10 Tips to Improve Your Mental Health

Previously posted on The Zebra Pit

Mental Health is a hot topic these days. More and more people are recognizing that they suffering in some way with depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder or other mental health issues.

Today I’d like to share 10 things that can help to improve your mental health. I hope you find these helpful.

1. Recognize There’s A Problem

The very first step to improving your mental health is recognizing there’s a problem. You may be feeling a sense of the blues that you can’t shake, or a generalized anxiety that you can’t control.

Perhaps you’re feeling out of control and going through severe mood swings from mania to depression. All you know for sure is that something is “off” and you need to figure out what it is. Whatever the case may be, recognizing something is wrong is the first step to making things better.

2. Ask For Help

Perhaps one of the hardest things we face in life is asking for help. We like to think we’re capable of handling whatever life throws at us, but it’s not always that simple. You may find that at work, you’re more than capable of tackling whatever you face, but at home it’s a different story. Or, perhaps you’ve faced challenges at home that seem easy, but at work, you’re struggling to find your place.

When you’re dealing with your mental health, you may already feel like you’re a failure. Asking for help could prove to be a very difficult thing to do, but if you don’t ask, you tend to stay stuck in the situation you’re finding hard to manage. Talk to your doctor about what you’re going through, or find a counselor or trusted friend that you can share your concerns with. Sometimes just the very act of sharing with someone can help you feel better without further steps.

3. Accept Help

Once you’ve asked for help, the next step is to actually accept the help that’s offered. This might mean medication for depression or Bipolar Disorder if diagnosed, or your doctor could have other recommendations such as Cognitive Behavior Therapy, Meditation, Yoga for stress, etc.

Accepting help doesn’t mean you will end up with a mental illness diagnosis. However getting a diagnosis simply means that your body may not be producing the right chemicals to help you feel the best you can. There are hundreds of diagnoses, including Depression, Schizophrenia, Narcissism, Bipolar Disorder, and more.

Basically, your mental health can be simple or complex. A doctor or counselor can help to diagnose what’s going on and offer you treatment options. There is no shame in having problems with your mental health. Mental health issues are not your fault and are no different than having a medical condition. With changing times, terminology should no longer hold the stigma it used to. We live in an age where awareness is everything and more and more people are admitting to mental illness in the hopes that we can eliminate the stigmas all together.

4. Get Active

It’s time to get active with your mental health treatment plan. Exercise is a great place to start and many doctors will encourage you to get out and do something physical to help you feel better. Biking, walking, swimming, golf, tennis…whatever you like to do is the best fit. Even 30 minutes a day of exercise can help to balance hormones, improve mood, lessen anxiety and encourage better sleep. Especially if you can do it in the sunshine!

5. Explore Medication

Your doctor may recommend that you start on an anti-depressant or other medication for your symptoms. Please realize that taking medication is not a sign of weakness…it simply means your brain isn’t producing the right chemicals and needs a boost.

I liken it to other diseases…you wouldn’t refuse medication for heart disease or a kidney problem and you wouldn’t have an issue taking something for Diabetes, so why would this be any different? If your brain isn’t creating the right chemical mix, medication is an easy way to correct the problem and bring things back into balance.

Of course ultimately, it’s your choice. Psych meds can have a range of scary side effects and it can sometimes take years to find one that will work right for you. There are also alternatives to medication use. For a list of options, click here.

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6. Cognitive Behavior Therapy

Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) focuses on challenging and changing unhelpful thoughts, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors, improving your emotional response and aiding in the development of personal coping strategies that target solving current problems.

CBT rests on the idea that thoughts and perceptions influence behavior. Feeling distressed, in some cases, may distort one’s perception of reality. CBT aims to identify harmful thoughts, assess whether they are an accurate depiction of reality, and, if they are not, employ strategies to challenge and overcome them.

CBT is appropriate for people of all ages, including children, teens, and adults. Evidence has mounted that CBT can benefit numerous conditions, such as major depressive disorder, anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders, and many others. Research also indicates that CBT can be delivered effectively online, in addition to face-to-face therapy sessions.

This link gives you a quick overview of what CBT is and how it works. Ask your doctor for a referral to a certified CBT professional if you think this type of therapy could be helpful for you.

7. Yoga* and Tai Chi

As discussed, exercise is a good way of helping you feel better about yourself. Some people find Yoga and/or Tai Chi to be of great benefit when they are struggling with mental health issues.

The discipline involved with following regulated steps in a slow and deliberate fashion helps to calm the mind and put the focus on your overall well-being. Feeling your muscles working together can be very soothing and the slow movements are safe for just about everyone. Mastering the various forms gives you a sense of success which can be great incentive to keep going.

*Please note: Yoga is not recommended for people with hypermobility. Thank you.

8. Nutrition

Your body needs fuel to function and good nutrition is key to feeling well physically and mentally. By following a healthy eating plan and getting plenty of fresh fruit, vegetables, whole grains and protein, you are aiding your body in running in top condition.

Caffeine may or may not fit into your life – some people find it makes them jittery, others have no problems. Try adding more water to your daily intake – it helps lubricate your brain and joints and keeps you hydrated for optimal function. Avoid sugary beverages as much as possible – they don’t add any value to your health.

9. Spiritual Practices

Being spiritual doesn’t mean being religious, but both can have a place in your life. If you are religious, you may find prayer to be of comfort while you deal with your mental health. If religion is not your thing, spirituality can come from the sense of a Higher Power, Nature, Music or other practices.

Try to engage in your Spirituality/Religion on a daily basis – you may find a time of prayer, being in nature or listening to music to be of value when done at the same time every day. Some people like to do this in the morning, when the day is fresh in front of them. Others prefer to do this at night, so they can reflect on the day.

Whatever time you choose, it’s your time to be honest with your beliefs and to honor them in a way that feels authentic to you.

10. Journaling

Many people who live with mental health issues find journaling to be of value. Being able to honestly reflect on your life without fear of others reading your words can bring great comfort. The key is to write honestly about your feelings, not worrying about recriminations and criticism.

