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

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: