chronic illness. I too didn’t understand what it meant to look fine on the outside but deal with so many problems within your body that even basic work was impossible. Five years ago, I would have pointed at someone like me and said “oh, she’s exaggerating, it can’t really be that much worse than my _____ (insert: back pain, flu, headaches, anxiety, arthritis, whiplash injury) and I worked though all of those things” but I was wrong. I was so terribly wrong that I guess life had to prove it to me in a pretty brutal way. How does that saying go? Judge not, less ye be judged?

I figured, especially because I was one of the judgmental voices, the harsh and unforgiving “them” who could never understand chronic illness, and now I understand all too well, maybe I should be one of the ones who helps shed some light on the many unseen and unspoken hurdles facing patients with a myriad of rare, invisible, incurable, and terminal illnesses. I’m honestly guilty of still trying to hold myself to standards that I cannot achieve with my illness in full force like it currently is. Hopefully in the midst of promoting acceptance and support from caregivers, relatives, friends, significant others, healthcare professionals, and the media, I can also sway some fellow spoonies to take it a little easier on themselves too. If you are dealing with daily pain that will not relent, try to gently remind yourself that you won’t gain any ground by ignoring your symptoms.

The road to being okay with your new life as someone living with chronic pain is paved with research, acceptance and acknowledgment of your symptoms. For those of you who are not in chronic pain, likewise, researching your loved one’s disease, then verbally showing acceptance and acknowledgment is the best gift you can give someone who is suffering. It is amazing what hearing the words “I believe you” can do for the soul. It is like being wrapped in a big soft blanket and having a hot cup of cocoa placed in your hands on a cold day.

Never forget that you own the right to tell your story as raw and honest as you feel comfortable with. You aren’t just doing yourself a favor by getting it out of your head and into writing, you are promoting awareness by removing the myth from your illness. Your pain may be invisible, but that does not make it any less real, any less scary, or any less debilitating than a visible injury. We spoonies all have a lot of people to prove wrong, from the 1/4 of primary care physicians who believe most of their chronic pain patients are faking, to emergency rooms that are ill-equipped to deal with chronic conditions, to unsupportive families who refuse to do their research, and of course general stigmas against pain patients that have existed for ages. These are all barriers to effective research, communication, and seeking out treatment. But they are obstacles that we as a group can overcome.

Raise your voices, tell your triumphs and your horror stories alike, others need to see what we go through on a daily basis and speaking out helps to break down those barriers and create road maps for understanding the whole of chronic illness, not just the symptoms, but the underlying causes and the body-wide effects created by living a life in constant pain. I know it is difficult, but only when we are not afraid to share what we are going through will we transform the silent suffering of people with invisible illnesses and chronic pain into a growing understanding that we too deserve to be treated with the dignity, respect and even admiration for what we deal with on a daily basis. It’s not just an idea, it’s a necessary change and we have the numbers, the intelligence, and the determination to make it happen.

Click on the thumbnail below to go to the larger version of my painting for Chronic Pain Awareness:

Chronic Pain Awareness Month

Chronic Pain Never Quits, let’s give the huge number of people worldwide suffering with chronic pain conditions some hope! There are many misconceptions about people with chronic pain, and these can easily become stigmatization that negatively impacts those who already suffer enough going through the daily horror of chronic pain.

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chiaricontinues

chiariwife. chronic pain. awarness.

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