Every New Year I like to think, this is my year. I look back on the last year, or really just on my journey in general, and I think of course of my illnesses and my desire to find a cure or a treatment that would lead me to a more “normal” lifestyle, but year after year that doesn’t come. This year, I’m not relying on specialists with new perspectives or treatments that will be approved by insurance, I am instead looking at myself and my situation and thinking how can I work to maximize my experiences and the value of my time? I may never have my cure, and I may not get rid of my medical devices, but I can make the most of the life I have, and now that I’ve been through all the tests and all the procedures and I’ve seen the biggest and the best doctors out there, and here I am, how can I help myself?
I have just as many goals and dreams as I did when I was 16 and healthy, but now they mean even more to me. I want to get back to who I was, who I am, as much as I can. I don’t plan to achieve all of my goals this year, but I think setting myself up with healthy goals and positivity, a hope for a fulfilling life, could be the most effective “treatment” I can have.
I want to be more active, both in a sense of being able to spend more time outside of my home but also being stronger and feeling more fit and less frail. I want to make friends who are here for me regardless of my health and all that comes with that.
I want to fall in love, I want to feel like I am loved and adored no matter what my stomach looks like, no matter what I can or cannot do, no matter what date night looks like. I want to know there is a person out there who doesn’t need to see past all of my greatest insecurities, but is understanding of all I’m working through.
There are so many places I want to go and things I want to do, and I want to be able to do it without limitation, but if I have to work around things, I will. I can’t do a lot of the things on the top of my bucket list right now – swim with dolphins, scuba dive, snorkel in the tropics, etc. – but I can work up to it. If I’m facing a lifetime with health complications, I’ve got to start embracing that and working with it even more than I do now.
It’s not as if I can pick up and go today, I’ve got a few things to try to manage a bit better before I go too crazy, but it’s only January 7th so no one is too far into resolutions, right?
I have to learn to push myself in healthy ways but form a relationship with my body where I am able to feel more control while still continuing to listen to my body. I’m going to start with keeping up with the blog, revamping and working hard on Newbie Tubies, and trying to be more active.
Illness is not easy in any way, or for anyone. When your life is suddenly pulled out from under with little to no warning, and by something that no one, yourself included, has ever heard of nor can anyone begin to understand, boy does life change.
I got sick in high school, and thanks to some ignorant doctors, my parents were pretty sure I was going to be better in no time. I was a young female so of course the daily, crippling headaches were hormones and all the pains in my joints, nerves and ribs were simply growing pains, because as my lovely doctor said, “it’s normal for young women to be in pain.” Right. Helpful
Well when I got to 2 months of being unable to keep down most foods and was on homebound because I could hardly stand up from bed or be on my feet too long without passing out, nor could I eat or stay awake during school… I finally got admitted and got my diagnosis. Gastroparesis. What the heck is that, right? I don’t even think my doctors knew, because no one told me that it would change my life , forever.
I’ve come across so many medical professionals who have no idea what I’m talking about when I tell them about my health conditions…. EDS, POTS/Dysautonomia, Dysmotility/ GP, SIBO, migraines…. Is it so hard? Well maybe, but it shouldn’t be for doctors.
My family was and continues to be incredible and supportive in every way they can – even if I don’t always want comfort or support for myself. My mom grew up in a family where the flu wasn’t a real risk, a fever was just to keep you flushed and warm, and complaining wasn’t an option. What’s a doctor, right? As long as you could walk and your eyes looked strong, you were good to go – dress nice to feel nice.
To the point, my mom quickly adapted and came through for me and after some rough times in the earlier years, we grew closer than ever as she became my home nurse doing anything from making and hanging my feeds and fluids, sorting my weekly meds, helping me shower when I can’t do it on my own, brushing my hair even though I’m terrible about it because it hurts… I don’t know what I’d do without Nurse Bibi.
My dad and I have a different relationship, but it is so important to me, even if I have trouble showing it sometimes. He’s here for me no matter what, any time, any day. We go to out of town appointments and listen to fun music, joke around, etc. He helps me relax before appointments when he knows I’m anxious. He also lets me sleep or supports me when I want to do something else.
That reminds me so much of my year round, travel swimming days when Dad and I would drive to the meets just the two of us because I was so shy and didn’t have friends on the team, but I got dad to myself and we had so much fun. Dad also taught me how to drive 🙂
My little sister, Laura, has been majorly affected by this situation. She was looking forward to be the only one left at home while I was at school, but here I am. She graduated high school and is now in college. Pretty soon she will be ahead of me. Shes beautiful and gets more attention from boys than I ever did, even before I became the lost girl in the woods! But Laura harbors a lot more feelings and trials than she lets out. I’d do anything to take that back, but I don’t have many options. I’m sorry to put you through that, Laura. I wouldn’t wish any of this on anyone.
