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.
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.
So, I’m going to just say that things have been pretty bad for me right now. I have so damn many health care, financial, and emotional needs that are not being met, and after three and a half years of waiting my turn, I need something better than this, I need more, I need to live and have hope and at least try to get treatment for some of these problems. But just because I need something doesn’t mean it is possible. Money is an asshole that way. All ways, really.
I am still grieving the loss of a dear friend, and I talk to her at night when it’s quiet like this, and I think she hears me, but I don’t even know how to put into words how much it hurts to obliviously type her name on facebook like I’m going to see her there posting updates, and then to realize that no one gets to hear her sunny voice again. Who knows why it takes so long for the shock to wear off and the sadness that won’t lift to settle in. It’s like my bones are crying now, and I feel her absence physically.
All these things coupled with isolation and excessive pain levels with secondary depression, plus a nasty chest cold have made me a slightly more bitter girl, and I apologize for that, but then again, I kind of don’t want to apologize. Though it’s embarrassing to go off on an angry rant and publish it and re-read it the next day and not recognize who wrote the words, I did write it, and I did mean every word when I was writing and that tells me that someone else out there can maybe feel less alone if I continue to allow myself to occasionally write the lows, the times I don’t cope well, that my chronic illness brings.
The reason I’m suffering this week is simple. I went out, I lived a life for a week with two social calls an hour away from my house, and the consequence for my actions are a dire flare up and infections, even though I practiced preemptive rest, stayed hydrated, slept beforehand and loaded up on vitamins. That’s what the fuss is about, for any non-spoonies reading this. That’s why I’m “obsessed” with my illness and I never seem to win. You can do everything right and chronic illness is still a merciless, evil, cold hearted f*ck who will laugh at your plans, your support network, your therapy progress, your talents, and even your basic needs, and which will deny you access to them all from time to time.
I’m not trying to paint a grim picture, or a “poor me” kind of portrait, I’m trying to say that all spoonies, no matter how small you may see your contributions to be, all spoonies are important. You are important and you matter.
I guess I’m leaning towards the idea that if I don’t censor myself, I will probably help more people feel accepted and welcomed into the chronic illness community. We don’t have to have rainbows shooting out of our asses all the time to be valued and welcome members of the online spoonie community. I like encouraging people with stories about good days and things I am thankful for, and I won’t give that up, but I also don’t want to be missing a whole group of spoonies who feel pretty worthless and unaccepted by the rest of the chronic world.
Everyone needs a place to belong, even the undiagnosed, the doesn’t-quite-fit-the-diagnosis patients who are still in limbo, they need our support more than anyone. That is a stage in my journey where I was bitter every single day for at least a year.
So I’m going to perhaps post more vehement pieces than usual and not hold myself back. I will stop telling myself I can’t write on my worst days unless I have a good attitude while I do it,because that’s not therapeutic for me, for one thing. I do factor in here too, somewhere, I think.
The reality of being ill is that you will have some good days, some of us get more or less of those depending on our situation, some of us don’t have good days physically, but almost all spoonies eventually get to the point where you can have a series of bad days that you can handle emotionally, and those bad days will make you proud of yourself later on without too much soul searching involved. You endured and even conquered your illness for a while. You got through it without snapping and that’s to be commended. But it’s not to be expected from you. Positivity during hardship is not the only “right way” to cope. Because look what happens next; you overdo it or the weather changes or you cough funny, you have a medication reaction, or you develop a new symptom or allergy and things get complicated.
“Didn’t I just get through another hard week like this?” you think to yourself. It drags on, but you get through it, kind of numb and just making it day by day. And then not-so-wonderfully, another health setback; you have to take care of someone else who is ill, you get asked to another social function you can’t get out of, you have to attend three doctor’s appointments in one week, or whatever else it is, but it adds onto the pile you had not quite dug your way out of from last week yet. But you get through that week, and the next one too, though on the bad days you’re just counting the hours, you can’t even take it day by day things get so overwhelming. Months go by like this, a cycle of debilitation and not-quite-recovery only to be met with more medical problems, more stress, more debt, more isolation and eventually the bitterness that you thought maybe you had “gotten past” can sneak back up on you.
I’m not saying you are required by spoonie law or something ridiculous to feel all of these things in these specific ways for these reasons. I’m just setting the stage for those who are being hard on themselves for not coping as well as they’d like, and for people who may not understand what suffering from an invisible illness can be like when you aren’t improving.
No matter how you cope, or how well you “keep calm and carry on”, you still deserve to be commended. You’ve gone through a lot, and you should feel safe and understood when you are being honest about your pain. Honesty is not negativity.
