Chronic Illnesses: Who Knows?

In the past few months I’ve seen increased frequency and severity in my symptoms and even new symptoms coming to light. When I have flare ups or new issues I often become more aware of my current physical state, and ironically, while doing so, I usually think I’m better off until these harsh realizations, moments of brutality that shine a light on the fact that no, I’m not better, I’m actually worse, but I’ve just gotten used to being sick, used to this flare up that just never left, that became my new “normal.”

Though I’m used to high levels of pain, severe nausea, frequent migraines, fatigue, etc. when I wake up and have new symptoms or symptoms I’ve had before all of a sudden “amplified,” it can be super frustrating, discouraging – not to mention painful. But when these “flare ups” come about and decide to stick around for more than a day or two, the mind starts to wonder….

Is this a flare? Are these symptoms going to go back to “normal?” Is there something more serious going on?

Pain is a hard thing to talk about and understand because everyone has a different relationship with pain, everyone’s “scale” is their own – my 6 could be your 9 for example – and you can’t really know what anyone else’s is unless you’re living it. My pain has been a totally new phenomenon the last couple weeks, my body is searing, my head is killing me, it’s just relentless. This pain is different from my “normal” pain, though, so it’s kind of hard to compare them severity wise, it’s hard to simplify it to a word like “throbbing, stabbing, burning, etc.” or a number 1-10 – I’m in severe pain and discomfort all over my body and it won’t give me a break — I wish that were enough to figure out a way to help, right?

“What concerns me the most is the unknown….it is just too overwhelming to think about…”

When my symptoms cause me to be even more “disabled” than normal, when I can’t get up or out of the house for a week or more, I’m hardly able to be around others because of the pain and stimulation, and I’m sleeping excessively or unable to sleep at all, it can be hard to find motivation, hard to force yourself to get up and get going, doing something as simple as shower or change into fresh pjs…

“No one really explained to me the depth or the magnitude of that diagnosis, no one explained how serious and life changing this chronic illness can be….”

There are so many unknowns with chronic illnesses, and most of us learn all about that through personal experiences, not from doctors or even google doctor! Living with conditions that even doctors don’t know enough about can be scary, all of a sudden everything you know is just swept out from underneath you, you’re left with so little understanding and no control over your own body, your own life. This is all shocking, it’s devastating, and you have got to find a way to embrace it, conquer it, and grow right along side it, otherwise, it will break you through and through, not only physically, but mentally and emotionally, mind, body, and soul.

Where’s the Cake??

Ahh, 23, another year that I fought my body and won- Rachel 23, EDS 0 – unless we are talking about quality of life or day by day challenges, but I made it, and that’s more than I can ask for.

Birthdays used to be SO important to me, like I was planning for my birthday as soon as Christmas was over, maybe before (my birthday is in March), and I wanted themed parties with lots of decorations, my friends, and most importantly, big cakes with lots of ice cream and lots of presents- not sure which was more important but those two were my priorities. I remember being a ball of energy during March, intense and particular, but my parents never failed to create a beautiful, magical party for me, though I may not have realized it the, my parents were pretty rad. I was never disappointed. All three of us kiddos had March birthdays and I was only like 4 when I started planning parties ahead in great detail – I would make a fabulous party planner 😉 I’m thankful to have such happy memories, and though I ate too much ice cream and put on some pounds over the years, I’m glad I enjoyed it while I could 🙂

Birthdays since getting sick have been a lot different! This is my sixth birthday with gastroparesis and dysautonomia, though the first and second year I was still able to eat a bit, so cake still happened in small amounts, but no ice cream, which is my thing. Birthdays are centered around gifts and cake, and that’s how it’s always been, if we put it simply, but things aren’t always simple, even on your birthday!

 

You know people always say, “Age is just a number,” or birthdays are just another day, you were a day from 23 yesterday, you’ve aged a day—yeah, okay party pooper, right? Well at this point, I’m not super concerned with my birthday, and though it is nice to know that people are thinking of me, I just don’t want or need much of anything that I don’t have, and that is a blessing.

Of course I would love to be healed, if you have a cure, lemme have it, but I don’t think this is the year for the cure, though I hope it comes ASAP! I’m hoping for more relief, more energy, and less pain – definitely hoping for less pain and better pain management. Aside from medical wishes, I’ve had a tough time thinking about wants/needs, which isn’t a problem I’ve had a lot in the past 🙂

I would not call myself materialistic at this point in my life. I have so much and I don’t need anything, and I want so minimally, the greatest gift I can ask for is a day full of love, laughter, positivity, and simple pleasures. There’s nothing that means more to me than my family, and seeing them joyful and peppy, feeling at least a bit less of the burden that they face day to day is more meaningful than any gift I could be given. My parents are incredible, and I don’t think I tell them often enough, but they’ve done nothing but care and support us, they stick by us no matter what and do so without hesitation. I’m so thankful to have the parents I do, and I hope they know that.

