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.

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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A Response to The AHCA From One of The Millions Left Behind

Yesterday the House Republicans approved the American Health Care Act—their replacement for the Affordable Care Act. Although it still needs to pass through the Senate, my heart, along with the hearts of many other Americans, was left very heavy after this vote.

Although Donald Trump claimed that his bill would provide health care for everyone while also leading to tax cuts and a better budget for our country, if you look deeper into the bill you will see that this is a blatant lie. The AHCA claims that it “maintains protections for people with preexisting conditions, with some important exceptions.” It then asks you to “see waivers below.”

The waiver section of the bill allows for state-level full repeals of Obamacare. Each state has the ability to apply for waivers to opt out of regulations and protections from the ACA. There are three main waivers for each state:

  1. Charge older people more than five times what they charge young people for the same policy
  2. Eliminate required coverage, or essential health benefits, including maternity care, mental health, and prescription medications
  3. Charge more for or deny coverage to people who have preexisting health conditions including but not limited to cancer, diabetes, and domestic abuse

Okay… so #1… aren’t we supposed to be moving away from inequality in America? Clearly this ageist fine print is harmful towards our senior citizens when in reality we should be taking care of our elderly, not robbing them.

#2…. Our maternity care is already extremely lacking compared to other industrialized nations, so why are we moving further backwards? We should be extending our maternity care and offering longer paid leave for both parents after childbirth, not taking maternity care away. As for planned parenthood, only 3% of their funds go towards abortion, so let’s not even talk about how ridiculous it is to defund them when they provide extremely important care to high risk women all over the country.

Our mental health system is already WAY too hard to work with. Individuals with severe mental health struggles are living on the streets, struggling to find homes and jobs, and trying their hardest every day just to get through the day. If someone with severe bipolar, depression, schizophrenia, paranoia, or a personality disorder is left without a support system and doesn’t have a treatment plan, it can be extremely difficult for them to succeed or even survive in this world. Why would we make it harder for them to get adequate treatment? Mental health is not at the fault of the individual, and we should not treat them like it is.

As far as prescription medications go, I can tell you I max out my insurance in a month or two max every year. I’m on 20+ prescription medications if you include all of my oral medications, tube medications, IV medications, infusions, and tube feeds. If I lose my health insurance, I won’t be able to afford these treatments and I don’t even want to think about what happens then.

#3.. okay this is where I really get heated, and considering I’ve already been typing up a storm, you’d better prepare yourself.

Let’s start with the quote from our good GOP friend, Congressman Brooks, “My understanding is that the new proposal will allow insurance companies to require people who have higher health care costs to contribute more to the insurance pool. That helps offset all these costs, thereby reducing the cost to those people who lead good lives, they’re healthy, they’ve done good thing to keep they’re bodies healthy. And right now, those are the people, who’ve done things the right way, that are seeing their costs skyrocketing.”

So basically he is saying that “good people,” aka healthy people, should pay less because they have “lived better lives.” Well, I am a sick person. I am a sick person who is likely going to be sick for a very long time. However, I am a good person despite being ill. Before getting sick, I was a good student, I volunteered regularly, I ate healthy and went gym all the time, I was an athlete, I got into a great college, I had friends. Now I cook for my family, I take care of myself the best that I can, I still volunteer as I am able, I write and paint and have a positive attitude about my situation. So, what makes me less of a person? I’m not trying to brag about myself, I’m just making a point. I know not all GOP congressmen and legislators are quite this dumb, but people with illnesses do not deserve to be treated with disrespect.

But chronic illnesses like mine aren’t the only ones that this bill considers “pre existing” conditions. Yes, my illnesses are pre-existing, but so are cancer, depression, anxiety, acne, and over 50 other conditions. What’s even more shocking is that rape and domestic abuse are considered pre existing conditions! Uhm.. excuse me? In what world is it fair to make the victim of a sexual assault pay more for health insurance than her attacker pays? What about the husbands who abuse their wives? What affect will these rules have on the victims coming forward? Will attackers pay more, too? Where is the equality in that?

What makes my life worth less? The fact that I have a chronic illness? Is the life of someone with mental illness worth denying them a psychiatrist? What if it costs them their life? Is a rape victim’s life worth less than that of their rapist? A domestic abuse victim less than their spouse? Is a special needs child’s life worth less than their sibling or classmate? Where does it end? Where does this new America stop choosing money over lives?