My Holiday Inspiration

I was listening to a Christmas CD tonight while I was painting and I was struck by the lyrics of one song in particular. I don’t know what everyone else thinks or feels about this season (and really any time of the year), but I’m a strong believer in the power of love and this song just really hit home for me.

The song said, “The story of hope and joy and peace…. let anger and fear and hate disappear and let there be love that lasts through the year.” (Alan Jackson- Let it be Christmas)

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Christmas Paintings!

Maybe it’s just because I’m exhausted and emotional from post surgical pain, medications/side effects, and insomnia, but this just made me stop what I was doing and really ponder and appreciate. Christmas is my favorite time of the year, but it’s not always a picture perfect holiday. We’ve dealt with years of illness, our fair share of (extended) family drama and arguments, tears on Christmas Eve, and anything else a “normal” family (hah, normal?) may see. However, in the end, we come together and we celebrate love and we spend time together and that’s what matters.

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The day after hearing that song, my good friend posted this amazing post on Facebook about love and family and again I was just struck with how much I related to that post and how again the power of love was shining through and someone else was recognizing and sharing that. I’d like to share that post with you…

” People always ask me how I stay so strong and how I’m so positive. Well, I’m not always strong and sometimes I feel like nothing will ever be okay, but I’ll let you in on a little secret. I was born into a family of warriors. After each punch life throws at us, we help each other up and we battle it together. No one fights alone and every one of us has scars of courage to prove it. At the end of the day, our love outshines any cloud of darkness. Together we can do anything through love.”
-Carolanne Monteleone

My family and I (parents and sisters) have been through hell and back just trying to stay on our feet through each “punch”, each trial we’ve been through, but the key to that is that WE go through each trial. Together. I am never alone through this long and challenging journey I am on because I know my family will never leave my side. Sadly, I am one of the lucky ones; I’ve seen first hand that not everyone, not even every family member, works that way.

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Decorated IV pole

Love is one of the most powerful emotions a person can experience. It can make you do crazy things, but it also brings about the best things in life. To love unconditionally and to be loved unconditionally is one of the best gifts you could ask for, and you rarely find that outside of your family (until you get really lucky 🙂 ).

Families should always share unconditional love– parents, spouses, siblings, grandparents, cousins, everyone included! Life is short. Life is full of ups and downs, arguments, differing opinions, heart break, annoyances, cold shoulders, and regrettable moments, but it’s also full of laughter, hugs, big smiles, great photographable moments, tons of joy, milestone moments, and most importantly… LOVE. So why do we waste so much time being angry? Holding grudges? Arguing over the past? We should be together celebrating, making memories, being joyful, sharing happiness and love.

This Christmas season I urge you to love unconditionally. Find forgiveness in your heart for those who have wronged you. Don’t ever take being treated for less than you deserve, but always remember that life is short and relationships with loved ones are precious. Let only positive thoughts into your mind and share those positive thoughts with others; always try to focus on the good, there is so much of it.

Spread love. Laugh endlessly. Find your happy and share it with your loved ones.

Happy Holidays!

The Significance of the Holiday Spirit; Spreading Love and Generosity

The holidays are my favorite time of the year. Once we pass Halloween and get close to Thanksgiving I know it’s (basically) an acceptable time to bring out all of my Christmas leggings, shirts, tubie pads, and of course, the hippo who sings Christmas carols.

It’s kind of funny that this is my favorite time of the year since health wise it’s often the most challenging. I was diagnosed with gastroparesis in December of 2013; this will be my 5th year not eating a Thanksgiving meal, my 5th year without any pie or turkey, my 5th year not having any snacks or candy in my stocking, my 5th year not eating our traditional Christmas brunch, and my 5th year seriously struggling with my health during the holidays.

