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:

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Interview April – Sharon Sayler

It’s time to meet our next guest, the wonderful Sharon Sayler. I’ve had the pleasure of being a guest on Sharon’s show and she’s delightful. Let’s hear more:

Sharon Sayler Headshot 2017 Hi-Res

Introduce yourself and tell us a bit about you…

First, thank you, Pamela, for creating an excellent platform for which we have this opportunity to share. I enjoy our mutual understanding that through thoughtful sharing of experiences others in our community know that they are not alone. That feeling of ‘am I the only one?’ can be isolating. Building community and awareness of ways to thrive and optimize our health journey are critical.

I’m Sharon Sayler, MBA, PCC and the founder of Competitive Edge Communications. I’m affectionately called the ‘Difficult People Whisperer’ by my clients. As a speaker and trainer, I teach professionals how to enhance their verbal and nonverbal communication skills to achieve their goals. According to GlobalGurus.org, I’m one of the top five experts in body language in the world.

I am also an international best-selling author of several books. A perennial favorite is ‘What Your Body Says and How to Master the Message: Inspire, Influence, Build Trust and Create Lasting Business Relationships’ (Wiley.) I  am also proud to share. I’ve also authored a best-selling children’s book ‘Pinky Chenille and the Rainbow Hunters’ with a second book in the Pinky Chenille series out soon.

Several years ago, life and work took an unexpected turn to become what my friends now call a “compelling-passion.” With my COURAGE communications techniques combined with my own experience dealing with a rare medical condition, I have been teaching others to become courageous self-advocates. Self-advocacy communication techniques can turn life transitions into transformations.

One of the ways I share the messages of ‘thriving regardless of your diagnosis’ and medical self-empowerment is through The Autoimmune Hour, now #1 show on OMTimes Radio along with the @UnderstandingAutoimmune YouTube channel, and the show’s website UnderstandingAutoimmune.com.

Chronic illness(es)/disabilities I have…

I dislike the word ‘have’ as I prefer my unconscious mind not to take ownership, yet for ease of understanding, the label my experience has is autoimmune more specifically Dermatomyositis. 

Dermatomyositis is a rare inflammatory (autoimmune) disease defined by muscle weakness and a distinctive skin rash. The painful, peeling rash had covered 60% of my body by the time I recovered from the initial ‘flare.’ 

My symptoms/condition began…

Suddenly and not so suddenly.  One morning I woke up after a late night cross-country flight and my legs felt incredibly weak. I had to use my arms to move my legs to stand. Although frightened, this seemed to work itself out over the next few hours. I chalked it up as ‘weird’ and kept working. Feeling tired and achy for the next two weeks, I suddenly broke out in hives that soon covered a large percentage of my body.

I realize now I’d had a variety of symptoms long before this episode that fit a wide range of conditions, and it wasn’t until the distinctive skin rash that a definitive diagnosis was made.

My diagnosis process was…

Bizarre to say the least. I had been seeing a specialist for about a year with her proclaiming a variety of diagnoses that didn’t seem to fit….

The day I walked in with the ‘now peeling distinctive skin rash’ she immediately excused herself and came back 10-minutes later with another doctor who without introduction, pulled out a magnifying glass and looked at various parts of the rash, looked at the first doctor, nodded ‘yes,’ and left the room. The first doctor that I had known for a few years dropped her head and slowly apologized to me for having dermatomyositis.

She could have said supercalifragilisticexpialidocious as the word ‘dermatomyositis’ meant nothing to me. The sad-news-body-language told me, ‘it’s not good.’ After that, the words blended together as I struggled internally to understand what she was saying – it was like my ears had stopped hearing and my brain had ‘frozen.’

We parted ways with an understanding I had to see a rheumatologist. Upon reaching the elevator, I immediately ‘googled’ the word, at which time the shock and grief hit hard.

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

Losing perspective. Now, that I’ve been through multiple phases of recovery, I realize the worst part is losing perspective on ‘when is an itch, just an itch.’  The slightest change, the smallest strange pain, anything odd or different begins the mental gymnastics of Do I need to worry about this? What does this mean? Is this so important that I must seek medical attention immediately, can it wait until tomorrow, or what if I just let it run-its-course will I be okay?  And of course, dealing with all the new found food and chemical sensitivities as the body defenses seem to be stuck in hyperdrive make social occasions awkward.