Though I can’t have cake and I’m not up for parties or gatherings, having people, my parents and family included, celebrate and fulfill traditions that feel almost “normal,” and being treated almost like I’m not sick, like I’m “normal,” is a true gift. Trying to avoid talk about my medical situation and the troubles and challenges and moments missed due to that and having less questioning, less concern from all in my life creates a safe and fun and lovable environment for me as well as for others. A happy Rachel is a happy family, right?

I want to be boring and normal, so treating me like that, though not always easy, is a gift that allows me feel normal, and that’s all I want.

There’s nothing more important to me than my family (dogs included), and there’s so much on their shoulders though out this journey, and that’s hard for me to accept, but the times we spend doing fun things, even as simple as taking a drive, are the best times. I can’t afford to waste time, I can’t afford to hold onto anger or sadness because I can’t waste a “good” day or a good hour, so positive energy, simple pleasures and laughter, joy, harmony, these are all things I strive for.

Though you may not fully understand or even be completely comfortable with my ideas, the best gift is having others who want to embrace those times and help me make it happen; I have to live my life to the fullest, and sometimes that means pushing myself and taking risks, having new experiences, and figuring things out on my own.

My journey has been long and complicated, happy and sad, but mostly joyful and full of love, but it’s not over and I’m hoping that this year I will be able to turn a new leaf and have new experiences that people my age should have, so wish me luck, and thank you to everyone who is supporting me – especially my family and close friends <3

The Rarest of Guest Bloggers: SMA Syndrome

My name is Danielle and I am 26 years old. Growing up I suffered with ongoing stomach issues and doctors just couldn’t seem to figure out a cause. These symptoms would come and go in waves and there were even periods of time where I would begin thinking I was doing okay! Sadly, those times were short lived and when my senior year of college came about, things took a turn for the worst.

In 2015, I became very ill. It began with my endometriosis creeping back in and that was followed with my gallbladder needing to be removed, and despite those things, I continued to progressively get worse – especially stomach wise. I was having severe abdominal pain when I ate, nausea, vomiting, early satiety (I would take a few bites of food and feel overly full instantly), bloating and weight loss. I was only 105 lbs to begin with so I didn’t have any weight to lose so things became critical rather quickly.

In February of 2016 I was hospitalized because at this point I was not able to keep anything down, not even water. I had dropped to 90 lbs rather quickly and we were very scared. My doctor had run so many tests but could not figure out what was wrong with me, until he happened to be in the right place at the right time. He was at clinic where he overheard a nurse, who isn’t typically at that clinic, talking about another girl who had just been diagnosed with this rare condition. He immediately thought it sounded very similar to me so as soon as he was done at clinic, he came directly to the hospital and went to the radiologist. He told the radiologist to relook at one of my CT scans but from a different angle.

They immediately saw the problem and he came up to my room where he finally looked at me and said “I figured out what is wrong with you. You have SMA Syndrome,” otherwise known as Superior Mesenteric Artery Syndrome.

This condition, SMAS, I’ve never heard of it, I don’t know what is hitting me and how it is going to change things, what my life will look like now, all I know is it is rare, and though it has terrible symptoms, it can be very hard to detect. I had numerous CT scans but until they specifically looked for the compression itself, they were missing it on my scans for the longest time even though it was right there. The compression can be seen on CT scans, angiograms and upper GI studies with barium.

SMAS is an extremely rare and potentially life threatening stomach condition in which the third portion of your small intestine (duodenum) becomes compressed between your abdominal aorta and Superior Mesenteric Artery.

In other words, part of your small intestine becomes crushed and food is not able to pass through, creating a blockage.

This can lead to severe malnutrition, sometimes resulting in death. The mortality rate for SMA Syndrome is so high (1 in 3) because it is so rare and often times there is a delay in diagnosis. As you can see from my story, I was extremely lucky that he found it when he did or otherwise I might not have been here typing this today.

So how is SMAS treated? There is no cure.

There are also 2 types of this condition. One being acute onset, caused by extreme/sudden weight loss often following something like scoliosis surgery. The other being chronic, meaning it develops over the course of their lifetime. Surgery can be done to relieve the compression, or sometimes gaining weight (usually via feeding tubes) can also relieve the compression and allow food to start passing through again. However the damage done before it is found cannot be reversed and often times the symptoms can still remain even after surgery or weight gain, which is why there is technically no cure. In acute cases, the prognosis is better and oftentimes weight gain is enough to correct it and relieve the symptoms.