Choose a time to journal when it’s quiet and you won’t be interrupted. Set the stage with a cup of tea or other beverage, find a quiet writing nook and let yourself go. Don’t worry about impressing yourself with perfect grammar – just let yourself go and free flow with the writing. Unless you choose to share your journal with others, this is for your eyes only.

The freedom that comes with writing can bring clarity to your life and help you recognize areas that might need improvement, which then leads to greater understanding and happiness.

A Few Final Thoughts

I hope these 10 steps help you to realize that mental health issues are important and need to be taken seriously. You deserve to feel your best and when you’re not, everything else seems to get bogged down.

By attending to your mental health, you are actually doing your physical body a favor as well, since you’re bound to feel better in all ways when you’re feeling better mentally.

Recognize the problem, ask for help and try some of the steps above and see if things improve. Your doctor is always a great place to start and counseling is almost always worthwhile. You owe it to yourself to be your best version of you. Remember,

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10 Symptoms You May Experience with Fibromyalgia

Previously posted on The Zebra Pit

Let’s start the New Year with a review of 10 Symptoms you may experience with Fibromyalgia.

Fibromyalgia is a tricky condition to live with as there are many symptoms you can experience beyond Pain and Fatigue. Here are 10 of the top symptoms you may experience and how to manage them.

Symptoms_of_fibromyalgia

Symptoms

1. Brain Fog

This is a cognitive impairment that causes problems such as temporary loss of memory, forgetting words or mixing up words, losing your train of thought, or saying things that don’t make sense. It can be frightening when it happens, as these are also signs of other conditions, such as Alzheimers Disease.

Your doctor can do some mental testing to make sure the symptoms you’re experiencing aren’t being caused by some other condition. Ways you can help yourself include keeping a notebook with you to write down important information, taking a moment to pause and collect your thoughts, and keeping a sense of humour about the situation. If you tend to panic about having this happen, laughing is a good way to keep things light while allowing you to start over with what you were saying.

2. Jaw Pain

Jaw pain in the joints on either one or both sides can be mistaken for TMJ (temporomandibular joint disfunction). Pain and swelling are the common symptoms of jaw pain along with stiffness and being unable to open the mouth without pain.

Gentle stretching exercises and muscle relaxants may be helpful in managing the pain. If only one side is affected, try chewing on the other side to relieve pain. If you hear popping or clicking, or if your jaw seems to be “out of joint”, see your dentist to rule out TMJ or other conditions.

3. Urinary Problems

If you are having difficulty with urinating, whether it’s a problem with urgency, leakage or straining, it’s good to check with your doctor to make sure there’s no underlying problem.

Having Fibromyalgia can affect the bladder and kidneys, causing the above symptoms. Some solutions include urinating on a schedule, doing Kegels, seeing a Pelvic Floor Physiotherapist, and using bladder control products for leakage issues.

4. Body Temperature

People with Fibromyalgia may have difficulty in regulating their body temperature. In my case, I can have cold skin and goosebumps, yet be sweating from overheating at the same time. It’s a very disconcerting feeling.

Things that may help include keeping a light blanket or sweater nearby for chills and a fan for when heat becomes a problem. I have found that keeping my feet warm helps with the chills and then using a fan helps ward off the sweating.

5. Weight Gain

Weight gain is often caused because of medications you may be taking for your Fibromyalgia. Even if you’re not taking prescriptions, you may find you’re still gaining weight – it’s one of the anomalies of having Fibro. The only way to lose weight is by taking in less calories than you are expending. Fad diets may work for a short period of time, but in general are unsustainable.

Following a proper eating plan from all 4 food groups is essential and exercise is as well. You may find walking helpful (consider using walking poles for extra stability) or water activities, such as Aquafit, Deep Water Workouts, or Pool Walking to be helpful.

6. Chest Pain

Chest pain can be a scary symptom of Fibromyalgia and should always be checked out by a medical professional if you experience the following:

  • Pressure, tightness, pain, or a squeezing or aching sensation in your chest or arms that may spread to your neck, jaw or back.
  • Nausea, indigestion, heartburn or abdominal pain.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Cold sweat.
  • Fatigue.
  • Lightheadedness or sudden dizziness.

The cause of chest pain in Fibromyalgia is often because of something called Costochondritis, which is an inflammation of the cartilage around the ribs. The condition usually affects the cartilage where the upper ribs attach to the breastbone, or sternum, an area known as the costosternal joint or costosternal junction.

Treatment includes anti-inflammatory pain relievers such as Ibuprofen or Naproxen and using either heat or ice (which ever feels best for you).

7. Sleep Disorders

Pain can keep you from getting the sleep you need. You may also be experiencing Restless Leg Syndrome and not even be aware of it. Sleep Apnea is another problem that you may be facing and all of these issues can prevent you from getting the deep REM sleep that is necessary to repair the body.

Good sleep hygiene is important to follow. You may want to keep a notebook to jot down your thoughts when you wake at night to see if there is a pattern. Keep the room cool, avoid using electronics for one hour before bed, and try using a weighted blanket to see if that helps.

8. Digestive Problems

When you have Fibromyalgia, you may experience digestive disorders including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or constipation (or occasionally both), heartburn and a general sense of feeling “unwell”.

Drinking peppermint tea can help with nausea, eating smaller more frequent meals might make a difference and trying to set up a schedule for bowel movements can help relieve discomfort. Metamucil or other Fibre supplements every day can be helpful for the bowels without resorting to laxatives.

If symptoms persist, see your doctor to rule out other potential problems.

9. Skin Problems

Itching, rashes, hives and tiny red marks can often show up when you have Fibromyalgia. Skin may become more sensitive to soaps and fragrances and you may discover that your normally dry skin has become oily or vice versa.

Use of a mild cleanser for face and body is imperative, especially ones containing oatmeal. Antihistimines are suggested when hives and itching become a problem and the tiny red marks that might show up on your skin are harmless.

If you have problems with skin rash, see your doctor who may recommend a dermatologist for further treatment.

10. Depression

Depression and Fibromyalgia may go hand in hand without you realizing you are showing signs. If you are finding yourself struggling to maintain interest in former activities, you’re isolating yourself, eating less or more than usual or have been unable to shake “the blues”, you may be experiencing Depression.

