Interview April – Amber Blackburn

Let’s welcome our next guest, the adorable Amber Blackburn!

AmberBlackburn

Introduce yourself and tell us a bit about you…

Hi y’all! My name is Amber Blackburn, I am 33 (almost 34) and live in the middle of the United States.  I am a Registered Nurse by trade who is now a Chronic Illness Blogger and Advocate due the fact that my health has declined to the point that I can no longer work a standard job!

Chronic illness(es)/disabilities I have…

Way too many for someone my age!  I don’t even know where to start!! I have Systemic Lupus (SLE), Fibromyalgia, Bertolottis Syndrome, IBS, Anxiety, Depression, Endometriosis, Interstitial Cystitis, Secondary Adrenal Insufficiency due to long term steroid use, POTs, Debilitating Migraines (Some of which are hemiplegic). I think that’s all my conditions. Or at least the important ones. I will note that many of my issues alone are not disabling but in combination with all the others they can be.

My symptoms/condition began and My diagnosis process was

I am going to combine these two questions as it makes my response easier.

I was admitted to the hospital for a respiratory illness in February 2012. I was in the hospital for 5 days and they could never really figure out what was going on. So I was put on high dose steroids and antibiotics and was told that would probably fix it. Over the following months more symptoms started showing up beyond the respiratory issues like extreme fatigue, joint pain and joint swelling. They had done all kinds of labs up to this point and nothing had shown up. But finally my Pulmonologist did a repeat ANA and lupus markers in April 2012 and they came back very positive. The joint pain and swelling continued to worsen to the point that I had to buy bigger shoes and could hardly walk.

So I saw a Rheumatologist in the summer of 2012 and was diagnosed with Systemic Lupus and Fibromyalgia. But looking back my symptoms go back to the late 90s, early 2000s. During my junior year of High School in 2001 I was diagnosed with Mono and it lasted SIX months, which does not happen. So we are pretty sure part of that was actually my first lupus flare. My official Endometriosis and Interstitial Cystitis diagnosis was in November 2011 but those symptoms went back to 1998 when I started having such horrible abdominal pain that no one could diagnose and blamed it on IBS.
The hardest part of living with my illness/disabilities is…

If I am being 100% honest the hardest part of living with my illnesses is not always dealing with my health. Outside of the pain and fatigue when they get really bad, I find the hardest part to be the social aspects. This may sound silly but it’s super hard to have to stay home all winter because you pick up every germ despite wearing a mask and washing your hands. It’s hard having to cancel plans because you don’t feel good enough to leave the house. Also, trying to explain to those who aren’t sick why you are canceling for the third time this month is awful and hard on relationships. For me (and surely others) the social aspect is probably the hardest part of living with a chronic illness, outside of the obvious health issues.

A typical day for me involves…

A typical day for me starts with me waking up and rolling over and stretching. Trying to see what hurts and what doesn’t. Then spending the next 10-15 min actually getting out of bed because if I don’t do it slowly I’ll pay for it later. What happens after that depends on the day. If I have a doctors appointment or somewhere to be, I will start the getting ready process which can take 10 mins or an hour depending on how I feel, and how ready I need to be. As well as how many breaks I will need to take. If I don’t have anywhere to be I go straight upstairs to eat and take care of my dogs. In the morning I will always be checking social media and do my daily posts (that sometimes become 3 times a week posts) on all my platforms.

I will most likely be writing for my blog and posting if it’s a day to post. I try to write something for the blog everyday, that way I don’t feel rushed at anytime because I don’t have anything written. I may not get a whole piece written every day but I try to write something. There is always an afternoon “nap” if I can’t get comfortable and sleep than I at least lay in bed and rest. And the evenings are usually pretty chill. Generally speaking, I spend the evenings watching a show or reading a book. I take a shower and try to be in bed by nine. When I fall asleep will depend on what I did that day and how much pain I’m in. Everyday is different for me because I never know how I will feel. I always know if I did a lot the day before that the next day will be a day of rest. Honestly, I can’t plan to far in advance because I never know how I will feel.