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Our favorite gifts… donut pillows and blankies 🙂

But really, these holidays don’t have to revolve around food. I have much more to be thankful for even without eating. I have so much beauty and love in my life and I’ve found new passions and hobbies that not only bring me joy but help distract me from pain, hunger, and other symptoms as well as from the thoughts of all that my illnesses have taken or changed in my life; I prefer to focus on all that I’ve gained, all of the positive changes, and all of the things I’ve learned about myself and about life just from becoming so sick and being homebound.

The Christmas spirit is such a beautiful thing. I’m not even sure I loved it so much before being sick, but now I appreciate it endlessly. Even for people who don’t really like Christmas or don’t celebrate it, there’s just a contagious feeling of joy, love, generosity, and comradery that we lack during the rest of the year.

As I’ve gotten older it’s become less about gifts and food (obviously #tubiereality) and more about sharing that joy and love with others as well as finding joy in giving.

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Baxter stayed up for Santa 😉

I love finding special gifts for my loved ones but also finding ways to share with the less fortunate; sometimes this means giving money or gifts, sometimes meals or just festive cookies, or othertimes it is giving other gifts that I can make like simple cards with meaningful words, a painting, or a simple necklace or bracelet that I have made. In the past we have given gifts and food to local families or children who were in need, sent boxes of gifts to children in different areas or countries, and this year I’ve started a new nonprofit called “Newbie Tubies” for other individuals who are getting feeding tubes for the first time! I’m setting up both an online wish list and will eventually be asking for monetary donations for extra supplies and shipping, but I’m also selling my paintings in hopes to raise money to send out these packages to help ease the transition for new tubies.

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Breaking out the festive tubie pads 🙂

The holidays are a beautiful and special time. It’s filled with love and joy, gatherings with friends and family, and the gift of giving. If you’re able to give, I suggest finding a way to give to someone who is in need, whether that be an individual person or a family who could use some Christmas cheer, volunteering at the food bank or soup kitchen, or donating to an organization of your choice that is donating to those in need; ‘tis the season of giving and spreading the holiday spirit. <3

Lots of love and an early wish of happy holidays! 🙂

My Art: A New Coping Mechanism

For sale or will do commission work! Email for more info!

Recovery and Discovery: A New Idea

My recovery process from having my new feeding tube placed (switching from a GJ to two separate tubes, a g and a j tube) has been really challenging. Due to some surgical complications and my connective tissue disorder, healing has been difficult and I’m still in a lot of pain. I’m lucky, though, because I have an amazing support team at home who are here for me and care for me no matter how long it takes; not everyone has that.

Because I’ve been having such a rough time healing and I’ve been in bed for so much of the last 4 weeks I’ve had a lot of time to think; through the online support communities I’ve seen so many people go through these diagnoses and tube placements alone. I just can’t stand to think of how terrible it must be to have to be your own support system in times like this; for two weeks I couldn’t even get out of bed or walk on my own, I still can’t bathe on my own or prep all my meds, feeds, and fluids. I’m dependent on my parents for almost everything, for individuals who have to have tubes placed and don’t have support systems and don’t know much about feeding tubes (who does if you’ve never had one, been on the online pages, or had a loved one with one?), this can be an extremely scary and challenging adjustment.

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My support system 😉

What I’ve decided to do is start an organization/nonprofit that sends packages to new tubies—people who are getting their first feeding tube placed—so that we can give them some comfort and some of the “tubie essentials” to get started with. This would include things like tubie pads, microwaveable heating pads, cute masks, pill crushers/sorters, journals to write symptoms in, allergen free, natural soaps, bath bombs, etc. I’ve compiled a list with more products, but we are looking for anything comforting for someone who just came out of a tube surgery (no food!).

Right now, this project is in the “just a dream/just getting started” period as we try to find people willing to donate products to our cause. We are asking small, spoonie geared businesses as well as local businesses who make things like soaps, hats, blankets, etc. So, if you have any interest or know someone who might, please let me know! There’s absolutely no pressure to donate, though!