Wishing everyone extra spoons, low pain days, and super soft fuzzy blankets that don’t hurt you while you’re sleeping. ❤
“Disability doesn’t make you exceptional, but questioning what you think you know about it does.” – Stella Young
The danger of being viewed through the lense of the “inspiring cripple” archetype is that it was created by ableists as a tool used to invalidate those who are struggling. It means that people expect things from you that you weren’t even capable of before disability, muchless after. It’s such an unhealthy way of approaching people who are ill, as if we are not trying hard enough unless we can plaster a fake smile on our face and say we’re doing well, when actually we are struggling in ways that only a small percentage of the population can understand. The notion of the inspiring cripple does not leave room for the uncensored reality of the chronic illness spectrum.
If you are able-bodied and do not experience mental illness, I am not your inspiration. If something I say or write is helpful to another spoonie, then that is why I am here and it makes me happy to be helpful whenever possible, but I don’t want ableist individuals thinking that my refusal to cry in a corner every day makes me somehow better at being sick than someone who can’t stop sobbing and wishing for death. I am not any better.
I am not “trying harder” than anyone else and I will not be used to shame someone who feels like they can’t handle their condition. I still feel like I can’t handle being chronically ill on a regular basis.
I am not your feel-good story. I am a deeply flawed human being with constant, unrelenting chronic pain and many other debilitating conditions and symptoms, too. My choices are give up and die, or keep trying to find a reason to wake up and to put food in my mouth once a day. Sometimes that is a genuine struggle. Sometimes I do not get out of bed, and I do not put food in my body, and that does not make me pathetic or weak, it makes me sick. I have good days and bad days and I have given myself permission to have both.
I am so very tired of inspiration porn, aimed at the general public and unapologetically using those who are physically disabled, suffer chronic pain, or live with mental illness and/or neurodivergence. Inspiration porn wants you to say “well, it could be worse, I could be that poor person in a wheelchair or that teenager with a cane, therefore I’m not allowed to feel shitty, ever.”
I am happy to answer any and all genuine questions about my life, my coping strategy, my illnesses, or anything else that someone is interested in, provided that the person asking is not just going to use my answers against me later. I am not interested in answering questions that are actually just thinly-veiled judgemental commentary on how I deal with my pain and other symptoms. I wish that my abled friends could just acknowledge that my reality is not something you can comprehend if you don’t live every second of every day in pain, knowing that the pain is life-long or progressive.
If you are not sick in a long-term sense, please try to understand why you cannot compare my life-altering, completely debilitating daily pain to the last time you had the flu, or the time you broke your arm, or even the car accident you were in, unless one of those things resulted in a long-term illness, disability, or chronic pain disorder. Flus, broken bones, and car accidents may be unpleasant, but after some healing your life resumed as planned, so you have no idea what it is like to live in my body, the body that has caused me to slowly, against my will, forget all my dreams and plans for the future. Please realize that every pain is experienced differently and is unique to each individual who is suffering. Comparison of one disabled person to another person, disabled or not, is never okay. We are not brave for the things healthy people think we are brave for. We are not brave for simply existing, we are not brave for going about our day as normally as we possibly can. Attitude does not differentiate a “good” cripple from a “bad” cripple. Inspiration porn is pure victim blaming, and society has unfortunately picked up this nasty habit.
Ableist propaganda would have us think that if we are not using our illness to transform ourselves into an inspiration, we are just wasting space and burdening those around us. Do not buy into that trash! I am sorry for each and every person who has ever felt like their pain or illness is the punchline to an ableist joke. Those of us who are ill are allowed to make jokes, we are allowed to seek out the humor in our situation, and it is despicable that people would use that coping mechanism against us. Yes, I use sarcasm to cope. Yes, I use humor to cope. No, that does not mean I’m cured or experiencing less pain or “getting better at dealing with it” as so many have said to me. It means that if I don’t laugh about this, it will crush me.
My medical decisions are not up for discussion unless you are another spoonie, and even then, I retain the freedom to completely ignore any and all medical advice that doesn’t come from my doctors. I even retain the right to ignore medical advice from doctors that does not make sense or goes against my beliefs.
I certainly won’t be basing my medical decisions off of an abled friend’s (ex-friend’s) suggestion because they feel like they have “observed my pain” (read: been annoyed by how much I talk about it) for long enough that they are unreasonably comfortable making sweeping declarations about my use of medication, or with stating that I “pity myself” (read: retreat from overwhelming and triggering situations so I can take care of myself appropriately) sometimes. Fuck yeah, I do pity myself sometimes. I refuse to apologize for that.
