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:)

 

 

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.

A bit of an Update

It has been way too long since I’ve posted. I’ve been struggling with symptoms affecting both my mind and my body and I just haven’t had the brain power/energy to finish a post! My illness is a physical illness, but it stems from my brain and my autonomic nervous system so I have both neurological and physical symptoms, many of which are “invisible” to anyone who doesn’t know about them.

I’ve written before about how my Dysautonomia causes severe brain fog—this includes problems with word finding and sentence formation, short term memory loss, trouble focusing/short attention span, and a lot of day dreaming/zoning out. Right now my Dysautonomia is flaring because I had a virus and I’m not getting the full 2 liters of IV fluids I am supposed to get because of a back order that is in place due to the hurricanes that took out a major supplier in Puerto Rico.

Not only is this flare causing me to have extreme brain fog, but I’m having other symptoms as well such as falling asleep or losing consciousness while sitting or standing due to lack of blood flow to my brain. This is a common problem for those with NCS (one of the types of Dysautonomia that I have) but it is not only terribly annoying and embarrassing, it’s debilitating and limiting because I can’t drive or plan anything that involves standing or sitting for too long, and it’s hard to be around other people because I can fall asleep mid-sentence or even worse, in the middle of someone else’s sentence! Let’s just say I won’t be going on any first dates any time soon 😉

Because of my flare of Dysautonomia as well as an increase in severity of my migraines, I also struggle with overstimulation or hypersensitivity to sound, noise, touch, and smell. Overstimulation is something that a lot of people would think of in relation to autism or ADD in children, but it’s something I, as an adult, struggle with every day. Any loud or repetitive noises or bright, colorful, or flashing lights can send me into a terrible episode of overstimulation that leaves me in full body pain and spasms as well as with a migraine that doesn’t respond to medication. Some days my skin hurts to the touch like there’s a bruise spread across my whole body. Before my diagnosis my family thought I was just crazy and picky about noises, but now we know my brain really just can’t handle a lot of these noises, lights, etc.

Winter is always a challenge for me because I deal with intense pain flare ups due to the cold, lots of migraines, and my GI system always gets even worse than normal once I hit November/December, this year just seems to be throwing a few curve balls at me with the neurological symptoms being so significant on top of the normal flares.

Luckily I’ve learned how to adapt and work around most of these symptoms so I’ve still enjoyed getting ready for Christmas and our Christmas day was lovely and (relatively) peaceful. It’s so nice having my family home for an extended break—having company and my care team here makes things both easier and much more fun J

I hope to start being able to use my brain a little more so I can update on some more things and also share more about my Newbie Tubies Project and how I’m hoping to get that going by the New Year!

Thanks for reading, Happy Holidays!

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 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

 

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

A Word From Many: Ehlers Danlos Syndrome

As part of Ehlers Danlos Awareness Month I asked a large group of women with EDS to describe their journey with this condition in one word. Whether it be their most common symptom, an adjective that explains how their life has been affected, or an emotion that describes what EDS means to them, I just wanted to hear what EDS is to each person. I took all of these words and put them together to share in hopes that they will show how brutal EDS can be to so many people, but also to show the incredible strength that it brings to it’s sufferers and as a reminder that no one fights this alone.

So again, these words come from over a hundred different women– not just me! Many of the words were suggested by more than one person; the most commonly used ones are in the largest print. I don’t share these seeking pity, but because those living with EDS live complicated lives full of so many symptoms, emotions, and stressors that go unseen. Awareness month may be over, but every day we will continue to fight for better treatments, more awareness and understanding, and we will continue to fight for our lives.

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