Fibromyalgia – In Tune With Our Bodies

I’ve been thinking lately of how lucky I am that despite the fact I live with Chronic Pain, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Fibromyalgia and Invisible Illnesses, I’m actually quite healthy. I know that sounds like an oxymoron, but I rarely come down with colds, I can’t remember the last time I had a flu or stomach bug or even when I could say I was “sick”. I try to remember to get a flu shot each year because I’m Diabetic, but it didn’t happen last year and so far this year, I haven’t made it to a clinic either. It’s also in my best interest to get one, because since having surgery for severe Gastric Reflux Disease in 2004, I am unable to physically vomit – if I get sick where vomiting becomes an issue, I have to go to the hospital and have a nasal gastric tube placed to remove my stomach contents. Not fun!!

As the old saying goes, aging ain’t for sissies! When you live with Fibromyalgia, you live with all sorts of “side effects”. This diagram displays some of the many “extras” a Fibromite can expect to experience:

FibroSymptomsDiagram

These are all common symptoms and it can be difficult to tell them apart from other illnesses, which makes it extremely important to be aware of your body and to note when something feels “off” or different than what is normal for you. We are generally quite in tune with our own bodies and are quickly able to determine when a new symptom appears that doesn’t fit in with our usual symptoms.

What happens though when you do experience something that you’re unsure of? Your first step should always be to see your Primary Health Care Provider anytime something comes up that is markedly different than your normal. It could be one of Fibromyalgia’s many symptoms, but it’s always better to be safe. I remember one time many years back when I started having severe pain in the lower left quadrant. It happened when I was living in Calgary and I had just finished a volunteer shift at the Calgary Stampede grounds. I’d eaten a corn dog and a few minutes later, was suddenly hit with terrible pain in my lower left side. I could barely walk but managed to make it on to the C-Train (the Lite Rapid Transit) and then called my husband to pick me up at the station to take me to the hospital. It turned out that a cyst that I didn’t know I had on my ovary had burst. I was prepared to put it down to something Fibro related and the only reason I got the proper diagnosis is because the pain was so bad, I went to the ER.

It’s easy to be dismissive of everything we feel and call it Fibro related, so we have to be careful not to fall into this trap. How do you tell the difference between Fibro related pain and something new or different for you? Here is a checklist to use:

  • Familiar or not – have you felt this same symptom before, or does this feel like something “new” to you?
  • Does it last longer than usual? This could potentially be a new situation that needs attention
  • It it more intense than usual? This could be the sign of a new problem
  • Is it in a new part of your body? This is more likely the sign of something new
  • Did it start suddenly or gradually? Gradual pain is more likely to be Fibro related.
  • Does something just feel “off” to you? Trust your instincts!

It’s recommended that everyone go for an annual checkup, but it’s especially important that you and your doctor stay in touch with how you are doing, outside of your Fibromyalgia. Don’t forget about the rest of your health.

Speaking of health, I want to share this new Health Alphabet. It may be helpful in future medical discussions, especially if aging is becoming a concern for you:

Screen Shot 2016-08-03 at 2.31.07 AM

Okay, a little humour never hurts, but when it comes to Fibromyalgia and changing symptoms, you do need to be careful not to overlook something that could have the potential to be serious. Always trust your instincts about how you’re feeling and see your doctor if something just doesn’t seem right. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

There is always hope

Refresher Course

I thought I’d start out the year with a refresher course on the conditions I live with and how blogging has had such an impact in my life. Because of my blogging, I have had chances to be interviewed in a Canadian National newspaper, on two different podcasts, and several different articles online. The various conditions I write about are because of the fact I live with them and am personally acquainted with them. So, without further ado, here we go:

  • Chronic Pain
  • Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
  • Fibromyalgia / Myofascial Pain
  • Osteoarthritis (in all my major joints)
  • Forestier’s Disease (aka D.I.S.H.)
  • Type 2 Diabetes (on insulin)
  • Trigeminal Neuralgia
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Gastroparesis
  • Internal Adhesions/Scar Tissue/Chronic Pelvic Pain
  • Hypothyroidism

So I’ve talked about my Chronic Pain from Fibromyalgia and Osteoarthritis, and when I say I have arthritis in all my major joints, I’m serious. I have it in my shoulders, elbows, wrists and fingers, my cervical, thoracic and lumbar spine, left hip (right hip has been replaced), knees, ankles and toes. Some areas like my left hip and right knee are quite serious and will need replacing, but the rest I’ll have to live with.

Meanwhile, my thoracic spine has a different type of bone condition called Forestier’s Disease or D.I.S.H., which stands for Diffuse (Widespread) Idiopathic (Of Unknown Cause) Skeletal (Referring to the Skeleton) Hyperostosis (Excessive Growth of Bone). It forms in the shape of a bone spur, but instead of a normal spur that could be removed, it looks more like melted candle wax on the spine, so nothing can be done about it.

Diffuse-idiopathic-skeletal-hyperostosis-DISH-of-the-spine-grave-290-male-50-60-yrs

I also have regular bone spurs on my right hand – I had one removed from inside my pointer finger as it grew through a tendon, and there is a second one on the outside of my middle finger growing through the knuckle. Both have been very painful and interfere(d) with typing and writing.

My Type 2 Diabetes has been with me for 8 years now and is mostly under control. I go for regular blood tests every 3 months, to get my A1C numbers that show my average blood sugar levels for the previous 3 months. Generally speaking, I average around 6.9 to 7.2 which is slightly higher than the 5.9 – 6.2 my doctor would like, but I do my best. I use long acting insulin at night, 14 units which does a good job at helping to keep things under control. I’m trying to eat better, but I’m a sucker for sweets and it’s hard to be disciplined.

My Trigeminal Neuralgia is something I’ve talked about before so you can read the article about it here.  The same goes for my Bipolar Disorder.