Mom and Dad have different love languages, and so do I, but I have to remember how much my family does for me, and I have to put aside any pet peeves that I can in order to truly show my appreciation and love. I’m not great with words right now, I don’t love physical touch, but I do well with actions and giving gifts or sending/writing out my feelings. That, however, is the opposite from others in my family. Dad loves physical touch/hugging, mom loves actions, Laura… probably actions that follow words. Don’t lie. Don’t make anything up. Don’t take credit for something you didn’t do and don’t deny something you did do. Make sense?
Life is short, right? So embrace every day, and then really embrace the people you love. Can you make a sacrifice or step out of you comfort zone for a 15 second hug? Or a dollar store gift? It’s the thought and the effort that count, most of the time 😉 Family, by blood or by love and loyalty, are the ones you end up needing. It’s never too late to start appreciating people more and treating them as such.
Chronic illness can affect more than just the patient, when you have caretakers and live at home with family members, parents, or your spouse, they all suffer and worry and work so hard throughout the journey. So when you think about the patient and regularly check in or want to be of help, I can tell you that the caretakers (For me, my parents and my little sister) need just as much TLC as I do. It’s also so important for me, the patient, to take time to appreciate each of those people in my life, make sacrifices for them as they do for me, and treat them in the best way I can, even when I’m feeling terrible. This isn’t a battle anyone should fight alone.
Love and be loved, go out of your way to support and care for those in need, it’s the best thing you can do for yourself as well as for others.
Yesterday was round 5 of IVIG (Intravenous immunoglobulin). I’d love to say this was my miracle round and I woke up ready for a huge stack of pancakes or a burger and fries at ihob, but sadly, no pancakes, and definitely no burgers on my menu anytime soon.
I had IVIG yesterday (tuesday) at noon; I wasn’t feeling well & I slept through majority of the 2 1/2 hour infusion, so it went pretty quickly. When we finished, I was already experiencing side effects like low grade fevers, extreme fatigue, brain fog, pain, nausea, etc. When my nurse left and I had gotten settled, I slept for four more hours; Mom and Baxter woke me up around 7pm. I got up and took a short walk to get up and moving, out of bed for a bit and get some fresh air. I was asleep again before 9pm but continued to wake up every 4 hours as my pain and nausea medications wore off.
Today I’m still exhausted and experiencing a lot of elevated symptoms; by this I mean I am experiencing symptoms similar to my usual pain/nausea/migraine/weakness/etc, but they are kicked up a few notches and much less respondent to my meds.
I’m working hard to stay positive and mindful of both body and mind, and I have a long list of things I’d love to accomplish– artwork, tasks for my package project, blog posts/updates, outreach to volunteers and donors, thank you cards, etc.– but my body is telling me in many ways that I need to slow down and remember that it’s okay if I only get one thing done today, it’s okay if all I can do is sleep and recover. I’m doing my best, and there’s nothing more important than my health– or at least that’s what I tell my newbie tubies in their tip lists, so I guess I have to believe it and try it if I’m going to be preaching about it to others…:)
Having a body & mind that are on different pages can be really challenging, but I am constantly learning and adapting as both my body and mind continue to change, often on their own volition.
I hope to see some of my specialists this month so we can determine what the best plan for moving forward is. More IVIG? No more IVIG? Are there other treatment options, or are we back to “keep you comfortable”? It’s all up in the air at this point, but honestly, I just want peace and as much normality as I can get. I don’t want to be stuck by more needles, put in MRI tubes, traveling huge distances to see doctors who spend 15 minutes with me only to tell me the same things I’ve heard before… “complicated” or “medical mystery” followed with, “manage the symptoms” and “keep you comfortable.”
There are no certainties in life, so take advantage of every moment you can, that is exactly what I aim to do.
I think it’s reasonable to say that most individuals over the age of 15 living in the US today have at least heard something about the opiate crisis. Opiates are bad. Narcotics are addictive. They ruin lives and have a high risk for overdose. Opiates are a gateway drug and lead to use of street drugs & illegal self-medicating. (5th-10th grade health class, yah?) That’s what we learn about the opiate crisis, bad bad bad.