Treatment includes Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) and often, medications. There is no shame to having Depression – you haven’t done anything wrong. You’re not weak, your body is showing signs of a chemical imbalance which should be treated like any other medical problem.

If you are feeling so depressed that you are suicidal, please call a hotline for help. You can find more information on hotlines here for Canada and here for the United States. In the UK, you can use this page for help.

Conclusion

There are over 60 different symptoms that relate to Fibromyalgia. These 10 are just the tip of the iceberg, but are the ones more commonly experienced.

Fibromyalgia is hard to explain

If you are experiencing something new, or if a symptom you’ve had for awhile changes, it’s always important to see your doctor, to rule out anything outside of Fibromyalgia. Better safe than sorry is certainly the key here. And remember…

50 Christmas Quotes

Revised from last year, I thought it was a good time to share my favourite Christmas quotes!

In the Spirit of the Season, here are 50 Christmas quotes to help bring good cheer to your heart during the holidays. Thanks to the website Daring To Live Fully for the list.

1. “I sometimes think we expect too much of Christmas Day. We try to crowd into it the long arrears of kindliness and humanity of the whole year. As for me, I like to take my Christmas a little at a time, all through the year. And thus I drift along into the holidays – let them overtake me unexpectedly – waking up some fine morning and suddenly saying to myself: ‘Why, this is Christmas Day!’”

~ David Grayson

2. “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas;
Soon the bells will start,
And the thing that will make them ring
Is the carol that you sing
Right within your heart.”

~ Meredith Willson, “It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas”

3. “Christmas gift suggestions: to your enemy, forgiveness. To an opponent, tolerance. To a friend, your heart. To a customer, service. To all, charity. To every child, a good example. To yourself, respect.”

~ Oren Arnold

Christmas quotes

4.

5. “Gifts of time and love are surely the basic ingredients of a truly merry Christmas.”

~ Peg Bracken

6. “Instead of being a time of unusual behavior, Christmas is perhaps the only time in the year when people can obey their natural impulses and express their true sentiments without feeling self-conscious and, perhaps, foolish. Christmas, in short, is about the only chance a man has to be himself.”

~ Francis C. Farley

7. “It is Christmas in the heart that puts Christmas in the air.”

~ W.T. Ellis

8. “Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful.”

~ Norman Vincent Peale

9. “Christmas now surrounds us,
Happiness is everywhere
Our hands are busy with many tasks
As carols fill the air.”

~ Shirley Sallay

10. “Each sight, each sound of Christmas
And fragrances sublime
Make hearts and faces happy
This glorious Christmastime.”

~ Carice Williams

11. “Blessed is the season which engages the whole world in a conspiracy of love!”

~ Hamilton Wright Mabie

12. “Christmas is not as much about opening our presents as opening our hearts.”

~ Janice Maeditere

13. “Love is what’s in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and listen.”

~ Author unknown, attributed to a 7-year-old named Bobby

14. “I wish we could put up some of the Christmas spirit in jars and open a jar of it every month.”

~ Harlan Miller

15. “Christmas is the season of joy, of holiday greetings exchanged, of gift-giving, and of families united.”

~ Norman Vincent Peale

16. “Christmas is most truly Christmas when we celebrate it by giving the light of love to those who need it most.”

~ Ruth Carter Stapleton

17. “Good news from heaven the angels bring,
Glad tidings to the earth they sing:
To us this day a child is given,
To crown us with the joy of heaven.”

~ Martin Luther

18. “The best of all gifts around any Christmas tree: the presence of a happy family all wrapped up in each other.”

~ Burton Hillis

19. “Probably the reason we all go so haywire at Christmas time with the endless unrestrained and often silly buying of gifts is that we don’t quite know how to put our love into words.”

~ Harlan Miller

20. “For centuries men have kept an appointment with Christmas. Christmas means fellowship, feasting, giving and receiving, a time of good cheer, home.”

~ W. J. Tucker

21. “Christmas is not just a time for festivity and merry making. It is more than that. It is a time for the contemplation of eternal things. The Christmas spirit is a spirit of giving and forgiving.”

~ J. C. Penney

22. “I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

23. “I love the Christmas-tide, and yet,
I notice this, each year I live;
I always like the gifts I get,
But how I love the gifts I give!”

~ Carolyn Wells

24. “Mankind is a great, an immense family. This is proved by what we feel in our hearts at Christmas.”

~ Pope John XXIII

25. “Let us have music for Christmas…
Sound the trumpet of joy and rebirth;
Let each of us try, with a song in our hearts,
To bring peace to men on earth.”

~ Mildred L. Jarrell

26. “Christmas is not a time or a season but a state of mind. To cherish peace and good will, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas.”

~ Calvin Coolidge

27. “I don’t think Christmas is necessarily about things. It’s about being good to one another, it’s about the Christian ethic, it’s about kindness.”

~ Carrie Fisher

28. “What is Christmas? It is tenderness for the past, courage for the present, hope for the future. It is a fervent wish that every cup may overflow with blessings rich and eternal, and that every path may lead to peace.”

~ Agnes M. Pharo

29. “May Christmas lend a special charm
To all you chance to do.
And may the season light your way
To hopes and dreams anew.”

~ Garnett Ann Schultz, “My Christmas Wish”

30. “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas,
Just like the ones I used to know,
Where the tree tops glisten
And children listen
To hear sleigh bells in the snow.”

~ Irving Berlin

31. “I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.”

~ Charles Dickens, Ebeneezer Scrooge, A Christmas Carol

32. “And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”

~ Dr Seuss

33. “The merry family gatherings–
The old, the very young;
The strangely lovely way they
Harmonize in carols sung.

For Christmas is tradition time–
Traditions that recall
The precious memories down the years,
The sameness of them all.”

~ Helen Lowrie Marshall

34. “Christmas is forever, not for just one day,
for loving, sharing, giving, are not to put away
like bells and lights and tinsel, in some box upon a shelf.
The good you do for others is good you do yourself.”