So, what else is on that list. Ah yes, the ever lovely Gastroparesis

what-is-gastroparesis

Now, the way they determine if you have this or not is through something called a motility test. In my case, they wanted me off ALL of my meds first to make sure they weren’t contributing to the problem, so for 2 days prior to my test I had to quit my medications cold turkey. That included my meds for Fibromyalgia, my anti-psychotics AND my opioid narcotic for pain. Do you have any idea what going through withdrawal is like? It was horrendous. I had the shakes, the runs, I couldn’t eat or sleep, and for those 2 days, I alternated between thinking I was dying and wanting to die to having to feel better in order to die.

On the day of the test, I went to the hospital to where the Nuclear testing is done. I knew that I was going to be eating an egg sandwich with a radioactive tracer in it and that tracer would be monitored through a series of special x-rays, but I explained to the nurse that everything I ate was immediately running right through me like water. She was so sweet…she “reserved” me a private bathroom, brought me my sandwich and told me to eat as much as I could while I sat there. Talk about embarrassing!!! It’s embarrassing writing about it!!! But, I managed just over 3/4’s of it, which she said was enough. She brought me into the x-ray room where there was a gurney to lay on, and then gave me a warm blanket.

The first pictures were taken every 2 minutes, so I just sat. Then they took them every 5 minutes apart, then 10 minutes apart, then 15, then 30 and finally 2 pictures 1 hour apart each. In between, I slept on the gurney, and my nurse brought me as many warm blankets as I wanted. She also brought me a cold wet face cloth for my forehead. When it was all over, I gave her a big hug and thanked her for being so kind. Then I took my medications asap!!!!

The tests showed that I have a moderate degree of low motility so my food sits in my stomach for a long period of time before moving on to the intestines. This explains why I always look bloated and pregnant. There are medications that can be taken, but I’ve asked my doctor if we can just hold off and wait on that for now. This is more of an inconvenience than anything right now, and I just don’t want any more drugs in my system than I absolutely need. If the problem becomes hugely bothersome, we’ll revisit it, but in the meantime, I’ll just try to watch what I eat, drink more water and try to exercise a bit more.

The Internal Pelvic pain is because I have had a number of pelvic surgeries over the years, so there is a lot of internal scar tissue left over that has attached itself to things like my bladder and bowel, etc. There are occasions when I move a certain way, and those adhesions stretch very painfully – it feels like velcro being ripped apart except it’s my body doing the ripping. It takes my breath away sometimes, it’s so painful, but it only lasts for a minute or two, then it’s gone.

Which leads to Hypothyroidism. For a long time, I assumed that Chronic Fatigue Syndrome was the only reason for my constant exhaustion, as my Thyroid numbers always came back normal on blood tests done every three months. One day though, my thyroid went rogue and those numbers were crazy. I had been especially tired…like dragging my ass tired, needed toothpicks to keep my eyes open tired

DraggingMyButt

Oohhh, that is NOT a good look on me!!! My doctor put me on meds and I could feel a difference in a very short period of time. On my next 3 month course of blood work, everything was back to normal, so now I take Synthroid on a daily basis for the rest of my life, to ensure I have a properly working system. So glad that was an easy fix!!

So there you have it. It’s a tough road to walk, I have to be honest. I live with pain 24/7 and have for almost 30 years now. Suffice it to say that you have to be mighty strong to live like this, to get through the day-to-day of actually living in pain. I know some people who just couldn’t. They tried so, so hard, but in the end, their pain was too much for them, and they took their own lives.

I’m a huge advocate for assisted suicide for people who live with severe, intractable pain. We take better care of our pets when they are hurting than we do our humans, and I think that is just plain wrong. I believe every human has the right to choose to die with dignity and I’m glad our Government has come on board with this. I know it’s not perfect, but at least things have started and that’s the main thing.

One thing having all these conditions HAS done though is that it’s given me a platform to blog about them and to discuss them as a Patient Partner in my volunteer work. I live in Langford, BC Canada and I belong to an organization called Patient Voices Network. They help take the voice of the patient and partner us with Heath Care Organizations who need Patient Advocates for the work that they are doing. I’ve been involved in committee work, focus groups, conferences, quality assurance forums, seminars and more because of PVN. The educational experience I’ve received is on par to anything I attended in my working life and in fact, when I attend anything in their offices in Vancouver now, it’s like being greeted by family – I know everyone and they all know me, I’ve been there so often for meetings.

I currently sit on 4 different committees: I am a member of the PVN Oversight & Advisory Committee, I currently sit on the Clinical Resource Committee for the BC Emergency Physicians Network , and I accepted a role with the Laboratory Quality Council Committee. We are responsible for all Labs on Vancouver Island as well as all Medical Blood Collection Stations.

Most recently, I took on a new role as committee member on the Measurement System for Physician Quality Improvement- Surgical Group. I am surrounded by top surgeons in Cardiac Care, Orthopedics and Neurology, plus high-ranking members from the Ministry of Health, the BC Patient Safety & Quality Council and other Health Organizations – and then there’s me. The lone patient voice to represent the masses. It’s a huge responsibility and one I take very seriously. I’ve already spoken out to let them know that while they see quality one way, I as a patient see it differently, and I expect my voice to be heard. It was empowering to have them tell me that I am the whole reason the others are there, because it’s all about the patient in the end.

So all this adds up to some pretty amazing experiences for me because of the pretty extraordinary pain that I live with on a daily basis. I have been truly blessed in my life, and I’m fortunate to be able to share it with you, my Dear Readers. Thank you for taking this journey with me. I hope to bring you more articles this year about Chronic Pain, Chronic Fatigue, Fibromyalgia and other Invisible Illnesses. And remember…

There is always hope

Tired vs. Exhausted

I’m so tired, I’m repeating a post from the past!!!

Have you ever felt exhausted? So exhausted you could barely move?  The kind of exhausted that leaves you feeling almost helpless? Guess what…I have a new word for you!!!

Actually, I think there are many people in my life who this word could apply to…the warriors who struggle along every day despite the illnesses that try to hold them back. My friends and fellow Warriors…you are simply Quanked!!!!!!