Opiates/narcotics can be dangerous…if used incorrectly or illegally. But for people like me, who are living with multiple chronic pain conditions, this opiate crisis is affecting our treatment plans and more importantly, our quality of life & ability to function.
That said, and all dramatics & sarcasm aside, for those of us living with chronic illnesses, the opiate crisis is not the same crisis that you hear about in the news or in a doctor’s office…
My opioid crisis involves trying to make the very limited quantity of pain medication last the whole month, every month….
and then I have to trek back to the doctor to try to advocate for myself and my needs when a change in dosage or medication is needed– I’m really shy/bad at confrontation and in person advocacy so this is a big stress for me.
My opioid crisis is struggling to make each dose last long enough; dealing with a connective tissue condition and genetics that make my body metabolize pain medications too quickly has made treating my pain very hard, high doses of pain meds are hard to get with all of the new FDA laws that are in place due to recreational users and ODs, which of course have nothing to do with my case, but laws are laws and now it’s been made my crisis, your crisis, and that of every addict or legal pain patient who uses these meds.
My opioid crisis involves choosing between being able to function during the day or being able to sleep at night. I’m an artist and a writer, but I can’t paint or write because of the pain in my hands, wrists, and arms. I can’t stand too long, sit still, or lay down without having severe pain in my back and hips. When does the pain end? What is more important, sleep or being productive and (semi)functional during the day?
My crisis means facing the consequences of others’ actions; I don’t abuse drugs nor do I purchase them illegally or without a prescription. I use pain meds because I am unable to really live without having a way to try to manage the pain, no different than how I work to manage my nausea or my migraines, any of my symptoms that can affect my quality of life.
My opioid crisis may not be “normal,” but it’s real. I know so many other girls going through these trials, we are lucky to have each other, but the stress and the guilt and the disappointment from disappointing doctors and failed treatments or lack of access to medications can be overwhelming. There are no words to explain how deeply the system can affect us– and not just because of opiates.
I would love to find something aside from narcotics that would relieve my pain effectively. I want to paint for hours with no shooting pains in my arms, hands, or back, and I want to type without my wrists feeling like they’re black and blue with bruises every time they hit the laptop/keyboard. I want to sleep all night and run a full bag of tube feeds without waking up in too much pain to sit up.
I don’t want to be on narcotics. I have so many goals, and none of them include narcotics, but they also don’t include severe, widespread joint and nerve pain. I also understand why there are strict rules on medications like narcotics. I wouldn’t want them to be easily available to everyone. But that doesn’t mean that those who are truly, legitimately suffering– whether it be acute (post op, injury, car wreck) or chronic (fibromyalgia, arthritis, ehlers danlos syndrome, CRPS, etc.)– should have to continue to suffer when there are actually medications that could make a difference!
Not all of my conditions have treatments. Not all of my symptoms can be managed. So if I find something that helps, and I have doctors saying it makes sense, why does it have to be so damn hard to get a hold of these medications? This system is just mind boggling sometimes.
I want to be a person, not a patient, not a statistic in a research study, just Rachel.
Well y’all, I have some great news. About time, right? Let me start by saying that I’m thrilled with this news. It’s incredibly exciting for me as well as for my family, but, I am writing this post and explaining this news to you because although it is wonderful news, and it is what I’ve been waiting for forever, it’s not going to be a walk in the park, piece of cake, cure all for me… it’s a complicated treatment that is not widely used for my condition but nonetheless, my best shot.
A couple of days ago I got the news that my IVIG has finally been approved, and not just for one dose, but for 13 rounds. We’ve waited over a year and seen 3+ specialists in order to make this happen, it’s been a crazy battle to get to this point. On Monday 2/19 I will have my first round!
IVIG is IV immunoglobulin therapy. Essentially it is meant to reboot your immune system and help alleviate or reduce the symptoms of autoimmune or immune conditions. For me, the catch is that I do not have the typical conditions that IVIG is currently used to treat. There are many trials going on with how IVIG can help different conditions, gastroparesis included, but there’s no FDA approval for IVIG as treatment for it yet. That said, this is my only viable option left and because I do have an immunodeficiency, I was finally able to get it approved.
Throughout this process I’ve heard a lot of “slim possibility,” “doubtful,” “statistically…” “honestly…” “be prepared for disappointment…” and all of the other phrases doctors use to tell you they don’t think things will work…
BUT, we heard someone say, “it’s worth a shot,” and here we are today, after a long fight, ready to start a new trial.