The one thing I cannot live without is…

I hate to admit this, my phone.  I say this because I use my phone for everything. I use it for communication, with my friends, family and medical providers. I use it to help run the Chronic Illness Support Group on Facebook (Lupie Groupies) I started about 5 years ago which continues to grow. I use it to blog, to research, and post on social media. And I use it for my jobs, I sell Senegence Makeup as well as the Chronic Illness Symptom Tracker that I created for those with chronic illness.. For those reasons my cell phone is important to me.

Being chronically ill/disabled has taught me…

Being chronically ill has taught me so so many things. But I honestly think the biggest thing is that being sick has a way of showing you who your true friends (and family sadly) are. I know it sounds cliche but it’s very true.

What advice would I give someone recently diagnosed…

The biggest piece of advice I would give to someone who was recently diagnosed would be to find a support group!  No matter if it is online or in person, just find one. Your friends and family are good to talk to, but a support group filled with people in similar situations is imperative for anyone newly diagnosed as well as for those who have been ill for many years. A support groups gives you a place where you can share what is really going on and know that you are talking to people who will understand and won’t judge you.

My support system is…

My support group is AMAZING!! I have the most amazing family and group of friends a person could ever ask for. If I didn’t have my family I don’t know where I would be right now. I am truly lucky.
If I had one day symptom/disability-free I would…

Go to the beach or lake (really any body of water) and spend the day outside playing in the water without the fear of a flare.

One positive of having a chronic illness/disability is…

One positive thing about having a chronic Illness is meeting a group of wonderful and amazingly strong people whom you would have probably never met had you not gotten sick.

My social media links are:

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Interview April – Ellie Trinowski

Let’s meet our next Guest (with the gorgeous smile), Ellie Trinowski, and find out more about her:

EllieTrinowski

Introduce yourself and tell us a bit about you…

My name is Ellie Trinowski, and I live in Cleveland Georgia. I’m a wife, mother, and Grammie.

Before I stopped working, I was an event planner and coordinator for weddings in the Northeast Georgia Mountains. I worked with wineries and catering companies to create memorable events in picturesque settings. I loved my work. Now, I am a full-time grandmother of a talented little gymnast named Violet. I love this gig, too!

Chronic illness(es)/disabilities I have…

I have psoriasis(PsO), psoriatic arthritis(PsA), fibromyalgia, epidermolysis bullosa acquisita(EBA), and bullous pemphigoid(BP).

Beyond these autoimmune diseases, I have also survived multiple bilateral pulmonary embolism, and I live with a supraventricular tachycardia.

My symptoms/condition began…

I was 17 years old when the psoriasis begin. It wasn’t until I was 44 years old that I was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis. Within the next year, symptoms of fibromyalgia began.

In the summer of 2017, I began realizing symptoms of a rare skin disease called epidermolysis bullosa acquisita. By the end of the year, I was diagnosed with bullous pemphigoid.

My diagnosis process was…

I have been very fortunate in the duration that it took for my disease processes to be diagnosed by medical professionals. The largest obstacle was the pain and limited mobility that came with PsA initially. It did take almost two years of suffering before I found the right doctor to diagnose me with PsA. Dr. Jatin Patel also diagnosed me with Fibromyalgia and recognized the symptoms of my rare skin disease. He was expeditious in getting me to a dermatologist, Dr. Carmen Julian, for evaluation. After several biopsies and blood work, I was diagnosed with EBA. Finally, it was determined that I also had BP at Emory in Atlanta by Dr. Ronald Feldman, who is the professor of dermatology at the clinic for blistering diseases.

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

I do not appear sick. It is incredibly frustrating to have people judge me when I use a mobility cart in a grocery store and have people ask me why. I’m 50 years old. Once I had an elderly woman walk up to me, while I was on a mobility cart, and she asked me to get off because she needed it more. Of course, there was no way for her to know that I had a flare of all of my diseases at the same time. I was in a lot of pain, I couldn’t walk well and my skin disease was causing ridiculous itching. I was feeling frustrated and embarrassed because she did this in the middle of the pharmacy area of the store. I relinquished and gave up the cart to her.