Quanked

Taken from Grandiloquent Words:
Quanked
(KWANK’d)
Adjective:
-Overpowered by fatigue.
-To have the strength reduced or exhausted, as by labour or exertion; become fatigued; be sleepy. Origin uncertain Used in a sentence:
“After sprunting all weekend, then frooncing to get my chores done, I’m well quanked.”Quanked is a condition in which one’s energy and vitality have been consumed. One who is quanked has used up his or her bodily or mental resources, usually because of arduous or long-sustained effort. To feel quanked at the end of the day; quanked after a hard run; feeling rather quanked; quanked by a long vigil.-See forswunke
Now, in all seriousness, I think the word is an excellent one to describe how it feels to be exhausted when you live with an Invisible Illness. It’s beyond any type of tiredness you’ve ever felt before. It’s sleeping for 12 hours and waking up just as tired as you were before you fell asleep. It’s like climbing a mountain when all you did was go up one flight of stairs. When sleeping on the couch is easier than trying to get up to go to bed.
Now add in being in pain constantly and what do you get? You get you. You get me. You get people like us, who have been living in varying stages of agony for varying periods of time.  I’ve talked with several friends who live with Fibromyalgia, Chronic Pain and Chronic Fatigue plus various other Invisible Illnesses and they’ve described their fatigue and pain like this:
  • It’s like swimming through concrete while being on fire at the same time (this was mine).
  • It’s like constantly having a “pins and needles” sensation that never goes away
  • I feel like I’m being randomly stabbed by a crazed maniac, but that crazed maniac is inside my body and I can’t stop it.
  • There are parts of my body that are numb and parts of my body that are burning and other parts of my body are throbbing and it all happens at the same time.
  • My brain is foggy and I can’t remember things like I used to. I hurt everywhere all the time and I’m always tired, no matter how much sleep I get. I don’t like this me that I am anymore.
  • I feel like I’ve been in a war, but you can’t see my wounds
  • Do you remember when you were young and you could stay up for hours and hours at night and never feel old? Yeah, well I can’t do that anymore. I’m lucky if I can stay up past 7pm and I don’t even have kids. I’m too tired and achy and sore.

There are ways you can try to improve your sleep with Fibro and Chronic Pain and the key is consistency:

  1. Sleep in a quiet dark room with a slightly cooler temperature than normal. Wear a sleep mask if necessary.
  2. Power down the electronics (TV, computer, Smartphone, etc.)  one hour before bedtime. The light from your bedside clock is also enough to disrupt your sleep, so check and see if there is a dim light setting, or face the clock away from you at night.
  3. Set a regular bedtime and wake up time. Establishing a schedule can help the body recognize good sleep habits.
  4. Consider downloading and listening to “sleep music”. There are many recordings that are free, including delta wave music which works with your brainwaves to help lull you into a natural sleep. A “white noise” machine may do the trick for you. These can be found in almost any electronics store and come with various sounds and settings, designed to help your body relax and let go.
  5. Limit Alcohol before bed.  You know you’ve read this before but for good reason. Alcohol may make you “feel” tired but actually will wake you up more often.
  6. Eat a healthy snack 45 minutes before bed. This would be something with protein in it like half a turkey sandwich, a small bowl of whole-grain low-sugar cereal, milk or yogurt or a banana. Eating like this before bed helps stave off the “midnight munchies” where you wake up starving in the wee hours of the night.
  7. Get some exercise! Regular exercise like walking or swimming can help the body to rest well in the evening. Start slow and build up over time. Work with a personal trainer if possible who can help you set up a routine tailored to your specific needs and abilities.
  8. Check with your Doctor to ensure there are no other underlying health issues that could be causing your fatigue (i.e.: thyroid issues, anemia, etc.).
  9. Don’t just lay there – get up! If you haven’t been able to fall asleep within 20 minutes, get up and leave the bedroom. Read or do something that doesn’t involve your TV or computer/Smartphone until you feel sleepy and then try again. The bedroom should be for sleep and sex only. The longer you lay awake in bed for, the more used to being awake in bed your body becomes. You need to break that cycle so getting out of bed and moving to a different room is the smart choice.
  10. Medications should be the last resort but are available to help if needed. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist for information about over the counter medications to try first.

If you tend to be a worrier at night, with a million things running through your head, allow yourself 10 minutes of this. Set an alarm and let your thoughts go wild. At the end of those 10 minutes, it’s time to stop. It takes practice but it gives you the opportunity to get all those worries out without mulling them over for hours. This isn’t the time for solutions, just the time to acknowledge that they’re there. In the end, say something like “I’m glad I had this time to worry about everything, but now I’m going to sleep on them. I’ll deal with them in the morning”. It tells your brain you’ve acknowledged the worries, and you’ll do something about them later. And off to sleep you go.

Another way to sleep better at night is to be organized during the day. The less you leave to chance during the daytime, the less you need to stress at night. “Did I sign Johnny’s papers for camp?”  “Where did I put the chequebook?” “When is the next Book Club meeting?”  Whether you use your smartphone, an organizer or the calendar at home, by having a regular system for keeping track of appointments, meetings and paperwork, you’ll stress less knowing you have it all in one place and you’ll sleep better at night.

Sleeping better isn’t always about being in less pain. It’s about doing all the things you can to make your environment as sleep-conducive as possible which may result in less pain. Removing as much stress as possible from your sleeping area is one of the biggest and best things you can do, so try and think of all the things that will make your bedroom area the most comfortable it can be. The key is, whatever you do, do it with consistency. None of us wants to feel quanked.

