I’m excited to share my next guest’s story with you…please meet Jennifer Van Haitsma!
Introduce yourself and tell us a bit about you…
Hi! My name is Jennifer Van Haitsma, the writer behind the blog Diffusing the Tension. I am 33 and I live in Northwest Indiana (about an hour from Chicago). I’m married to my love of 14 years, and we have 2 amazing children. (They are 4.5 and 2.5). In my spare time, I love to watch TV. I’m an avid binge watcher when I can. I especially love British period dramas, procedurals, and true crime documentaries. I also love to read. My goal is to read 35 books this year. I try to workout several days a week as well.
One fascinating fact about me is:
I am terrified of heights. It is strange because I am not afraid of rollercoasters or airplane rides, but any other situation involving heights petrifies me.
Chronic illness(es)/disabilities I have…
I live with bipolar disorder and chronic fatigue. Originally, I was diagnosed with depression, but my diagnosis changed about 10 years ago.
My symptoms/condition began…
I began to exhibit symptoms of depression when I was 9 years old. I was a little more withdrawn at school and acted out a bit more at home, from what I can remember.
My diagnosis process was…
When I was 12 or 13 my mom took my to my first therapist. I remember not even wanting to talk to her at first. I had a lot of anger after my cousin’s death in 1995 (when my symptoms started) and really didn’t want to let a stranger climb the walls I had built inside. But ultimately, I was diagnosed with depression. In 2009, at age 23, I began to exhibit symptoms of mania (hyper productivity, irritability, and sabotaging relationships.) I sought treatment again, and in 2010 I was labeled bipolar 2 with rapid cycling mixed episodes.
The hardest part of living with my illness/disabilities is…
Definitely the effects it has on those around me. I sometimes lose my patience when it’s not necessary, and take it out on my husband and children, which makes me feel deeply ashamed. Another incredibly hard part is the fatigue. I am so tired that it is hard to stay awake past 7:30pm.
A typical day for me involves…
Taking the day an hour at a time. I make the kids breakfast, then we do whatever we can to pass the time until lunch, etc. My fatigue makes it hard to stick to a schedule with them currently, as I often need to lie down for prolonged periods of time.
The one thing I cannot live without is…
My phone! It is where I store my pictures, others’ phone numbers, others’ address, where I get my entertainment, where I keep my to do lists… My phone is the central hub of my daily activity.
Being ill/disabled has taught me…
It had taught me resilience in a way that nothing else could. I have had to learn that each day is a fresh start, and it is possible to make the most of my situation. It has also taught me the power of speaking about my journey so that I can help others through theirs.
My support system is…
My biggest supporters are my husband and parents. My husband is my best friend, and he is always patient with me when my illness gets bad, and always stays by my side. My parents provide a lot of support where my husband can’t. The girls get a lot of play time with their grandmas during the day when he is working and I need the help.
If I had one day symptom/disability-free I would…
It’s funny how hard it is to imagine myself without my illness! I think I would get in a long workout and then spend the day doing fun things with the girls. Maybe a trip to the zoo or a local amusement park, if the weather was good.
One positive of having a chronic illness/disability is…
It helps you have more empathy for others who struggle. Before my diagnosis, I’m sure I often looked down on people with chronic illness. Now, I know they are just that: people.
One final thing I want people to know is:
I am not my illness. I am so much more than just bipolar. I am a wife, a mom, a bookworm, a TV addict, a fitness nut, a friend, a sister, a daughter, a person.
When I first started to blog, I wrote about my total hip replacement because I’d had problems trying to find first-person accounts of undergoing that particular type of surgery, especially for someone who was in their 50’s. Hip replacements seem to be done on mostly older folks (in their 70’s or older) but rarely on the younger set, unless you’ve been born with a hip problem or have suffered a devastating injury.
Because I was only 54 when I had my hip replacement done, I was considered “unusual” by my surgeon (and yes, I’m sure he meant my hip only and not me in general!) so trying to find others in the same position was difficult. I had read enough websites to understand the technical side of the surgery, but I wanted to find out what it was like to actually have the surgery and then recuperate and go on with life.
Since I was unable to find a lot of good information, I decided to write about my own experiences, so others in my position might be able to find what I was looking for. Once I’d written about that, it seemed natural to go on and talk about other health issues I live with and how they impact my life. From there, the blog site grew organically and became what it is now – a place for articles and posts about Fibromyalgia, Chronic Pain, Chronic Fatigue and Invisible Illnesses, such as Lupus, MS, Arthritis, POTs, Ehler’s Danlos Syndrome and more.
The goal has been achieved and I’m proud of what I’ve been able to create with this site. I hope others feel the same.
Living with a Chronic Illness is hard work. People with Chronic Pain and Invisible Illness are often left feeling isolated, and when you find someone online who speaks your language, it can be like finding an oasis in the desert.
In addition to educating people, I wanted this blog site to be a place where comments could be left freely, allowing people the opportunity to share what’s going on in their lives in a safe way. When readers have identified with a particular post, their comments reflect their own lives and situations and I take that seriously. I often respond back, not always in the comment section, but in-person to what they’ve said.
My responsibility as a writer is to ensure that not only am I educating people but I’m giving them some hope as well. Life with Chronic Illness is painful physically and mentally and when you find a spot online that reflects your own thoughts and ideas and connects with you, there’s a genuine freeing sensation. You feel less alone in the world and you realize that other people “get it”. Being understood is an amazing feeling and us Chronic Pain Warriors don’t always feel understood.
In many ways, I see writing this blog as another form of volunteering that I do. My focus on health and wellbeing extends beyond this blog site, but I consider the site to be one of service to others.
Like my other volunteer roles, I receive no compensation for producing this site, with the exception of any money I might make with Affiliate Marketing (more about that in a minute). I do this purely because I want to help others who are in Chronic Pain and who feel lost and alone and in need of information that might help make their lives better.
My other volunteer roles include committee work for Surgical Quality Improvement, improving Clinical Resources for Patients such as updating Patient Information Sheets received when you are discharged from an ER and Laboratory Quality Control to ensure that Patients are receiving the best care possible when they are providing lab samples for doctor-ordered tests. I also sit on a Provincial Measurement Working Group that is creating a survey for Patients in British Columbia, Canada to ensure that their care received has been the best it can be.
These roles, together with this blog, give me ample ways to help others, and that brings a lot of happiness to my soul.
My final reason for blogging is purely selfish…I do this for me as well. It’s therapeutic to be able to write about what’s new in health care, or what I’ve been thinking about a certain subject. I love being able to tackle controversial subjects or bring emotional issues to light, such as intimacy when you are Chronically Ill.
I consider myself lucky to be in a position where I can have some influence over others and perhaps introduce them to a treatment they haven’t heard of before. There’s nothing quite as satisfying as hearing back from someone who says “you changed my life” or “I really needed to read this”. It makes up for the research, the typing on days when my hands hurt and the work of coming up with new topics that will be of interest.
If you are a blogger, you understand what I’m talking about. If you are a reader, just let me say that having responsibility for you and what I’m producing for you is an honour I don’t take lightly. I want to make sure you’re getting information that benefits you and your health because I know what it’s like to live with Chronic Illness and I know the types of things that I’d like to read and learn from.
Thank you for allowing me to share these thoughts with you. I appreciate your comments below, or you can always write to me using the Contact Form.
I do this because I love it. I love sharing and helping others and I hope I’m able to continue for a long time to come. Remember…
There has been much talk about the use of Cannabis for treating Fibromyalgia and other Invisible Illnesses. I recently featured John Martinez from Axon who wrote about using CBD Oil for treating migraine headaches. Today I want to share various ways you can use CBD Oils to obtain optimum health.
While there are many cannabinoids in the plant, THC and CBD are the ones “in charge” for fighting pain and inflammation. What about Hemp? Hemp has some very mild “anti-pain” properties, its use is best suited in other applications. This article by Cannadish gives an excellent breakdown of all three components.
So how do you use Cannabis to help with a medical condition like Fibromyalgia or MS or arthritis?
As an example, a Cannabis-infused Topical lotion can be applied to the skin on the areas affected by your health condition, but having a bath is a great solution to have your whole body relax with cannabis oil. It’s especially great before going to bed. One easy way to do this is by making cannabis-infused bath bombs.
100mg CBD from the dealer of your choice*
1 tablespoon olive oil or coconut oil.
1 cup baking soda
1/2 cup Citric Acid (can be purchased at any soap making store)
1/2 cup Epsom Salt
1/2 cup corn starch
1 teaspoon water Food colouring of your choice
Your choice of essentials oils 30-40 drops
Place the dry ingredients in a large bowl and mix together with a whisk.
In a small bowl, mix the liquid ingredients together, including the CBD oil until well blended.
In the large bowl, very slowly add the liquid mixture to the dry ingredients a little bit at a time. The mixture should hold together when squeezed without crumbling.
When well mixed, pack the mixture into your bath bomb mould and pack tightly, then let it dry. Make sure you work quickly so the mixture doesn’t dry out in the process.
