Interview October – Maya

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

MayaNorthenAugelli

Introduce yourself and tell us a bit about you…  

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

Chronic illness(es)/disabilities I have… 

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

My symptoms/condition began… 

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

My diagnosis process was… 

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

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

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

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

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

A typical day for me involves… 

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

The one thing I cannot live without is… 

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

Being ill/disabled has taught me… 

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

What advice would I give someone recently diagnosed… 

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

My support system is…

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

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

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

One positive of having a chronic illness/disability is…

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

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

My links are:

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

If Wishes Were Horses

My daughter Ashley is a groom to thoroughbred racehorses at the Hastings Park racetrack in Vancouver, BC.  She has been doing this for over 23 years now, since she was a teenager and loves every minute she spends in the barn with every horse she interacts with. She grooms the horses in her care, takes them out to the paddock on race days, and picks them up again after the race to walk them and cool them down before preparing them for the night. She’s never once not picked up a horse after a race. Until Friday, August. 24th.
The horse she groomed that night was Ceder Chines, a beautiful Bay gelding. It was the 4th race with a field of 6 and everyone got off to a good start. Cedar Chines was running in 3rd place as they were coming off the far turn and heading towards the backstretch when he suddenly stumbled in distress. The jockey, David Lopez quickly pulled him up and out of the race and held him steady until the horse could be taken by wagon off the track – it appeared that a knee injury had occurred and Ashley was unable to walk her horse off the track that night. X-rays were done and it showed that the knee was literally shattered. After discussion with the owners and trainer, Cedar Chines was humanely put down the next morning, as there was no way to recover from such a devastating injury.
Ashley was inconsolable. She’s never lost a horse before and even though these aren’t horses she owns, she treats every horse she grooms like they belong to her. She loves them all with the deepest love in her heart and gives 100% of her best self to them when she’s taking care of them. The thing was, she couldn’t just give in to her grief, as she still had another horse to prepare for the paddock for the ninth race. Can you imagine what that’s like, knowing one horse you love has broken down and yet still having to send another horse out on the track to race. All you want them to do is come home safe – at that point, you don’t even care if they win.
Living with chronic pain is similar in a lot of ways to horse racing. Waking up every day is a gamble as you don’t know what the day is going to bring. You can start out feeling pretty good, and then all of a sudden “wham!”…you’re in the middle of a Fibromyalgia flare-up, or suddenly it’s a Migraine starting, or your Trigeminal Neuralgia triggers, or your MS relapses. You simply have no way of knowing when any of these events are going to happen. Or, maybe you wake up feeling kinda crummy, but as the day goes by, you start to feel better as you take care of yourself. With the proper grooming – a good breakfast, a shower that doesn’t hurt for a change, clothing that feels good on the skin, a walk that doesn’t exhaust you – and suddenly, you’re feeling like a winner!!
At the end of the day, you just want to come home safe. Whether you ‘re still working while living with Chronic Pain, or you’ve had to give up work and other activities, the ultimate goal is to live as pain-free as possible. You resort to your comfort measures  and other tricks like meditation music to help bring down stress levels, you do what you can to get a good sleep and you just hope and pray you wake up in the morning feeling good. Less pain, refreshed and ready to face the world, like a champion racehorse might feel.
And like a racehorse needs a good groom to take care of them, we have our support systems too. Sometimes it’s a spouse, sometimes it’s a hired caregiver – whoever it is, we depend on them for a little or a lot of our care. If a groom is sloppy with a horse, for example, not wrapping the ankle bandages properly, then the horse has no chance of winning. If we or our caregivers aren’t doing the right things for our health (proper nutrition, exercise, etc), then we have no chance of improving in the larger sense with our pain management.
I wish that it was easier to live with Chronic Pain. I wish I could wake up, eat some breakfast and go for a walk and all would be well, but it’s just not that easy. Life as a race horse sounds much easier in many ways, but when you see how fragile the ending can be, you realize that the horses have it just as tough as we do. I think I’ll stick to being human, and deal with my issues one day at a time, just as I always have.
There is always hope.