A typical day for me involves…

Everything I used to do that I still want to do. The changes I see are I’m more consistent in choosing to set boundaries, say ‘no’ when I want to, remove myself from others drama and be conscious of my decisions and actions around what I should be doing for overall good health such as quality food, stress reduction, sleep, and exercise.

The one thing I cannot live without is…

Spending time creating joy, especially with my beautiful family and friends. Life is too short — spend it giving and receiving love. (And the irresistible passion I have for doing The Autoimmune Hour podcast and video show.)

Being ill/disabled has taught me…

I don’t consider myself ill or disabled, yet I’ve learned to be more patient and understanding. It’s crystal clear now, the old saying ‘that one can never really know what someone else is going through unless you’ve been there too.” My mantra these days is ‘Come from love. Always.’

What advice would I give someone recently diagnosed…

First, if you can, take time to absorb and sit with the ‘bad news.’ If it’s not immediately life-threatening, don’t make any major life decisions right away.

I remember I was told by a ‘top-notch’ doctor to have a surgery that in my mind would have made my life much worse in the long run, and with no real assurance that it would solve the immediate problem… I felt like they were treating me as if they were working on a car like ‘let’s remove the spark plugs and see if that works better….” Upon finding out that it wasn’t immediately necessary, I thanked them and sought a second opinion. 

That second opinion changed my worldview; the second doctor said, “That’s a surgeon’s answer to a problem they cannot solve.” Wise words that I use everywhere now as in each person/expert/etc. has a specific point of view and the more narrow their expertise, the more narrow their recommendations will probably be.

Always run options through the filter of “What are other ways I can view and solve ‘this?’ Remember, it’s okay to ‘fire’ someone. If someone is upset that I seek a second opinion. I say “Thank you for your time and no thank you.” I like to joke that there are as many varied opinions as there are experts.

Second, be careful how you talk about what you are going through. Our words create our reality. Words such as ‘poor me’ and ‘why me? can create our identity. Consider the word ‘have’ and how it denotes ‘ownership’ Do I want to own my diagnosis? No. I prefer to look at the word ‘have’ from the viewpoint that I can ‘have’ cockroaches, but that doesn’t mean I own them and that I can and will eradicate them. When said enough times your words become truth in your mind, and in the minds others too.

I prefer ‘I am having an autoimmune experience or journey.’ A diagnosis is just a label to chart a possible course based on symptoms and the prognosis is based on statistics — work hard to be on the positive side of the stats. Challenge yours and others’ conclusions on what your future will be. On The Autoimmune Hour, we have numerous stories of people thriving regardless of their diagnosis including Pamela who recently shared her Thriver story: www.UnderstandingAutoimmune.com/Jessen/.

My support system is…

My amazing family and friends as well as a team of medical professionals that are in alignment with, or at least, honor my view of ‘my body, my decision.’  And the UnderstandingAutoimmune’s Courage Club Community that is growing every day through the podcast and website.

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

Hmmm, I don’t know. I’m finding ways to live fully and thrive regardless of my diagnosis. Maybe eat a whole loaf of fresh baked crusty bread slathered in homemade butter and raw honey at a quaint Parisian cafe!

One positive of having a chronic illness/disability is… 

A deeper appreciation of the quality and value of all life.

My social media links are:

The show can be heard on a major podcast outlets such as OMTimes Radio, Spreaker, iTunes, YouTube and iHeart Radio.

https://www.facebook.com/UnderstandingAutoimmune/

https://www.facebook.com/AutoimmuneHour/

www.UnderstandingAutoimmune.com/OMTimes

www.UnderstandingAutoimmune.com/YouTube

www.UnderstandingAutoimmune.com/Spreaker

Instagram: autoimmunehour  and understandingautoimmune

Twitter: @autoimmunehour

Interview April – Christalle Bodiford

Welcome to Interview April and my first Guest, Christalle Bodiford. Let’s find out all about this lovely young woman:

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Introduce yourself and tell us a bit about you… 

My name is Christalle Bodiford, and I’m an adventure-seeking artist and advocate. When I’m not writing, I love being in nature with my husband and pup. I worked in the fashion industry for 12 years but am now building a more balanced lifestyle and making my health a priority. I ran a nonprofit called Life Elektrik for adults with epilepsy that closed at the beginning of March, to allow more freedom in working with others and helping more people.  I felt held back by the organization.  I’m now working on a few new epilepsy advocacy projects, including books, workshops and awareness campaigns, with the first project launching this month!

Chronic illness(es)/disabilities I have…
I have Juvenile Myoclonic Epilepsy with generalized seizures, along with my other life-long friends anxiety and depression. That means my seizures started when I was a juvenile and they are in no specific area of my brain.