Bath Bombs need a full day to fully harden. If they’re not quite hardened enough, they may crumble when you handle them, so check to make sure before taking them completely out of the mould
Makes one good size bath bomb, or several smaller if you are using smaller moulds
*Note: Depending on the strength of the CBD oil you have, the volume (drops or ml) of oil needed for this recipe will vary. For instance, an oil containing 1mg CBD per drop will require 100 drops. Having trouble calculating? Try this CBD oil calculator.
To use your new bath bomb, simply add to a tub of warm, almost hot water and relax for 20 minutes (min).
Other Forms Of Use
Cannabis can be used in other forms as well. Some companies have been selling a Patch. Like the patch used for the diabetic nerve pain treatment, it provides the patient with a controlled release of the medication:
Through a porous membrane covering a reservoir of medication.
Body heat melting thin layers of medication embedded in the adhesive which will contain high potency cannabinoid (CBD) extract. This extract slowly enters the bloodstream and then penetrates the central nervous system of the patient thus delivering the pain relief sought.
This excellent article talks about Cannabis Edibles and the many ways you can enjoy the benefits of this particular form of consumption. Instructions are given as to dosage, benefits, side effects and more, and it also contains a bit of history as to how edibles came to be so popular.
The author and I share very similar views that all these forms of ingesting Cannabis are beneficial to those who suffer from Fibromyalgia, MS, Lupus, Arthritis, and more.
I recommend finding a store near you where you can begin a relationship with the staff to get all your questions answered. Many US States are now allowed to sell legally and Cannabis is legal in Canada as well.
Get to know the staff, let them show you their favourite products and ways to use Cannabis, and before you know it, you’ll hopefully be finding the relief you’ve been seeking. No, Cannabis doesn’t work for everyone (in fact, I’ve tried it myself and am one of the people that it does nothing for!). Don’t get discouraged right away…try other forms such as the bath bomb if an edible didn’t work for you, or vice versa.
Cannabis is NOT a miracle cure, but when it works, it can really bring relief to an overwhelmed body. I hope you find this to be true in your case. Remember…
It’s time to meet my next guest, the wonderful Jennifer Purrvis!
Introduce Yourself and tell us a bit about you….
My name is Jen. I grew up in the Houston area but live in Wellington, New Zealand. I moved to New Zealand when I was 19 and have lived in various areas in NZ but have kicked around in the capital city for 11 years. I have one daughter who will be 14 and 4 cats. I am single but formerly married. I’m a terrible cook but enjoy baking. I’m currently studying towards a Bachelor of Science in Psychology and hope to get admitted into a Masters of Forensic Psychology programme once I complete my undergraduate. I run Chronic Illness Cat, mostly on Facebook, but you’ll have seen us on other platforms too. Muffin is a real cat, who lives in France, but her dad is from Nelson in New Zealand. He sometimes comes back for a visit but we’ve never met up, though we should.
Chronic Illnesses/Disabilities I have…
I grew up a child of anxiety and depression. After I had my daughter I became severely agoraphobic and was diagnosed with a mood disorder, not otherwise specified. This would finally be diagnosed as Bipolar Disorder in 2018. I also have PMDD.In 2007, I nearly lost my life after a doctor bagged an IV of an antibiotic I was orange banded as allergic to. I saw a huge white light. I felt a shock hit my body and felt fire ants start biting all over my body. That’s really all I remember. When I woke up I couldn’t unfold my arms or bear weight on my body. It would take years to regain my independence, my tolerance, my sanity. I was so, so angry about the disability attacking me, the pain I was constantly fighting and everything I was losing. It’s been nearly 12 years and things are so much better. I’m so much happier and freer and independent. However, in the last year, I’ve been diagnosed with Autoimmune Urticaria and I’m now on higher dose Cyclosporine. I’ve started to feel those dark shadows creeping in again. The pain is returning, so is the tiredness, reliance on drugs for pain, and I worry about stepping so far back.
My symptoms conditions began…
As a kid. I think I’ve always had an autoimmune disease. I first started getting fevers when I was 2 weeks old. I was just always sick. Always tired. I caught mono twice as a teen. I had chicken pox so severe as a kid I had them down my throat. I know I was severely depressed at 12. I had sleeping issues as a teen. I had coping methods that were not safe or would be suggested. I had a devastating eating disorder.
The night I got so sick back in 2007 was a normal night. I felt slightly off and started feeling worse and worse. I asked to go to the Emergency Department. I expected to have an infection but I didn’t expect to find myself fighting for my life. It turns out I had suspected sepsis. The bag of antibiotics was important, but so was understanding the importance of orange banding of patient allergies.