The abled seem to possess an unlimited capacity to confuse my online and in-person honesty and unwillingness to sugar-coat reality with what they view as pity-seeking behavior and weakness. Saying I have an incurable illness is not pitying myself, it is the truth. I am allowed to speak the truth, my truth, and I am allowed to remark at the depressing reality of chronic pain. Ableism makes accepting the reality of our illness that much more difficult. If I said I never have moments of self-pity I would be lying, and that helps no one. I have every right to be upset about my conditions and to grieve over the losses in my life as a result. And so do other spoonies at any point in their journey.
It is just grotesque that there are people self-righteously using those of us struggling with mental illness, cancer, or chronic invisible illness (to name a few) as their motivation, or to shame others with similar struggles. I don’t want my accomplishments to ever be used to make someone feel inadequate.
The myths that are perpetuated by inspiration porn make it harder to be honest about what we as spoonies experience, which is why it’s time to start calling ableism out wherever and whenever we see it. Just because one person with MS can work a full time job does not mean that another MS patient is faking their inability to work. It’s such a simple thing, to validate someone, yet we don’t do it enough.
You wouldn’t worry about being polite when calling out racism or homophobia, so why would you worry about offending people when you call out their discriminatory attitudes towards chronic illness, disability, neurodivergence, mental illness, and chronic pain?
But I have (mostly) managed to keep up, which is no small thing to me at all! With all the pushing myself I’ve been doing, I’m ready for the much needed rest I will be taking starting today.
This week has been action-packed for me, although for a healthy person it certainly doesn’t sound like much. I got to spend a whole day out of the house at my mom’s wedding reception, and then made it all the way to the teaching hospital and back two days later with her help, and then on a very short grocery shopping trip later that night with my boyfriend (where I was so out of it that I bought pretty much only chocolate, hahahaha). Two days later we made smoked pulled pork, homemade macaroni salad, and dinner rolls from scratch (all incredibly cheap but incredibly perfect for sharing with a crowd, which we have gotten smarter about now that we are super broke!). We took the food all the way from our house to the part of Oregon I grew up in, which is about an hour drive, and I did not collapse or fall asleep somewhere during that trip last night, but I had to sit out the games because of how unstable my joints are and how bad my head and neck are already hurting. I have been using the preemptive rest method to gain some strength ahead of events I know are going to sap me of energy or take a great deal of time and probably a bout of extra pain to recover from. It’s difficult to recover from that much activity while I am still steadily decreasing my dosage of Lyrica (down to 1x 75mg pill per 36 hours!!!), but I will recover. It will take a while, but I had fun this week and saw my mom and even my extended family, so it’s worth it!
Resting consciously, including not overdoing it mentally and avoiding sensory overload, has really helped me this month, but it has meant that I cannot do nearly as many things as I would usually force my body to do, especially when it comes to gardening and housework.
The next step which I will start along with the rest is adding more stretching and walking for five to ten minutes at a time back into my schedule, but seriously every part of my legs hurt right now, my feet feel bruised from standing yesterday, and my knees are throbbing, none of my joints want to stay in their sockets and none of my muscles want to help them out.
I had a pretty extreme limb tremor last night in my right leg that lasted for almost twenty minutes, and that twenty minutes of having a rapidly spasming/twitching/bouncing leg has left even my fingers exhausted and all my joints stiff from trying to force my muscles to relax and stop freaking out, which ironically made me tighten up even more throughout my entire body. The tremors aren’t really painful or a problem in and of themselves, they are just not my favorite to deal with in public, and it does make my leg prone to giving out on me if I have to walk while it’s happening.
My real problem is my mouth, I have severely swollen gums and an impacted molar on my right side as well. I have an unusually small mouth and have no idea how I never needed braces growing up, but my teeth have always been very straight with no gaps and only some flouride damage to deal with. In the last several years, things are different, and the overcrowding is causing problems left and right, and could even be contributing to my TMJ disorder, migraines, and neck pain. I don’t even have enough room for all my normal molars to come in, so I have been dealing with the pain of teething for as long as I can remember. I not only need my wisdom teeth removed (holy hell, I need them gone so badly), but I also need some of my molars to be taken too, especially this very swollen and impacted one that has finally poked most of the way through my gum but is now pushing the molars in front of it sideways. Getting all those teeth out may even help with the severity of my jaw clenching issues, which when tested at PT have ranged between 7x and 30x more tense than an average person’s jaw, and that was while using every last relaxation technique and cognitive behavioral therapy.
