Mindful Impact

Mindfulness. It is just amazing how big of an impact our thoughts can have on our bodies, on our ability to heal. It’s important that you fill your mind with optimistic or positive, healthy thoughts and your life with all of the things that have always brought you joy, all of your hobbies, and the people who put a smile on your face.

Today’s technologies allow for incredible connections; there is a huge online presence of “spoonies” (as we call ourselves) all over instagram and facebook, both individual pages and group pages! This resource is a HUGE gift to those of us who suffer from severe illnesses that leave us homebound or bed bound with little to no social interaction, but there are cons to this as well.

When you surround yourself with individuals who are sick, and you are sick and have been for a long time, it begins to feel normal. You start to forget what it feels like to be healthy, to be a functional, productive person. When you start to feel that way you know it’s time to reevaluate your perspective, remind yourself of what makes you feel like YOU. Not sick you, not healthy you, but YOU.

Be mindful, know your limits physically and mentally. Will all of these posts from other sick chicks –  some of them trending towards competitive over who is worse off, some who seem to thrive off of the attention from being sick – make you focus too much on the sickness? Does life revolve around illness? Because it doesn’t have to; no matter how sick you are, you are more than your illness.

There’s a lot more to mindfulness than this, but it’s a start. I encourage you all to focus not on your illnesses, not on symptoms and treatments and bad doctor visits, not of scary unknowns and dooming diagnoses, but on all of the aspects of your life that were there before illnesses, that exist independently from illness, that bring you simple pleasure, joy, distraction, love. Positivity. Light.

Medical Madness: Survival of the Introvert

I’ve always been a bit of an introvert, my parents often tell me that when I was young, my teachers said I hardly spoke a word, I was polite and hardworking, but quiet as a mouse, which my parents thought was odd since I often talked a lot at home J I’m shy and often have trouble making friends, I have always hated confrontation or having people be upset with me. I worry about running late or being in the wrong place at the wrong time… I’ve got a lot of thoughts and opinions and knowledge, but being introverted and having trouble sticking up for myself in tense or questionable situations, it can be a major downfall when you’re living like I do.

Getting sick at such a young age with conditions that so many doctors don’t even know about let alone know how to treat. Since I was young and still living at home, my parents were always with me at doctors appointments – still are today J — and they were able to help me express things fully and ask all of the questions I needed to, ask for help with whatever needed more attention, but I still often got overwhelmed.

Being sick so long I’ve begun running my doctors into retirement, and of course with that comes the need to begin the draining search for new doctors, a task that brings difficulties in many ways. You’d think that after almost 8 years I would be able to do this on my own, to handle doctors and keep focused and calm and get everything out of it that I need, but that’s just not the case. You never know what you’re walking into with new doctors; each has their own protocols for testing and treatments, they believe in different approaches, and you have to explain your history in detail, which gets longer each time.

There are so many biases against girls like me with “invisible illnesses” simply because of my age, gender, and appearance, and the worst part is that those biases and judgments don’t just come from stupid high school kids or young adults, they come from doctors, from insurance, from pharmacies, from all of those who are supposed to be the ones making my life, making my body at least feel a bit more comfortable, a bit more active, a bit more NORMAL.

After a few bad experiences with doctors and nurses and hospitalists, some being members of my own care team, the medical professionals who hold my life in their hands, and that kind of brutal betrayal can lead patients like myself to extreme anxieties and even medical PTSD, which makes finding new doctors a terrible thought, a stressful time for me, and on top of that, I have to be brave enough to get through these appointments feeling like I’m in good hands.

Doctors are supposed to “do no harm,” but that concept is flawed and misinterpreted sometimes; “do no harm” isn’t a pledge meant just to protect us from doctors intentionally causing harm, doing things to make us sick or cause us pain, etc., it means do all you can to help your patients no matter who they are and what they have. There’s so much that happens behind the scenes of the medical system, doctors with prejudices who feel they have a right to be rude and judgmental and negligent when we know something is going on and we are asking for help. Negligence is a crime just as serious as purposeful, physical harm.

Why do you get to decide what I’m feeling, what the symptoms or side effects can or cannot be based on a decade old case study instead of putting trust into the patients, the ones living this, the ones suffering every day while the professionals get to wash their hands and go home without another thought of how their actions or lack there of are affecting us. I may not be a medical professional, but I am definitely a chronic illness expert, and if doctors could truly understand that, we could work together, creating trust and mutual respect.

A wise woman once told me that I need to remember that doctors work for patients. I think doctors forget that and take advantage of their position and their capabilities, the things that only they can do or get their hands on. We need doctors, we need the resources they can give us, but they need us, too, and they need to keep in mind that those of us with chronic illnesses aren’t your average patient, and we know our stuff.  No one knows chronic illnesses better than the patients themselves.

Since there are no options for spoonies to join the medical field based on our personal knowledge and research, it would be incredibly beneficial if our doctors and insurance agencies and dieticians, pharmacists, etc. would take us seriously and use our advice, consult with us more so than just making the decision and saying that’s that.