I will also be putting the profits from my paintings into this project (once I turn a profit!), so if you’re interested in looking at my art, please do! It’s posted on my blog in the lifestyle section under “My Art” 🙂

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I wanted to share this with you all as it will be something I’m working on a lot for now, so I’ll try to keep you posted! This is a way for me to help others and be productive while hardly leaving my room—as long as we find donors! So thank you so much for reading and I can’t wait to see where this is next time I update you!

 

Recovery: The Real Challenge with Surgery

The past two weeks have been even more challenging than my “normal” for both my body and my mind. I had surgery two weeks ago to place a new/additional feeding tube and we ran into some challenges and now I am trying to heal and recover.

I’ve had to spend more time in bed since getting home from my surgery because I’ve been unable to move much on my own. For the first week I couldn’t sit up, stand, walk, sit down, go to the bathroom, brush my hair, or do anything for myself. Being 100% dependent on other people is really hard, regardless of the fact that I was already disabled and very dependent on my parents for so much even prior to surgery.

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Kevin needs his new tube placed!
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Baxter alerting me.

I have to admit that the first week or so post- surgery is all a blur. There was lots of pain, many doctors, a painful car ride home (or two), a lot of sleeping, medications, ambulance, pain, another ambulance, an awful ER, pain…. But what I do remember is that both of my parents were right there by my side the whole time. There was never any talk of hiring a nurse to do the hard work or asking another family member or close friend to come help so my parents could go back to work. Every day I had at least one if not both of my parents there taking care of me, no complaints or mention of using up their sick days.

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3 tubes?!

For the first many days I slept 20+ hours a day with the help of pain medication, nausea medication, and sedatives, which all together helped make me more comfortable. After my ER trip on Monday/Tuesday I stopped taking the heavy pain medications because they delay gastric emptying so I also stopped sleeping and instead started having major insomnia again. By Wednesday/Thursday I was starting to walk on my own and eventually getting out of bed by myself, too. Although I run out of energy quickly and my pain levels are still severe, every step forward is worth a celebration.

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Our one and only trick or treater 🙂 My favorite visitor!
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Always blessed and spoiled by my parents’ coworkers!

Having such a supportive and involved family made all the difference for me; I didn’t have to worry about keeping up with meds or finding a good nurse or anything because my parents and sister were on 24/7 “Rachel Duty” for as long as I needed them. We also have an incredible community that supports me by sending cards, flowers, and gifts but they also support my parents at work and through facebook and texts/calls of support and well wishes. Being the parents and care takers of a young adult as sick as I am is no easy task and it’s extremely important to have that support.

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Mom sleeping in the ER.

Surgery is tough, but recovery is hell. Waking up each morning in major pain and knowing it’s not going away isn’t easy on anyone physically or mentally, but each small improvement or sign of progress gives me hope. Life is precious and every day that your body is functional and pain free is a gift; I encourage you to take advantage of every day and live life to the fullest, always follow your heart and do more of what makes you happy. Find joy in every day.

Xoxo

A Day with Dysautonomia

I’ve been dealing with dysautonomia since I was a teenager, really even longer before my diagnosis in high school. It started out with shortness of breath and heart palpitations before moving into full on syncopy and fainting spells and eventually complete autonomic dysfunction. Today, although my dysautonomia is in many ways managed better than it has been before, it still affects my body and routine every day.

Although my fainting spells have been minimized by doing twice-daily saline infusions, if you look deeper you find that my dysautonomia is still very much present. I struggle daily with common symptoms like dizziness, accelerated heart rate, and fatigue, but I also have symptoms that are less talked about.