The challenge will be finding someone who is skilled at dealing with patients with severe TMJ, and then I magically have to be able to afford it. The jaw pain has been getting worse and worse, and to have an impacted or worse molar is excruciating, especially that close to all those sensitive nerves in the back of my jaw. I’m used to my face hurting pretty awfully because of Trigeminal Neuralgia, so I am able to tough it out most of the time but sometimes I just want to rip my teeth out myself they hurt so badly. Now is one of those times. It’s even affecting my ear on that side.
To make my time eating even more fun, because TMJ disorder and dislocations and messed up teeth weren’t enough, in the last month or so I have developed some awful and nearly constant food allergy reactions. I have sores on my tongue and a sore throat that never fully goes away, and my lymph nodes are angry at me after every meal. I only eat once a day, and I have cut out a bunch of foods including all acidic fruits (goodbye homemade marinara sauce, goodbye morning smoothie, you were nice while you lasted) and anything with vinegar (goodbye kombucha and all my favorite homemade salad dressings), beer/cider, yogurt and sour cream; seriously so many things are gone from my diet, that’s not even close to the list!!! And even cutting all this stuff out, I’m still having issues every day with these horrible sores on my tongue and throat. I obviously need an allergist as well as a dentist at this point, but I can’t afford it with my insurance deductible not being met yet.
Basically my mouth is full of fire and I have no appetite and I am having trouble eating even when I want to, so maybe I will finally be losing some weight until I can see a few doctors? That’s the most optimistic thing I can think of right now, because seriously, this sucks. I need medical help. I have needed it several times in the last month and not been able to go because I simply owe too much money to everyone after three years of not being able to pay my bills. There is no hope for money coming in, and I am just in too much pain to brainstorm ideas or set up a kickstarter or re-apply for disability again. Blegh, so instead of thinking about any of it, I’m gonna go back to resting and reading. I am way too overwhelmed, and I know part of that is just sheer exhaustion and needing to recover from the constant setbacks of over-activity every few days for the last week and a half. I will regroup and hopefully have a plan of attack… although right now I’m very much stumped.
Days have been slipping past at alarming speed, and I’m constantly confused about what day/time it is and even where I am, but I’m learning to let go, or at least I’m trying to learn. Right now all my body needs is for me to respect it, listen to it, and try to figure out what the hell I’m allergic to on my own. Worrying about my memory is just going to stress me out even more.
On a lighter note, my psychiatrist says I am making progress lately, and that fills me with hope and even a little pride and self-love. She also complimented me on my skin and hair, which I really have been taking much better care of now that I’m using a homemade grape seed oil, baking soda, dead sea salt and epsom salt scrub with calendula petals from my garden. Grape seed oil is the queen of all lightweight skin moisturizers for sensitive and/or oily skin, and no weird reaction after I put it on like when I use any store bought lotion, no matter how “organic” or skin-friendly. I get a 16 oz bottle for $7 using the Amazon subscribe and save program, I really like this one from NOW Foods:
For my hair I made up a dry shampoo in about 30 seconds from equal parts bentonite green clay, indian red clay, and arrowroot powder, and it helps keep my ridiculously long locks from tangling, or looking limp and lifeless between showers. My scalp seems to really appreciate it, too. I love having both recipes on hand, but it would still be nice if I could shower more than once every three or four days. Working on that, though. I think if I just get a big fluffy bathrobe and put it on as soon as I get out of the tub and go lie down for fifteen minutes, I would probably be dry by then, and maybe saving the energy on drying off would allow me to get clean more often. Oh, spoonie problems. I’m past the point of pretending now. I’ve realized it’s entirely necessary that I make some changes to my lifestyle in order to retain what independance I have. Ignoring things that would make my life easier is no longer an option. Now it’s just a matter of finding enough money to make the modifications I need, and figuring out what actually helps me live a better life.
All I have kept down today is coffee, water, and crystallized ginger, and barely on all three. Even the ginger can’t save me from this nausea, pain, and extreme fatigue, coupled with dizziness and eye issues. See, I tried to be positive and distract myself from the reality of chronic illness, but then I took it right back to how bad I feel because it’s literally all I can focus on right now. I’m just getting through one hour at a time right now until my body catches up. I know others can sympathize with that sentiment, but I would never wish it on anyone. Nobody should have to understand, because no one should have to deal with this all the time.
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.