~ Norman Wesley Brooks, “Let Every Day Be Christmas”

35. “This time of year means being kind
to everyone we meet,
To share a smile with strangers
we may pass along the street.”

~ Betty Black

36. “Until one feels the spirit of Christmas, there is no Christmas. All else is outward display–so much tinsel and decorations. For it isn’t the holly, it isn’t the snow. It isn’t the tree not the firelight’s glow. It’s the warmth that comes to the hearts of men when the Christmas spirit returns again.”

~ Unknown

37. “There is a Christmas song upon the air,
There is a joy innate within the heart;
An inner sense of peace, a holy light
Illumines life and sets these days apart.”

~ Edna Greene Hines

38. “I am not alone at all, I thought. I was never alone at all. And that, of course, is the message of Christmas. We are never alone. Not when the night is darkest, the wind coldest, the world seemingly most indifferent. For this is still the time God chooses.”

~ Taylor Caldwell

39. “Christmas in Bethlehem. The ancient dream: a cold, clear night made brilliant by a glorious star, the smell of incense, shepherds and wise men falling to their knees in adoration of the sweet baby, the incarnation of perfect love.”

~ Lucinda Franks

40. “Are you willing to believe that love is the strongest thing in the world – stronger than hate, stronger than evil, stronger than death – and that the blessed life which began in Bethlehem nineteen hundred years ago is the image and brightness of the Eternal Love? Then you can keep Christmas.”

~ Henry Van Dyke

41. “Ask your children two questions this Christmas. First: What do you want to give to others for Christmas? Second: What do you want for Christmas? The first fosters generosity of heart and an outward focus. The second can breed selfishness if not tempered by the first.”

~ Author Unknown

42. “Bless us Lord, this Christmas, with quietness of mind; Teach us to be patient and always to be kind.”

~ Helen Steiner Rice

43. “Christmas! The very word brings joy to our hearts. No matter how we may dread the rush, the long Christmas lists for gifts and cards to be bought and given–when Christmas Day comes there is still the same warm feeling we had as children, the same warmth that enfolds our hearts and our homes.”

~ Joan Winmill Brown

44. “Christmas – that magic blanket that wraps itself about us, that something so intangible that it is like a fragrance. It may weave a spell of nostalgia. Christmas may be a day of feasting, or of prayer, but always it will be a day of remembrance – a day in which we think of everything we have ever loved.”

~ Augusta E. Rundel

45. “Christmas day is a day of joy and charity. May God make you very rich in both.”

~ Phillips Brooks

46.

Christmas quotes

47. “Christmas is doing a little something extra for someone.”

~ Charles Schulz

48. “Christmas, my child, is love in action.”

~ Dale Evans

49. “Off to one side sits a group of shepherds. They sit silently on the floor, perhaps perplexed, perhaps in awe, no doubt in amazement. Their night watch had been interrupted by an explosion of light from heaven and a symphony of angels. God goes to those who have time to hear him–and so on this cloudless night he went to simple shepherds.”

~ Max Lucado

50. “Want to keep Christ in Christmas? Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, forgive the guilty, welcome the unwanted, care for the ill, love your enemies, and do unto others as you would have done unto you.”

~ Steve Maraboli

Season of Miracles

Thoughts

As we enter the Season of Miracles, I wanted to write today about something that’s been on my heart. Joy and Miracles and hope for the future.

There is so much hope that comes with Christmas and Hanukkah – the Birth of the Christ Child, the Miracle of the Oil burning for 8 days – and I want us to see that despite Chronic Illness, there can still be joy and miracles and things to look forward to.

After living with Chronic Illness for over 30 years, my list of physical ailments is long and continues to grow. I also have a mental illness to deal with which will be with me for the rest of my life.

Having Bipolar Disorder was a frightening diagnosis for me, but after finally getting it under control with the proper medications, it’s become a real non-factor in my life and I often forget that I have it.

To me, that’s a miracle.

Each year though, my physical pain gets worse, and so does my Chronic Fatigue. I struggle more with pain management and all the side effects, but I’ve also learned new tips and tricks to help deal with my days – another reason to feel hopeful.

Making Changes

In a previous post, I wrote about complementary medicine and how it can help with Chronic Pain. I am a true believer in trying new solutions for old problems and had some great feedback about this article. I hope you were able to incorporate some of these ideas, or will look at the post to give them a try.

Living with Chronic Pain can be a bittersweet encounter – bitter because of the pain and side effects and all the negative changes in your life, but sweet because there are still things to be grateful for.

Research

There is new research on the horizon for diagnosing Fibromyalgia – the work being done to develop accurate blood testing has never been more exciting, and with science on our side, things are bound to have a positive impact in our lives.

The sooner we get a true diagnosis, the sooner treatment can start.

Treatments themselves are becoming better too, now that we understand that Fibromyalgia isn’t an autoimmune disorder and that its roots lie in the nervous system and the inability to communicate properly with the brain and spinal canal regarding pain signals.

Although there haven’t been any new medications released to treat Fibro, Gabapentin is being used more commonly in conjunction with the approved medications (Savella, Cymbalta and Lyrica) with good results.

More and more patients are becoming involved in Research for their health conditions, and Clinical Trials are being held across North America on a regular basis.

For more information about clinical trials, you can sign up here at ClinicalTrials.gov to see if you qualify for studies on a variety of health issues, not just Fibromyalgia. Another good spot to try is Patients At Heart. For Canadians, this link takes you to the Health Canada Clinical Trials website.

Advocacy

Another area where I’m seeing hope and miracles is in Patient Advocacy. This is a fast growing area where Patients become involved as authorities in their lived experience and work together with Health Care Partners to make changes in how health care is delivered.

One of the largest national organizations in Advocacy is WEGO Health. WEGO Health works with Patients in a wide variety of areas, offering opportunties to share you stories and help to impact change in a number of different ways.

They highlight a number of different annual conferences that take place in North America, and provide opportunities for you to share your story and get involved in various projects.

Patient Advocacy at an organizational level is becoming extremely important as well. If you want to be involved, simply contact the health organization of your choice, and ask them how you can become a Patient Advocate.