Chronic cases are a bit different, these cases are where the symptoms can still remain even after medical intervention, they aren’t easily treatable and there is absolutely no cure. That was the case for me. As soon as I was diagnosed I was immediately put on TPN (total parenteral nutrition) to help get me stable enough and I had surgery within 3 weeks. Since then, I have continued to have an avalanche of problems and my symptoms have remained. I continue to have pain with eating, nausea, vomiting, bloating and severe motility issues. The damage done to my body from SMA Syndrome has caused the entire rest of my GI tract to slow down and not function properly, so I have developed other chronic motility issues from it as well (such as Gastroparesis and intestinal dysmotility), which sadly is often the case for many people diagnosed with SMAS.

After numerous attempts to try and get things under control, I had to get a feeding tube placed in my abdomen to help give me the vital nutrition I need to sustain myself. I had a surgical GJ tube placed a year ago. I also am currently on TPN through a central line (port) in my chest due to the severity of my motility issues at the moment and not being able to tolerate my tube feeds right now. So often times feedings tubes are needed even after surgery to help manage the symptoms that remain and to help sustain individuals with SMA Syndrome.

Getting a feeding tube can be very overwhelming. It isn’t easy to process what it is like to have a tube surgically implanted into your body and it is a huge adjustment.

But what made the transition easier for me when I had my surgery was Newbie Tubies. I came across Newbie Tubies on instagram (@newbietubies) and saw that they create packages for people who are getting feeding tubes that are filled with all sorts of awesome things to help someone recover from the procedure and different items for the new tube as well.

The goal is to make the transition easier for someone by sending them a package to brighten their day. You can apply yourself or you can nominate someone to receive a package.

 

When I recieved my package it had things such as a blanket, water bottle, socks, handmade heating pad, tubie pads to decorate and protect the tube, bath bombs and a coloring book. It also included a list of tips for living with a feeding tube for those who are getting their first tube. Also, everything was donut and dog themed to fit my personality, which can be noted on the application to make each package more personalized to the recipient.

I cannot express how much receiving that package meant to me when I returned home from the hospital and how much it lifted my spirits. Newbie Tubies is truly amazing and it is creating an awesome community of fellow “tubies” on social media. It is awesome to be able to connect to others who have feeding tubes as well because you can relate to them and also share tips and tricks with each other to help make living with a feeding tube more manageable.

So if you have a feeding tube, are getting one or know someone with one please go check out Newbie Tubies on instagram. Or even if you just want to help, you can donate money or items to go in the packages sent out. So please check it out!
I share my story and my experiences with SMAS with hope that it will help someone else find their diagnosis and know they aren’t alone in this journey. It can be incredibly hard finding any answers, and I know that if it weren’t for individuals working to spread awareness through social medias and the stories others have shared, I wouldn’t have been diagnosed, I would have continued suffering without answers for much longer.

SMAS is an extremely rare condition, and because of how rare it is it is and due to overlaps with symptoms of many other stomach conditions, it often isn’t thought of. Not a lot of doctors know much about this rare disease, most of the time they have only read about it in textbooks during medical school, but each patient, each case, is unique and complex, not one fitting the case studies or textbooks perfectly.

I had no idea what it was until I was diagnosed, so I hope that reading my story can help someone else out there and just educate more people about this condition. For more information about SMA Syndrome, you can go to https://rarediseases.info.nih.gov/diseases/7712/superior-mesenteric-artery-syndrome.

 

Post by Dani Fantaskey — guest blogger and newbie tubie package recipient


 

Thank you Dani!! Your post is fabulous and I am SO glad your package made such an impact on you – seeing your positive remarks truly inspires me to keep working hard to individualize each package. I love doing it, so I’m glad it doesn’t go unnoticed 🙂 So happy to have you, keep in touch and I’d love to have you back involved with the project anytime! Lots of love!

If anyone has questions or comments for her, comment below or contact me and I will get you in touch with her 🙂

xoxo

Rachel

Thoughts 6 Years In

I often feel that when I put myself out there and say, “Screw you, Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (EDS), screw you gastroparesis, I WANT to do this, I’m going to do this,” and I actually DO,  my body comes back at me saying, “uh, hey now, who gave you permission to do that?”

When I do this, I try to compare pros and cons, are these things I want to do worth the payback that will come my way? There are so many things I want to do, and I’m an adult so I can do whatever I want, right? No grounding or taking my phone away, but if I misbehave, my body can punish me in a much harsher manner than my parents ever would.