A thoughtful, well-made list of extra steps to take when you are experiencing a flare-up of symptoms, no matter what illness(es) you may suffer from. The author, Audrey, was diligent about this list and surveyed others to get a more complete array of options. I feel like there is something on this list for all of us, and as Audrey says in the post, “Because, let’s face it, when we are in the throes of a serious bout of turmoil, we forget. We forget to reach to those resources we so carefully crafted, selected. We forget the hours we poured into trial and error sessions to find what works best to help us and when.” She is so right. I love having a place to refer to when I am hurting so bad I can’t steer my thoughts away from the illness and pain. Even if I don’t feel capable of doing everything on this list, I can always do one thing, and the more I practice these techniques, the better I become at accepting and making peace with my illnesses.
Having a tool box is essential to coping with a chronic condition whether it be pain, illness, depression or some other continuous issue. A tool box helps us get through moments, sometimes days and maybe weeks but the true purpose is to help us see passed the hard moments we don’t know how to manage.
Now, I’m not talking about an actual Craftsman tool box because it’s a bit big and unrealistic for most of us, but if you find that helps, awesome. I’m talking about a box of resources for all the challenges we face on an on-going basis. Sometimes it helps to have an actual box with these things listed inside, perhaps on slips of paper, or filled with happy thoughts, other times an excel or word document, notebook, fridge magnet, or other key reminders. Because, let’s face it, when we are in the throes of a serious bout…
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Maybe someone else could use it too?
Chronic illness warriors are great at pushing through, but as we all know, that is not always the best or healthiest option, although sometimes it seems like the only option. Pushing through can lead to a flare up that sets us back for days, weeks, or even months. Rest is a real job with chronic illness. No matter how we may be feeling, even if it’s better than usual, every single day consists of maintenance and making difficult choices that can help or harm us in the quest for balance. Most of the choices you have to make are things the people around you cannot understand. That makes it even more difficult to prioritize our own well-being in stressful situations.
To all those who wrestle with the guilt surrounding being chronically ill or in constant pain, I am right there with you.
Love you guys!
I found this quote on Tumblr and immediately had to make a simple text image out of it. The original source is listed at the bottom of the image, but in case you want a direct link to the post, here it is: http://wheresagnes.tumblr.com/post/113095286140/self-care-is-not-a-bath-bomb-nor-is-it-a-face.
I also wanted to announce that I have joined Tumblr, under the same name as this blog, FindingOutFibro, and I will be trying to make as many images related to chronic illness as possible.
It’s so awesome to have Photoshop back, even though it’s like learning to use it all over again from scratch now because it’s been ten years, and even though I have to pay $10 a month for it (ugh… seriously Adobe?), I am still just happy to have a playground for all my visual ideas and a place to brainstorm my logo, header, media kit, and other branding stuff for my new business. It would probably be a good idea if I gave some thought to doing that on this blog as well.
Is anyone interested in me posting a Resources for Bloggers page with links to collections of free photoshop brushes, fonts, public domain image databases, patterns, royalty free background images and photos, html coding help, and links to a huge variety of goodies I have found as I go? I think a lot of people with chronic illness are intimidated by the thought of starting a blog. I certainly hesitated for a long time, but wish I hadn’t been so overwhelmed and had been able to start sooner when I still had a little more of my old energy. I want anyone who is even considering starting a blog to have all the tools at their fingertips to be able to get their voice out there into the world with the least amount of stress. Not that I know very much about this blogging stuff, just that I’ve been keeping track of the resources that have been useful for me as I get started, and I would love to share!
How’s that for an obvious title? Okay, I mean, seriously, you all know that chronic illness affects us mentally as well as physically, and it isn’t about being a “strong” or “tough” or “capable” person. It isn’t about being good or bad. It is just logic that feeling crappy physically will bleed over into every other area of your life, too. Sometimes we need help getting the thoughts and memories swirling around our brains out in a productive, constructive way. When I’m alone, the chances of finding productive solutions to my problems are much lower than when I work them through with a therapist, but until recently, I had never met a mental health professional who knew how to talk to me. My current provider is a completely different story. I am overjoyed that I took that first step and called her office back to set up an appointment. It is like everything in my life was on hold until I met her, and then suddenly I started to see options everywhere, where before I felt helpless to change my situation.
I have been in and out of therapy throughout my life, but only ever with psychologists and therapists, never have I had the opportunity to see a psychiatrist, though I have wanted to for a long, long, long time. There is a massive difference between open therapy with my past counselors and going to see my psychiatrist. First of all, she’s kinder than anyone else I’ve ever talked to. I am usually so self-conscious that therapy is useless for me, I can’t wind down enough to think clearly or say what I mean. Not so this time around! It’s not fun, and it is work, and I do struggle with being open with anyone about my past or my innermost thoughts and worries, but it is worth it, and she makes it so much easier than my last few tries with therapy.