My symptoms/condition began…
My first documented seizure was at the age of 13, but I was having seizures prior to that.  I’m not sure of the exact age they started.  I don’t have too many memories prior to 13, aside from the feelings of the seizure auras.

My diagnosis process was…
I received a misdiagnosis at age thirteen and went twelve years of my life with an incorrect disagnosis.  At age thirteen I was told I had a seizure due to hypoglycemia and to keep a piece of candy on me at all times. At the age of twenty-five, I was properly dianosed with epilepsy after having a tonic-clonic seizure, followed by a concussion, the final week of my senior year in college.  My husband (boyfriend at the time) made an appointment and took me to a neurologist for an EEG, which showed abnormal brain waves and seizure activity.

The hardest part of living with my illness/disabilities is…
Being mentally and intellectually capable of so much more than my body allows.  I have so many goals, and my body often can’t keep up with the pace of my passion and drive. I feel held back from reaching my true potential.

A typical day for me involves…
I’m a freelance creative, so a typical day for me is waking up when my body feels right.  I work from home, so I am able to take breaks throughout the day as needed when I’m not feeling 100%.  I’ve recently made my health a priority, which has not been the case in the past. In past experiences, my work came first. I now understand the importance of putting self-care first. I also hold a few volunteer positions that I handle a few times a month.

The one thing I cannot live without is…
Really?  Just one thing!? I guess I have to choose my cell phone, because it’s a necessity in calling for help if I have a seizure. I can also use it for some work projects, so I’m sticking with my answer!

Being ill/disabled has taught me…
Perspective is everything! If you think your life is terrible, it will be. I choose to focus on the things going well in my life, and it lightens the load of the heavier issues.  A positive or optimistic mindset has also helped me to feel better about my diagnosis. This disorder is constantly presenting new lessons and challenges, but I know I can tackle anything if I set my mind to do so.

What advice would I give someone recently diagnosed…
Do your own research, because there is so much misinformation out there.  Find what works best for you in regards to treatment, because we are all different – even if we have the same diagnosis. Most importantly, get back up.  Every. Single. Time.

My support system is…
Support is everything, even when you think you don’t need it.  If you can’t find a support group that is right for you, create your own.  Focus on solutions vs. problems.  I have a small but very supportive circle, and my husband is at the core.  He is my caregiver, best friend, and someone I truly admire.

If I had one day symptom/disability-free I would…
Wow! I really have to think about this one… There are so many things I’d love to do, but I think my anxiety can be more debilitating at times than my seizures, in regards to trying new things.  I think I’d like to go on some type of adventure with my husband that involves heights: sky diving, zip lining, parasailing, or paragliding.

One positive of having a chronic illness/disability is…
Meeting so many incredible people within the epilepsy community has been the highlight of having epilepsy. It’s amazing how connected you can feel to people just by having the same diagnosis. I’ve made friends all over the world.

My social media links are:

Instagram: @christallebodiford

Facebook: @creativeepilepsyadvocate

Twitter: @christalleart

Website: christallebodiford.com

Saturday Inspiration: Finding Joy In The Little Things

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“Happiness is like a butterfly; the more you chase it, the more it will elude you. But if you turn you attention to other things, it will come and sit softly on your shoulder.” Henry David Thoreau

On this Inspiration Saturday, I thought I’d share a few ideas that might bring a little joy into your life. Try one, try a few or try them all…the choice is yours!

1.    Go for a walk.
2.    Look through old album or photo boxes.
3.    Enjoy your favorite coffee drink.
4.    Read a chapter (or more!) in your book.
5.    Stop by a pet store and love on a kitten (or other animal).
6.    Take your dog (of friends dog) for a walk.
7.    Enjoy your favorite pastry.
8.    Hug someone (preferably someone you know).
9.    Play your favorite song and sing-a-long.
10.  Compliment a stranger.
11.   Pick wildflowers

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12.   Stare at the stars.
13.   Take a bike ride.
14.   Send snail mail (this makes me super duper happy).
15.   Make your favorite meal.
16.   Color!
17.   Sing your favorite song at the top of your lungs.

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18.   Watch your favorite show or movie.
19.   Call a friend or relative.
20.  Make a craft and give to a friend.
21.   Take the scenic route.
22.   Read through an old journal.
23.   Watch re-runs of your favourite show.
24.  Take a selfie a day for a week, month or year.
25.  Laugh.

There is always hope