Volunteering your time to share your health story and help others is a great way to give back, beyond simply “making a donation”. Financial help is always needed and appreciated, but you can make a real difference as well in sharing your experiences.

Volunteering

Speaking of volunteering, this is an activity that has given me the greatest joy since becoming disabled. I do volunteer work for a group in BC, Canada called the Patient Voices Network, where I act as a Patient Advocate for a variety of Health Care initiatives.

I currently sit on 5 health-related committees,. Two are with the BC Emergency Medicine Network. Another is a Surgical Quality Improvement committee and another committee is devoted to ensuring Quality Control for all the Laboratories on Vancouver Island, BC.

Finally, I am a member of the Oversight & Advisory Committee for the Patient Voices Network, a role I’ve held for 3 years now. We oversee the activities of PVN and ensure that Patients are getting opportunities to share their voices in making change in health care.

I have also recently been working on becoming a Coach for PainBC.ca, allowing me to work directly with people with Chronic Pain and helping them find solutions for situations in their lives that they require some guidance with. I expect that work to start in 2020 when my training is complete in mid-December.

These volunteer opportunities allow me to give back to the community in a variety of ways while still taking care of my health. I devote approximately 20 hours a month to all of these committees which is manageable without overdoing it.

I love the variety of experiences I get to be involved in, the people I work with (surgeons, Government officials, other patients, etc.) and the opportunity to stretch my wings and try new things beyond my day to day life.

I’ve even been sponsored to travel to various conferences and to take courses such as the San’yas Indigenous Cultural Training.

I share this with you to show you that even if your health isn’t the greatest, you can still participate in volunteering in ways that make a difference.

Another volunteer suggestion is this: if you are a crafter, find out if your local hospital has need for knitted or crocheted items and take on the challenge. Blankets, baby items and more are often for sale in the Hospital Gift Shops and you can have a real impact on someone’s life with this kind of giving.

I know I’ve been very comforted in times in the hospital when I’ve been provided with a beautifully created blanket!

Season of Hope

I trust you are getting a sense of the hope and miracles I started this post with. There is so much potential in our lives even if we are disabled by pain and our physical and/or mental illnesses.

We must let go of the old ways of thinking that our good days are behind us, and start celebrating the wonderful things we have yet to accomplish.

Think about what you’re good at and find a way to incorporate it back into your life. What makes you smile? What makes your heart skip a beat? Find a way to bring that joy back into your life and see what changes.

Pain is easier to manage when you have good things to look forward to. Fatigue seems easier to handle when you’re active and busy, both mentally and physically.

I hope this post was helpful. I appreciate your comments below and look foward to sharing a magical Season with all of you! Remember…

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Finding The Holiday Spirit with Chronic Illness

As December makes it’s appearance, it’s time to start thinking about the coming Holidays. Hannukah, Christmas, Kwanzaa and New Year’s Eve are the major celebrations for this time of year, and when you live with Chronic Illness, it can be hard to get into the spirit.

Plan In Advance

As Hannukah, Christmas, Kwanzaa and New Years get closer, it’s a good idea to start thinking about what you’ll do and where you’ll go. Are there family traditions that can be changed in regards to who cooks or hosts events? If it’s been you in the past that hosted a large group, perhaps someone else could do it this year and you could be the guest. Start to prioritize the things you most want to do (attend a Santa Claus parade, a Festival of Lights, Religious Services, visiting certain friends, etc.) and then build your schedule around that.

Keep Managing Your Chronic Illness

Once you have a schedule in place, you can start building in rest days before and after events. Don’t forget about the day of the events themselves and how you need to ration your energy to have the greatest chance of being able to participate.

Go to your scheduled doctor’s appointments and take care of yourself. It’s so tempting to cancel these things at this time of the year, but don’t. Make sure you are taking your medications as prescribed. If you have special dietary needs, keep them in mind when eating out and preparing meals. Now is not the time to go off a medically necessary diet.

Make Lists

Make lists of things you need or want to do. Prioritize those lists. Delegate and let some things go. Take advantage of online shopping to save your energy.  And don’t be a perfectionist. There’s no room for perfectionism in a chronically ill person’s life.

Be flexible with how things might change and decide if you’re still able to attend when changes happen. Don’t stress if you can’t…decide what you can change to make things work.

Pace Yourself

If you know you have a party to go to in the evening, that morning is not the time to scrub out your tub. This is another area in which I struggle. Pace yourself throughout the day and over a period of several days. If you are planning on going shopping with friends on Saturday, plan on Friday and even Thursday being light activity days.

Be Honest

If you’re going somewhere else to celebrate and you have energy limitations, let your host know that you may not be able to participate fully in the activities. If you aren’t able to host at your house like usual, ask others to chip in and host instead. Being honest with people in your life about your limitations can be helpful for avoiding hurt feelings later. Think through what you need to explain to others ahead of time to allow the events to go smoothly.

Enlist The Help Of Your Spouse Or Friend

Enlist the help of your spouse or a good friend to be part of your team during the holiday festivities. This should be someone who knows you well and will be able to read your responses to situations. This person will help you feel safe in the situations you’re entering and will watch for any indication that you aren’t feeling well.

My husband Ray, serves in this role for me. Another friend or family member could also do this. Basically, Ray notices when I’m getting worn down and my health is going downhill. He’s particularly aware of my flagging energy, and will often ask me how I’m doing to gauge whether it’s time to leave. I also know I can tell him I’m ready to go and he’ll take me home immediately if I need to leave.

Don’t feel guilty if you have to leave a situation early. Be thankful instead that you were able to attend, even for just a short while. Gratitude plays a huge part in a successful Holiday season.

Be Okay With Your Plans Changing

This one is a big part of normal life with chronic illness. Flexibility is important because things can change on a moments notice when health issues are a concern.  Even if you have everything planned and scheduled, do yourself a favor and release expectations. If you are religious, prayerfully plan your schedule but then hold those plans loosely. Ask God to cover you with perfect peace in whatever situations you may encounter with your health over the holidays.

Ask For Help

Ask for specific things. I don’t like to depend on anyone for help, but if it means making the holidays more manageable, I think it’s worth it. Sometimes, people will offer to help, but they don’t say what they are willing to do. Having a list ready with ideas of what others can do for you will come in handy when people make those kinds of offers.