Remember…there is always hope

Interview October – Frank

Today on our very last Interview October, we’re meeting Frank Rivera. Here is his story:

Frank’s Bio…  

Frank Rivera founded Sarcoidosis of Long Island in 2012. In 2011 Frank was diagnosed with Sarcoidosis after being misdiagnosed with lung cancer for 7 years prior. Since opening Sarcoidosis of Long Island he has been a local, state and federal advocate for Sarcoidosis. Frank strives to raise awareness for Sarcoidosis nationally, but specifically in the government sector. He has represented the Rare and Sarcoidosis community as a speaker at two Congressional briefings for Sarcoidosis. Frank is a National Ambassador for Foundation for Sarcoidosis Research, was a Global Genes RARE Foundation Alliance Member and was an Advocate, an ambassador for The EveryLife Foundation and a Working Group Member. Named RUGD Ambassador for Illumina October 2017 Frank organized RareNY in 2016, to raise awareness for Rare Diseases in the state of New York. He organized “A Day for Rare Diseases” on October 15th, 2016 in Long Island NY, in partnership with Global Genes, to raise awareness for all 7000+ rare diseases. In recognition of Frank’s efforts, Suffolk County and the town of Brookhaven officially declared October 15th “A Day for Rare Diseases”. In 2017 Frank was named Brookhaven advocate of the year. Frank also is an advocate for “Right to Try” even being interviewed by NBC Nightly News this year.

Chronic illness(es)/disabilities I have… 

Sarcoidosis, Sjogren’s Syndrome, and Parkinson’s and IBS

My symptoms/condition began… 

I was misdiagnosed in 2004, with Lung Cancer. I went through 4 years of chemotherapy and radiation while living in Florida. After the 4 years, I was told I was in remission. In 2011 after moving back to New York, I had problems with my IBS. While in the ER room they took a CT scan of my stomach and part of my lungs were shown in the CT Scan. They found more masses in my lungs. They took a biopsy and said I had Sarcoidosis. I ended going to Mt. Sinai Hospital to their Sarcoidosis clinic in Manhattan. They got my past tests from the hospital in Florida and found out that I had Sarcoidosis the whole time.

The hardest part of living with my illness/disabilities is… 

The pain and that they all are invisible illnesses. People look at me and they say well you look fine. But they don’t know what my insides feel and look like. Sarcoidosis has taken over 90% of my body. The only place I don’t have it is in my liver and kidneys.

A typical day for me involves… 

Everyday I never know how I am going to feel. So there is no real routine. I am on permanent disability. The only thing I do every day I wake up unless I can’t get out of bed is make sure both my wife and daughter have what they need for work and school respectively. I make them their lunch as well as breakfast. After that, I am too tired so I take a nap. Then since I run a non-profit organization I check my emails to see if anyone needs help. If not most of the days I rest. This disease has taken the energy out of me. In April I was downgraded from chronically ill to terminally ill. I used to travel to raise awareness for Sarcoidosis and Rare Diseases. I no longer travel far due to my body not being able to handle the travel and the long days in meetings

The one thing I cannot live without is… 

It may sound funny, but the one thing I need every day is my one cup of coffee every morning.

Being ill/disabled has taught me… 

To value life. It has told me to not sweat the small stuff. I have learned that living each day as the best you can. I also have learned you can’t please everyone so you need to please yourself first or you won’t be able to please others.

What advice would I give someone recently diagnosed… 

Be your own best advocate! Be involved. Learn about the disease

My support system is…

I would not be anywhere without my wife Diana and my daughter Savannah who is 15 going on 30. They have been there for me physically, emotionally and most important mentally. 3 years ago I thought about committing suicide due to the pain. I would have done it if it wasn’t for my wife and daughter. I ended up putting myself in a 72-hour hospital watch for suicide prevention.

If I had one day symptom/disability-free I would… 

I would go away with my family to the beach. That is my favourite place but now since I have Sarcoidosis I haven’t been able to go that much at all.

One positive of having a chronic illness/disability is…

There are actually two positive things that have come from having these diseases. The first is the friends I have met that have the same diseases as I do. They understand what I am going through and I can talk to them about it. The most important positive for me is I knew I was strong, but I never knew how strong I was until I have been with this disease. I have fought through things I never would have thought I could. My motto is ” I have Sarcoidosis and Parkinson’s but THEY don’t have me!”

My links are:

www.sarcoidosisofli.org

https://wordpress.com/view/lifeasararepatient.blog

 

Interview October – Maya

Today on Interview October, we’re meeting Maya Northen Augelli . Let’s get to know her better:

MayaNorthenAugelli

Introduce yourself and tell us a bit about you…  

My name is Maya and I’m from Philadelphia, where I live with my husband and our dog. I run a travel planning company, and also work with a local consulting company. I became a mental health and chronic illness advocate in 2009, after being diagnosed with a relatively rare mood cycling disorder. When I’m not working or advocating, you can often find me traveling, hiking or otherwise enjoying nature, reading, writing, or doing yoga – in fact, I’m just starting Yoga Teacher Training this fall!

Chronic illness(es)/disabilities I have… 

I have Rapid Cycling Cyclothymia, a rare mood cycling disorder that’s similar to, but technically “less mild” (in quotes because it definitely doesn’t feel mild at times) to Bipolar Disorder. I also struggle with anxiety as part of this disorder, though not technically diagnosed with a separate anxiety disorder. In addition to my mental health condition, I  battle IBS and Migraines

My symptoms/condition began… 

I am told I was most likely born with cyclothymia. I started exhibiting symptoms of hypomania as early as two years old, though of course they didn’t know what it was at the time. Symptoms progressively increased in frequency and intensity through my teen and early adult years. I was finally diagnosed just shy of my 30th birthday. The migraines I have been getting since I was a teenager – tough to really say when they started, but I can definitively say I can’t really recall a time when I wasn’t prone to migraines. They’re not continual, but I have consistently gotten them at least a few times a month since I was a teen. The IBS symptoms began around the age of 23, and I was diagnosed shortly thereafter.

My diagnosis process was… 

I’ll speak mainly about my cyclothymia diagnosis process here, as they others were pretty straight forward – went to the Dr, was referred to a specialist, had a couple of tests (colonoscopy/upper & lower GI tests for the IBS) and was diagnosed.