I struggle with temperature regulation, being unable to stay warm if I go anywhere with a temp under 65-70 degrees, even if I’m bundled up and only there for a couple of minutes; this includes grocery stores, cars, outdoors, and my own house during the winter. Something as simple as changing my clothes can send my body temperature drops as low as 91 degrees F – hypothermia is 95 and below. I joke about my “hibernation” during winter, but it’s partially true, being that cold and unable to warm up is not a fun –or safe– feeling. On the other hand, if I’m fatigued or talk too much (no joke), I run low grade fevers and have to put myself in a “time out” to let my body rest and recover.

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I also struggle from severe adrenaline rushes. My blood work shows high norepinephrine and dopamine levels which you would expect from someone who is overly excited or even scared, maybe from sky diving or being in a high speed car chase? Well, I get them from standing up or over exerting myself. When your body has to work extremely hard just to keep you on your feet, it sometimes goes into overdrive. These adrenaline rushes either leave me hyper during the day or up all night, but either way, I’m exhausted and weak when they’re over.

My dysautonomia has also contributed to my digestive tract failure and my chronic pain. Although I have other conditions as well, these are all comorbid and interact with one another making it harder to treat. I’m on 24/7 nausea medication and daily pain medication as well. I struggle with daily migraines and occipital neuralgia. I rely on tube feeds and IV fluids to keep me nourished, hydrated, and able to stand up without passing out.

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Although there are many other symptoms I struggle with, these are just a couple that are currently having a big impact on my life.

Dysautonomia is an umbrella term for a multitude of conditions and needs more research and awareness. There are way too many people suffering from this condition who deserve treatments and a cure, but we have none.

To each of you reading this, thank you. Please continue to read, share, and educate others on these conditions so that one year we can write about the cure.

The Importance of Self Care: 8 Ways to Pamper a Spoonie

Being chronically ill really takes its toll on both your body and your mind. So much about your life changes when you get sick and you lose control over so many aspects of your life, it can be an exhausting adjustment.

A lot of people think that being this sick just entails a lot of netflixing, hot baths, naps, and comfort foods. Although for some people, those things are a part of being sick, there is a lot more to it than that. Being chronically ill means sleeping endlessly and still not being able to keep your eyes open, counting down the minutes until your next dose of pain or nausea medication, being unable to shower because of orthostatic and heat intolerances, having to have other people brush and braid your hair, and all sorts of other fun things! (catch the sarcasm?)

That said, it’s really important that individuals with chronic illnesses take time to do things that bring them joy or make them feel good. Whether its self care, comfort items, fashion, etc. I’ve compiled a list of some of the most common “feel good” options to keep in mind if you’re a spoonie (click for definition of spoonie 🙂 ) looking for a pick-me-up or if you’re someone else looking for a gift for a spoonie 🙂

  1. Manicure & Pedicure

My personal favorite way to pamper/spoil myself is to have my nails done! It’s a small thing, but it helps me feel a little more put together/fashionable even when I’m in my pjs all day 🙂

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  1. Hair – washed, cut, styled

It can be extremely difficult for many spoonies to wash their hair due to either orthostatic intolerances, heat intolerances, extreme fatigue, or having central lines that can’t get wet. Some girls really like going to a stylist to have their hair washed once a week and having it cut and styled every now and then is nice too!

  1. Bath package – salts, bubbles, oils

Baths can be both relaxing and pain relieving for many individuals with chronic pain. Essential oils and epsom bath salts are great for pain and bubbles are just fun!

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  1. Flowers

Who doesn’t love flowers? As long as there’s no major allergy, flowers are a great pick-me-up. Especially if they’re a surprise!

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  1. Makeup

A lot of girls do their makeup every day, even if they don’t go anywhere. It just helps them feel like a “real person,” less sickly looking. My mom used to say that if you dressed up and looked nice, you’d feel good, too. Sometimes I think it’s true 🙂

  1. Cute PJs

When you spend a lot of time bed bound or homebound, it’s nice to have some cute, comfy PJ options. Being able to change into fresh PJs is refreshing—even if they are just PJs 🙂

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  1. Lotion, Body Spray, Body Wash Package

Every girl wants to smell good, right? Again, watch for allergies, but this is another good option for a gift!