A typical day for me…

Involves a lot of driving!

Now that I am a full-time Grammy, I drive my granddaughter to school, and I pick her up every day. I take her to gymnastics practice, and we might go to the park if there is no gym. She helps me pick up groceries and we head home.

If I am not flaring, I plan dinner most days, and if I’m doing really well dinner actually gets made! I try to do one thing that contributes to house cleaning every day, like vacuuming the living room or cleaning a bathroom. I find that things don’t get too out of hand that way. Violet always helps me out with chores, as well.

By early evening, I am typically on the couch because I’m toast! I will make it into my room, take my medicine and fall into my bed by 8pm, where I watch Netflix.

The one thing I cannot live without is…

The support of my family! I am blessed beyond measure! My husband works full-time and still does the laundry for me and anything else that I can’t handle that I would have done before my disabilities. My mother and father live right next door, and they are incredible when it comes to anticipating my needs. Dad gave me a cane when walking became difficult. Besides checking on me often, my dad brought a walker over before I admitted I needed it. My mother randomly shows up with leftovers or muffins, and a smile to cheer me up. My little Violet fetches things for me, and helps me in the kitchen, or when I need to tidy up the house.

Being ill/disabled has taught me…

Although I have never been one to judge, being disabled has taught me never to judge a book by its cover. You never know what somebody is going through. It has also taught me that life is short and that you must make the most of every day. After being admitted to the hospital on October 5, 2017, and being told I was lucky to be alive after blood clots had been found in both of my lungs, I tend to look at every day with different eyes. I’m incredibly grateful for my life.

It is not always easy on painful days, but it is imperative when you consider it might be your last.

What advice would I give someone recently diagnosed…

I would tell someone who was recently diagnosed with an illness or disability that they must stand up for themselves. It is so important to speak your truth and ask plenty of questions. Take notes and research responsibly. Instead of researching on Google, type in Google Scholar and utilize that platform for reliable research. Ask for a second opinion if necessary and get to know others who suffer from chronic illness. This gives you a sense that you are not alone and it is also a great resource to gather ideas to help yourself.

My support system is…

I have always believed that it takes a village to accomplish anything. As I mentioned my family is my number one support. I also value the social media community of chronically ill patients. I am grateful to the people who spend time sharing their experiences and knowledge with others to effect change in policies, as well as, suggestions for the lifestyle alterations we must make in our lives. Others who have lived our pain and challenges sharing their experience is a priceless resource I am grateful for!

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

Go for a hike in the mountains with my granddaughter.  I used to push Violet in her stroller all over this beautiful place we live in. When she became a toddler, I would take her with me on hikes to wear her out and get a good nap out of her! I had no idea back then that this simple ritual would be taken away from me before I was 50 years old.

One positive of having a chronic illness/disability is…

The ability to effect change. Because of outlets like the National Psoriasis Foundation and the Arthritis Foundation, I can connect with others and use my voice to effect change in my state and even in my country. I am currently advocating for step therapy reform in the state of Georgia. I was able to bring my voice to this legislation by traveling to the Capitol on Advocacy Day and share my story with others. I love that sense of accomplishment and progress.

My social media links are:

https://www.facebook.com/grammiesdoublewhammy/

www.instagram/grammiesdoublewhammy

www.twitter.com/ellietrinowski

www.grammiesdoublewhammy.com

Invisible Illness – But You Look Fine!

One of the hardest parts of living with an Invisible Illness such as Fibromyalgia, MS, Ehlers Danlos, etc. is that you quite often look just fine on the outside, while your insides are screaming in pain. This leads many people to wonder if you truly are ill, or how serious your illness actually is. How do you handle this, as a Person with Chronic Pain (PwCP)?Screen Shot 2018-12-10 at 10.56.48 AM

For one thing, you should never have to make excuses for your pain to anyone. What you feel is what you feel, and there is never a reason to justify it or prove it, not even to your doctors. For years, people with Fibromyalgia went undiagnosed or misdiagnosed because Pain was often the only symptom a patient could describe. There are no other outward symptoms and nothing comes back in the blood tests or x-rays that a doctor might order. It’s only through using the 18 Tender Points and determining how many of them you have that a definitive diagnosis can be made for Fibro.