Yes, chronic illnesses are brutal. Yes I am exhausted and utterly uncomfortable, but now, after years and years of searching for answers or simply searching for relief, I have to learn to care for body and mind, not pushing myself to a point of danger or past a “safe” space health wise, but I also have to embrace what I DO have and what I am capable of. I have to hold onto every bit of the true ME without forgetting where I am in my life right now.

I recently had a bit of medical excitement (a bit of a scare) when a new symptom popped up from out of the blue, but I woke up and honestly thought very little of it aside from knowing I need to be mindful today, just watch for symptoms I don’t usually experience or other warning signs!

So why am I becoming numb to symptoms or complications? Because I’ve seen it happen, because I have hope, but not expectations? I know that many don’t understand that, we all have different ways of coping or different perspectives on the meaning or the terminology — “hope” is relative, similar to grief, we all go through this process with different coping mechanisms. I know that EDS can lead to all sort of complications, it sometimes feels like there’s no end to the diagnoses, every year brings another symptom, another doctor, another diagnosis. I’ve watched it happen to girls just like me; heck, I’ve watched my own health continue to “D&D: DETERIORATE & DIVERSIFY,” so I guess you could say I’m not impacted or fearful in the same way that many healthy people would be when something like this occurs.

Does this lack of reaction represent a lack of hope? Have I built up an immunity to “human” emotions? Do I live life expecting the worst? Fearing or expecting to die? No, I don’t. Though I am forced to consider more seriously some of the not so fun parts of life more than most individuals my age, I don’t plan on leaving y’all anytime soon

So, then, is it a coping method? I suppose, probably, it is. While I prepare for all possibilities, there’s a wall there to protect myself and those around me. There’s no way for someone to focus on something of this magnitude 24/7 without going downhill quickly, so it’s important to me not to let that happen. I don’t want to torture myself mentally by focusing on my physical state all day, every day, but more so, I don’t want my family to have to go through that day after day. They have sacrificed and suffered enough throughout my journey- through thick or thin they are always by my side, but if I can spare them any grief or burden, I will do that. No one should suffer from chronic illnesses like these, but if I have to, I at least want to do what I can to protect others from extra suffering.

Chronic illnesses are nasty and powerful, but they don’t always win. I’m not out of power yet, I have a lot of hope left in me, and even more so than that, I have a will to live. I have a heart that craves more love, a soul searching for MORE adventure and experience, and eyes that WILL get to see the world.

My body may protest, but my will to live and my love for life, my love for simplest of things and the most wonderful people (& dogs) will power me through anything. I believe in the power of love, love is stronger than any fears I come across in my journey, and I am not lacking in love.

(I am single, though, just FYI 😉 )

I have a complex, difficult life, but it is filled with so much good that makes all of the challenges and trials, all of the terrible symptoms and times of questioning or doubt seem so small and unimportant. I am surrounded by love and unwavering support not just from my (biological) family, but also from the incredible community that has continuously come together and shown what true family is. My family expands all the time, it crosses oceans and countries, there are no limitations, just love, support, and acceptance. I’m continually amazed by the incredible, valiant efforts that I never could have asked for or dreamed of and I am reminded often of the true values of life, of friendship, of open mindedness and a judgment-free perspective, etc. I am blessed, I am thankful.

I am sick and I have hardships every day, but I have hope, and I have dreams, goals, and motivation – so watch out world, I’m on a mission and it’s not to the doctors office – and probably not to stand up comedy either.

xoxo

To Those Who Hold My Quality of Life in Their Hands

To Whom it May Concern,

My name is Rachel, I’m 22 years old and live in Virginia. I have an incredible family and two dogs who are the light of my life, and I’m currently living at home on a “break” from college. I’m a recently self discovered artist, I love painting and photography, and I also have a blog. I love working out and swimming both competitively and for fun, my favorite places being Smith Mountain Lake or swimming holes in the rivers, I was born to swim 🙂 I also love driving the back roads with my music and the wind in my hair, I’ve always wanted a convertible. I plan to have a beautiful wedding dress; in fact, if there’s no husband by 35years old, I plan to go try on dresses and wear one because I CAN. I want to travel. I want to live.

I’m Rachel, I’m 22 years old, and I’m a chronic pain patient.

I’ve been sick for six + years, and I have a myriad of chronic illnesses that leave me feeding tube and central line dependent for all “food” and fluids, and with severe nausea and crippling pain every day. There are many days when I struggle just to leave my bed and walk around the small upstairs floor of my home. I sometimes go weeks without leaving the house aside from appointments or my mom driving me to see a sunset or flood or snowy site. I’m often unable to paint or work on my blog due to the pain in my hands and arms becoming overwhelming… I often can’t look at my phone or computer due to my sensory overload and my migraines.