  1. Fuzzy, warm everything!

Blankets, socks, cute leggings; comforting, warm, good for appointments and car rides—great fall/winter comforts.

 

There are plenty of other ways people like to treat themselves or care for themselves, but these are a few from the top of the list!

Whether you’re sick or healthy, it’s important to care for yourself and treat yourself every now and then.

 

A Guest Post: Does My Illness Define Me?

This is a topic widely discussed within the chronic illness community. You’ll see people saying everywhere, “Don’t let your illness define you.”

You know what? No, my illness doesn’t define me, but it is ONE of the things that defines me. But just here is a list of other things that define me:

My favorite color.
My favorite TV show.
My favorite animal.
The thoughts that go through my mind before I go to sleep.
What causes I feel passionate about.
What I like to do in my spare time.
What kind of characteristics I’m drawn to in a friend.
The way I react to specific types of situations.
The little things that make me laugh.
How introverted or extroverted I am.
What situations I tend to shy away from.
How I treat strangers.
How I treat my friends.
My goals and aspirations.
What makes you grateful.
The people you love.

And then there’s the debate. Does my health status go on that list? I’m not sure it absolutely goes on that list. But I can tell you without a doubt that my chronic illness affects almost every single thing on that list. And yeah, that makes it a big part of me in the end.

For example, the things that make me grateful have changed since I became sick. I’m grateful now for things that I previously wouldn’t have even known to be grateful for because of my illness. I treat strangers differently now because you never know what they’re going through. I do activities in my spare time that my abilities allow me to do. I feel extremely passionate about raising awareness for these causes that I may never have even been aware of had I not gone through this.

A very wise woman named Kerri Sparling, who has Type 1 Diabetes, coined the quote “Diabetes doesn’t define me, but it helps explain me.” And to me, that’s an incredible way of saying it.

I think the phrase “Don’t let your illness define you” should change to “Don’t let your illness be the only thing that defines you.” Because it is inherently a part of us, even if we didn’t choose it. But each and every one of us have other things that explain who we are even better than our illness does. And sometimes I do like to choose to focus on that.

 

Blog post by Michelle Auerbach. For more from her, check out her blog at http://www.lovelightandinsulin.ca/?m=1

 

Why I Continue to Avoid TPN as a Young Gastroparesis and Generalized Dysmotility Patient

I’m about to hit my 3 year mark of being tube fed. I never would have imagined that I would be 21 and fed through a tube in my gut, but it isn’t my last choice as far as alternative nutrition options go.

I’ve been asked and offered many times to go (back) on TPN, or total parenteral nutrition, which is nutrition that goes straight into your veins. This option gives you full nutrition—protein, fats, vitamins, etc—and can be tailored to your exact needs.

Because my intestines and colon are delayed (they don’t process food or feeds at a “normal” rate), I don’t get in enough feeds to meet my calorie goals and I haven’t been able to gain back any weight. My BMI is considered extremely low and some of my doctors would really like me to go back on TPN. For those who don’t know much about TPN and for those who have never had to make the choices I have, I’m going to try to explain to you why I – as well as many of the other girls in the same situation—want to avoid TPN for as long as possible.

Although TPN is complete nutrition, and it probably sounds like a great option to many of you reading, it comes with many risks. TPN requires you to have a central line or a long term IV that goes deep into a large vein and then straight to your heart. These can get infected easily and lead to sepsis, which if not caught in time can be life threatening.

While tube feeding is much more natural and forces your GI tract to at least try to function, TPN leaves the GI tract to shut down completely. For someone with dysmotility (lack of movement), this can mean there is little to no chance of returning to tube feeding or eating if another treatment option becomes available after they start TPN.

