Tips for Tubies: Tubie Love & Acceptance

I never could have imagined needing a feeding tube at 18 years old, and now, at 22 years old, I am still relying on my tube(s) — now I have two tubes and a central line. I’ve had tubes for so long and learned so much that now I’m able to teach others about them! My life took a huge change in direction when my health took a turn for the worst and had my tube placed; suddenly I was experiencing so many changes in my lifestyle and my body. I began to feel like I had zero control over my own body, and everything I had planned for my life, my future, began to slip away with every day, month, year, that my illnesses progressed. My feeding tubes took a little while to get used to, physically and mentally, because they cause bloating, they stick out through certain clothes, and they can leak and be kinda gross…but they also saved my life.

Learning to love your feeding tubes as well as yourself, both your body and your lifestyle, can be a challenge at first…I struggled for a long time to find confidence and acceptance of both my body and my tubes, I still struggle almost every day to pick out a shirt that doesn’t hug my tubes or my central line too tight or pants with a waistline that doesn’t hit my jtube… it’s not easy to feel confident when you feel like you’re the only one who looks like this, the only one with tubes, alone in the journey you’re facing.. my goal is to help others feel less alone.

Here are a few of my tips for adjusting to tube life and learning to accept the tubes as well as all of the way those tubes affect you, your body, and your lifestyle..

 

1. It can be hard adjusting to tube feeding and not feeling in control of your own body, but you should never feel ashamed of the tubes or the changes they can bring to your body. These tubes keep you alive every day. It may take time to come to accepting this addition to your body, and that’s absolutely okay, totally normal; but always remember that health comes first!

2. You get a feeding tube to restore your body and increase both strength and energy. Feeding tubes may be a bit of a pain, but they are meant to give you your life back, not take it away. Never give up on your dreams or your goals, although everyone’s healing times are different, and we all have different underlying causes/conditions, feeding tubes themselves don’t need to be looked at as a disability or a limitation; in fact, for many, they are the opposite.

3. Trying to eat while you’re a tubie is not anything to be ashamed of, and it does not invalidate your need for your tubes. Many people (with tubes) have a couple “safe foods” or still drink liquids, some can only suck on a piece of candy here or there, but either way, food or no food, you are still you, and only you know your body. If you can tolerate any oral intake and your doctor is okay with it, attempting to keep your system “awake” even with an occasional, tiny snack can be good and in no way invalidates your need for a tube.

4. Try to stay social! Being so sick and having a surgery like this often leaves one feeling exhausted, worn out both physically and mentally from the pain and inability to care for ones self; when getting out of bed is a painful challenge and showering takes more energy than was stored up for a whole week, it’s easy to get discouraged . Getting dressed and going out takes a ton of energy, but it is so good to get out, it’s too easy to become isolated! Friends will only take rejection so many times before they stop asking to hang out; even just suggesting a movie night or spa day at home is a great option to see friends, make plans, but not use as much energy. Your health comes first, but part of taking care of yourself means taking care of your mental/emotional health too, and having a healthy social life and support network is so important during times like these.

5. Feeling down in the dumps? During recovery and during challenging times throughout your journey it is so easy to slip into a “chronic illness mindset,”  which essentially means that to some degree, many have a time of feeling a loss and grievance over a “pre-illness” self, a self that can begin to disappear when illness takes over and we lose some of our abilities to function in the “normal” ways, or in the “normal,” functioning world.

If you sense yourself falling into one of these times, I highly suggest finding a way to remind yourself of your goals, your dreams, yourself. Try creating a vision board, definitely one of my favorite ways to remind myself of where I was before illness and where I want to go now, what I want to do in my future, and all of the things past, present, and future that give me hope and motivation. Just begin by thinking of all of your goals and dreams, even the totally unrealistic ones (being a mermaid, traveling the world in 30 days, learning to fly, etc.), and cut out pictures and words and quotes in bright, bold photos or lettering and then make a collage on cardboard or a tack board, heck put it on your wall if you want!  Hang it in a place where you spend the most time and allow it to encourage happy thoughts and positive thinking 🙂

I know people saying “mind over matter” and “just think positively, distract yourself” can be really frustrating or degrading, but positivity really is important if you want to make it through these transition periods and through your journey with chronic illnesses in general.