The cyclothymia diagnosis was trickier. I’d been seeing therapists on and off since college. I had only found one I’d really trusted, but long story short, at the time my symptoms weren’t as prominent, and I was more seeing her post-divorce than for my specific mental health symptoms. In the summer of 2009, my GP put me on a low dose of antidepressants, which at first helped, but soon made me feel worse. In August 2009, I was hospitalized for two days with what I thought were non-stop anxiety attacks. The hospital increased my depression medication, and I felt worse. When I got out of the hospital, I went to the one therapist I’d trusted from past years, and we began working through things – including the fact that the medication was making me worse. I even brought my mom to a session, in which she described the symptoms I’d exhibited as a very young child (since I couldn’t quite as accurately describe them, having been a toddler when they started). It was during these visits that I was finally diagnosed with rapid cycling cyclothymia. My therapist explained that the antidepressants made me worse because I cycle so rapidly that basically, by the time the medication that’s supposed to “lift” my mood (for lack of a better phrase) hits my system, I’ve already cycled up, and the effect is compounded. So in essence, the antidepressants were putting me in almost continual hypomania (what I had thought were anxiety attacks). She subsequently brought me down off the antidepressants and we began mood stabilizers.

The hardest part of living with my illness/disabilities is… 

It’s two fold for me. One is the feeling of lack of control over my brain. I feel like I often can’t trust my own mind – because I cycle so quickly, literally every day is a complete surprise. I never know how I’ll wake up feeling (depressed, hypomanic, anxious, none of the above), and how often it’ll change each day. Not being able to trust my own brain, or feeling like I can’t, massively affects my self-esteem and often makes me feel hopeless and worthless.

The second is the stigma. The fact that people think you can just smile, change your attitude, be more grateful, look on the bright side, or choose to not feel this way is awful. When this happens, not only do I feel hopeless and worthless, I’m being told it’s my own fault, and shamed for how I’m feeling.

A typical day for me involves… 

I have a full time job, so on weekdays, my day of course involves that. But in terms of illness and coping strategies, I get up early to exercise most weekdays before work – it helps my mood, and it helps me to keep a consistent schedule. I spend time writing each morning – mostly journaling. This helps me brain dump, more or less, so that I can try to sort through the mish-mosh of feelings, emotions, thoughts all going through my brain. Without this outlet, it feels like non-stop stimulation inside of my brain, before even getting much input from the “outside” world, and it makes concentration and focus extremely difficult. Most evenings after dinner, I try to meditate, and/or do some yoga. It’s a wind down for my day, and helps settle my brain, so that I can hopefully get some sleep. If it’s not a work day, I try to spend as much time in the sunshine and fresh air as I can – especially in nature. I’ve been slacking in that lately, and really need to get back into it.

The one thing I cannot live without is… 

My loved ones. They’re my rocks. But if I had to choose an actual thing… I’d be tempted to say my medication, but I’ve had to go temporarily off of it for personal reasons, so technically, I’m living without it for the moment.  So, I’d probably have to say my journal. Writing is my solace. My journal will “listen” to my thoughts and emotions and feelings with no judgement, and it lets me get it “out of my head” without having to actually direct it at anyone, which is huge in helping my relationships with loved ones and friends (note: I’m far from perfect in this regard, but it helps). I work through so much in the pages of my journal, and I can’t imagine not having that outlet on a daily basis.

Being ill/disabled has taught me… 

That I am not alone, and that so many people struggle with their mental health. You hear the statistics, that one in five Americans have a mental health condition, but when you begin talking about your illness and advocating, and you have people you would never have thought coming to you and saying, “Thank you so much for speaking out, I struggle too,” it really hits home. That “one in five” goes from being a statistic to something tangible that you can feel in daily life.  My illness has also given me a purpose. In my adult life, I feel I’ve floundered a bit in really finding where I feel I belong. But utilizing my illness to help others has, from the very start, always felt 100 percent like it’s my purpose and a path that I have to follow. It feels such a natural part of my life, almost an extension of myself, when so little else does sometimes.

What advice would I give someone recently diagnosed… 

I have so much to say here, but I’ll try to condense it!  First, I would tell them to learn everything they can about their illness (from credible sources of course), and that when they’re ready, finding support with others who have the same/similar illness  – whether they find this in an official group or among friends or on social media/online – can make a world of difference. I’d also remind them how often depression and anxiety lie, and that there may be days that their illness wants them to believe every terrible thing about themselves, but that these aren’t true, no matter how convincing the lies sound.  I’d want them to know that there’s hope, there are others who “get it” and are here to help, and that they are not alone. Finally, I’d tell them to make sure that they have a healthcare team that they trust, and just as importantly, that trusts them. We know our bodies and our brains better than anyone else because we have lived with them our entire lives, and it’s important that our health professionals understand this – we deserve that respect as patients, to have our voices heard and not to be discounted.

My support system is…

My husband, my family, my friends, my therapist, my social media/online spoonie family.

If I had one day symptom/disability-free I would… 

Live as fully as I could – do activities I love to do, with people I care about, and try my hardest not to, as so often happens, let the anxiety of “Ok, I feel good now, but when is the proverbial other shoe going to drop”  creep in. Afterall, if I let it creep in, I’d cease to be symptom free!

One positive of having a chronic illness/disability is…

For myself, I’d say that it’s helped me to be more understanding and empathetic. Because I know I’m often struggling with a lot that others can’t see, I try to also remember this when the situation is reversed, and I try to put myself in their shoes before passing judgement. For instance, if someone’s speaking to me badly, I try to ask myself “what might they be going through that I can’t see that’s causing them to act this way?”.

In addition, as mentioned above, it’s given me a purpose and direction. Without my illnesses, I wouldn’t be an advocate, I wouldn’t be involved in so many various organizations and causes, and I wouldn’t have met so many amazing people through these.