TPN also puts you at a higher risk for glucose abnormalities and liver dysfunction. The damage to the liver can be so serious it can cause you to be unable to run TPN or even require a transplant if not caught in time. While on TPN, you are required to do weekly blood work, blood sugar monitoring, and weigh ins. TPN can also cause volume overload, metabolic bone disease, and reactions to lipids (fats) such as nausea, headache, back pain, sweating, and dizziness.

So there are many, many undesired side effects from TPN. But aside from side effects, TPN is scary because for those of us with gastroparesis and intestinal dysmotility, TPN is our last option. To go on TPN means to admit that our intestines are no longer functional enough even just for tube feeds. It means we can’t eat, we can’t tube feed, and we may not return to either.

Yes, some people go on TPN and come off of it able to tube feed or even eat again. Some people only use TPN to supplement their tube feeds or oral intake. Everyone’s case is different and TPN helps so many people live a more “normal” life because it does provide full nutrition; it can boost your energy and help you regain strength and muscle that is lost from malnutrition. TPN saves the lives of many starving patients with gastroparesis and generalized intestinal dysmotility.

That said, it doesn’t make it any less scary. Losing the ability to eat is one of the most confusing and complicated things you can imagine. Going from eating orally to being fed through a tube is one of the strangest and hardest adjustments I’ve had to make, but knowing I could lose the ability to feed even through a tube in my gut is even harder to accept.

TPN is a miracle for so many people, but it is also a nightmare for many of us. It’s what can help us live, but also what can put our lives at risk. I’ve been on TPN before, and I fight my body (and sometimes my doctors) every day not to go back to it. You can’t understand what it’s like to go through this until you’ve been the patient, but I hope that everyone—doctors, nurses, family member, friends—can try to understand how hard it is on the patient to make these decisions and all someone needs during that time is support and love.

A Glimpse at Inaccessibility From a First Time Wheelchair User

The other day I had my first experience using a wheelchair in public. Out of four and a half years of being chronically ill I’ve reserved wheelchair use to rolling in and out of the hospital, mostly out of pride. My illnesses limit me in so many ways, I didn’t want to allow it to take any other ability from me either. So instead of using a wheelchair as an aide when I was sick and weak, I powered through or sat on the sidelines. Recently, I decided letting life go by because I’m too stubborn to admit I need help is silly and I ventured out for a day of shopping with my girlfriend. I made it through the first few stores leaning on the shopping cart as support but by the end of the day it was clear I needed to use a wheelchair. I expected the stares from strangers but what I didn’t expect was the blatant inaccessibility “accessible” places are.

Because I was too weak, I required my girlfriend to push me. This tied up her hands and crossed out the option of a shopping cart or basket to carry our items. Suddenly I found lap full of various things we wanted to purchase. While this wasn’t a huge pain this time, it would’ve been a problem if we were buying more or heavier items. How can shops expect a wheelchair user to navigate with either a small basket attached to a motorized cart or no basket at all?

The second thing that was an issue was my sight line was cut in half making it impossible to see the higher selves and options on them. While shopping in one of my favorite stores, I found myself able to see only about half of what I normally experience while shopping. And forget trying to reach anything on a high self, it was hard enough to grab things from my sitting position in the wheelchair.

But by far the biggest problem we ran into (pun intended) was the fact that the aisles weren’t wide enough. I’m sure anyone will admit the aisles in stores are narrow and navigating it with a shopping cart is hard enough, but I never imagined how hard it would be to find my way in a wide wheelchair that wasn’t exactly fantastic at taking turns. We found ourselves bumping into corners and trying to wiggle our way out of the line of other shoppers trying to pass.

Until this recent experience, the inaccessibility of stores was never forefront in my mind. I knew my friends who use wheelchairs often encountered issues while shopping, I just never realized how frustrating and inconvenient it was. Making sure spaces are accessible is extremely important, but so is ensuring those spaces are truly accessible for all.

Blog by Carolanne Monteleone

You can find more by Carolanne @aheartforhumanity.wordpress.com