Do you need help with laundry? Running errands? Housework? How about help with wrapping gifts? Think about all of your regular and holiday tasks and delegate some of them to family members and willing friends.

One thing I ask for when my friends offer to help is that they make me a frozen meal. It helps me to eat healthy but without having to cook during the times I’m either busy or resting. I’ve never had anyone resent the request once they’ve asked what they can do to help me.

Shopping

Shopping can be one of the most stressful parts of the Holidays. Getting out and about can be tiring and painful so make use of the internet to do the majority of your shopping when you can. Most online shops deliver with reasonable pricing and sometimes if you have to ship a long distance, the cost is still worth it to prevent the stress from piling on. Ask for Gift Receipts or Messages so the receiver can return or exchange your gift if necessary.

I keep an Excel spreadsheet with the name of the person I’m shopping for, what was purchased, where and when. It’s easy to refer back to in case there are any questions or problems.

Connect With Others

Try to make time with friends you might not otherwise get to see, even if it’s just for a short while. Have a quick get together at a coffee shop, chat with a girlfriend about a sappy Christmas movie you’ve both watched. Make an effort each day to reach out to someone. Text, Facebook, instant message, make a phone call. You don’t have to carry on an hour-long conversation, just a brief connection can be enough.

Find “Me” Time

Build in some time just for yourself during the holidays to read, craft, rest or do whatever else will help to give you some “me” time. It’s important to recharge your batteries. If being surrounded by people is what energizes you, then do that…it’s all about what makes you feel good.

I tend to enjoy booking a massage once a month during the Fall and Winter months. I find that it helps me physically and mentally – having that to look forward to after a busy time is a relief. I feel better after my body has had the kinks worked out and I’m often more energized as well. Find out if your insurance covers the cost and look for training schools in your area for better pricing.

Make Time For Your Spouse Or Significant Other

It’s so important to carve out time for the two of you. With all the busyness going on around you,  communicating can sometimes take a backseat, especially if you aren’t feeling so well. Be honest about how you are feeling and ask for help when you need it. Try to sneak in a few inexpensive “dates.” Drive around and look at the Christmas lights, stop for some hot chocolate, attend a Christmas program together. Just enjoy each others company.

Laugh As Much As You Can

This one is one of my favourite pieces of advice. Laugh. Just do it. I’ve found that no matter how horrible I feel, laughter can be a source of medicine for me. Laughing helps lift my spirit and makes me feel more alive. Try to enjoy yourself while you celebrate the holidays, and be sure to include laughter in your days!

Remember The Reason For The Season

It’s so easy to get caught up in the baking, partying, shopping, decorating, etc., but that’s not really what it’s all about. If you are a religious person, keep attending church services and go to the special holiday programs. Listen to religious Christmas songs along with the pop tunes. If you aren’t particularly religious or are a nonbeliever, meditate, attend holiday community events, and enjoy finding ways to nurture your own spiritual side. Remember,

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Positive Things About Chronic Illness

Living With Chronic Illness

Note: This post contains affiliate links. I will receive a small percentage from the total purchase price at no extra cost to you.

Living with a Chronic Illness such as Fibromyalgia, Multiple Sclerosis, Lupus, Ehlers-Danlos, etc. can be a challenge. So much of your time is taken up with medical appointments, tests, daily pain and discomfort, mobility issues and more.

We sometimes forget to take time to spend on positive, “non-medical” moments. Maybe it’s because we have to look for them, rather than have them always there. Maybe it’s because we’re so tired from being ill that it’s too much effort.

I believe it’s important though, to find those good things in the day or to create moments when necessary. I’d like to share a few ideas with you today to help you fill your time with positives.

Moments

Pets

Our pets bring us so much comfort, whether you live with Chronic Pain or not. If you do live with an Illness of some sort, this is especially true. Pets seem to have a way of knowing when we need an extra cuddle or two, and they’re always there for us. I have a wonderful cat named Dorie, who loves to lay on my legs when I’m on my laptop (like right now)

Dorie my cat, sitting on my legs, and bringing comfort from Chronic Pain

I can feel my stress dissipating as soon as Dorie lays with me. It’s a tangible and therapeutic benefit of cat ownership and a wonderful feeling period. If you don’t currently own a pet, it’s something to consider.

Books

I love to read and a good book can completely transport me away from a painful day. I get so caught up in the story I’m reading that everything else fades into the background.

My personal preference for books is stories of people who have overcome challenges, especially Chronic Illness of their own. I also love autobiographies and biographies in general, and books on True Crime. Ann Rule is a favourite author in that category.

A couple of suggested books and authors I adore:

Salt In My Soul is a wonderful book about a young woman who lived with Cystic Fibrosis. Mallory’s story is both joyous and sad as she talks about being a young woman with a fatal disease. Her mom takes up the story when Mallory can’t and shares her daughter’s life and dreams.

Let’s Pretend This Never Happened is by one of my favourite author’s, Jenny Lawson. This is a true account of her life growing up with mental illness and is absolutely laugh-out-loud hilarious. I also recommend her second book, Furiously Happy as a follow up!

You can also follow Jenny on her blog site, The Bloggess

Music

Everyone has their own preferences when it comes to music that makes them feel better. I have one friend who loves to rock out to death metal and another who prefers classical music.

I find that listening to the old classics is what works best for me, to distract me from pain and discomfort. I love Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Queen, Electric Light Orchestra and so many more. When I can sing along with the songs, it’s easy to put pain behind me.

Choose a gendre that suits your style, or even your particular feelings for the day. Light and upbeat or dark and moody, the goal is to move beyond pain so your focus is elsewhere. Living with Chronic Illness is never easy, so music can often be a great distraction.

Videos/TV/Movies

Living with Chronic Illness often leaves you with a lot of free time. Some people are more visual than others and find that movies and/or TV are what helps them best. With services such as Cable, Hulu, Netflix and more, there’s an endless variety of content available.