We do so much of the work, so much of the research, and all of the first hand experience, yet we still rely on the “professionals” who are making these decisions without listening to the answers we are offering.

Sponsor a Book for our Little Tubies

I grew up with two early childhood educators, so books have been a staple for me since day 1, and that is a true gift my parents gave me. Books help us learn about the world in a fun, visual, and age-appropriate /understandable way, teachings us the simplest of things like letters and animals to right and wrong, to all you can do when you grow up, and how to be the best YOU that YOU can be, whatever that means.

Books are part of what help us learn about new and different things we may come across, and it’s important to give children resources to help them be aware of all of life’s diversities and that being unique is never something to be ashamed of, so authors include all sorts of characters and situations in books that help prepare kids for life, even if the kids think it’s all just a story…. What about books for kids with illnesses? Children with wheel chairs, bald heads, or feeding tubes?

When I started Newbie Tubies I had a goal to help all of my “newbies” have all of the important information and to feel as supported as possible, and to learn love and acceptance for their new gadget and for themselves. Some people have a harder time than others with this, and that is completely fine, but sometimes you need to let those around you help you get to that point by letting them support you and accept you and your tube for you to see that your tube doesn’t change you, it just keeps you around…

Well, back to books, sometimes it can be hard for our littler tubies to adjust when they go to school and all of a sudden are thrown into a world where peers are eating lunch and bringing in cupcakes for birthdays and you’re no longer in the safety of your home, but both tubie and classmates start to see differences, even at a young, young age, and it’s time to bring in the books to help normalize tubes, to make all of the classmates learn through the avenue they know best – books.

For the same reasons, picture books about tubes can also be very beneficial for adult tubies who have young children or work with young children. Visual, audio, and hands on awareness and normalization is more than we can ask for, and starting young, starting by reading these books to the next generation is just awesome.

If you’re interested in sponsoring a book for our packages, we include one in each package we send to our little tubies and we appreciate every donation! I’m attaching the link as well as the list, so if you have a tubie of your own and want to buy a book, there are quite a few great options!

Our “Sponsor a Tubie Book” wish list on Amazon carries some FABULOUS tubie books for our young tubies! Click HERE to go straight to the list, the names of our most used books are listed below in case you shop elsewhere 🙂

 

BOOKS!

“The Adventures of Team Super Tubie”

Kristin Meyer

“Tubie Kids Like Me”

Annette Fournier

“When My Brother Got a G-Tube”

Jordan Tarbutton

“My Belly has Two Buttons: A Tubie Story

Meikele Lee

“Emma’s Special Tummy”

Paula

 

My Tubey Series by Rhiannon Merritt-Rubadue (full series on amazon!)

“My Tubey Goes to School:  A My Tubey Book”

Rhiannon Merritt-Rubadue

“There’s More Than One Way to Eat: A my Tubey Book”

Rhiannon Merritt-Rubadue

“My Tubey: A Day in the Life of a Tube Fed Girl”

Rhiannon Merritt-Rubadue

“My Tubey: A Day in the Life of a Tube Fed Boy”

Rhiannon Merritt-Rubadue

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.

Newbie Tubies Round 2

I’m so excited to start year 2 of Newbie Tubie Care Packages (NTCP), after such a successful first year, I can only imagine what 2019 is going to bring. As we begin this year, I want to update you on our progress & how you can continue to help us make this project possible.

We just had a feature in my local paper, and I’m so excited to have had that opportunity! Newbie Tubies isn’t just about packages, it’s about bringing together tubies new and “old,” and to create a space where we can learn from one another and create friendships. Newbie Tubies is also aimed towards the caregivers and loved ones of tubies or spoonies, we want to support everyone as much as we can, in any way we can, for as long as that person is around, tubie or caretaker.

To keep this project up and running I have worked endlessly to find people willing to donate to this cause, or even better, others who are as passionate as I am and are ready to be part of the NEWBIE TUBIE TEAM, and though I got turned down or ignored more times than I can count, I did find a few ladies who are a true part of the team and help whenever they can.

Most of my donors are or were sick themselves or caretakers, and that’s why they make items like tubie pads and thermo-bags for IV fluids, etc. Our donors know the importance of this project, and I am continually amazed at the empathy and support I have gotten from these individuals who I have never “met.”

That said, my 3 tubie donors and 1 heating pad donor, as incredible as they are, they’re also trying to make money from their products, many to pay medical bills. I can’t ask 4 women to donate enough for over 100 packages!

I am always looking for more individuals or groups of people who feel inclined to join Newbie Tubies and the VIP donor program, which means I do everything I can to send people in the direction of the shops who donate to us, and I post on all platforms (FB, IG, blog, twitter, in boxes, etc.) both to thank our donors, but also to “pay it forward” in the way of sending people their way.