 

I plan to continue with more tips soon as well as some personal experiences with tubes, both good and bad 🙂 I am also going to be making a new vision board, and I will post a guide of how I did it when I can 🙂

Thanks for reading, don’t forget to check out the tubie items & artwork in the shop! Every purchase supports the Newbie Tubie Project, enabling us to send out another package & help another tubie adjust to life with tubes.

xoxo

 

 

** i am not a medical professional, just an experienced tubie sharing my experiences as well as those of other tubies who help me compile information to help inform others about what “tubie life” is like and how to make the best of it 🙂 Please consult your physicians before changing any medical treatments/procedures.

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.

 

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! 🙂

Father’s Day

People always say that everyone knows each other in a small town; well I grew up in a small town where my dad was the principal at the local elementary school, so in my experience, that statement in pretty accurate. For as long as I can remember I’ve had strangers coming up to me in stores, schools, restaurants, and on the sidewalks just to tell me how amazing my dad is or reminiscing about their times with him.

My dad isn’t just known around town though, he is known throughout the county as the best administrator and an all around great guy. When he left one elementary school and moved to the next, teachers from the first applied for jobs at the new school to try to stay with him. When he left the last school and started working in Central Office, teachers and parents were devastated; it’s been a year and I still have people telling me how much they miss him and all he did for that school.

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Dad did a fundraiser and got taped to a wall! Did I mention he has a great sense of humor? 🙂

My dad is known to be incredibly smart and empathetic; his co-workers used to tell me all the time that they loved him so much because he cared about everyone. He will always listen and he will always do his best to help someone if he can; he’s about doing what’s right and what’s going to help people. He always wanted to help the children, the parents, and the teachers and their families. I could tell so many stories, but watching him work and do all he did for his students made me so proud to be his daughter.

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One of our favorite places! And of course, laura photo bombs!

 

Dad loves his job, and he has always been incredibly passionate about it, but if there’s one thing he is even better at, it’s being a dad. (sappy, right?) Dad was blessed with three daughters—we like to joke about how surrounded he is with females all the time 🙂 If you have daughters, you know we can be a… challenge. We can be stubborn, have attitudes, have boy problems, give killer silent treatments, hold grudges, be a little emotional, and pout like crazy. But we also love hard, show gratitude, laugh a lot, give great hugs, aren’t afraid to express emotion, love family time, and so much more. I think my dad would tell you we are worth the hard work.

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I’ve looked up to my dad for as long as I can remember. He used to tuck me into bed and say my prayers with me every night. We had “special time” with Dad when we were little where he would take us girls out without mom and we would get pretzels at the mall or see a movie and he would buy us presents. I was SO excited when I found out he would be my principal in 3rd grade, even though it meant we had to move to a new town. We shared a love for oreo ice cream. He took me to all of my swim practices and out of town meets. My dad taught me how to drive, I went to the same college he did (hopefully I’ll go back!). Now he drives me to the doctor all the time, spends countless hours talking to doctors, nurses, insurance agents, and pharmacists on the phone, and is by my side no matter what.

Life is unpredictable and it’s thrown a ton of curve balls at us, but my dad is always around to help figure it out.

I love you Dad, Happy Father’s Day!

Adventures of a Tubie

Have you ever had to make a decision between what may be smart or practical vs. what would make you happy or what would be fun? People often make these choices in small ways every day when it comes to choices about what’s for dinner, whether to study or go out with friends, what to wear, etc. One of the biggest lessons I have learned in my journey with chronic illnesses is that life is short and sometimes it’s worth a little bit of impracticality if you’re just in need of some fun.

I spend a lot of time taking care of myself and majority of the time my health comes first. I have a lot of doctors appointments and I spend anywhere from 16-20 hours a day hooked up to my IV pole on various tubes for infusions and feeds. I take countless daily and as needed medications and require a great deal of rest due to chronic fatigue and pain. That said, after a rough recent admission—which you can read about in a recent article here—my parents and I decided that I am in need of some fun.