Many of us already know that trauma in childhood and chronic illness later in life are connected, especially for women because the mistreatment actually leaves scars on two areas of the brain for girls, versus just one area of a boy’s brain that is most affected by trauma. Perhaps this helps to explain, in addition to other factors, why chronic illness is often seen as a “women’s issue” and Fibro is diagnosed in women four to five times more often than in men. Either way, childhood trauma, abuse, neglect, and rejection are all linked to physical pain, and that is not insignificant for many of us. What I did not understand was how it was affecting me as an individual chronic pain patient, or how to do anything about it.
The hardest part was deciding to go back for my second appointment. I instantly felt comfortable with her but I was still judging the entire situation the first time I saw her, and weighing the pros and cons of emotional vulnerability. I was having a relatively lucid day and I think I came across as a lot more put together than I actually am, but I’m sure she could tell that I wasn’t really. Deciding to continue with the second appointment was so difficult because I started remembering things I did not want to remember, and it would have been really easy to blame the fact that I was seeing a psychiatrist instead of the people who caused the trauma in the first place. I wanted to get out of having to work on myself, and when the flashbacks started a week or two after my first appointment, I thought I had a good reason to not see her again.
However, some small part of me was ready to face everything this time, and the rest of me followed reluctantly. I went to the second appointment, I was honest about the flashbacks, and I was honest about fears and issues I have had for so long that I was beginning to think they were normal. It felt terrifying, I walked out of my second appointment numb and shaky, but reassured that I had a partner to help me work through things I wasn’t ready to deal with all by myself. Though I was still not sure how I was going to cope, I felt lighter having let it all out of me and having someone actually hear me.
Fast-forward three months later and I am pleased to report that the flashbacks don’t happen nearly as much. I have woken up mentally in ways beyond just feeling better emotionally: I am more confident in my needs and my value as a human being as well as in my abilities, I am looking forward to the future by making plans that reach out years ahead, and I have more coping tools than ever in my arsenal against chronic pain.
I am not saying with absolute certainty that I could not have gotten this far on my own, but I know that if I did progress this far alone, it would have taken so much longer, and been very difficult, and who knows what the end result would have been, really, except that I am so, so, so glad that I’m not doing this by myself.
I would urge anyone who is on the fence about pursuing therapy to start with a knowledgeable, extremely compatible psychiatrist that they trust from the start, and to be as honest as possible no matter how terrifying. From there you can figure out the appropriate kind of therapy for you. Therapy isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach, in the slightest. Another major benefit for me was that seeing my psychiatrist helped to solve long-standing questions I had regarding the nature of my anxiety and inattentiveness, for starters. Getting the appropriate diagnosis can help so much fall into place that you weren’t even expecting, especially if you’re like me and you feel a need to try to fit the puzzle pieces together as much as possible.
The work is certainly not done (and it will never be), but it is started, and that is pretty awesome considering how stuck I had been feeling the past two years. Just by getting a little bit unstuck, I no longer just survive my days, hoping for each one to end as quickly as possible. Wanting to change and not knowing how is both frustrating and overwhelming. I’m much less frustrated and overwhelmed now that I have an ally in my mental health and am learning the tools to carve out a life for myself despite severe and yes, depressing, amounts of pain that I deal with every day. I’m learning to stigmatize my own mental health less, to avoid behaving like a victim in areas of my life that I am not helpless in, and to look for positives in places I would not have bothered before.
Just writing that I was gaining ground six months ago would not have been possible and here I am, trying to write about it as often as I can.
If you’re feeling stuck, just keep looking for your opportunity, and know that it will come.
Until then, you’re doing your best. You are good enough. You have value and choices. People care about and love you, even if you don’t know it yet.
Wishing everyone extra spoons and days with less pain than usual. ❤
I just can’t get over how talking to a friend from the same small town I am from reminded me of being a child and hearing all the times someone told me to eat right and exercise. And all the times I blew that off and ate a cookie or smoked a cigarette or decided not to work out. What made me react to perfectly good advice like a dumb-ass? Who knows! Who cares, kids don’t do everything with the same logic that adults do (not to say that their logic is less! It can certainly be more astute sometimes) and that is behind me now.
As an adult who suffers from chronic pain and has been through almost every treatment and test and minor procedure to attempt to lessen that pain somewhat, and who has taken every pill and every supplement and every “miracle cure” and hoped so badly that something would work, I am finding that all I am left with are lifestyle changes. Fortunately, they are lifestyle changes I have wanted to make for a long time, but have not had the courage to pursue. That’s changing now, I’m starting to realize that yes, my body does hurt every second of every day, and yes, I can still be happy for hours at a time despite that.