If you ‘re interested in being involved but don’t know how to sew or aren’t crafty, I always have tasks I could use help with. We want to include as many people as we can, both on the team behind the scenes, but also for the members of our program/follow our accounts to continue to learn through blog posts and tip lists while also having a chance to interact with others who are also going through this journey.

So, I’m going to share below some of the things we need in order to keep Newbie Tubies as active as I hope to.

 

WAYS AND RESOURCES FOR GETTING INVOLVED:

DONATIONS: what we need and how you can find it

EASY OPTION!

I have multiple lists on amazon, etsy, and simply items you can find at the dollar store or the mini-item aisle at walmart while you’re grocery shopping! I try to make it very easy.

You can also purchase products like art work and vinyl products that I make but put all profits back into the project – every sale helps!!

            We also have guides and lists for what we use and where you can find it! It can be as simple as buying some extra chapstick or germ-x when you’re shopping for yourself.

Amazon link:  http://a.co/4VCstGg
http://a.co/8DNAefV

Link for Sponsoring a book for our “littlest tubies” : http://a.co/1yuuZO2

Etsy link: https://www.etsy.com/people/rsb4fc?ref=hdr

Link for “Tubie Shopping Guide”/ our shopping list: https://positivelyrachel.com/category/newbie-tubies/

Volunteer Survey:

I have so many projects I’d love to do, but I myself am a tubie and a quite sick one at that, but I do all the packing of boxes with the help of two fabulous ladies who come over almost every week to help, and from my Mom, who is also passionate about this subject. When I started the project, I never could have imagined that I would send out over 100 boxes in just a year! Because of how much NTCP grew, and how quickly, I can use help from anyone who feels called or inclined to be involved.

Specifics:   I need some individuals who are blessed with an understanding of technology, something I lack. A few examples:

  1. Etsy! Anyone up for helping me get my page set up? All profits from my sales go towards NTCP, so I would love to sell more, but I’m struggling with the technological aspect of that goal.
  2. Google Drive – I use google for most records and organizational guides/notes/etc. If you know a lot about that, that would be beneficial!
  3. Graphic design and artistic minds
  4. Social media help; posting, advertising, sharing, interacting – I would LOVE for our IG page to be more interactive, people commenting, sharing, getting to know one another, but I don’t do a great job keeping up with it and making it happen
  5. Keeping track of boxes; who got them, who didn’t, how many we do, etc.
  6. Finances and Inventory – track how many packagegs we send out but also what donations we get- money or product, as well as my own sales that go towards it, and the amount I end up spending out of pocket to complete packages

OUTREACH – looking for new donors, sharing posts, and watching for sales we would be interested in.

a. Find other blogs, pages, or articles that relate, we share them or guest post to spread awareness and find new people with their own experiences that we can learn from!

b. Watch for sales, giveaways, and new shops for donating as well as for individuals who may have extra tubes we could use for tubie animals-– often kids who don’t need them and had an extra gtube at home, and it is no longer needed, etc.

Your own PRODUCTS, what do you make? (if anything)- like tubie pads, tubie clips, other medical items, or any other “carepackage” items like bath salts, lotions, soaps, etc., we would love to hear from you!

1.Tubie pads/clips/go bags

  1. Feed Backpacks – converting kids backpacks or adult backpacks to hold tube feeds, pumps, and such.
  2. Tubie Friends: stuffed animals with tubes for little kids – two part project…
  3. Finding the tubes through hospitals, facebook, and contacting the manufacturers and seeing if they would donate any sterile tubes but ones that are either expired or have defects that make them unusable—explain what we are doing and see if they’ll send us tubes- especially button tubes of any kind, but we take anything we can get! (g, gj,j tubes more than NJ/NG.)
  4. Making them! Do you make these or know you can? That could be another upcoming thing based on donations/tubes we can acquire.

 

There are so many ways you can help this project, just sharing it and telling others about it is helpful. We are looking not for more applications – we get countless applications – but for awareness and depth and support from the “normal” world. The goal is to make this terrible thing into something slightly more tolerable through creating resources and opportunities to be yourself and feel what you need to feel, but also to learn and be prepared for all that could come your way ; I work hard to create a resource that gives you so much more than doctors or healthy individuals can.

 

Happy Feeding Tube Awareness Week and thank you for being inclined to read and learn about this fabulous project!

New Years Thinking

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.

 

Happy New Year 🙂

My Story: Year 3 Tubie

**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.

 

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Our first admission– Dec. 2013, I was 17 and a senior in high school
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My admission in Dec 2014– first year at UVA but about to get a picc line!

 

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.

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March 2015; I did a trial feed with an NJ tube and then scheduled surgery!

 

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That’s my GJ tube in the fall of 2017, before surgery!

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.

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4 hour cardiology/EDS appointments are always an adventure 🙂
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Family road trip to Cleveland! They try to make these trips somewhat enjoyable.

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.

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Tubie bear needs an update- surgery!
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Recovery is the hardest part….

 

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Double tubie at Christmas time

 

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.

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

Welcoming in a New Day

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.

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!