One new thing that’s all the rage is ASMR videos. ASMR stands for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, and is a sensation of tingling that you get in the head and spine after viewing/hearing certain sounds or sensations. Hair brushing can bring this on, along with many other stimuli.

This Wikipedia article sums up ASMR nicely and you can find many videos on YouTube to help you experience the sensation. I haven’t personally tried it yet, but if you have, I’d love to hear about it…just leave a note in the comments section.

Another way of relaxing is by sitting outside and soaking up the sounds of nature. Birds, crickets, frogs…all of these can be peaceful and induce a sense of calm in the body.

Hobbies

I am just starting a new hobby of “Paint By Numbers” and have been given this kit by a company called Winnie’s Picks. I will be doing a full review of this product at a later date, when my painting is complete, but I wanted to share with you here what a wonderful kit this is.

Inside the solid mailing tube is everything you need to complete a full size painting. There is a canvas as well as a paper copy of the painting, several different sized brushes and all the paint you can possibly need to complete the work. You do need to frame this yourself when it’s done, but everything else is there. The prices are incredibly low for the quality of product too!

There are many hobbies that you can do when you live with Chronic Illness. You want to be able to work on things that you can pick up and put down when needed, but that still give you a challenge at the same time.

Some of the best hobbies to consider are needlework, knitting, crochet, felting, colouring, painting and working with paper, such as cardmaking. You can also get into more detailed work, such as embroidery, jewelry making, candle making, soapmaking and so much more. Tell me about your hobbies in the comment section. I’m always up for learning new things!

Conclusion

I love watching the hummingbirds that come to our feeder. They bring me such joy as they sip at the nectar I’ve left for them, and I can almost feel my blood pressure going down as I observe them.

Finding ways to live with Chronic Illness doesn’t have to be difficult. We generally have everything we need for distraction in our own homes. Sure, there are days when we just feel too ill to watch a movie or play around with a hobby, but for the most part, we can use the above techniques to distract ourselves.

What sort of things do you do on a daily basis, to manage your Chronic Illness? Share with me in the comments so we can all benefit. Remember,

There Is Always Hope

There Is Always Hope

Living with Chronic Illness is an act of bravery. When each of your days is spent in pain and discomfort, it takes a lot of courage to keep going. I want to talk about hope…how to have it to get through your life and how it helps to keep a person going.

there is always hope

What is HOPE? Here is one definition I found that I think sums it up:

Hope is an optimistic state of mind that is based on an expectation of positive outcomes with respect to events and circumstances in one’s life or the world at large. As a verb, its definitions include: “expect with confidence” and “to cherish a desire with anticipation.”

Being optimistic is essential when you live with Chronic Illness, because the alternative is unacceptable. If you only see negatives, then you end up wallowing in misery and that compounds how you feel physically and mentally. I truly believe that even in the worst illnesses, there are positives to be found.

  1. You gain a better perspective of your own strengths
  2. You show more compassion for others who are struggling
  3. You understand the human condition for what it is and tend to reach out more to others
  4. Every accomplishment is a victory
  5. You find greater wisdom from those around you

Expecting with confidence is based on faith – trusting that what you want the most will come true. Realistic faith is a good thing and ridiculous faith is even better! What is ridiculous faith? It’s when you hope and pray for something which is beyond reasonable expectations, but still anticipate that miracles could happen.

Do you need Religion to have Hope? I don’t think so. It can help in many ways, as prayer can be a very comforting thing, but I don’t think it’s necessary. Many people consider themselves Spiritual rather than Religious and find comfort in ritual, nature or other traditions. Prayer may not be a part of their lives, but they still find comfort in the routines they’ve established for themselves.

I am a Christ Follower and find prayer to be essential to my well-being. It comforts me to know that I have a God who is bigger than me and who holds me in the palm of His hand. I trust that He has a plan for my life and though I may not understand it, I accept it. Acceptance on it’s own can be comforting.

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Image by Daniel Reche from Pixabay

So how does one go about growing Hope in their lives? What steps do you have to take to have faith in the things that are happening in your life, good and bad?

  1. Acknowledge your strengths. Chronic Illness can rob us of our confidence. Try making a list of all of your strengths and accomplishments. Read through the list and congratulate yourself for these positive traits. Understanding that you still have much to offer the world goes a long way in inspiring hope in the soul.
  2. Cultivate supportive relationships. As much as you can, surround yourself with supportive and caring people. People who help you to feel good and encourage you to be your best help to increase your sense of wellbeing. Having a supportive network of friends will help you to further your interests and goals. It’s much easier to find hope within a strong community as opposed to completely on your own
  3. Look at the activities and attitudes of people around you. See if any of them can serve as role models for what you would like to accomplish for yourself. Also, consider how the people around you act and make you feel. When you surround yourself with hope and success, it naturally trickles down into your own life. Like attracts like.
  4. Engage in pleasurable activities. Doing things that you enjoy can also help you to develop your sense of hope. By engaging in activities that make you happy every day, you will have a greater sense of purpose. If you are not sure about what activities bring you the most joy, try out some new things to figure it out. Take a class at your local community college, try a new exercise routine (Aqua-based activities are easy on the body), learn a new skill, or start a new hobby.
  5. Get involved with a cause. Volunteering for a cause you believe in is a great way to cultivate hope towards the future. This can be in either your local community or even an online community if mobility is an issue for you. Patient Advocacy is an area that is under-represented and working with Health Care Organizations can have a huge impact on yourself as well as others who live with Chronic Illness.
  6. Build relationships with others. When you start to build new relationships over common goals or projects, your sense of hope can greatly increase as you see results from your efforts. Involving yourself with other people who share your interests can help you to overcome alienation, which can cause a feeling of hopelessness.
  7. Get out of your comfort zone. This is essential to changing your thought patterns and learning to approach the world with more hope. Go out with friends after work instead of going straight home. Join a club or group so you can share new experiences with others. Develop a new hobby. Put yourself out there in ways that make you mildly uncomfortable at first.
  8. Keep track of your thoughts and feelings in a journal. Journaling is a great way to understand why you have been feeling hopeless and it is also a great stress reliever. To get started, buy a beautiful journal and a nice pen or pencil. Choose a comfortable place and plan to devote about 20 minutes per day to writing. Start by writing about how you are feeling, what you are thinking, or whatever else is on your mind.
  9. Try keeping a gratitude diary. Every night, think of three things you are grateful for and write them down. Doing this every day will help you to develop a more hopeful outlook and it can also help you to sleep better and enjoy better health. 
  10. Take care of yourself. Exercise, eat healthy food, get plenty of rest, and relax. By taking good care of yourself, you are sending your mind signals that you deserve to be happy and treated well which can increase your hope for the future. Make time to take care of yourself
    • Exercise to the best of your ability.
    • Eat a balanced diet of healthy foods like fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins.
    • Get 7-9 hours of sleep per night. Use good sleep hygiene if you have trouble sleeping.
    • Set aside at least 15 minutes per day to relax. Practice yoga, do deep breathing exercises, or meditate.
    • Stay hydrated
    • Go for a massage or have body work such as Reiki to help balance you.
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Hope doesn’t have to be a fleeting thing…it can be a strong and deciding factor in your day to day life. I live every day with the hope it will be a good day. Positivity goes a long way in making me feel better physically, mentally and spiritually. I’m realistic about what I am and am not able to do, but I never give up hope that things will be better. It’s all about attitude and choosing how you want to feel.

