Welcoming in a New Day

Another year gone, already?! I’ve read and heard so many people saying that time is flying by or posting long facebook posts about all that was accomplished or what they learned in 2017 and what their goals are for the new year. And yes, sure, I could do the same, but in all honestly, my illnesses have changed my perspective on the passage of time and watching one year pass and another begin just isn’t as huge of a celebration anymore.

My life has changed drastically over the last 5-6 years and I’ve grown and learned so much, but I’ve also lost many parts of myself and so many aspects of my life that used to create that excitement and significance of a year passing.

I’ve been out of school full time for three years now, and by leaving school I also left my friends, my social life, and my education behind. At the time, I had no idea I was leaving for an indefinite amount of time, and now I’m watching my friends graduate, some of them have even gotten engaged (s/o to my first year hall-mates who just got engaged to their high school sweethearts <3), and many of my high school classmates have even settled down and started families.

Before leaving school and having my illness progress into an extremely severe case, I had so many goals and plans for my life, but being dependent on feeding tubes and a hickman line (a long term IV in my chest) for nutrition and hydration and being dependent on my parents for everything from setting up feeds and sorting my daily meds to driving me to appointments and staying endless nights in the hospital has really changed things for me.

I no longer look at the long term or “big picture,” but instead focus on getting through each day. Some days I just focus on getting through each hour, trying to survive the time between each dose of nausea or pain medication. My every day life can get monotonous at times when I am home bound or bed bound, sleeping more than I’m awake, awake only to take medications, go to the bathroom, start new feeds, etc. The days blur together when you do the same things every day and have little to look forward to. Although many of my days are full of pain and discomfort, its always possible to find something to laugh at, smile over, or appreciate.

Instead of looking back on what has gone on in the last year or thinking of what I can accomplish in a new year, I continue to focus on each day and every small beauty and accomplishment that occur in that day. Although I don’t have any huge plans for my future, I do have dreams and goals, and I’ve gotten really good at appreciating the small things in life, if you take time to look, there’s something positive in every day.

Passion Over Predictability

Its really easy for my mind to go towards thinking about how my illnesses have stolen any predictability about my future; how they took me out of school, have forced me to accept that I may never have my “dream” job or may not even be able to work a “real job” at all. For someone who loves to plan and always wanted to know what was next, living in such uncertainty can be daunting. I fear living a life lacking companionship and never getting to fall in love or find my true soul mate, but then I’m reminded that my illnesses have brought to light so much in myself  that I never would have discovered if I hadn’t gotten so sick in the first place.

Instead of focusing on the things I likely won’t be able to do, I’ve started to consider all that I CAN do. I’ve discovered so much about myself that I didn’t even know was there; I have new passions and I’ve discovered talents I had no idea were hidden within me until I got sick and I have a new understanding and a new level of empathy both for the people and the world around me.

Ive strengthened relationships with my loved ones and lost many people who weren’t able to stick by me through my trials, I’ve broadened my outlook and see things in such a new and brighter perspective, and I’ve found passions that give my life more meaning than just being the “sick girl,” no matter what my body has in store.

Although I can’t eat, I’ve developed a relationship with food through cooking meals for my family. I love creating new recipes and trying new techniques with home made goods. Some people are shocked by my love for cooking, but it’s something I’ve always loved and now it’s a way for me to “enjoy meals” with my family.

I’ve rekindled my passion for photography and developed a love for painting– this one I don’t think anyone would have expected. I’ve never been the artist of the family, and although I can’t draw anything, I do have an eye for color, and I’ve found some painting techniques that work for me. Because I’ve discovered these passions and because people (not just my parents 😉 ) started buying my paintings, it has given me hope that even if I can’t graduate from college or work as a full time behavioral therapist like I had hoped, maybe there’s something more out there for me.

I’m blessed to have a community here at home as well as through chronic illness support groups online that support me in every way they can. I’ve had so much support from my local community and I’m so so thankful for each and every one of you. I also have a truly amazing family that does everything from help me with medications/treatments, drive me places, and help with any other around the house/medical things I need and they also help me be able to follow my passions and set me up for success. Not everyone in my situation is so lucky.

Chronic illnesses are exhausting and isolating, they take away so many parts of our lives that we use to identify ourselves. If you’re going to survive it with some sanity, you have to make a choice to not let your illness be the only thing that defines your life– it is always part of what defines you, but if you don’t have other distractions and passions, you’ll just about lose your mind.

 

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.

IMG_8080.jpg
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.

IMG_8038.jpg
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.

DSC_0114.JPG
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!

Learning to Live in Today

This week, while the class I began school with started their fourth year of college, I started my third year of medical leave.

People often ask me if it makes me sad to see posts about college or to drive through grounds when I’m headed to the hospital, but mostly what I feel is disbelief. How has it been so long? Does life really move on so easily without me? Will I ever get to be “normal” again? Do I even know what that means and could I return to it if I tried?

At a young age we start to understand that our lives follow a guided path; sure, everyone’s is different and we all stray from that path at times, but in general, it is set up for us. We grow up being loved and cared for, we learn right vs. wrong, we go to school and hopefully graduate. From there, you either get a job or “further your education,” aka more school. Some people get married, some have children, some do neither. The order isn’t the same for everyone, but we all make plans and in general, most people end up following some variance of “the path,” as I’m calling it.