My links are:

https://spreadhopeproject.com
www.liliesandelephants.blogspot.com
Twitter: @mayanorthen
Instagram: @myohmy23

Interview October – Jan

Interview October is almost over, but we have another guest to meet – Jan Collins

JanCollins

Introduce yourself and tell us a bit about you…  

I am Janet but prefer Jan and I am 60 years young. Recently divorced after 37 years of marriage I have 2 children, Zoe 35 and Nathan 26. Zoe has my only granddaughter Amerthyst who will be 7 in November and she is the light of my life

Chronic illness(es)/disabilities I have… 

I have among other things chronic brittle asthma, COPD, type 2 diabetes, osteoarthritis and the onset of osteoporosis in my left hip. For 15 years I was on steroids for my asthma which has caused me all sorts of digestive problems. I am pleased to say that I have recently come off the steroids and have already lost over a stone (14lbs) in weight

My symptoms/condition began… 

I have had asthma all my life, when I was 4 my parents were told it was infantile asthma and I would grow out of it. In the interim, I have had bad spells and good spells. About 16 or 17 years ago I collapsed at home and if it hadn’t been for my then 9 year old son who didn’t panic but kept his calm I could have died. For the next 6 months or more I was in and out of A and E, my mum and husband were on the phone every day trying to get me to see a specialist. We were told that as mine was asthma, not lung cancer I didn’t have priority. When I did see the specialist he put me on steroids and boy did that open a can of worms. Every time they found something else wrong it was due to the steroids. I put on loads of weight and lost all my self-esteem.

The hardest part of living with my illness/disabilities is… 

The worst point was being diagnosed with diabetes 3 years ago which restricted my already limited diet even more. My ex also has diabetes and could eat almost anything without it causing any problems. I quickly learnt I couldn’t and was put on insulin developed fat growths on my arm and in my eye and had problems with my feet. It was so frustrating, I lost my self-confidence and my controlling ex basically persuaded me I couldn’t do anything so I became housebound except when he took me out. Then he walked out, my son helped me do a food diary to work out what I could or couldn’t eat, yes it was limiting but at least I knew where I stood. I discovered an inner strength and regained some of my self-confidence. A haircut and losing weight with people telling me how good I looked did a lot for my self-esteem as well.

A typical day for me involves… 

At the moment a typical day for me starts when my alarm goes off at 5am. This gives me three-quarter’s of an hour to get up and get dressed before I wake my son. After the first of many cups of tea the dog and I go for an OK let’s get our bodies moving walk, we both suffer from arthritis. This is the first of at least 3 walks we do. Then it’s medicine time which can take up to an hour. 2 mornings a week the community transport bus picks me up from home and takes me into town (I can no longer drive due to my eye problems). My daughter comes over once a week and we go out for a coffee. Afternoons are given over to crafting and studying, I am doing an O. U. English literature and creative writing degree. After a late tea and my second lot of insulin and, my 3rd lots of nebules I do my son’s lunch box for the next day before sitting down for the evening. I usually catch up on social media and deal with anything that has cropped up, write to my numerous pen pals or read. Every day my intention is to be in bed by 10 but it rarely happens. For one thing, my evening routine of medicines, putting cream on my feet etc takes over an hour.

Being ill/disabled has taught me… 

Over the years I have adapted my lifestyle to suit my needs but despite what it sounds like my health doesn’t dominate my life I always say I am not disabled just less enabled in some fields but have learnt so many new things to more than compensate for those things. People feel sorry for me but I can’t understand why I have so much going for me and have learnt so much. These days I can’t imagine living without my health issues but that aside my Jack Russell Terrier Herbie is my lifeline, he is company, he gives me a reason to get up and walk him and thus exercise. As a result of watching my diet changes and walking Herbie, I have lost over a stone (14lbs) in weight. I am still overweight but every bit helps.

What advice would I give someone recently diagnosed… 

Pace yourself, set targets for yourself but don’t knock yourself up if you don’t achieve them.

One positive of having a chronic illness/disability is…

Being disabled has taught me so much it is difficult to remember them all. Tolerance, patience, understanding, empathy, compassion, I have become a better listener and learnt many new skills all as a direct result of my health problems

 To quote 2 sayings my grandad used to say

” count your blessings one by one every day.” These might be anything from the love of your family and friends, sunny days or just the fact that you are still breathing.

” Smile and the world smiles with you, cry and you cry alone”. People get fed up with you if you are always moaning.

Life is for living, enjoy.

My links are:

collinsjan20@gmail.com and people can private message me anytime.

Other than that I am a member of Disability Matters and I am an ambassador for the online group Carenity.com specialising in Respiratory Diseases, Chronic Pain, Depression and Diabetes.

Interview October – Beth

Interview October continues with another wonderful guest…let’s meet Beth Crutcher

BethCrutcher

Introduce yourself and tell us a bit about you…  

My name is Beth…I am a 52 yo, Married, mother of 2, Full time Registered Dental Assistant. I’ve been in the same dental office since 1995.

Chronic illness(es)/disabilities I have… 

I have Chronic Congestive Heart Failure, My Ejection Fraction, or how the blood pumps through the heart currently sits at 35- 40%, normal is 55-70%. I also have been diagnosed with Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome and Mixed Connective Tissue Disorder.

My symptoms/condition began… 

My symptoms first began with the birth of my first child in 1988, I was 21 years old and had an uneventful pregnancy, but soon after the birth of my daughter I noticed I could not take in a deep breath, and felt a heaviness on my chest. Since I had just had an emergency c-section, doctors overlooked any concerns as normal pregnancy symptoms. When I persisted they finally saw me and realized I was in distress as my oxygen levels were in the 70’s. I was sent to the ER and treated for pulmonary embolism, pneumonia, asthma, and even anxiety. I was away from my newborn for two weeks and discharged without a proper diagnosis. That of which I would not get until the birth of my second daughter 13 years later in 2001 and in post-pregnancy had shortness of breath, and swelling, and could not lie flat. after two weeks of medical professionals saying it was normal..an ER Cardiologist gave me a diagnosis of PeriPartum Cardiomyopathy. Pregnancy-induced heart failure,

My Ejection Fraction was at 10%  and I may get better with medications, or I may need a heart transplant.  I have been on an up and down EF rollercoaster of treatments and medications and am currently stable with an EF of 35-40%.  Still very symptomatic and having other symptoms of  extreme fatigue, lightheadedness, brain fog,  excessive heart palpitations, exercise intolerance, nausea, severe headaches, aura migraines, joint pain , stomach pain, sun/heat exposure intolerance, dizziness, high and low blood pressure readings led to having a positive tilt table test and a diagnosis of Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS), an autonomic dysfunction, Dysautonomia. and blood work revealed a high ANA reading which gave me a diagnosis of Mixed Connective Tissue Disease, an autoimmune disorder.  All aspects of each illness has its challenges and it is often hard to balance one against the other.