Fast Forward to the present and the first few days of realising I was getting sick again were terrifying. I knew something was wrong, but I never expected it to be something so full on. The first symptom I started experiencing was itching when sweating. Whenever and wherever the sweat would touch, I would feel like a jellyfish sting and hideous itching. I put it down to being ‘dirty’. The second major symptom that developed was a reaction to showering. Wherever the water hit, another jellyfish-like sting would develop, with burning and itching. But following the itching and burning came nausea, a feeling of being overwhelmed in the head and vomiting.
I started taking antihistamines, antihistamines and h-blockers, more antihistamines and finally saw a specialist who told me that due to my previous history of trialling drugs, I was to start Cyclosporine. At first, I was really optimistic because I had 2 weeks of showering with very little symptoms. But then, as soon as it had arrived, the optimism left. All the symptoms were back.
My diagnosis process has been…
Confusing. When I was first sick in 2007, no one knew what was wrong with me. I saw specialists and doctors all the time. People had opinions from Lupus to Still’s Disease to MS to ‘just experiencing a shock’. To get better care, we sold our home and moved. I saw another specialist who told me I had Lupus and “was just being a woman about it”. I was put on every drug you could find. Nothing helped. Nothing improved.
I saw just about every rheumatologist in the capital city. No one had answers for me. In the end, I just stopped going. It wasn’t worth the money. When I started getting sick again, and the blood tests were all fine, it started feeling like deja vu all over again.
However, this time, the specialist knew that this was Autoimmune Urticaria and that I had some dermagraphica which made him feel more confident. It felt unusual that I actually had symptoms someone was familiar with. Though, he did feel there was more autoimmune going on and asked if I wanted to begin looking for that and I told him I didn’t. I just couldn’t face doing it all again.
The hardest part of living with my disability/illness is…
Not knowing if I’m ever going to live normally as other people do. Will I be able to work? Will I finish my studies? Will I ever be independent? It scares the hell out of me. What if the medicines just get worse? I can’t nap through life. These questions just go around and around my mind sometimes. Fears for my future feel almost disabling at times.
A typical day for me involves…
Waking at 6:30. If it’s my week with my daughter then I get up with her and help her get ready for school. Once she’s left for the bus, I head back to bed. If I’m not with her, I go back to sleep. I try to wake up at 6:30 regardless so as to keep a regular rhythm. Sleep is so crucial for the maintenance and care of the Bipolar person. When I wake up I have a cup of tea and run errands or study, depending on the day. It’s really important for me to keep my grades up, so studying is important.
I’ve gotten it into my head that I need to do some sort of exercise, even though I’m not supposed to change my body temperature and/or sweat. I have some hand weights and I’m looking into belly dancing on youtube. I want to stay active for my brain and I want to stay mobile. But gosh, I know I’ve lost a lot of dexterity and put on weight since I stopped going to the gym. Swimming is out, maybe yoga? Am I that cliche? Just do some yoga?
I try to eat normally but I’ve got some problems with eating and I take Seroquel at night, so that makes up for any lost calories I haven’t eaten during the day. Right now Married at First Sight Australia is on, so I’m pretty addicted to that. Otherwise, I just try to rest and study. Glamorous, right?
One thing I cannot live without is…
Hot tea. I’m thoroughly addicted to caffeine and classic Bell Tea with milk gets me through my day. I probably go through 6 to 8 tea bags a day. It’s probably the reason I actually can move. Also, probably why I don’t sleep much.
Being ill taught me…
To take nothing for granted and to be amazingly grateful for the gifts that I have. Being able to walk is tremendous. I spent 9 months on the couch. Slowly I learned to crawl, then scoot and then walk again. Amazing. Getting the energy to work in cat rescue and change litter pans and chase after cats made me forever grateful for the second chance I was given. Now I’m studying to become independent. I’ve got my brain back. I will never not be angry and horrendously filled with rage at what happened to me, but I will also never not be amazed and filled with gratitude that I am where I am today. I’m a survivor.
The advice I’d given someone newly diagnosed…
Is that life goes on. It’s different but it goes on. It’s like when the brand of your favourite chip alters things and it’s never the same but you just go on buying it all the same. You can’t pretend nothing has changed, but at the same time, you still enjoy it enough to keep buying it. Some days are going to be horrific. And you’ll cry. You’re entitled to cry. And get mad. And kick at things. But some days will be not so bad too. And hopefully, you’ll get more of those not so bad days soon enough. That’s all you can ask for. And hugs. Ask for hugs. No one will think less of you for doing so.