As much as we chronic illness patients love to say that “our illnesses don’t define” us, in reality, symptoms like severe, crippling pain can leave you unable to move, unable to walk, unable to accomplish the simplest of tasks, including self-care/hygiene without the help of a loved one or a caretaker. It causes “painsomnia” aka insomnia caused by severe pain, which in and of itself can be debilitating. The pure exhaustion from being in such high levels of pain can also take over your whole self, body and mind, it can be a scary time if you aren’t able to get relief even just for a couple of hours a day.

I often tell people that I feel like this is a life sentence for the innocent. I feel like sleeping beauty, stuck in her tower waiting for her prince, but I’m stuck in my room and there’s no end in site. I’m the sick girl in the middle of nowhere, but I’m lucky to have parents who work so hard for me.

this is a life sentence for the innocent

Do you have children? Grandchildren? Siblings? Can you imagine watching one of them have a quick yet long term deterioration of their health, and left with daily struggles and little to no relief? Because you’re not doctors or pharmacists so I have trouble understanding why you get to determine who gets these meds and how much we can have….If you aren’t a doctor and you aren’t a patient or someone who has experienced this first hand, what gives you the right?

Last month my pain management doctor and I decided to change my pain management plan after 6 months of consistency, in part to my body’s ability to build up tolerances to medications with lightning speed and in part to the new restrictions on pain medications. With my high, high tolerances and severe, daily chronic pain, it can be extremely difficult to treat, and sadly, it’s about to get harder. Due to the acts of those who abuse drugs, most of whom are not even chronic pain patients, this battle to manage chronic pain and improve quality of life is becoming nearly impossible for those of us on this side of the crisis – those of us who use our medications as prescribed and take them only to help us function on the bad days.

It shouldn’t be so hard to get medications that can improve your quality of life, I struggle so much with that thought, why would they take away these medications when they can help us make life livable?

I hope that the government and the insurance agencies will one day realize how ridiculous this all is, and that they’re stealing whatever potential that I or any other chronic illness patients like me have for relief and a more “normal” lifestyle, taking away the ability to pursue my dreams and my goals without the fear of my pain becoming too much. In this process they’re also taking a doctor’s ability to do their job to the fullest extent right out from under them as they are no longer able to treat patients to the fullest extent or in the way that is best fit for that patient.

There are so many things I want to do in my life. Like any 22 year old, I have goals and dreams and desires, but I also live a life most people my age don’t even know exists, a lifestyle that most can’t even phantom. Sometimes I can’t even imagine what I would do with myself if I were to make it back to society, but I know I’d quickly pick it back up and value every day, every moment, more than any healthy person could.

More on the restriction/ a great article https://www.statnews.com/2018/03/06/cms-rule-limits-opioid-prescriptions/

Chronic Illness Tips for the Hard Days

 

Sometimes physically difficult days can also lead to mentally and emotionally challenging days, and if you’re alone or unable to distract yourself, these days of discouragement can turn into weeks of depression, so I want to share some tips on what to do on the difficult days — this applies to spoonies, tubies, mental health patients, and really anyone in general– everyone has bad days!

  1. Get up and change your clothes – This is one I’m often guilty of during my homebound/bedbound times, so I know it can be one of the small hassles we often put off when we are having a bad day or an unmotivated day due to pain, nausea, fatigue, whatever it is for you that day. That said, sometimes just putting on a new pair of PJs, a super comfortable t-shirt dress, or sweatpants, whatever it is that you’re comfortable in, can make you feel a bit fresher and lighter, ready to take on the rest of the day (in bed) 😉
  2. Self care – simple at home or out and about, face masks, nails, Epsom foot soaks, whatever your favorite thing is—
    1. showers optional if you don’t have the energy – one day doesn’t kill ya. (neither does 2 days….3 days? 😉 ) I’m no shower person w/ POTS and GP, but the body adjusts amazingly when your body is adapting to changes like these. Buy some great shampoo and then dry shampoo & leave-in products and you can easily get away with washing your hair once or twice a week. It takes a bit of time, but your hair starts adjusting and working to stay clean longer.
    2. Some people love doing their makeup, even if it’s just for themselves at home! If it makes you feel good about yourself or makes you feel more like yourself, do it! Lay in bed with that red lip stain, work it girl.
  3. Even taking a walk or doing some stretching can refuel both mentally and physically – laying in bed all day/all winter can cause more pain…. Easier said than done, but finding your favorite way to get up and moving — walking, dancing, yoga, biking, etc. — can be great for you in so many ways.
  4. Call up a friend—just have a movie night or go get your nails done, doesn’t have to be crazy night out, just some fun, time to enjoy yourself and for a moment, maybe, forget how crappy you feel.
  5. Dogs are top notch medication/therapy and the most reliable members of our support systems 😉 Find a dog, get a dog, rescue a dog, steal a dog, borrow one… they’re everywhere, and they need love as much as you do!
  6. Listen to music or get out your favorite coloring book or paints and use that creative brain in there! Sometimes all you need is a little bit of a distraction, a different focus for your brain, even if it’s just for 15-20 minutes!
  7. Take a drive. Cant walk? Take a drive with your family/friends/caretaker and just get some fresh air, get out of your house for a little while. See the outside world.
  8. Do YOU. What makes you happy? When do you feel your best physically and/or emotionally? Whatever that is, do it. Drop what you’re doing, take any meds you need to / can so you are comfortable (ish) and follow your spirit, your heart—your body may hate it, but sometimes an outing or a self care distraction can do you wonders.