The hardest part of living with my illness/disabilities is… 

An unpleasant aspect of HF and POTS and MCTD, for me, is doing a task that involves squatting down (rather than bending from the waist, which makes me feel faint on standing upright). Getting something from the bottom of the shelf, or reaching and stretching in a continuous motion, walking up a flight of stairs, as well as taking the elevator leaves me very short of breath, or dizzy. I ask why this happens and they said it’s a bit like standing on a garden hose – squatting down like that with an inefficient heart restricts the return of blood to the right side of the heart through the vena cava, consequently there is less to go to the lungs for oxygen before being pumped around the body by the dysfunctional left side of the heart. I also don’t like the pain in my joints, it can make the smallest of tasks unbearable.

A typical day for me involves… 

First getting out of bed in the morning is slow moving.  I have learned to move carefully. I only have so much energy to use in a day. Monday-Friday I work full time in a busy dental office. I have learned my limits and go through life accordingly. When I’m in a flare-up, I rest. I do activities/ family functions when I feel up to it, when I feel I can’t… I don’t.

The one thing I cannot live without is… 

My Husband and children and soon to be granddaughter!

Being ill/disabled has taught me… 

You know who your real friends are. The ones that understand you may not be capable of doing what you once did, but support you when you can or can’t.

What advice would I give someone recently diagnosed… 

Trust yourself. Keep telling yourself, You’re not unreliable, Your health is. It’s not your fault

My support system is…

My family and friends and work family. And social media groups.

If I had one day symptom/disability-free I would… 

I would with all my loved ones around me, run down the beach, climb a mountain to look at the view down below. And just take in the sunshine and eat whatever I want!!!

One positive of having a chronic illness/disability is…

The connections I have made through social media and becoming an advocate for PPCM with SavetheMommies.com. My Heartsisters are like my family.

My links are:

SavetheMommies.com

Interview October – Maria

It’s time to meet our next Guest for Interview October. This is Maria Thomas

MariaThomas
photo credit: Amy Boyle Photography

Introduce yourself and tell us a bit about you…  

My name is Maria Thomas, and I’m a writer, editor, content creator and book nerd. Seven years ago I launched my blog, My Life as a Puddle, where I’m creating hyperhidrosis hope and awareness one drop at a time.

Chronic illness(es)/disabilities I have… 

Hyperhidrosis (excessive uncontrollable sweating), ulcerative colitis and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis

My symptoms/condition began… 

Hyperhidrosis- age 7

UC – age 33

Hashimoto’s – age 36, and I found out by accident after some bloodwork!

My diagnosis process was… 

A long time coming for my Hh. I found the term in a Google search but didn’t get a proper diagnosis until age 21.

UC – the perfect storm. I was going through a divorce, selling the first home I ever owned, and moving into a tiny little apartment. It was a trifecta of stressful events and my body decided to respond with blood in my stool and a frequent need to go.

The hardest part of living with my illness/disabilities is… 

Hh – Getting people to understand that I am not sweating because I am nervous. I’m nervous BECAUSE I’m sweating. There’s a difference. It’s also hard for people to understand how much my life and choices are affected by my sweating. It’s not “just a little sweat.” I try not to let it rule my life but sometimes it does.

UC – having a chronic autoimmune condition makes me tired sometimes, and more prone to GI pain and distress. I’m not high maintenance, but I’ve really had to overhaul the way I eat, which can make it difficult to eat out sometimes. I now follow a Paleo nutrition plan, which is hard when you live in a state known for its craft beer, which is unfortunately loaded with gluten.

I also have to stab myself every other week with a biologic injectable medication. Try that with sweaty hands!

A typical day for me involves… 

Turning my desk fan on and off at least 25 times a day while at work, then coming home and changing my sweaty clothes and socks if necessary. If I’ve worn sandals, I’ll usually wash my feet since they’ve developed a coating from sweating.

UC-wise I never know when I’ll experience symptoms. I’m in remission now, but occasionally I’ll have gurgling sounds and stabbing pains in my lower abdomen.

Hashimoto’s-wise, sometimes I feel so lethargic it’s like i haven’t slept in days. Other days I feel like I could run a marathon.

The one thing I cannot live without is… 

My books, my husband, and my Pug named Maya

Being ill/disabled has taught me… 

To listen to my body and take care of it. I was hospitalized once because of my ulcerative colitis. It was scary and miserable and terribly isolating. It also taught me to be my own best health advocate. I had nurses trying to feed me grains and gluten and dairy. Not once did my GI doctor at the time say gee, you might want to avoid all that stuff. I had to seek out a functional medicine doctor to learn all of that and switch to a Paleo diet.

What advice would I give someone recently diagnosed… 

Do your research! Read the medical literature, read books, and absolutely go see a functional medicine Doctor who treats the whole body as a system and doesn’t just prescribe medications to cover up symptoms.

My support system is…

My husband and my family

If I had one day symptom/disability-free I would… 

Go on a public speaking tour and wear high heels without no-show socks or absorbent insoles because I wouldn’t be worried about sweating all over everything ! Then I’d do a meet and greet and shake everyone’s hand.

One positive of having a chronic illness/disability is…

I get to choose how I respond to my life, which is why I choose to make my sweaty mess my message. You can either rise up or stay below. All it takes is one different choice.