I have some fabulous friends who live with similar health conditions that I do, but most of them live hours, states, and even countries away! Taylor is one of my best friends and she lives in Texas; she has two or three of the same conditions I have and has a feeding tube! Taylor came to visit me and our other friend, Macy, last summer and we had an amazing time! We have had two other trips planned but both fell through due to our health at the time.

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You’d never know each of us have tubes, central lines, and a handful of chronic illnesses! This time together was so precious.

Well, even though my health is not currently considered “good” or even stable, I’m going to go visit Taylor! I will fly to see her and spend a week with her in Texas! Considering most days I hardly leave my house right now, this is a huge undertaking for me, but it will be so good for my spirit. And although we are both in our early/mid twenties, Taylor and I are both quite sick and have similar restrictions so we will be good company for one another 🙂

I am so excited for this trip. I do have some anxiety about flying and traveling by myself and I know that I will need a long time to recover when I get home, but it is totally worth it. Although I can’t escape my body and my illnesses, I can take a small break from all of the stress that comes along with appointments, phone calls, insurance, etc. (or at least I can try!).

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Sometimes you just gotta pretend you’re a normal 21/24 year old and duck face it out 🙂

This trip does not mean I’m feeling better or I’m recovering, it just means I’m doing something that is fun and something that will make me happy. I’m taking time to be young and savor this part of my life as much as I can. We don’t have time to waste, so even if all Taylor and I do is watch movies and talk and nap, it is so worth it. Even if it takes me two months of sleeping when I get home, it is so worth it.

Don’t forget to choose the option that will make you happy sometimes, even if it may not be practical.

Thanks for reading.

xoxo

Why I Sometimes Choose not to Listen to my Body

When you’re sick for a long period of time, you become very in tune with your body. I’ve learned how to listen to its cues and I can often tell what kind of day I’m going to have or when certain symptoms are escalating and I can then plan my day accordingly. However, I’ve also learned that sometimes it’s okay to hear my body out and then choose not to listen to it.

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A recent outing to visit a friend who has alpacas! One of my favorite animals 🙂

Right now I’m at a point in my illness where I don’t get many great days. I have days that are less symptomatic, sure. But every day I’m experiencing pain, severe nausea, migraines, and fatigue. I spend most of my time in bed, sleeping all night and much of the day. I am often pretty uncomfortable when I am up and moving around.

That said, when I get the opportunity to do something fun, sometimes I have to tell my body that I don’t care what it thinks, I’m just going to do it. For instance, my dad got 2 free tickets to the UVA basketball game this weekend and my little sister, who is a huge fan, couldn’t go. Obviously, I love UVA basketball, but events like that aren’t easy for me to attend. This is something that my dad and I used to love to do together and I haven’t been to a game since I was in school there two years ago, so I decided to fight my body and take advantage of the opportunity.

I’ve been in a flare up all week because it was an antibiotic treatment week and those always take a lot out of me. Because I’m low energy and high needs, preparation for me to go on an outing like this takes a lot more time and planning than it does for most people. I showered the night before because I always have to nap after showers—they exhaust me and always leave me with a migraine. When I woke up on Saturday morning (for the first time) I did a bag of IV fluids and did my morning meds a few hours earlier than normal because they make me sick to my stomach. I took three different nausea meds by 8:00am and made the final decision that I was going to go with Dad to the game. I stayed in bed finishing my tube feeds and trying to rest and control my pain/nausea until about 11am—the game was at 2pm.

As I said, for me, this game is a huge outing. So, I had to take enough nausea medication to last me at least 6 hours, pain medication, migraine meds, and all of the other supplies that go along with my tube and port. I also take sunglasses and a mask for the car because of my light sensitivity, a heating pad, lidocaine patches on my back and my stomach, and lots of germ-x! I’m nearly 21 years old, but packing me up for a day trip is comparable to packing up a baby’s diaper bag, just swap diapers and toys for medical paraphernalia.