 

Follow your heart, listen to mind and body, and don’t be afraid to express your emotions. If you can, talk to your parents, siblings, significant other, or friends/loved ones. You can also find so much support through online support networks, one huge gift that technology has shared with us; friendships with others with your conditions can be incredible, its a feeling of life long friendship with someone you’ve spoken to online for a few months and then in the years to come, through your worst flare ups and your toughest, lowest times you are being supported by someone you’ve never met in person, but someone who becomes the person.

Find your happy. Find your happy in activity, find it in hobbies and in friends or animals, in art or cooking, in working or advocating, but most importantly, find your own happiness that comes from within your own self. Love yourself, care for yourself, and don’t doubt your strength. When you need to be reminded of your worth or your strength or your beauty (inside and out), remember this, remember that you are your harshest critic, but you are strong enough to push through anything if you are strong enough to live with chronic illnesses. There’s nothing harder than this, so stay confident and have faith in yourself, care for yourself in any way you need/want to, and remember that YOU and your health, mental and physical, come first. You are worth it, worth so much more than any words I can put together, so I think I’ll call it here:)

 

 

Willfully Determined

Yesterday I pushed myself to do more and to do different. I decided to be a 22 year old for a few hours, I just ignored the fatigue, took the pain meds, and went to back to back movies (7-11:30pm) with my sister, who didn’t think I could stay out late anymore. It was a gift to both of us to be able to spend that time together, just enjoying doing something that was so out of the norm.

Usually I sleep through 60-80% of movies anywhere we watch them, our basement, my room, the movie theater, other peoples houses… But last night I worked hard to stay awake, and I did a stellar job. My POTS/dysautonomia leaves my body unable to pump blood to my brain when I sit down for too long, so I fall asleep or pass out even if I’m loving a movie or having a great conversation with someone; but usually, if I move around or take a walk I start to feel much more human again and stay awake for at least 10-20 minutes 😉

My family asked me if I really had energy for this, and here is what I told them,

“No, I don’t have the energy, but this isn’t about energy.  This is about desire and determination.”

Sometimes I have to accept my symptoms, accept my situation, and make a choice to push past all of the exhaustion, pain, nausea, and sensitivities so that I can remind myself and those around me that I’m still me, and that there are still things out there, outside of my “safe zone” (aka my house and my room). Watching the world go on without you can be a very strange feeling, it’s like watching from an outside view, looking down on the life I thought would be mine and watching others continue on without me. The world doesn’t wait for anyone.

Recently I’ve been hearing a lot of “nothings” from doctors; some literally don’t have anything to say, don’t answer emails or calls or anything, others telling me they can’t take on my case or I’ve exhausted the options they can offer. It’s a lot of “keep you comfortable” and “manage symptoms.”

After so much of the same, I’m so tired of doctors and meds and tests or treatments that no one actually thinks will work. I want to live. I want to experience my youth, I want to really feel alive and I want to cross items off of my bucket list.

I want to travel and see incredible sites and take countless photos. I hope to visit all of the girls who I’ve met online, the ones who have helped me through these years of illness, and I want to meet new people, and fall in love. I want to get rid of these tubes so I can swim with dolphins and scuba dive, get as close to my mermaid dream as possible.

I have a lot of goals, and I may never accomplish all of them, but they make for some happy thinking & I never pass that up. 🙂

 

IVIG Round 5 & Lots to Consider

Yesterday was round 5 of IVIG (Intravenous immunoglobulin). I’d love to say this was my miracle round and I woke up ready for a huge stack of pancakes or a burger and fries at ihob, but sadly, no pancakes, and definitely no burgers on my menu anytime soon.
 