My support system is…
Really small. I have a really truly, true-blood ride or die best friend on the net but-not-imaginary friend who gets me and loves me and would do anything for me named Alice. She’s also on the Page. I hope one day to be able to explain to her how much she means to me. And to thank her for lifting me up on those really shitty days.
I have my ex who does a lot of practical things for me. I have my daughter who shouldn’t have to grow up so quickly. And myself. I lean on my GP, Simon, a lot. And that’s it. I do a lot of the emotional stuff myself. I’ve become a lot quieter and controlled. Well, the Abilify has made me that way. I could do with a therapist. And a boyfriend. But we’ll see.
If I had one symptom-free day…
Gosh, I’d just sleep. Nothing would hurt. I’d shower too. Wash my hair and not throw up. Go lay in the sun. And sweat. Imagine!
One positive of having a chronic illness is…
That it gives me an amazing sense of humour and fantastic charm. I can joke around with just about anyone and I relate to a large number of people going through many things. It’s given me a sense of empathy that’s lead me to psychology and wanting to care for others. I’ve always been sort of activist-y anyways, but being sick has really pushed that envelope in fighting for others to get the same rights and access, which has been super useful having a daughter with extra needs.
Thanks so much for having me. You can find me and Muffin at the links below. And me and my kitties on my personals.
When you’re a person living with Chronic Pain (PwCP), you get asked the same question quite frequently.
How are you?
And my standard response has always been, “I’m fine”. But what a lie that is, when clearly, I’m not fine, or I’d be living a different life. If I was fine, I wouldn’t be on disability, using a cane or a walker everywhere I go. If I was fine, I wouldn’t be in constant pain from my Fibromaygia, or my D.I.S.H. or my osteoarthritis in every joint, or experiencing the issues that go along with my Bipolar Disorder or my Diabetes Type 2 or my Trigeminal Neuralgia.
If I was fine, I wouldn’t have insomnia, and be up 22 out of every 24 hours, even after taking valium to help me relax and sleep. If I was fine…I wouldn’t be blogging about being fine.
So why do I respond that way?
People Don’t Want To Hear The Truth
People don’t want to hear the truth. It makes them uncomfortable to know that someone is hurting when there is nothing they can do about it. It makes them feel weird, to hear about someone else’s pain. They get antsy, thinking they’re in for a long diatribe about medical procedures and doctor visits as if they’re at risk for catching something themselves. They get nervous thinking they’ll hear about your emotional state. And to be honest, a lot of the time, people don’t really care how your feeling. They ask you how you because they’re polite. It’s the right thing to do.
So, I’ve decided to stop telling people that I’m fine. I’ve decided to come up with a new response, and that new response is:
“Part of me is great, and part of me is not so great.”
I’ve decided this gives people an out. If they don’t want to know more, they can simply reply “well, I’m glad part of you is great” and carry on with their own lives. If they genuinely want to know more, they can ask about the parts that aren’t doing well. That way, I know that they’re sincere about how I truly am instead of just making polite conversation.
I hope this doesn’t sound like I’m being sarcastic, because I’m not. I’m genuinely trying to help people be more comfortable around People with Chronic Pain and to find a way to make it easier to ask and answer that question of “how are you”. It’s a tough one because there is no one good answer. The PwCP doesn’t know if you’re sincere and we don’t know how much information you truly want. The last thing we want to do is bore you with the latest in our medical news, and trust me…it’s truly devasting for us when we think you’re interested and then we find out you’re not.
Showing Real Interest
I doubt seriously there’s any malicious intent in your question either, but again, it comes down to being polite and being interested. I would rather give you a polite answer and have you ask for more information if you really want it, but that comes with its own complexities as well. Suppose I say “I’m fine” and you hear “oh, she’s fine, I guess everything must be okay” when what I really mean is “I’m fine, but not really and I wish you would ask me more about my day and how I’m feeling”. It’s a communication breakdown because I don’t feel I can ask for what I want in case you’re not really interested, and you don’t feel like there’s necessarily anything else worth asking about.
If you ask me if I’m fine though and I tell you “actually, I’m not doing so great”, how would you respond? If you’re simply being polite, now you’re stuck. You either have to listen to what’s wrong or say something trite like “oh, I’m so sorry to hear that” and change the subject. Neither of us leaves the conversation satisfied, so my response, even if it’s the truth, isn’t the best one either.