IVIG is something my family and I decided was our best chance for change. Not all of my doctors agree, but when do they ever? It’s not a treatment widely used for gastroparesis or EDS/Dysautonomia, but because my immune system is involved, there’s a chance my GI system could respond in some way to it. My motility specialist is the one who suggested it as one of my last 3 options for treatment; today, this is the only one of those three options that I have left.
We don’t expect miracles. In fact, I try not to make expectations at all. I hope it works. It would be incredible. But if it doesn’t, I don’t want to be crushed. I’ve been warned by doctor after doctor that it is likely not going to help, so I’ve pretty much got that in my head, but I also have my own hope and positivity in there thinking maybe this is going to be it. I’m not a blind optimist, but I do have hope. It may be hard for some of you to understand that combination of emotions and feelings, but I’m glad it is, because it means you’ve never had to be this sick, and for that I am thankful.
I wrote this update because I know you all care, I know you all want and deserve an update, but I also needed to share with you how this process is going for me. It’s not going to be an easy treatment. It’s not a miracle drug. It’s not a guarantee of success or relief. It’s a treatment that is extremely hard on the body. It has major side effects. It’s a long shot. But it’s my only shot.
IVIG is what I’ve been fighting for and waiting for for a year. I’m so, so relieved that the fight for approval is over, but that doesn’t mean my battle is over, it’s onto the next step now. My family and I have worked so hard for this; hours of phone calls, emails, paper work, doctor visits, denials, tears…what a journey it has been, and now the journey continues. It will take at least 3-4 months to see any results even if this treatment does work. All great things take time.
What I need in this time is for my support team to just be here for me. I will update if there are any improvements or changes, I will update on how the treatment is going and if I am having any side effects or complications, and I will do my best to post regularly so you know whats happening in general. Try not to set expectations, have no disappointment, no pity or sadness if I see no results, no explanations of why it hasn’t worked or reassurances about when it will, just be here for me.
All I need is love. Support. Laughter. Company. Friendship. Exploration. Care. Distraction.
I’m sick and treatment is hard and unpleasant, but I have my ways of coping and I am still a person and sometimes I just need to be Rachel.
**Happy Feeding Tube Awareness Week! This is the first new post, keep your eyes open this week for more posts including but not limited to : Tips for Tubies, a project update, New tubies: Products to start with and where to get them, more on my personal experiences, and a special video! It’s also a great week to buy a painting or send a donation to Newbie Tubie Care Packages, so click here if you’re interested in more information on that :)**
Next month, in March of 2k18, I will celebrate both my 22nd birthday and my 3 year tube-iversary. In March of 2015 I was in school at UVA where I celebrated my 19th birthday on March 8th and then was admitted to the hospital the next week with a blood infection from my central line, which was keeping me nourished and hydrated at the time. On March 24th I was again admitted to the hospital for surgery to place my first long term feeding tube, a GJ tube that went through my stomach and into my intestine where I get my feeds.
Although I’ve had gastroparesis since high school, I never could have imagined that my case would become so severe, leaving me with a feeding tube(s) that could be part of my life indefinitely, taking me out of school, and changing the way I was able to plan for the future. When I first got my tube, my doctors hoped it would only be for a few months or maybe a year if I was really struggling, but we had no idea that my “flare” was about to become my new normal. Instead of having a few months of worsened symptoms like I had in the past, I waited a year… and then another year… and now another year with no relief.
After I finished my first year of college my health was at an all time low and I wasn’t able to go back to school in the fall. My tubes did help my nutrition, but I never tolerated them well enough to get in as much feed as the doctors wanted me to, never enough to gain a lot of weight back. It’s been three years on medical leave now; my classmates, my friends, will graduate in the spring and I won’t have had another day to be there with them.
My parents and I worked so hard to find answers, anything that would bring even partial relief; our original goal was that I could go back to school, but after a year and a half of incredibly severe symptoms and the addition of 3-4 new diagnoses, our goals became things like, “getting Rachel out of the house more… helping get her able to volunteer or babysit sometimes,” and at my worst times, it’s just “getting Rachel more energy and less pain/nausea so she can get out of bed…” From the Fall of 2015 through Summer of 2016, I saw at least three different specialists who are top in the nation on my conditions. Sadly, there are only a few medications that are used for gastroparesis, most of them not even FDA approved, and they can have nasty side effects.
