The Gift of Normalcy

I had a fabulous childhood; I was loved unconditionally, I was supported by my parents in everything I did, and I never felt alone or scared or underappreciated, I always had everything I needed and 99% of the things I wanted 😉 My parents always encouraged me to try new things and find whatever it is that makes me happy.

I’d always been a small town girl, good student, decent athlete, volunteer, etc.; Well, I wanted to be more than just “normal,” more than just small town, so I thought going away for school or finding a job that could set me up for working outside of my hometown & granting me the (financial) freedom to live a lifestyle that I thought was important to me might be my answer.

Like most kids – at least I hope it is this way for most – I was always told I could do anything, be anything or anyone I wanted to be when I grew up, and I embraced that thought and always dreamt about what I wanted in years to come. At 3rd grade I wanted to be a writer, then a cook. In middle school it was a lawyer, then an FBI agent or a behavioral analyst like those on Criminal Minds, and finally, by college, I wanted to be a behavioral therapist focused on autism.

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Did I mention my gift for style?

After falling ill and having two severe “flare ups,” the second of which never passed, has guided me into a whole new set of goals for my lifestyle. Instead of searching for my door to an extraordinary life full of adventure and expensive brands of clothes or my dream car – red convertible incase you’re wondering – I want to focus on something so simple – I want to find my happy, I want to make the most of my NOW, and that’s not money or material, that’s my people, my dogs, my artwork, my small adventures just driving a mile to see the dam in different seasons or try to see the eagles nesting, the bears someone spotted down the road, or just the ice on the trees or the flooding over the bridges.

I went from planning every part of my future and searching for all things perfect to searching for all things normal.

I want to be able to enjoy all of the small things, I want to be able to say yes every time I’m invited to go out with my sisters, I want to be able to make new friends who I can say yes to when I’m invited out …

Hell, I’m not even asking to be able to eat or drink a coffee or a martini, I just wanna go.

 

Chronic illnesses leave you with so little control, losing your ability to make all of the small, simple decisions that most people don’t have to think twice about can be an incredibly difficult thing to adjust to!

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Part of this adjustment is that severe chronic illnesses require just about 24/7 care, as an adult, so alongside the control, you lose any and all modesty and privacy you had left. For an introvert like myself, that’s no easy feat to come to terms with. I’ve never liked being the center of attention, & being sick is not a super easy situation to deal with when you’re shy, I mean just having people ask me how I am all the time has been tough, it’s a balance of how much to share.

It’s a quick second to think through — who is asking, do I know them? Do they know my story or are they just asking b/c that’s how you greet people? Do they want a real answer or are they being polite?

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I started this blog to help update people on my own health, but also to spread awareness so that people know how to handle situations like this, and I hope it is helpful for other spoonies but also for care takers and loved ones who are looking for help and advice so feel confident in your ability to support your loved one during their journey.

I sometimes get an urge to do something that normal people my age should be doing, and sometimes it might be a push for me, maybe even a risk, but sometimes a girls gotta do what a girls gotta do.

These times are those in which I don’t need questioning, doubt, or guidance. I don’t need it and I don’t want it, I just want support, I want love, I want encouragement. I want you to be happy that I am doing something that will make me happy, and we can deal with the repercussions as we go 😉

So, what’s the greatest gift you can give me? The best way to talk to me, best way to treat me?

Treat me like you would treat anyone else.

I can’t speak for every spoonie/tubie personally, but I know that personally, but learning how quickly things can change, how abruptly you can lose the ability to do your favorite things, eat your favorite foods, go out and take advantage of your youth, or even just care for yourself you often reevaluate your perspective and priorities.

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When you hear my name, I don’t want you to think of “oh that poor sick girl,” or “oh what a shame, she was doing great things.” When you hear my name, I want you to think, Rachel, Rachel is going to do great things, Rachel is fun, Rachel is creative, and Rachel is making a difference for others. Rachel is sick, but Rachel is capable. I’m tube fed, IV saline dependent, and I use a wheelchair, but I am ABLE to be me. I have good days, I have motivation, I have goals, dreams, hope, and feelings. I’m just like you, but I have a whole different, deeper understanding a perspective.