I had IVIG yesterday (tuesday) at noon; I wasn’t feeling well & I slept through majority of the 2 1/2 hour infusion, so it went pretty quickly. When we finished, I was already experiencing side effects like low grade fevers, extreme fatigue, brain fog, pain, nausea, etc. When my nurse left and I had gotten settled, I slept for four more hours; Mom and Baxter woke me up around 7pm. I got up and took a short walk to get up and moving, out of bed for a bit and get some fresh air. I was asleep again before 9pm but continued to wake up every 4 hours as my pain and nausea medications wore off.
 
Today I’m still exhausted and experiencing a lot of elevated symptoms; by this I mean I am experiencing symptoms similar to my usual pain/nausea/migraine/weakness/etc, but they are kicked up a few notches and much less respondent to my meds.
 
I’m working hard to stay positive and mindful of both body and mind, and I have a long list of things I’d love to accomplish– artwork, tasks for my package project, blog posts/updates, outreach to volunteers and donors, thank you cards, etc.– but my body is telling me in many ways that I need to slow down and remember that it’s okay if I only get one thing done today, it’s okay if all I can do is sleep and recover. I’m doing my best, and there’s nothing more important than my health– or at least that’s what I tell my newbie tubies in their tip lists, so I guess I have to believe it and try it if I’m going to be preaching about it to others…:) 
 
Having a body & mind that are on different pages can be really challenging, but I am constantly learning and adapting as both my body and mind continue to change, often on their own volition.
I hope to see some of my specialists this month so we can determine what the best plan for moving forward is. More IVIG? No more IVIG? Are there other treatment options, or are we back to “keep you comfortable”? It’s all up in the air at this point, but honestly, I just want peace and as much normality as I can get. I don’t want to be stuck by more needles, put in MRI tubes, traveling huge distances to see doctors who spend 15 minutes with me only to tell me the same things I’ve heard before… “complicated” or “medical mystery” followed with, “manage the symptoms” and “keep you comfortable.”
There are no certainties in life, so take advantage of every moment you can, that is exactly what I aim to do.

My Opiate Crisis

The opiate crisis. Two words, so much baggage.

I think it’s reasonable to say that most individuals over the age of 15 living in the US today have at least heard something about the opiate crisis. Opiates are bad. Narcotics are addictive. They ruin lives and have a high risk for overdose. Opiates are a gateway drug and lead to use of street drugs & illegal self-medicating. (5th-10th grade health class, yah?) That’s what we learn about the opiate crisis, bad bad bad.

Opiates/narcotics can be dangerous…if used incorrectly or illegally. But for people like me, who are living with multiple chronic pain conditions, this opiate crisis is affecting our treatment plans and more importantly, our quality of life & ability to function.

That said, and all dramatics & sarcasm aside, for those of us living with chronic illnesses, the opiate crisis is not the same crisis that you hear about in the news or in a doctor’s office…

My opioid crisis involves trying to make the very limited quantity of pain medication last the whole month, every month….

and then I have to trek back to the doctor to try to advocate for myself and my needs when a change in dosage or medication is needed– I’m really shy/bad at confrontation and in person advocacy so this is a big stress for me.

My opioid crisis is struggling to make each dose last long enough; dealing with a connective tissue condition and genetics that make my body metabolize pain medications too quickly has made treating my pain very hard, high doses of pain meds are hard to get with all of the new FDA laws that are in place due to recreational users and ODs, which of course have nothing to do with my case, but laws are laws and now it’s been made my crisis, your crisis, and that of every addict or legal pain patient who uses these meds.

My opioid crisis involves choosing between being able to function during the day or being able to sleep at night. I’m an artist and a writer, but I can’t paint or write because of the pain in my hands, wrists, and arms. I can’t stand too long, sit still, or lay down without having severe pain in my back and hips. When does the pain end? What is more important, sleep or being productive and (semi)functional during the day?

My crisis means facing the consequences of others’ actions; I don’t abuse drugs nor do I purchase them illegally or without a prescription. I use pain meds because I am unable to really live without having a way to try to manage the pain, no different than how I work to manage my nausea or my migraines, any of my symptoms that can affect my quality of life.

My opioid crisis may not be “normal,” but it’s real. I know so many other girls going through these trials, we are lucky to have each other, but the stress and the guilt and the disappointment from disappointing doctors and failed treatments or lack of access to medications can be overwhelming. There are no words to explain how deeply the system can affect us– and not just because of opiates.

