Distraction Therapy, A Guest Post For AXIS Dance Company’s Awesome Blog, And Exciting New Business Ventures
I know it’s been a while, I’m sorry to leave anyone hanging, I did not intend to abandon my blog for so long. I have been very busy while I was away from writing, I promise! One of the last things I wrote before I went on hiatus this past summer has just been published, thanks to my brilliant friend Rebecca, as a Guest Post on AXIS Dance Company’s blog. The article I wrote covers the topic of distraction therapy in relation to managing chronic pain, something I am incredibly grateful for. This isn’t the reason I have been gone, but it is something I have been wanting to write about my experience with for a long time. Though it was written months ago, when I came back to read it yesterday, I discovered that it applies even more now.
Here is the link to the post I am so excited for the opportunity to have written:
Blog Editor: Rebecca Fortelka
In the guest post, I make sure to include steps I have taken to prevent losing my creative force. There is a portion dealing with guilt that was especially appropriate for me to remind myself of this week. I also describe my top ten distractions and some of the ways I have modified those activities so that they are still possible to enjoy, maybe not every day, but regularly. I am seeing first hand that with practice, pacing, and modifications to favorite activities, you can still lead a fulfilling, richly creative life in the face of chronic pain or illness (or both).
One activity swap I have done is due to not having the energy or physical stamina to paint any more, at least for now. I was devastated at first. Losing painting hurt so much and left such a void, and my grief over not being physically capable of painting seems to come in waves. Knowing how far away from myself I feel when I can’t garden, paint, or cook, three of my more physical hobbies that used to dominate my free time, I took the opportunity to rekindle an old hobby; beadworking and jewelry making! I am loving every second of it, even with the arthritis in my hands, this is something I can do in bed or sitting up.
The reason I have been gone for so long is that I opened an Etsy shop to sell my jewelry and artwork. The shop is called The Hopeful Spoon, where I design, make, and sell Awareness Jewelry for spoonies, as well as Boho beaded creations for the free-spirited style-hunter. Some select pieces of artwork are slowly being added to the store as well. In one month of being open for business so far, I haven’t done half bad! Currently, I am averaging a sale every other day, which is about a quarter of where I need to be, but definitely gives me hope that I can meet my goal in the not too distant future.
Many people have helped me get started, and if I could continue sitting up today, I would give them each the credit they deserve, but that will have to be my next post!
For my readers, I have special spoonie discount codes, as well as two public coupons that are displayed in my shop announcement. The first code is 10SSPOONIE for 10% off of any price order, and the second is 20SPOONIE for 20% off of $50 or more! Happy holiday shopping, and thank you for checking out my newest artistic endeavors. I am loving having my passion for art back in my daily life. I hope you love the designs I have been working with as much as I love creating them. Here is a peak at just a couple of the goodies up on my new shop, with more being added almost every day:
Glad to be back here again, and I can’t wait to see what new achievements 2016 will bring.
Thank you so much for reading my guest post at AXIS Dance Company, checking out my jewelry shop, or sharing either project. I have had a happy, silly grin on my face for days despite it being a really symptomatic week.
I appreciate all the help I have been so fortunate to receive from my spoonie friends, because it is your help that my relatively good first month of business is built on.
Don’t forget the coupon codes if you head over to my shop! They do not expire until January 31st.
Hope everyone had a very tranquil Thanksgiving full of all your happiest holiday traditions.
My friend Misty is a Lyme Disease fighter, and she’s been fighting it for more than fifteen years, though she was diagnosed within the last two years, about the same time I found out I had fibro. We grew up in the same small little town towards the Oregon coast, and since I never went to high school with her, being sent off to private school instead, we didn’t have an opportunity to speak for many years. Thanks to the magic of facebook, we are back in touch. I’ve learned a lot from Misty.
In addition to being a totally courageous and fabulous warrior kindred spirit, she is also a mom to two little ones. She just had her second, against all odds, against everything she’s been told by doctors about her prognosis. She keeps searching for a cure on her own, she keeps educating others about tick borne diseases, and she keeps building her family. She fights LD with a holistic, carefully researched approach. That kind of honesty and determination deserve some love. Though I wish she had her own blog to record her thoughts because her writing is incredibly strong and poignant, you can understand why a mom to a little boy and a new baby girl, a mom who suffers from advanced Lyme Disease, does not have the energy to keep up a blog. When she posted this poem on her facebook, I had to ask if I could share it on her behalf, because I’m feeling really lost and this piece of writing calmed me down and reminded me that as much as I’m feeling rejection right now, there is a lot of love in the spoonie community, enough to make up for what I’m missing. We are never fighting chronic illness alone, no matter how geographically separated we are, we spoonies do such a great job of always lifting each other up with what little energy each of us has.
I’m really delighted that Misty said I could share her beautiful poem, and I hope it helps someone else feel less alone and more understood.
THIS IS DEDICATED TO ANYONE SUFFERING FROM CHRONIC ILLNESS:
by Misty Perkins
when all your talents are unusable
All your intelligence faded away
That spark you had has flickered
When all your motivation taken away
When all the things that define you are gone
what is left at the end of the day?
When memory fades
All you feel is confusion and rage
When your bones ache
And your body disobeys
How do you answer when they call your name?
Are you really you, when you’re not the same?
When you can’t find yourself
And you’re lost in a daze
Does anyone care to trouble with the maze
Will they see you there, or pass on by
Will they hold you tight
Or watch you cry
When you have no one else, and you’re lost to yourself
How do you cope, when no one can help?
I don’t have the answers to those questions, but I am closer than I was a few years ago. Progress, not perfection!
Thanks you, Misty, for allowing me to put your poem on my blog so others could benefit from it too.
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.