My last (and current) motility specialist is at the Cleveland Clinic and is considered to be one of the top specialists in the world on gastroparesis and dysmotility conditions. He did extensive testing to find a root cause of my GP and to try to find a treatment option, but what we found out is that my gastroparesis had gotten so bad that the numbers were matched with only one other girl’s testing as the second worst cases in CC records. I actually met the other girl online and have been able to talk to her and compare notes and, sadly, she’s still struggling in huge ways—she could use your thoughts/prayers.
Because my dysmotility (lack of motion, “motility”) has moved into my intestines and almost stopped my colon’s motion (colonic inertia), my options are very limited. I had one viable treatment option that we were told was a long shot at working, but it’s my best/only shot. We have been working for over a year now to get IVIG (IV immunoglobulin therapy) approved, it has been a long and tedious attempt that has involved 3 doctors and multiple infusion centers, lots of disappointment, and plenty of reality checks. There isn’t a great chance of it working, but it’s essentially my last major treatment option, so it’s what we have to keep fighting for.
Last year around this time, a few months before, I started having a lot of trouble with my GJ tube flipping up into my stomach leaving me unable to do feeds. Because it was happening 2/3 times a month, I was getting malnourished and dehydrated and had lost even more weight—my all time low. It was decided that I needed to have a jtube placed, one that goes straight into your intestine, not through the stomach first, but it took us awhile to make that happen.
It took me almost another year to get that surgery done due to my malnutrition and some complications with doctors and finding a surgeon who would take on my case, but on October 18th I had surgery for my new feeding tubes. There were some complications during surgery as well as in the week post-op, and recovery was long and extremely painful. But, during that time I came up with my plan for my new project, Newbie Tubies, and now that has come to life and is such a wonderful part of my life.
My first mini- art show; this is both a pain distraction therapies and my #1 fundraiser for Newbie Tubies.
My first package sent! Now I’ve sent over 20!
I may not have ever been able to imagine my life turning out this way, but I have learned, been inspired, shared my knowledge, and seen things in a new perspective. I couldn’t do it without the support of my family, I’m so, so blessed to have parents who are willing to do anything needed to care for me and help me be comfortable.
Being a tubie is just a part of me now, and I’m more than happy to share all I can about that for Feeding Tube Awareness Week. <3
During recovery from my second tube surgery just 3 months ago, which I admit was long and pretty brutal pain wise, I realized how lucky I am to have such an incredible family support team working around the clock to help make me as comfortable as possible. I know so many people, of all ages, are walking the same journey but don’t have the support system that I do, and because these conditions are so uncommon, most people have never heard of them or have no idea that anyone can require a feeding tube no matter how old they are or how healthy they have been.
Sadly, most of us –myself included– just have to learn from experience, both our own and from online connections to people who are also experienced tubies or caretakers. I’ve had tubes for 3 years now, so I have a lot of first hand experience as well as what I’ve learned from my online community; so, if I can use my experiences and my knowledge to help bridge the gap and make the transition to tube life at all easier, I can’t imagine not doing it.
In December I began looking for small businesses, mostly on Etsy, that would donate tubie products and a few other care items to my cause and throughout the holidays I used my own funds to buy other products that were on sale, some items included were microwave heating pads, cute socks or fuzzy socks, soft throw blankets, journals and motivational books/journals, etc. I have a more detailed list I will share later on 🙂
In January I had enough to begin! I set up an online application and at this point (January 12) I’ve already had 10 applications! I’m so happy to have another way to share my knowledge, advocate, and most importantly, just to help others who are going through the same/similar things I have/am. It is amazing and inspiring and I couldn’t be more excited.
As excited as I am, I just can’t fund it all on my own. I use all of the profits from my paintings (whatever is left after canvas, paint, mediums, etc.) as my main fund, but that’s limited and depends on how much art I can sell. I do have a few other fundraising ideas, but I will also need to find more donors who are willing to help just because they feel that my cause is worth it.
Depending on the products I have on hand and the person (based on age and needs of the tubie), each package has a value of $25-$50, and that is without shipping. Shipping can cost a minimum of $14-$15 but can be as high as $30, again depending on weight and size of items and whether or not they will fit in flat rate boxes.
Right now, I’m still working with some donated items to create each package; right now, it is mostly tubie pads, some self care/pampering items, a handful of heating pads, blankets, and some extra little do-dads. But I’ve made a large dent in my supplies, so I am thinking a bit more about how to acquire some new donors and brainstorming some opportunities to find new products either by donation or for major discount!