My links are:

https://www.facebook.com/mylifeasapuddle/
https://twitter.com/MyLifeAsAPuddle
https://www.instagram.com/mylifeasapuddle/

Interview October – Roger

Let’s meet Roger Potter, our next guest on Interview October. Here he is:

Rog Potter

Introduce yourself and tell us a bit about you…  

My name is Roger Potter, a young strong Senior who is one of the original blue babies of the 1940’s, born also with congenital heart disease and one of the pioneering babies that had open heart surgery in 1952. I am also one of 20 co-authors of a up coming book called Cardiac Athletes vol 2.

Chronic illness(es)/disabilities I have… 

I was born a Blue Baby – this means that you’re born with a pale bluish color to your skin which means that you are still mixing oxygen and blood when you’re not supposed to be which indicates you also have congenital heart disease.

My symptoms/condition began… 

My symptoms began at birth and the diagnosis was at 6 months of age.

The hardest part of living with my illness/disabilities is… 

The hardest part as a child was not being able to keep up with the other kids and getting tired very fast.  Now as an adult, it’s accepting the fact that there are things I can’t do or doing them differently.

A typical day for me involves… 

Being active, living as full a life as I can and getting in the gym on a regular basis, for this condition is not going to stop me – I will capitalize on it.

One thing I can’t live without is…

The one thing I can’t live without is activity and going to the gym for this malady will not defeat me.

Being ill/disabled has taught me… 

Feeling or being disabled has taught me how to live boldly and be able to conquer that which I can and let others do that which I can’t.

What advice would I give someone recently diagnosed… 

I would tell those that are recently diagnosed to find out all that you can about what you have and talk with your Doctor at great lengths about exactly what you have then find out what your restrictions are like I did – and then find out if there is a way that you can accomplish at least some of your goals safely.

My support system is…

My support system is in part myself, for I seek to challenge myself on a safe basis and with Facebook Cardiac Athletes when I can motivate those that are going through problems that I had many years ago.

If I had one day symptom/disability-free I would… 

If I had one day free of all and knew that it wouldn’t bother me, I would max the day out. One positive of having a disability is knowing you’re a survivor and in an exclusive club and being able to do things that you weren’t supposed to be able to do.

My links are:

http://www.openheartsurgerytoseniorstrength.com/

https://twitter.com/SeniorPower

Interview October – Jenni

Our Interview October series continues with our next guest, Jenni Lock. Let’s meet her now:

JenniLock

Introduce yourself and tell us a bit about you…  

My name is Jenni Lock.  I’m 43 years old and hail from Ohio. I created Jenni’s Guts blog in 2008 and write about my journey with intestinal nonsense and other health issues.  My sense of humor and sarcasm are all part of my charm. I have a deep love for animals, learning about everything, socializing from a far, and my beautiful daughter.

Chronic illness(es)/disabilities I have… 

Crohn’s disease, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Bile Acid Malabsorption, chronic nausea and diarrhea mainly. However, I also suffer from Fibromyalgia, Anxiety, Depression, Insomnia and struggle with a touch of PTSD.

My symptoms/condition began… 

I started having health problems in roughly 1990, though I wasn’t officially diagnosed with Crohn’s until 1995.  Everything else wrong with me just snowballed over the years after that.

My diagnosis process was… 

Difficult. I suffered from a lot of stomach pain, back pain, joint pain and lost about 15 pounds due to running to the restroom about 15-20 times a day. My family doctor told me I was depressed and needed Prozac. That didn’t help so I went to a specialist. The specialist told me I had Irritable Bowel Syndrome and needed to eat more fiber and scheduled me for a sigmoidoscopy, but everything came back normal so I was, again, told to eat more fiber and decrease my stress. I quickly found out fiber made things worse and I continued to get sicker and sicker. I went to a different specialist who did many more tests but everything came back normal except for one blood test. It showed an inflammation/infection rate of seven times the normal rate. I exhausted all the testing options so I was scheduled for surgery to figure out what was happening inside me.  During surgery they found I had about 3 1/2 feet of severely inflamed small intestine and the final diagnosis was Crohn’s disease.  The whole diagnosis process took about 2 years.

The hardest part of living with my illness/disabilities is… 

My inability to do things with my family and friends because of being tied to a restroom and not feeling well enough.  Especially not being able to travel and go to fun events.  I’m not able to do a lot of things with my daughter because of this and it is really hard for me to continually have to say, “No, I’m sorry but I’m too sick” or “I can’t because of the bathroom situation.”

A typical day for me involves… 

After an exhausting night of not sleeping well, or even at all, the mornings are usually met with many trips to the restroom which continues throughout the day but most of the time tapers off at least a little throughout the day.  I watch a lot of movies and television, read and research, or put on music and draw.  I’m unable to work so I mainly just try to keep myself from going stir crazy.

The one thing I cannot live without is… 

Laughter.

Being ill/disabled has taught me… 

I can be a person with a disability (or many actually) but it doesn’t define who I am.  I’m so much more than just someone with medical problems.  And it has taken struggling with so many things wrong with me to actually figure that out.

What advice would I give someone recently diagnosed… 

This diagnosis isn’t the end of you. Study and learn as much as you can about your illness from every source you can get your hands on (except WebMD!!).  You have an inner strength that you never knew you had so use it to fight for proper health care and proper treatments and don’t ever, EVER settle for less – not from your doctors, healthcare professionals, or anyone else.  You’re worth it!

My support system is…

My family and friends.  And a furry little friend or two always make things better!  (Shoutout to all the pets I have had along the way – I miss you guys!)

If I had one day symptom/disability-free I would… 

Grab my daughter, get in the car and just drive.  We would go to all the places she always wanted to go and do all the things she wanted to do that I couldn’t because traveling, for me, is so difficult.

One positive of having a chronic illness/disability is…

All the communities out there that have allowed me the opportunity to meet people and learn about their stories.  I’m so fortunate that my blog has reached so many people and we all get to help each other cope.  I think it is so important to have a community of people who understand, even if they are hundreds of miles away from you and you never physically meet each other.

My link is:

JennisGuts.blogspot.com