Interview October – Michelle Curtis

It’s time for the annual series I run on There Is Always Hope called Interview October. I have spent time asking questions about health conditions that these amazing people are living with, and their replies help bring education and hope to my readers.

Today, we’re meeting my dear friend Michelle Curtis who runs the blog site The Zebra Pit. Let’s hear her story!

Include a photograph of yourself:

Introduce yourself and tell us a bit about you…

Hello! I’m a 47 year old queer disabled woman living in greater Cincinnati. I live a housebound life due to my conditions. Though I am completely disabled by my conditions, I work from home doing freelance writing and managing two websites. Lately, I’ve been working on reviving my creative writing career as a poet and fiction writer, as I’ve managed to improve my cognitive deficits enough to go back to writing and editing some shorter works.

I have been happily married for over 13 years and have a grown stepson whom I love very much, but get to see very little. I am an avid fan of the arts (both high brow and pop), music and nature and consider myself a lifelong learner. I am a huge fan of sci-fi and fantasy, love to learn about astronomy, archeology and science, and spent much of my life protesting the abuse of marginalized peoples and our planet.

I hold a BA in women, gender and sexuality studies with minors in ethnic studies and creative writing and a master of fine arts degree in creative writing. Prior to becoming disabled by my conditions, I worked as everything from a cab driver to a college instructor and have experience in the fields of education, communications, business administration, human resources, healthcare and non-profits, not to mention my illustrious career in retail and banking prior to going to college. 

One fascinating fact about me is:

This is always a hard question for me. I think all people are fascinating when you get to know them. I guess the thing that people are usually fascinated the most with is that almost nothing about me is considered conventional: I have disabling genetic disorders, I am neurodivergent, atheist yet spiritual, pansexual and feminist.

Chronic illness(es)/disabilities I have…

I am what is known as a Trifecta Zebra, as I have a trio of rare illnesses that are often seen together; Hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (hEDS), Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS), and Mast Cell Activation Syndrome (MCAS). I also have gastroparesis, IBS, Fibromyalgia, ME/CFS, Dystonia, cognitive dysfunction with significant memory loss (both long and short term), coronary arterial spasm,  degenerative disc disease, osteoarthritis, CRPS in my right leg, endometriosis, and intractable migraine. I strongly suspect and am seeking diagnosis for chairi and/or craniocervical instability and autism. 

My symptoms/condition began…

As a child, though my symptoms wouldn’t become really apparent until early adulthood.  

My diagnosis process was… 

Fraught with misdiagnoses and errors. Despite my many health problems which I reported to every doctor, I was not diagnosed with EDS until I was almost 45. I was first diagnosed with fibromyalgia around age 40 and CSF a couple of years later. A couple of years after that, I was diagnosed with POTS. I had to find EDS and MCAS, figure out that I had them and then find doctors to diagnose and begin treating them. 

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

The cognitive dysfunction. I had developmental delays as a child and everyone thought I was just plain stupid and wouldn’t do much in life. I had terrible self-esteem and no faith in my abilities. I didn’t figure out I was probably pretty smart until my mid-twenties and finally went to college because I simply couldn’t manage doing the only sorts of jobs I could get, those with a high level of physical labor.

I spent years working toward a career I thought would save me and that I loved more than I could ever imagine allowing myself to love anything. By the time I was done, I no longer had the cognitive ability left to actually do the work I’d been trained for, even if I could find ways to accommodate my deteriorating tissues.

I’m glad I’ve found new things to consume my life with and I can’t say I regret the journey. But the knowledge that I could have had a brilliant career had I the capacity to go on is sometimes too much psychic pain to bear. These days I try very hard to focus on what I can accomplish and find focusing on the present helps me to avoid these hard truths.

A typical day for me involves…

I like to say I live on tilt, because I quite literally have to. If I spend too much time in the upright position, I suffer terrible pain and cognitive symptoms and sometimes have seizures. If I’m flat on my back, I develop pain in the back of my head. So I spend much of my day tilted back in a recliner, working on my blogs and writing, trying to avoid the pain caused by being completely upright or completely prone.

Most of my time spent upright is to cook (I cannot tolerate processed foods at all), do therapies and keep up my movement routines of recumbent bike riding and strengthening exercises. In the evening, I try to relax in front of the TV or with a good book. 

 The one thing I cannot live without is…

Myofascial therapy! I’d be in so much pain if not for it!

Being ill/disabled has taught me…

Never to judge other people’s lives or make assumptions about why someone does something.