Being ill has taught me that all those things we shrugged off as kids, all the health-class reading and the boring PE classes; that stuff actually mattered. What the hell, right?! In all seriousness though, that is really the end-all-be-all of managing my chronic illnesses and pain. I’m not great at always eating the right thing, and I sometimes skip sleeping, eating, and working out, because of illness, but in between not getting it right, I have to keep trying. I’m finding as time goes on I get better at certain things, but my progress is almost so gradual that I miss it if I am only looking at the ground gained from one day to the next, instead of the big picture. Looking back I can tell that certain things have shifted, for good. For the first time since I was 13, I am avoiding frou-frou coffee drinks, and there is usually NOT ice cream in the freezer these days! I have been craving things like salmon, cabbage, tart cherries, and homemade low-sodium pickles. Weird, and no, I am not pregnant. 😦
Some of the other changes I have made are slowly incorporating a regular amount of movement into my days. I now know that I feel worse, not better, if I sit around all day long. Even if I’m not up to working out or exercising, I have to keep moving throughout the day to avoid making my symptoms even worse. When I am up to it, I split my work out time into two or three 10-15 minute sessions of stretching, very gentle yoga, and super light arm and ankle weights. I focus more on my breathing than anything, and at least six times a day, no matter how awful I feel, take a few moments to regulate my body by breathing deep and slowly into my lungs, focusing on my belly rising and falling instead of my chest. It helps with pain to breathe like that, but it also helps long-term too, by forcing more oxygen into my tissues, which is a major problem for people with fibro.
My morning coffee drink is no longer overrun with fake, bad-for-me ingredients and now I add organic milk and coconut sugar (try it!!! it is the only low-glycemic sugar that I have actually enjoyed more than raw can sugar because it isn’t quite as sweet but is full of flavor and essential nutrients like zinc, potassium and magnesium!). I do not bake as often which cuts out most of our sweets around the house, and I try to buy only whole foods. Recently I have begun to include a 100% fruit smoothie in my day as often as possible, instead of the dairy based smoothies I used to make. I take probiotics every night with dinner, and I will never stop taking them.
Most exciting of all, I have begun to get off of Lyrica. This means so much to me, I can’t even put it in words. I wish someone had warned me that women of a child-bearing age have no business being on Lyrica if they actually do want children. Which I do, and have for quite some time, and would have caused me to find something different to take instead of the Lyrica, had I been warned. Lyrica causes some severe neural tube defects, often leading to miscarriage or at the very least developmental delays. I am not dooming my future child because of my inability to deal with the severe pain I am in, it just is not how this is gonna go. So starting December 26th, I have gone from taking 3-4 of the 150 mg pills every day to only taking 3 of the 75mg! Down more than half from my old dosage, and ready to start taking just 75mg every twelve hours and seeing how that goes! I kept a diary for the first week as I started to get off of it and then trashed it because every day sucked, for the first two weeks. I allowed myself to level out to a place where I wasn’t throwing up every day again and didn’t have the pounding, blinding migraines and gnarly headaches, skin crawling and lots of increase in my neuropathy and radiating nerve pain from pinched and torn discs in my spine, but I’m gonna see this through this year. I do not want to live with the loss of short term memory and feeling of complete apathy that washed over me while I was on Lyrica. And yes, that means those things, my emotions and feelings and everything I had been shoving down successfully have bubbled to the surface, and I have been forced to actually deal with my emotions instead of pretending they don’t exist. This is all good, I believe, but it hurts, and it’s been rocky for both me and my partner. Poor guy has seen me go through every shade of depressed, hopeless, negative, manic, hyperactive, over-sharing, impulsive, and mostly whiny that I am capable of. He loves me still, so I think he’s a keeper! 🙂
Other weapons in my arsenal right now include affirmations, journaling with an actual pen and paper, being honest with myself and the people around me about what I’m going through and what helps vs hurts, and remembering that the way I feel detoxing is not the way I will feel forever. I just have to keep looking forward, and keep making these plans and dreaming again for the first time in ages.