Two small words with so much meaning behind them. That’s why you’ll be hearing a different response from me going forward. I’m going to try my best to stay away from those two words to make it easier on all of us and start answering with my new response:
“I’m doing as well as expected given the number of health issues I’m living with.” That leaves it open to the person to expand on the subject if they wish or to simply say “oh, that’s good” and move on.
I appreciate your thoughts and comments about this subject. And for those of you without chronic pain, I hope you’re doing fine – really!
I have Bipolar Disorder and have talked about it before on my blog. It’s not something I hide but I don’t really discuss it much either so I thought I’d share a bit more about what it looks like for me.
Although currently stable on medication, when I was unmedicated and undiagnosed, I would have the most incredible highs and lows. My manic highs would see me racing around the house, cleaning whatever I could, and cooking dinners every night and baking and crafting and never, ever sleeping…I would be up for days on end without any sleep at all. At my worst, I was awake for 8 days in a row – and I mean without a drop of sleep. I was unbeatable…I would shop online without realizing what I was doing, and then all of a sudden, these packages would start arriving and I would have no clue what was in them – usually jewellery (cheap stuff) or clothing from Zulily (an online store I love).
On the other hand, when the inevitable crash came, I would crash hard. All I wanted to do was curl in the fetal position in bed and sleep…so that’s all I did. I didn’t bathe, I didn’t eat, chores went by the wayside, forget about cooking and crafting. I did the bare minimum to keep my cat alive and my husband had to fend for himself after a 12 hour day at work when it came to eating, plus do the dishes. I rarely left the bedroom, unless it was to spend mindless hours on the computer doing nothing.
Once we realized how serious the problem was, my husband and I realized it was critical that I needed to be on medication. I saw my doctor and was started on Seroquel. After that drug stopped working, I’ve been taking Abilify, which has been excellent for me in terms of managing my symptoms. Unfortunately, the side effects have been harsh and I’ve been paying the price. I am not a vain woman, but I’ve put on 20lbs since using the medication (in 6 months) and it’s 20lbs I can’t afford to carry on my 5’2″ frame. I have no ability to exercise and lose the weight, especially now that I’m wearing an Air Cast on my left ankle to try to help reattach a tendon that has torn away from the bone. Plus I take other medications that all have their own side effects…so I have to be careful with those as well.
I’ve also experienced some other unpleasant side effects including severe brain zaps, and I’ve been seeing shadows on the sides of my vision. These were enough to send me back to my Psychiatrist to discuss making another medication change – the dance that you tango when you have a mental illness. He’s decided to try me on one of the older drugs that is less likely to cause weight gain like so many of the newer ones do. It’s called Zeldox (my family doctor says it sounds like a cartoon character and I agree!) and the side effects listed are as follows:
In general, most of these are mild and go away in the first couple of weeks of taking the medication, so I’m not too concerned. I’m just hoping that the brain zaps disappear as this is one of the most unpleasant of all the side effects that I experience. What is a brain zap you ask?
Brain zap or brain shiver is a term used to describe the sensation of a sudden jolt or buzz in the brain. It is also compared to the electrical shock, has no apparent cause and is brief in duration. In most cases, it’s relatively mild but people have reported the occurrences of very extreme and painful jolts. They are a temporary occurrence. Brain zaps can sometimes be accompanied by dizziness, tinnitus, mild pain and ache and a general sense of discomfort.
I experience mine as a buzz that goes across my head from ear to ear. I can hear the loud buzzing sound as well as feel it, but there isn’t any pain. It’s almost like the hum of an electric razor, but very quick and sudden. Sometimes it’s just one zap, sometimes it’s a series of them. They’re mostly just annoying more than anything but a side effect I can do without due to their frequency. The shadowing I’ve been getting in my vision is more worrisome as I tend to freak out about anything to do with my eyes. I have no eye problems (other than wearing glasses) and I’d like to keep at least one body part in good shape for as long as possible if you know what I mean!!
I start the new medication on Monday, Dec. 17th but am writing this post to be read in February so I’ll add an update underneath so you know how it’s going.
Bipolar Disorder can be tricky to manage but with the right care, the proper medications and taking them at the right times, it can lead to a normal life. I’ve found the perfect balance between mania and depression. Now I’m able to function most days with the cooking and cleaning when my other health issues allow it and my poor husband can come home to dinner waiting most of the time. I feel more likely to work on a craft than when I was in a depressive crash, and while my sleep still isn’t the greatest, I’m not staying awake for days on end either.