I don’t need to do everything in the biggest, grandest way. I don’t need to make a ton of money or have the biggest group of friends. I don’t feel a need to stick out or be recognized as anything more than just being me. Being Rachel.

Thoughts 6 Years In

I often feel that when I put myself out there and say, “Screw you, Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (EDS), screw you gastroparesis, I WANT to do this, I’m going to do this,” and I actually DO,  my body comes back at me saying, “uh, hey now, who gave you permission to do that?”

When I do this, I try to compare pros and cons, are these things I want to do worth the payback that will come my way? There are so many things I want to do, and I’m an adult so I can do whatever I want, right? No grounding or taking my phone away, but if I misbehave, my body can punish me in a much harsher manner than my parents ever would.

Yes, chronic illnesses are brutal. Yes I am exhausted and utterly uncomfortable, but now, after years and years of searching for answers or simply searching for relief, I have to learn to care for body and mind, not pushing myself to a point of danger or past a “safe” space health wise, but I also have to embrace what I DO have and what I am capable of. I have to hold onto every bit of the true ME without forgetting where I am in my life right now.

I recently had a bit of medical excitement (a bit of a scare) when a new symptom popped up from out of the blue, but I woke up and honestly thought very little of it aside from knowing I need to be mindful today, just watch for symptoms I don’t usually experience or other warning signs!

So why am I becoming numb to symptoms or complications? Because I’ve seen it happen, because I have hope, but not expectations? I know that many don’t understand that, we all have different ways of coping or different perspectives on the meaning or the terminology — “hope” is relative, similar to grief, we all go through this process with different coping mechanisms. I know that EDS can lead to all sort of complications, it sometimes feels like there’s no end to the diagnoses, every year brings another symptom, another doctor, another diagnosis. I’ve watched it happen to girls just like me; heck, I’ve watched my own health continue to “D&D: DETERIORATE & DIVERSIFY,” so I guess you could say I’m not impacted or fearful in the same way that many healthy people would be when something like this occurs.

Does this lack of reaction represent a lack of hope? Have I built up an immunity to “human” emotions? Do I live life expecting the worst? Fearing or expecting to die? No, I don’t. Though I am forced to consider more seriously some of the not so fun parts of life more than most individuals my age, I don’t plan on leaving y’all anytime soon

So, then, is it a coping method? I suppose, probably, it is. While I prepare for all possibilities, there’s a wall there to protect myself and those around me. There’s no way for someone to focus on something of this magnitude 24/7 without going downhill quickly, so it’s important to me not to let that happen. I don’t want to torture myself mentally by focusing on my physical state all day, every day, but more so, I don’t want my family to have to go through that day after day. They have sacrificed and suffered enough throughout my journey- through thick or thin they are always by my side, but if I can spare them any grief or burden, I will do that. No one should suffer from chronic illnesses like these, but if I have to, I at least want to do what I can to protect others from extra suffering.

Chronic illnesses are nasty and powerful, but they don’t always win. I’m not out of power yet, I have a lot of hope left in me, and even more so than that, I have a will to live. I have a heart that craves more love, a soul searching for MORE adventure and experience, and eyes that WILL get to see the world.

My body may protest, but my will to live and my love for life, my love for simplest of things and the most wonderful people (& dogs) will power me through anything. I believe in the power of love, love is stronger than any fears I come across in my journey, and I am not lacking in love.

(I am single, though, just FYI 😉 )

I have a complex, difficult life, but it is filled with so much good that makes all of the challenges and trials, all of the terrible symptoms and times of questioning or doubt seem so small and unimportant. I am surrounded by love and unwavering support not just from my (biological) family, but also from the incredible community that has continuously come together and shown what true family is. My family expands all the time, it crosses oceans and countries, there are no limitations, just love, support, and acceptance. I’m continually amazed by the incredible, valiant efforts that I never could have asked for or dreamed of and I am reminded often of the true values of life, of friendship, of open mindedness and a judgment-free perspective, etc. I am blessed, I am thankful.

I am sick and I have hardships every day, but I have hope, and I have dreams, goals, and motivation – so watch out world, I’m on a mission and it’s not to the doctors office – and probably not to stand up comedy either.

xoxo

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!