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 Info. That 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
Ehlers-Danlos Hypermobility Type (EDS-HT) Overview
Hypermobility and the Autonomic Nervous System:
The Missing Link for Various Functional Somatic Syndromes
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  and affect bowel contractibility, causing nausea and the so called “irritable bowl syndrome” . 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 . 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 .
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.
Conclusion: A Paradigm Shift in the Etiology of Functional Somatic Syndromes
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 , 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.
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.
Moongazer commented recently that it doesn’t matter where we are geographically, we spoonies can still find and comfort each other no matter where in the world we are, and I couldn’t agree with her more.
In fact, getting to network with people who live with and work around other health systems is beneficial to all of us. We all need to know what specific problems our spoonie friends in other countries have to face. None of us should have to fight the system alone. Ever. Together we can solve complex problems within our healthcare systems, but it takes a lot of networking and a willingness to learn what others are up against, especially in countries where it is very hard to have an invisible illness. I know it’s hard everywhere, but I also realize that I am extremely lucky to live in the US, even if it means I have to wait five years for disability to be approved, and my healthcare kinda sucks, and my pills are extremely expensive and the treatments that will most benefit me are either non-FDA approved (read: EXPENSIVE and hard to find and makes you look suspicious on your medical record), or they are off limits because of this crazed witch hunt involving chronic pain patients and opiate use. A topic for many more blog posts, for sure, but not the topic of this post.
Bottom line, others have it harder than I do by far. I don’t just mean that others are in more pain or have more broken bodies than mine, although that is also very true. I do mean that many fellow spoonies have no roof over their head, no access to the internet, no support networks, no disability to even try filing for, no access to any treatment or meds, and often no access to diagnostics either. The minor annoyances in my life, like not being taken seriously, is a major roadblock for someone who still needs a diagnosis, still needs at least one doctor to take them seriously and at least try to help them. What about places where new chronic pain research has not been circulated? So much of our knowledge of where the pain comes from and how real it is have changed, but without the benefit of that knowledge, many suffer inhumane hospitalizations for psychiatric disorders they do not have.
Moongazer’s sweet comment also reminded me of how my psychiatrist asked me if I knew where my blogging family lived and I looked at her like she was the crazy one, but the question also caught me off guard; I felt suddenly so defensive of all of you. We are not some mass hysteria, thinking everything is a conspiracy and no one in real life understands us. Instead it is more like huddling together for warmth with people I am actually proud to call my family, only on the internet. It is a chance to read about others who handle pain differently, to get to know them through their clever words and their important stories. It is a chance to comfort those who are newer to the chronic pain community, and reach out to people who I have admired as writers for years. Who could pass that up? Not I!
Why does it even matter? I have friends that live right down the block that I talk to way less than you guys! I also talk to my family less than I talk to fellow spoonies. I don’t mean for that to sound sad or complainer-y, but just that it is so amazing to have contact with a vast array of talented, witty, and inspirational individuals who do not force me to justify myself and who accept me as I hope to learn to accept myself.
I was very lonely, I won’t debate that, but I didn’t come here specifically to meet new friends. In fact, I thought I would be the worst whiner, off in the corner, unable to meet anyone because I was too bitter and angry. Being around people who understand has washed away the empty, bitter angriness, and replaced it with joy and determination. That is what my blogging family means to me, and so much more. I am beyond grateful for your support, patience, and kindness as I work through things that many of you have figured out long ago. It is such an honor to be allowed to learn from and reach out to others who live with chronic illness or chronic pain, and to see firsthand how strong we truly are together. ❤ ❤ ❤
Though I have to admit, now that I’ve been asked, I am curious as to how far apart we are spread. I would love to know what state or country everyone is from! I’m a proud resident of Oregon. The Pacific Northwest is beautiful and won’t let me leave for too long, though I’ve lived in Massachusetts and Indiana as well. I was born here and I love this state!
Drop me a quick comment and let me know where you live, I can’t wait to see where we all are from.
Just another short and sweet, easy to print explanation of what even minor long-term untreated chronic pain can do to a person. A person without any other troubles or illnesses. Most of the issues discussed in this article are less life-ending types of chronic pain, but that just serves to further reinforce the point that any kind of pain if left untreated is unhealthy; it can trigger long-term issues with depression and anxiety, even rewire the brain, and can make it difficult to process even mildly disruptive daily events, such as bad traffic.
That is not nothing.
So many of us are in kinds of pain that are so far beyond this little pamphlet from a pain clinic, but the people around us often are not as aware of the little things that go awry when pain stays for too long and is not recognized and treated. I thought this was kind of a nice review for people who are new to thinking about or dealing with illnesses that involve never-ending agony.
Sorry, ignore me, I’m still not able to get this flare up under control, and it’s starting to scare me when I read about others who had their “Big One” in the onset years of their illness that lasted 6-12 months.
Do. Not. Want.
Even a good day is a fight for every positive thought; every scrap of willpower woven together so tightly just to do normal people tasks, inside my own home. On a good day.
Here’s the article:
Even minor pain, such as a stubbed toe or a paper cut, is unpleasant but that pain fades relatively quickly. Imagine being in pain that never fades, or that fades only to come back a few hours later. What would that do to a person? This is what people with chronic pain have to deal with every day.
Chronic pain, a diagnosis including arthritis, back pain, and recurring migraines, can have a profound effect on a person’s day to day life when it goes untreated. People dealing with ongoing or long-term pain can become irritable, short-tempered, and impatient, and with good reason. Constant pain raises the focus threshold for basic functioning, which leaves the pained person with a greatly reduced ability to find solutions or workarounds to even relatively mundane problems. Something like a traffic jam, which most people would be mildly annoyed by but ultimately take in stride, could seriously throw off the rhythm of someone who is putting forth so much effort just to get through the day.
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