Sometimes called Manic Depression, Bipolar Disorder causes extreme shifts in mood. People who have it may spend weeks feeling like they’re on top of the world before plunging into a deep depression. The length of each high and low varies greatly from person to person. If you are experiencing these symptoms, please see your doctor. There is help available and beyond that…
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:
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.
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.
So, what else is on that list. Ah yes, the ever lovely 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
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…
It’s a frustrating thing when the medications you’ve come to rely on suddenly decide to stop working. Pain meds no longer manage your pain, and brain meds no longer manage your brain. It’s no fun to find yourself in this situation, but for People with Chronic Pain (PwCP), it happens all the time.
There are only 3 medications that are specifically prescribed for Fibromyalgia: Lyrica, Savella and Cymbalta. Lyrica, in particular, is known for weight gain as a side effect and when I first started taking it, years back, I gained 30lbs in 2 months time. I’m a short girl (5’2″) but I have a large frame, so I didn’t want to gain anything…I’m already stocky. I told my doctor that I couldn’t handle being so heavy (I think I went up to 160lbs), so she took me off the Lyrica and put me on the Cymbalta instead. I lost some of the weight and for a long time, seemed stable at 140lbs which I was okay with. I was still working out at the time and had a muscular body thanks to my trainer and her torture sessions every week (hi Terrianne…love you!).
Fast forward 10 years and I’m still on the Cymbalta, but I don’t think it’s as effective as it used to be. The problem is, science hasn’t kept up and there is nothing newer to try. Even though I continue to take my daily doses on schedule, I find that I develop brain zaps in between and my Fibro pain seems to have increased over the years as well. Part of it might just be from ageing, and part might be from my Osteoarthritis getting worse as well. I’ve also noticed that since I had my right hip replaced and I developed this Haglund’s Deformity in my left foot, my legs are constantly achier than they’ve ever been. I’ve always put that down to walking with a different gait, but I wonder if that’s my Fibro flaring up as well.
The other medication that has been difficult to regulate is what I take for my Bipolar Disorder. I was on Seroquel for a couple of years with good success, until I started having auditory hallucinations. I would be hearing music where other people heard nothing. It took a long time before we determined it was my medication causing the problem, including a visit to a Psychiatrist to determine that I didn’t have Schizophrenia. Once we realized the Seroquel was the problem, we switched to a new drug called Abilify. That worked great for the first several months, providing me with energy that I hadn’t had before and a whole fresh outlook on life.
Unfortunately, it also brought some side effects like shaking hands and trembling tongue and brain zaps – those internal lightening-fast buzzes in the head. We cut the dosage in half and then in half again, but to lose the side effects meant to lose the benefits as well. I see my doctor again soon and I think we’re going to have to try something new. The problem is, everything new is in the same general category as what I’m currently taking, so not sure what type of success we’ll have.
Speaking of seeing my doctor, I have to say that my new doctor is lovely. Dr Penny Wilson is from Australia and is in Canada for a year at least (with the promise that if she decides to go back to Australia at the end of the year, my care will be taken over by another doctor in the practice so I won’t be left stranded). She prefers to be called Penny rather than Dr and she’s simply delightful to talk to. She’s matter of fact and down to earth, and genuinely wants to see me as healthy as possible, so on my last visit there, to get the results of blood work and to get a prescription refill on my opioid medication, she decided she wanted me to book another appointment asap for what she called a Complex Care Review. As she said, “if anyone is complex, it’s you”. How true!
Basically, this appointment will be a chance to sit down for 30 minutes to go through EVERYTHING that I’m experiencing healthwise so we can triage what’s important, what can wait, what Dr Winston, my Pain Doctor, is dealing with, and what needs to be sent off to other doctors. For instance, I’ve had ongoing pelvic pain, likely due to a build-up of scar tissue/adhesions from several previous abdominal surgeries. I do know that when I had each of my ovaries removed, there was scar tissue attaching my bladder to my bowel. When I move certain ways, it feels like my insides are ripping apart, like velcro being torn open and it’s crazy painful. This is something I haven’t dealt with yet, because there have been too many other things wrong with my body. Penny will likely refer me to either the Gynocologist or to a General Surgeon to have a laparoscopic procedure done to see if they can remove some of the adhesions so that pain can be eliminated. Yes, a surgical procedure will cause more adhesions, but if they can get rid of 90% and have only 10% more grow, then those are good odds for me.
It feels weird to be looking forward to a Dr appointment, but I think this will be one of the most beneficial ones I’ve had in ages. I’m also taking in all my medications, so we can do a review and see if there’s anything I can stop or any dosage changes I need to incorporate. Yes, Penny is very thorough and for that, I’m very grateful. I have a feeling that when the appointment on the 27th is over, I’ll no longer have medication frustrations. What an answer to prayer!!
