When I was little I could only wear my socks inside out because I couldn’t stand the feeling of the seam rubbing on my toes. We tried buying “seamless” socks, but let me warn you, they still have seams, they’re just really, really thin. I would fuss and cry and refuse to put on tennis shoes because the feeling of that seam rubbing on my foot caused me extreme discomfort, if not true pain. Back then, my family thought I was just a crazy kid who hated socks and couldn’t have any bumps in her hair for a ponytail, but none of us had a clue what was really going on.
You may wonder why the heck it matters that I hated socks as a child, but I’m getting to that. “Overstimulation” is a term that most people don’t often think of in reference to adults, but its something that greatly affects me in my every day life. No, I don’t have ADHD and I don’t have autism, but my Dysautonomia functions in the same area of the brain as ADHD and Autism and can affect the same nerves in my frontal lobes that would be affected if I did have ADHD or Autism.
Because I have both Dysautonomia (dysfunction of the autonomic nervous system) AND chronic migraines, plus both chronic joint pain and fibromyalgia, my sensitivities have just kept growing and growing. It started with socks and small sounds that I just could not get over—people chewing loudly, my window fan making the smallest clicking or rattling noises that no one else could pick out, or birds waking me up by cheeping outside of my window, giving me headaches and starting my day out in a funk on beautiful spring mornings. Now, I hear everything, and it echoes in my head making not only my migraine worse, but causing me pain throughout my whole body.
I’ve had headaches for as long as I can remember; in 5th grade I was complaining to my parents and my doctors about painful, daily headaches, but since I was around the time of hitting puberty they figured my hormones were starting to change and it was due to that. It wouldn’t be until about 5 years later that I saw my first neurologist and finally started making some progress towards figuring out exactly why sounds and lights and touch could be so hard for me.
I was diagnosed with Dysautonomia/POTS and chronic migraines. They called me their guinea pig because I was their youngest patient to date and they just couldn’t figure out all of the pieces, but my neurologist helped get me on a good migraine medication that helped minimize symptoms for awhile, until I started building up tolerances and developing new symptoms. It only took about a year to be sent to new specialists at a different hospital, and eventually higher level specialists in a new state, and then even higher level doctors in a specialty clinic over 7 hours away.
Six years later and my migraines are still not managed and my sensitivities to sound, noise, touch, and even smell are more sensitive than ever. When you hear someone say, “migraines are more than just a headache,” it’s no joke. Just my family members eating cereal or soup and having spoons hitting bowls repeatedly is enough to send me into full body pain. Having the TV on and conversations going overwhelms me so much that I end up fully zoning out and having no clue what the person is saying to me. I can’t be in the same room with my own family when there are certain noises or activities and that is extremely upsetting both for me and for them. It’s taken time for them to realize it’s a real, explained symptom for me and it is still hard for me to grip without feeling a lot of guilt and sadness.
Today, my nerve pain and sensitivity keeps me from wearing jewelry on my wrists or neck. On bad days, I can’t stand to have my hair touching my neck or the cord of my heating pad rubbing against my leg in bed. On worse days, I don’t want to be touched or even touch my own skin because my body feels like one giant bruise. I can’t put lotion on, get dressed, take a shower, or do any daily self-care tasks without being in pain on these days.
I carry earplugs and have a noise machine to try to block out the sounds that cause me distress or pain. I hate these sensitivities because they steal so many moments, so many memories from me. They cause my family anxiety and stress and they cause me frustration, pain, guilt.
Overstimulation and hypersensitivity aren’t anything to take lightly or shrug off if someone opens up to you about their struggles with either/both, try to listen and understand and if there’s something you can do to help make that person comfortable, try to do it. Changing something small like how loud your music is or whether you eat with a metal spoon or a plastic spoon doesn’t matter in the big picture, but being able to share that extra moment with a loved one or a friend because of that small effort can mean so much more than you may realize.
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 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.
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.
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.
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! 🙂
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
When I was young I suffered from headaches and abdominal pain that was left unexplained for a long time. For awhile it was labeled as “growing pains” or blamed on being too tired or anxious. However, being a 10 year old with daily headaches and regular pain in my abdomen was probably a little bit off, looking back on it. Now I’m an adult and I’ve been diagnosed with an armload of chronic illnesses that explain those symptoms, but I know there are a lot of other little kids out there who are probably going through the same thing that I did, searching for answers and validation.
Almost 5% of school age children suffer from migraines during their youth. The onset for migraine headaches in children is 7-10 years old. If your kids are complaining of headaches, nausea, light sensitivity, sound sensitivity, or any other symptoms that seem off to you, take them seriously. Take them to a good doctor who will really listen to them. Their complaints could be serious, even though they’re just kids. What can be comforting for parents (and children!) about migraines in children is that kids who have migraines in childhood usually grow out of them after puberty or in early adulthood and may not experience them again.
The stomach pain I complained of as a kid turned out to be something called an abdominal migraine. Most people have never even heard of this type of migraine! Abdominal migraines are actually seen mostly in children, typically children around ages 5-9, but they can be present at any age. The main symptoms of abdominal migraines are pain that stems from the belly button or midline area outward, nausea, loss of appetite, and can include a headache. Symptoms can last anywhere from an hour or two to a few days at a time and can easily be confused with other
Abdominal migraines, similar to migraine headaches, can only be diagnosed clinically. There is no blood test or imaging that can show these. First you rule out any other condition that could cause these symptoms, you talk about family history to see if anyone else suffers from migraines, and then you go over symptoms and the doctor determines what the best treatment plan would be. It can be extremely difficult to control both abdominal migraines and migraine headaches; there are very limited medication options for children and the adult medications and treatments are also very hit or miss.
As someone who lives with chronic daily migraines as well as abdominal migraines, I can tell you just how debilitating they can be. No child should have to experience such pain and discomfort. I hope that with continued awareness and research we will come up with many treatment options and then a cure (or maybe the cure will come first!) for migraines in both children and adults.
Keep in mind for your own children as well as for any child you may work with or spend time around, kids can have migraines, too. Children can experience most of the same pains that adults can, so we have to hear them out when they’re telling us they are experiencing consistent discomfort.
If you are a parent, a grandparent, a teacher, or just someone interested in learning more about migraines in children, please check out the link below for more information about signs/symptoms and different types of headaches to look out for in children.
Migraines are so much more than just a headache. Be thankful for every pain-free day you have and take full advantage of your healthy self; every day is a gift.
There’s a link below to a helpful website for those who want to know more about childhood headaches, signs/symptoms, and possible treatments.
Thank you to the Diamond Headache Clinic for providing these facts.
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.
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.
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!).
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.