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Yay! We made it!

I love getting out and doing things that I loved doing before I got sick, but as you can see, it is quite a process now. Going to this game will likely land me in bed for days recovering from using so much energy and being so over stimulated, but being there reminded me how much love I have for UVA and getting out and having quality time with my dad that wasn’t a road trip to a doctors appointment was such a gift. I’m blessed to have a family that works hard to help me be able to have fun outings like this every now and then.

Some days, chronic illnesses just don’t get to win.

A “Non-Hallmark” Christmas

Let me start by saying that I love Christmas. I’m one of those people who is ready to start baking Christmas cookies and watching Christmas movies right after Thanksgiving (much to the dismay of my sisters 😉 ). The whole season just seems so… jolly! I love seeing people light up with holiday spirit; it just seems to bring out the best in people.

This holiday season I feel incredibly blessed in so many ways. We recently moved into a beautiful new home on an amazing piece of property. Although I sometimes miss our old house, I love living in the woods and our new home is so accommodating to my needs with my illnesses as well as the needs of my family.

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The new house!

I’m also so thankful for my family who continues to be by my side through my toughest times. I could (and probably will) write a whole blog post about how amazing my family is, but for now I’ll just say that I literally wouldn’t be here today without them.

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My family (minus one!) in NYC last Christmas! That trip just about did me in, but it was so fun!

I’m thankful for all sources of warmth—my home, my bed, my heating pads, my hats and coats, and all my fuzzy blankets. Of course I’m thankful for my dog, Baxter who keeps me company every day and brings so much joy to my life! And I am thankful to have good health insurance and a great set of doctors working with me to find a good treatment plan as my health continues to be a challenge. The list goes on, but the general idea is that I’m overwhelmed with gratitude during this holiday season.

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Little man in his Christmas sweater 🙂

That said, even though I love Christmas and I feel blessed to have so much to be thankful for this holiday season, over the years I have also come to understand that not everyone has a perfect “Hallmark Christmas.” Many of us are plagued by illness, loss of a loved one, poverty, family discord, and other things that may affect our holidays.

This will be my 4th Christmas living with severe chronic illnesses. My illnesses never keep me from having a joyful Christmas, but they do affect how I get to celebrate. My day won’t consist of eating Christmas brunch or Christmas dinner with my family, there won’t be any sweet treats in my stocking, and I won’t be running around outside or wrestling with my cousins like I used to do or sitting and sipping wine with my aunts and grandma.

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My delicious (not) Christmas dinner! At least my pole is festive 🙂

This time of year is actually when my illnesses tend to be at their worst. My pain levels are high, my nausea is relentless and completely overtakes me at times, I have daily migraines, and many days I’m asleep more than I’m awake. I’m incredibly thankful that this year I have the means to stay at home and out of the hospital for the holidays by relying on my feeding tube and my port (a central line in my chest that acts as a long term IV) to stay hydrated and get in enough nutrients to ride this flare through.

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Pretty much me right now.

My Christmas Day will include IV saline, tube feeds, nausea and pain medication, and napping in place of breakfast casseroles, eggnog, cookies, and snowball fights, but that doesn’t mean I won’t love it. My family helps make Christmas special for me every year; it may not be ideal, and it may not include any Christmas miracles, but I have so much I am thankful for and I will have so much to enjoy on Christmas day.

 

Not everyone has a perfect “Hallmark Christmas,” but that’s okay. Celebrate as much or as little as you are able. Celebrate in what ways make you happy. Take care of yourself this holiday season and help others do the same.

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Having these illnesses has really widened my perspective. It is important to keep in mind that not everyone has a perfect holiday as we go about celebrating this season. The holidays are a time of joy, love, generosity, and gratitude and it is so important that we keep that in mind as we share this time with our loved ones as well as with those we may not know as well. Not everyone is full of holiday cheer, and that isn’t a crime. I encourage you to always give people the benefit of the doubt and simply spread love this holiday season.