The longer I have this much pain and sickness every day of my life, the better I learn to work around it and deal with it naturally or at least work with my body instead of just suppressing its natural instincts. I have realized that big pharma has only so much to offer me, and in many cases it isn’t worth the cost, both literally and figuratively, of taking a drug that only masks symptoms instead of treating the root cause. I know I’m not the only one who has really struggled going full circle from all-natural, all-homeopathic remedies as a young adult, to taking handfuls of pills every day a few years later, and back again to attempting to distance myself from harsh medications with a meditating, herbal-remedy-taking, eating-right-and-exercising lifestyle. Not that my doctors ever told me not to eat healthy or not to exercise, I’m just saying that offering a pill was usually their first line of defense. Then, when that didn’t work they would tell me to walk it off or to learn “self care” which I did not even understand a little bit at the time. It made me angry (to put it mildly) for over a year. Now I just gotta laugh, because I literally say to my friends and my boyfriend at least once a day “oops, I’ve been sitting for too long, I have to go walk around the yard or stretch now so I don’t get worse,” and I have noticed so many good changes in both my mood and my body as a result. Not that my symptoms are diminishing noticeably or that I believe I can be “cured” by my renewed interest in healthy living, but it is honestly the best and most hopeful treatment I have tried since receiving my first diagnosis over a year ago. Hope is everything when living in such overwhelming pain and with so many other debilitating symptoms running the show most days.
Gaining Ground Despite Chronic Illness
Since I first started going down the rabbit hole into the land of stranger and stranger medical mysteries, I have been losing things.
For three years, all I could see were the things that were slipping through my fingers, and I grieved considerably for each loss. I lost my job, my ability to drive, my self-respect, my future, and even at one point I let myself believe that I had lost the ability to be a good mother when the time comes. My grief was so strong that it blinded me to the possibilities that were opening up in front of me even as other doors closed.
Change is scary, from going to a new school, being diagnosed with a chronic illness, or starting a new business, newness is challenging. For myself, I had to learn to accept that I cannot change the stigma against Fibro alone, and I cannot make my doctors or my boyfriend or my mom understand it, but I can and have found others out there who feel what I feel and struggle with burdensome illnesses.Through reaching out to people in similar situations, I am hoping we can bring out the best in each other, and that is exactly what I have found here. Within the chronic illness blogging community there is so much support and enthusiasm that I can’t help but get swept up in it all. My healing process didn’t really begin until this blog got up and running. Yet, I have to remember that even once started, healing does not look like a straight line, especially with illnesses and conditions I will have for the rest of my life. I will always have very, very, very bad days and then there will always be awesome days to balance them out.
There is considerable strength to be found in just living to the best of my ability. Easier said than done, but a goal for me to aim towards!
There is no simple way to make the illnesses we face easier to confront, or even to take away the pain for a single day, as much as I wish otherwise. We spend our days fighting an invisible monster called Pain, and every day he is there when we wake up. We do the best we can, whether we are battling our illness from bed, from crutches, a wheelchair, a scooter, or our feet, every day is a marathon for us.
When we start to feel like we’re losing control of everything around us because of chronic illness and pain, the place where we have most control is in our self-care and self-love, which I couldn’t even fathom until I began to write a page of weekly affirmations. In the midst of the fear and chaos is acceptance. If you are in the grieving stage, I promise, acceptance is the best thing since sliced bread. It doesn’t happen overnight and it doesn’t happen easily all the time, but when you look back, you’ll see how far you’ve come. And it is worth it. We all deserve to accept ourselves, illnesses and all. If acceptance is an area you struggle in, why not try jotting down self-compliments or reassurances. They can be all the things you wish people told you, it can be all the things you believe about yourself, it can be as simple as saying “I am passionate about writing and I have a lot to say”, “I deserve to be loved”, or “last night I got enough sleep” or as complex as you need them to be. I feel like I’m not even writing when I do this exercise, the words just spill onto the paper from somewhere deep inside of me. I guess I must have been not allowing myself to think positive, comforting, reassuring things for a long time. I don’t know why, but I do know I have an awful lot of affirmations to get off my chest. Certain ones I find myself writing over and over again each week and sometimes on other days as well. These seem to be things I have a hard time believing, but which are important to me none the less. Someday, hopefully even these hard-to-digest messages of self-love will begin to sink in, and gradually, as many of the other affirmations have, they will become a part of every day outlook. Affirmations have helped me gain so much that I didn’t even know I was missing. So instead of losing things, now I can focus on what is still there, what is inside me that I can love and share with the world.
If you’re looking for a good way to start 2015 off, writing down a list of positive things about yourself can change your perspective on life. It can give you that boost of self-esteem and motivation you were looking for. It’s easy, painless, and you don’t have anything to lose! I bet you will be amazed by what you find out when you start writing. ❤
I hope that everyone had a wonderful weekend!
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.
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