Other diseases often come with outward symptoms – the “butterfly rash” of lupus, the enlarged joints of Rheumatoid Arthritis, the dislocating joints of Ehler Danlos, the varying symptoms of MS – all of them a visual reminder that there is something wrong with a person. Fibro doesn’t present itself that way, and so a person can often look “normal” like everyone else, yet be in a flare up.

o-LADY-SAD-facebook

So how do you handle it when the people who are closest to you don’t believe you are ill or doubt the severity of your illness. The first step is to educate them on what Fibromyalgia is: a disorder characterized by widespread pain, which causes many symptoms like extreme fatigue, sleep issues, memory loss and mood issues. It is essentially a very painful, exhausting disease, for which there is no cure and few treatments.” It is becoming much more recognized in the Medical field, unlike in the past, and is well accepted as a legitimate condition, just like arthritis, Lupus, MS, etc.

Basically, your brain miscommunicates with the nerves in the spinal cord and sends out the wrong messages to your body, resulting in an overload of symptoms. This graphic may be helpful in showing you just some of what you can experience:

FibroSymptoms2

And this is the reason it’s such a hard disease to diagnose because these symptoms are often looked at just on their own, and not seen as part of the bigger picture. It’s no wonder people look at us and think we’re crazy. To have all these symptoms and yet still look perfectly normal on the outside…well, I’d wonder too perhaps. That’s where the education comes in. The more we teach people about Fibromyalgia and how it mimics so many other diseases, the more people will realize just how huge a burden we are carrying every day.

Nobody wants to be told they look awful though, so how do you break this Catch-22? You want people to see you as you really are, but you don’t necessarily want to look ill at the same time. Are you obligated to dress up and put on makeup everytime you go out, just to look “good” for strangers? Of course not, but I am advocating that you do it for yourself if you’re able. Run a brush through your hair, throw some lipstick on, go for a trendier haircut or a manicure. Never do it for someone else though and never let a stranger’s comments get to you. Only you know how you’re feeling at any point and sometimes it’s just not possible to do these sorts of things. Pain may get in the way, or finances or depression…in these times, just do the best you can with what you have in the way of energy and time and desire.

Remember…you are perfect just the way you are…everything else you do is a bonus.

Education of others is key, and I truly believe that the more we can share about Fibromyalgia and other Invisible Illnesses with them, the more they will understand what we are going through, and the more compassionate they will become. Perhaps then they will stop commenting on how “fine” we look, and will start seeing us in a true light. Maybe they will see our struggles, our problems, our symptoms and what we have to go through on a daily basis just to survive and finally understand how difficult our lives truly are. Then and only then will come the appreciation and admiration we’ve been waiting for.

There is always hope.

 

A New Piece Published!

Wow!
I’ve just had a new piece of writing published on the Pain News Network as a guest columnist. I wanted to write about how we grieve when we lose so much of our lives to a diagnosis of Fibromyalgia, Osteoarthritis, MS, Ehler-Danlos, Lupus and other Invisible Illnesses.
Now, I saw information about the Pain News Network on the blog of someone I follow. I looked them up and saw that they accept articles from guest writers. I contacted the Editor to see what the requirements were and he told me that basically anything to do with real life and pain, as long as it hadn’t been previously published. So I sat down, thought for a few minutes and literally banged this out. He thought it was good enough and voíla, it was done!
Here is the link, and I would love your thoughts about it in the comments below. I guess I’ll have to update my “I’ve been published” section…this is my first publication outside of The Mighty!!!
I’m so excited and I’m really damn proud of myself!
https://www.painnewsnetwork.org/stories/2018/8/8/grieving-a-former-life
There is always hope!