I hope these ideas and suggestions are useful for you. I named my blog There Is Always Hope because I truly believe that statement. Even in the worst of our moments, I believe there is always a tiny light burning bright for us. We just have to look for it. Sometimes that means stepping out of our comfort zone and doing something we never thought we were capable of, but if we can overcome our fear, we may be surprised as to what we find.

And so I end this post as I always do and I mean it even more today…

There Is Always Hope

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Interview October – Elisa Austin

Today we meet my final guest for Interview October, the wonderful Elisa Austin. Please join me in welcoming her!

Introduce yourself and tell us a bit about you…

I am a 50 year old, mother of eight and grandmother. I’m a photographer and writer.

One fascinating fact about me is:

I am still existing. 

Chronic illness(es)/disabilities I have… 

I have underactive thyroid (Hashimoto’s), Fibromyalgia, and IBS

My symptoms/condition began…

The thyroid condition was diagnosed in 1999 because I was just “off” and “dragging.” Fibromyalgia was diagnosed in 2004 although I believe symptoms began earlier.

My diagnosis process was… 

My doctor ruled out most things with blood tests and sent me to a rheumatologist. The rheumatologist ruled out RA and by process of elimination Fibromyalgia was diagnosed.

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

Knowing there is no cure and I will have to deal with the pain every day for the rest of my life.

A typical day for me involves…

Medication, necessary appointments or activities, and with luck some housework.

The one thing I cannot live without is…

It rotates through warm baths, heating pads, aromatherapy, family, exercise

Being ill/disabled has taught me…

That I’m stronger and more determined than I had originally thought. 

My support system is…

My family and an online group

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

I don’t even know. I no longer make plans or have dreams.

One positive of having a chronic illness/disability is…

I am more supportive of others

One final thing I want people to know is: 

I refuse to give up.

Interview October – Shantay Marsh Thompson

I have another great interview to share with you today…please meet Shantay Marsh Thompson!

Introduce yourself and tell us a bit about you…

My name is Shantay Marsh Thompson, and I am 42 years old. I have two grown kids that are working, and one is in college. I spend my time taking online classes since I am not able to work. I spend my time in the house the majority of the time because walking too much makes my back hurt. I do not go to stores to shop. I shop online or if it is something personal that I need, I will go to Dollar General so I can get in and out. My mother does the grocery shopping for me. 

One fascinating fact about me is:

That even though I am down with this illness, I continue to learn academically.  

Chronic illness(es)/disabilities I have…

I have Fibromyalgia with chronic back pain, depression, Neuralgia, Arthralgia, and Dyslipidemia. The pain in my back is worse. I have trouble sitting and standing for long periods.

My symptoms/condition began…

In 2013 after being diagnosed with endometriosis. After I had my procedure, I started hurting badly after a month. I went back to my gynecologist and asked him to please give me a hysterectomy because I needed to work. I had to wait four months before I could get the hysterectomy, so I continued to work in pain. After I had my hysterectomy in 2014, the pain was still there. I worked for about a month then had to quit my job because I could not stand nor sit for long periods. 

My diagnosis process was… 

Terrible. I went through several doctors in Tuscaloosa, AL. Nobody would give me the help that I needed. I cried every day because my pain was so bad. The medicine they gave me, such as Tramadol did not do anything for me. I had to move back to Mobile County to find me a doctor that could help me. I found one, and he gave me some medicine that would help me reduce the pain some. It was June 2015 before I got a diagnosis.

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

Dealing with the pain in my back. I have tried Fibromyalgia lotions and nothing seems to work good.

A typical day for me involves…

Laying in my bed watching tv or doing some schoolwork. I make myself go to the gym to at least once a week to do strength training and walking but I pay for it the next day. 

The one thing I cannot live without is…

My Lyrica. I have bad nerve pain so I take Lyrica. After my daughter turned 19 in April, my medicaid ended so I had to go without Lyrica for some weeks and I was in pain. 

Being ill/disabled has taught me…

How to appreciate life more and do not take anything for granted. I have worked since I graduated in 1995 and I never thought my working career would end in 2014.  

My support system is…

My one friend, my family, my fiancé, my church family, and the  FIBRO CONNECT Group.  

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

Get out the house and treat myself. 

One positive of having a chronic illness/disability is…

Being thankful that it is not a deadly illness.

One final thing I want people to know is: 

Fibromyalgia is real. I would not wish this pain on no one.

My Links

https://www.facebook.com/Health-Wellness-108684490547162/?view_public_for=108684490547162

Interview October – Jennifer Van Haitsma

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. 

My links are:

Blog: www.diffusingthetension.com

Twitter: www.twitter.com/jvan3610

Facebook: www.facebook.com/diffusingthetension

Instagram: www.instagram.com/diffusing_the_tension

Pinterest: www.pinterest.com/diffusingthetensionblog