I would love to find something aside from narcotics that would relieve my pain effectively. I want to paint for hours with no shooting pains in my arms, hands, or back, and I want to type without my wrists feeling like they’re black and blue with bruises every time they hit the laptop/keyboard. I want to sleep all night and run a full bag of tube feeds without waking up in too much pain to sit up.

I don’t want to be on narcotics. I have so many goals, and none of them include narcotics, but they also don’t include severe, widespread joint and nerve pain. I also understand why there are strict rules on medications like narcotics. I wouldn’t want them to be easily available to everyone. But that doesn’t mean that those who are truly, legitimately suffering– whether it be acute (post op, injury, car wreck) or chronic (fibromyalgia, arthritis, ehlers danlos syndrome, CRPS, etc.)– should have to continue to suffer when there are actually medications that could make a difference!

Not all of my conditions have treatments. Not all of my symptoms can be managed. So if I find something that helps, and I have doctors saying it makes sense, why does it have to be so damn hard to get a hold of these medications? This system is just mind boggling sometimes.

I want to be a person, not a patient, not a statistic in a research study, just Rachel.

That’s a glimpse at my opiate crisis.

 

Not Just a Patient

I am a person.

I may be sick, I may be a professional patient, but I’m also a person, but sometimes I feel like less than that when doctors, nurses, or insurance agents treat with disrespect, have biases against me before even seeing me or getting to know me, or neglect my physical or mental health because I am a challenging, serious case on the inside and a young, blonde, smiling 22 year old on the outside; invisible illnesses, especially in young women, often lead to many instances of mistreatment from medical professionals.

I’m almost never late to appointments. I have never missed, skipped, or forgotten an appointment. I email doctors with updates, questions, and reminders so that I can keep things going as efficiently as possible. I fill my meds, do my feeds, and try pretty much every alternative therapy suggested. I treat doctors with respect, no matter what. Not to sound stuck up, but I truly can’t think of much I could do to become a better patient, but honestly, that’s not my job in all of this. I am the patient, and I pay for these doctors to help me.

The idea of “doctors working for me,” is something I had never thought of before about a year ago when someone said it to me after I had a doctor say some hurtful things to me; I don’t work for the doctors, they work for me. They have no right to treat me with any less respect than they expect me to have for them or than they would have for another doctor, a friend, or a family member.

In fact, they should be treating me with great respect even if I’m not being extra outgoing or outwardly friendly. I don’t get paid to be sick. I don’t want to go to the doctor all the time. I’m often traveling hours to see them for just 10-15 minutes and they’re often not even able to help me or offer me anything new, so if I’m upset or not talkative, it’s just out of disappointment and frustration with my situation.

But doctors have chosen to be there, to help people. They choose their specialty, choose where they work, what age they work with, and they get paid very well for what they do. But just because they get paid and because they went through medical school doesn’t mean they are better people or even that they know what’s right.

Having invisible illnesses is hard. Many of these conditions are rare and under researched, doctors in small towns and even doctors who work in highly respected hospitals but aren’t specialized just don’t know these conditions. I’ve been to endless doctors who can’t pronounce the names of my conditions, don’t know what they are or what the symptoms are, or think they know and insist they know but are downright incorrect.

Sadly, a lot of girls with conditions like mine deal with doctors being rude or curt, abrasive, neglectful, biased and judgmental, and even abusive. Whether doctors are just having a bad day or whether they think they can speak to us in hurtful ways just because we are young or pretty, appear healthy, or smile and laugh like “normal” people and aren’t bald or in wheelchairs 100% of the time, I don’t know, but I do know that their actions and words can affect us for a long time.

When we are treated so poorly by people we have put our trust into, it isn’t just upsetting for a moment, it often affects our ability to put our trust into doctors and the medical system in general. Sadly, the only way someone like me can live at all comfortably is by seeing a multitude of doctors and working very hard to find treatments and medications that help minimize symptoms. We’ve put our lives in the hands of these people, we literally cannot go on without them. There is no excuse for them to treat us poorly, but when they do, we lose trust for them and we lose what faith we had in the system.

Doctors can go home and take off their white coats and eat dinner with their families, never having to think again about how that day went or what a patient said or did, but we go home and have to deal with the consequences of appointments for days, weeks, months. We rely on doctors and nurses and insurance agencies not just to be alive, but to have any comfort on a day-to-day basis. It’s not an option whether or not to have doctors or treatments, so if we lose one doctor, we have to work hard to find another one who is as good or better and willing to take on a tough case.

Conditions like mine mean you sometimes have to be both patient and medical expert, which is frustrating and exhausting. I don’t ask my doctors for magical treatments or cures that aren’t out there yet, but I do ask them to treat me with respect and dignity. I’m a person, not just a patient.