I love supporting small businesses and I include a card in every package with the information of each (business) donor so that my newbie tubies will be able to purchase more of any product they find helpful. I also post any business/shops that donate to my instagram, facebook, and blog, which ends up hitting over 3k people, many of whom are facing chronic illnesses and make great customers.
I know I have so many loyal followers who like to support all I do, and I don’t want anyone to feel any pressure to donate when it is not convenient for you; honestly, I’m sure I’ll be posting my amazon lists or shipping needs fairly regularly, so if now is not a good time, please do not feel a need to donate or purchase anything for me!
That said, here are a few ways you all can help right now:
I accept re gifting!
**Did you receive some Christmas gifts that you know you aren’t going to use? Maybe too many of one item? I know many spoonies end up with lots of coloring books and fuzzy socks!
Or do you just have some extra stuff you aren’t sure what to do with? If it’s something someone could love, it’s package sized, and its in good shape, don’t throw it out!
Way too many adult or child coloring books? How about gel pens, markers, crayons, or any other drawing/writing instruments??
Small toys for children, stickers, etc? Common one, too many stuffed animals?
An extra planner? Fuzzy socks or small throws?
I guess you can say that I will be your “goodwill.” Let nothing go to waste or sit around unloved, instead, donate it to a good cause!**
See the lists below for more information about helpful products/items; I will take a lot of small items to save for someone who would love them!
Purchasing a painting
**My art directly benefits my project! You can order my paintings on the blog or by contacting me directly through email or facebook.
Any profit – what I don’t use for paint/canvas/pouring mediums/etc.—goes straight into shipping and shopping for Newbie Tubies!
If you are local, we can meet in person to avoid shipping costs.
The last option is just making a donation. If you want to make a monetary donation that would likely go towards sponsoring shipping for a box (or two!), you can do so through pay pal, send a check, or if you’re local we can work out a time to meet up for a cash donation if you prefer that.
I am also including my amazon wish list, “Newbie Tubies Wish List,” and my Etsy list, that have items, labeled/listed by priority (amazon), that I update based on what I could use at any given time.
If you are local and would like to donate but would rather pick up an item or two at the store when you go, I am including a list of other items as well. They can be dropped off at multiple locations, so please email me and we can make a plan (or if you work with my parents they will take the items as well). 🙂
If you are a small business, or know others with small businesses, and would like to directly donate products, you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org about what product you have and how we can best go about shipping/picking it up!
Thank you so much for reading through all of that, if you made it! Below are each of the lists I have talked about; please, feel no pressure, it is just an option for those who have expressed an interest in helping out 🙂
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.
Another year gone, already?! I’ve read and heard so many people saying that time is flying by or posting long facebook posts about all that was accomplished or what they learned in 2017 and what their goals are for the new year. And yes, sure, I could do the same, but in all honestly, my illnesses have changed my perspective on the passage of time and watching one year pass and another begin just isn’t as huge of a celebration anymore.
My life has changed drastically over the last 5-6 years and I’ve grown and learned so much, but I’ve also lost many parts of myself and so many aspects of my life that used to create that excitement and significance of a year passing.
I’ve been out of school full time for three years now, and by leaving school I also left my friends, my social life, and my education behind. At the time, I had no idea I was leaving for an indefinite amount of time, and now I’m watching my friends graduate, some of them have even gotten engaged (s/o to my first year hall-mates who just got engaged to their high school sweethearts <3), and many of my high school classmates have even settled down and started families.
Before leaving school and having my illness progress into an extremely severe case, I had so many goals and plans for my life, but being dependent on feeding tubes and a hickman line (a long term IV in my chest) for nutrition and hydration and being dependent on my parents for everything from setting up feeds and sorting my daily meds to driving me to appointments and staying endless nights in the hospital has really changed things for me.
I no longer look at the long term or “big picture,” but instead focus on getting through each day. Some days I just focus on getting through each hour, trying to survive the time between each dose of nausea or pain medication. My every day life can get monotonous at times when I am home bound or bed bound, sleeping more than I’m awake, awake only to take medications, go to the bathroom, start new feeds, etc. The days blur together when you do the same things every day and have little to look forward to. Although many of my days are full of pain and discomfort, its always possible to find something to laugh at, smile over, or appreciate.
Instead of looking back on what has gone on in the last year or thinking of what I can accomplish in a new year, I continue to focus on each day and every small beauty and accomplishment that occur in that day. Although I don’t have any huge plans for my future, I do have dreams and goals, and I’ve gotten really good at appreciating the small things in life, if you take time to look, there’s something positive in every day.
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!