I’ve been wrestling with my emotions lately and wasn’t sure if I was even going to post about them. I’ve gone from feeling quite happy about how things are going in my life to outright despair over situations I have no control over. Because I am a Christ Follower, I do pray, but there are so many times I wish I could do more for the people in my life that are suffering. It’s especially hard when my own life is going so well.
Physically, I am doing better than I have been in a really long time. My Fibromyalgia pain has been well controlled lately, without any major flare-ups, my right knee has been doing well since the Synvisc injection finally kicked in, and although the Botox didn’t work for my Trigeminal Neuralgia (I had several flare-ups after it was done), I haven’t had a major problem in the last two months. The only real problem I’m having right now is with my left foot, and what I thought was a problem with my Achilles Tendon. Overall though, my energy has been good and since my dose of Abilify was cut in half, the shaking hands and the tongue tremors and brain zaps seem to have eased up as well. My Bipolar Disorder has been well controlled and other than the fact my insomnia continues to cause major problems and I still average 2-3 hours of sleep at night, overall, I can’t really complain. I feel about as good physically as I have in the last few years and this is a real blessing.
What does have me troubled is that I have several friends who are going through really difficult times right now. One has a daughter in her 20’s with cancer, one has a young daughter with digestive issues and one has a husband with cancer. It’s hard to be so close to people emotionally and yet not able to do anything for them to help them in these battles. So, I’ve done the only thing I know how to do. I’ve sent them each a cow.
A cow named Courage.
Let me explain. I love cows…I always have. I collect them…stuff ones and china ones and figurines and you name it. I have a small collection now, but once upon a time, I had over 400 cow-related items. Now I just keep it to the figurines and stuffies, and Christmas tree ornaments. Courage the Cow was born when my very dear friend Kevin was diagnosed with Lymphoma several years ago. I sent him a stuffed cow from my personal collection to help him through his battle and now Kevin is cancer free. When I heard about my friends and the battles they were going through, I thought that perhaps a Courage Cow of their own might be a good idea. So, that’s what I’ve done. I have taken stuffed cows from my personal collection and sent them on, with a note indicating that Courage is especially talented at eating cancer cells.
Courage also brings great comfort to young children with tummy troubles – that is another speciality of his. I’ve boxed up each of these cows and sent them off and so far, two people have received theirs. The young lady with cancer has had many cuddles with her Courage Cow and has said she already feels better. She will be undergoing a third Chemotherapy treatment soon. My small friend with the digestive problems loves her Courage Cow and wouldn’t put him down. She even made room on her bed for him and apparently that was QUITE the big deal as she’s very particular about who sleeps with her. She will be going to Boston Children’s Hospital in October for a complete digestive workup to see why her bowels don’t work properly and why eating is such a problem for her. She’s 5 years old and has had problems all her young life, so hopefully, Courage will be a comfort for her. As for the final recipient, I’m waiting to hear if Courage has been delivered yet or not…I expect any day now. He discovered he had Stage 4 prostate cancer out of the blue after having no previous symptoms at all.
I’m very thankful that despite my chronic illnesses, I’m healthy in the sense that I need no ongoing treatments such as chemo, or IViG, etc. Sure, I live with ongoing daily pain and I take a bunch of medications to manage my conditions, but overall, I’m healthy for a “sick” person. I just hope and pray it stays like that. I know that I have some surgeries in my future to expect, as my left hip needs to be replaced, and a possible surgery on my left foot where I thought my Achilles Tendon was injured. Instead, it turns out I have something else, called a Haglund’s Deformity. I’ll be seeing an Orthopedic Surgeon in the near future to discuss that further. Still, I can’t complain healthwise (well, I could, but no one would listen!). I know too many people who have things far worse than me. And for them, I listen, encourage and send out cows. And I try to remind them that even in the worst of times…
There is always hope
ps: As a reminder, if anyone is interested in taking the course 31 Days of Expressive Writing for Chronic Pain and Illness that I recently completed, I have become an Affiliate and will earn a small commission if you purchase the course through this link.
The price for this course is only $39.00. There are other courses available through Esther’s site, including What Really Helps People With Chronic Pain for only $99.00, and Pacing For Chronic Pain, priced at just $69.00. To sign up for these courses, please make sure you use my Referral Number 19f3aa. Thanks very much…if you do sign up, I hope you find the course as helpful as I did.
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!
There is always hope!