My support system is…

My husband is my primary source of support, but we both have chronic health conditions so things can get pretty hairy from time to time, but we usually manage! The remainder of my support comes from within the chronic illness/spoonie community.

I know there are any number of people I can turn to for emotional support or needed advice regarding my health and wellness. I would be lost without them, as I have few others in my life.

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

It would be a lot like Ferris Buehler’s Day Off without the teen angst! A great deal of sightseeing, dancing and celebrating of life, topped off by an exciting and romantic evening of a show, an amazing dinner, more dancing and a carriage ride around Fountain Square. 

One positive of having a chronic illness/disability is…

It’s made me take responsibility for my mental health and taught me what real support looks like, allowing me to walk away from all the toxic people in my life.

One final thing I want people to know is: 

No matter how bad things get, there’s always the possibility that things will get better, as long as you keep fighting. I spent years so inundated by symptoms and disabled by my health that I could no longer see the point of living. I nearly took my own life.

I’m so glad I managed to pull myself out of that deep depression, because it turns out I have quite a lot of life left in me. How did I succeed? I started saying yes to anything that I thought could help, searching exhaustively for solutions. It worked! I found my correct diagnoses and ways to treat my pain and symptoms that affords me a life I can live with.

Now I also have some joy and a sense of my own strength. I may not have beat chronic illness, but I am doing a pretty good job of not letting it defeat me and helping others to also find things to help them.

My links are:

https://zebrapit.com a health and wellness site for spoonies and zebras

https://mykiewritesit.blog a site to display my writing services, poetry and short stories, and discuss writing and blogging strategies and techniques.

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Why I Blog (About Fibromyalgia, Chronic Pain and Invisible Illness)

I have been blogging for a couple of years now and recently someone asked me “why do you blog? What do you get out of it?”

It was a good question, so I thought I’d write a post about my reasons for blogging and what I hope to achieve with this blog site

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Image by TeroVesalainen from Pixabay

Education

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. 

Compassion

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. 

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Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Volunteering

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. 

 

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Image by John Hain from Pixabay

Helping Myself

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 Is Always Hope

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.

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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!

Fibromyalgia and Online Support Groups

Welcome Back!

I belong to an online Fibromyalgia Support Group. I spend so much time on the computer that it made sense to me to find a support group online as well. It’s run by a lady named Catherine and has members from around the world – Australia, England, Canada, and the USA.

It’s a super supportive atmosphere and the one thing we are very clear about is that none of us are doctors and we are not there to dispense medical advice. We can talk about what does and doesn’t work for us, and our own medical experiences, but we can’t diagnose you based on YOUR symptoms, as Fibromyalgia can have SO many symptoms, it would be impossible to try.
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One of the so-called “tests” used to determine if you have Fibro or not is the 18 Tender Points as shown here:

FibroSymptoms2So you can see why Support Groups are so necessary when you live with Fibro, or really any disease that causes Chronic Pain, such as Osteoarthritis, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Lupus, Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, MS and more.
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Well, I joined a new Fibro support group a few days ago, and just had the most interesting experience. Yesterday, the Leader of the group “diagnosed” a member with a symptom she was experiencing (bloating and constipation) and told her she had “Leaky Gut”. I suggested that she shouldn’t diagnose, and what if it was something else, such as Gastroparesis?

My goodness, did I ever get a pissy response!!!! I took screenshots (which I won’t post here), but I ended up just leaving the group. I was told that this woman has 25 years of living with Fibro, she’s done years of research with top doctors, and she knows what she’s talking about. Apparently, this woman is determined that the only way to resolve Fibro is with Bovine Colostrum and a Chiropractor. Now, I’m willing to try the Bovine Colostrum to see if it helps, but you DON’T diagnose someone definitively, EVER. It’s even in her rules, which I quoted to her, which made her even angrier!!

And not only that, how dare I suggest Gastroparesis and the radioactive tracer test that would diagnose that because that would make this lady’s “Leaky Gut” even worse. FACEPALM (yes, she really put the Face Palm Emoji in there).

And not only THAT, how dare I tell her what to do in her OWN GROUP. She’s never been angry before, I’m the first one in the whole ten months to upset her, blah blah blah blah blah blah (yes, I am that talented!!)

So, I told her I was leaving the group because I obviously couldn’t state my opinion without being attacked, she couldn’t follow her own rules, and I don’t need that kind of energy in my life. I reiterated that it’s okay to suggest possibilities, yes, but you never tell a person that what you suspect they have IS what they have. That’s just being irresponsible. Then I called her an @ss and left. Oops!!

There is always hope.