Well, my path was altered in high school. I got (really) sick when I was about 16. It took me years to get real answers, in reality, I’m continuing to seek more answers to this day, but since getting sick, my life has been anything but “normal.” I spent time on homebound from high school, I did one year of college before withdrawing on medical leave, I’ve lost countless friends because of these illnesses, and I’ve lost any firm perspective on what my future may hold. However, I’ve also grown and become a stronger and wiser person.

Do I wish I were starting my fourth year with my friends right now? Of course. But I’ve learned that we can’t always predict where we will be in four years or four months or even four days…

You don’t have to fit anyone else’s mold. Yes, go to college; study whatever you want! Or, take a gap year. Travel. Volunteer. Be an actress, an athlete, an architect, a doctor, a musician. Be a stay at home mom, a stay at home dad. Be you.

Most importantly, don’t hold back. Splurge where ever you can, big or small. Do all you can to live in the moment and enjoy every possible second. Today, right now, is all you have. Now don’t go spending your family’s life savings on lottery tickets or a trip to vegas using the excuse “Rachel told you to,” but buy yourself something you’ve been wanting when you get your paycheck, just because you earned it. Take your parents or your family out to eat just because they deserve it. Do something just because it makes you or someone else smile, do it just to make memories.

Life is beautiful, but it is short and unpredictable. Throw caution to the wind and always follow your heart.

Desensitized to The Diagnosis

Yesterday I got a new diagnosis. But in all honesty, a new diagnosis doesn’t phase me much anymore. When I was 16 I got my first diagnosis, Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS), but I had no idea that 5 years later I would have more diagnoses than I can count on both hands.

In 2016 I was diagnosed with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, a genetic condition that affects connective tissue and collagen in your body. For me, this diagnosis explained a lot. I had already been diagnosed with Dysautnomia/POTS/NCS as well as Gastroparesis and generalized dysmotility in my colon and intestines. I had been struggling with unexplained chronic joint and nerve pain and I finally had an answer; although EDS wasn’t an easy answer and it meant I will likely never be completely free of illness, I finally had answers.

You probably won’t understand this unless you’re chronically ill, but after receiving that diagnosis, the ones that followed haven’t been surprising to hear or hard to accept. EDS has a lot of co-morbid conditions, and as mine has progressed and as I’ve seen more specialists, I’ve collected a nice array of conditions. Because I know my illness and understand what it can cause, I’m prepared for all of the co-morbid conditions it can bring on.

It’s never good news when I get another diagnosis, but I like to think that a diagnosis simply means we are moving forward towards treatments and answers, it doesn’t actually change anything symptom wise. I’m the same as I was before the diagnosis, I just have more answers and another syndrome/condition on my records. Usually a diagnosis actually brings me more relief because doctors actually start treating a conditions once it has a label and is no longer just unexplained symptoms.

I don’t mean to minimize the severity or seriousness of chronic illness; every illness I have I take very seriously and we treat each to the best of our ability. But after being sick for so, so long and being diagnosed with so many things, there is a desensitization to the process. Maybe it’s a protective mechanism, a coping mechanism, or maybe it’s just because it becomes your life, but just because I’m progressively ill doesn’t mean I have to let each diagnosis set me back.

A Battle With The System: Fighting For Treatment

Nine months ago my motility specialist gave me three treatment options. My digestive tract paralysis had progressed from my stomach into my intestines and colon and there just isn’t much they can do for that.

Option one– a specific medication –was quickly ruled out due to risks with another condition I have and the third option is not doable either, so we were left with one option.

Our one treatment option was IVIG therapy, or IV immunoglobulin therapy. This is a treatment that focuses on rebooting the immune system and can sometimes help reset some of the issues with the central nervous system. It’s used to treat immune deficiencies and other conditions that can lead to a weak immune system. For me, the goal is to boost my system in hopes that my digestive tract will be positively affected. There are no guarantees and it’s only about a 50/50 chance that it would make any difference at all for me, but it is our best and only real option right now.

It’s been nine months since we put the prescriptions in for that and I’ve been denied by insurance twice. My illnesses aren’t on their list of conditions that require IVIG for treatment and each round of IVIG costs $10-15,000, so it’s not easy to get approved for patients like me.

That said, this is my only option for treatment that may help me improve, not just keep me comfortable. Even if all it does is help me tolerate my tube feeds better and have less pain or nausea, it would be a huge victory. This is what my doctors think I need. So being denied the opportunity to try it is really upsetting; sadly, we see this happen a lot in the chronic illness community.

Our medical system is a money making business, so a lot of medications and treatments take pre-authorization, out of pocket co-pays, repeated appeals, and some are not covered at all. But for those of us with severe, chronic and progressive illnesses, this can make it hard for us to live any semblance of a “normal” life.

I am so thankful to have good health insurance, but the hoops I have to jump through and the delays in my care are extremely frustrating at times. My parents and I spend hours each month calling the insurance agency and calling doctors and pharmacies to advocate for the treatments I need. I’m lucky to have people who fight for my care when I’m not strong enough to do it myself, not everyone is that blessed.

If our doctors prescribe us a medication or treatment option that they think is vital to our health care, insurance agencies should not be so quick to deny it. The lives and well being of patients should be the first concern of every part of our medical system.