Managing My Mental Illness

I have Bipolar Disorder and have talked about it before on my blog. It’s not something I hide but I don’t really discuss it much either so I thought I’d share a bit more about what it looks like for me.

Although currently stable on medication, when I was unmedicated and undiagnosed, I would have the most incredible highs and lows. My manic highs would see me racing around the house, cleaning whatever I could, and cooking dinners every night and baking and crafting and never, ever sleeping…I would be up for days on end without any sleep at all. At my worst, I was awake for 8 days in a row – and I mean without a drop of sleep. I was unbeatable…I would shop online without realizing what I was doing, and then all of a sudden, these packages would start arriving and I would have no clue what was in them – usually jewellery (cheap stuff) or clothing from Zulily (an online store I love).

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On the other hand, when the inevitable crash came, I would crash hard. All I wanted to do was curl in the fetal position in bed and sleep…so that’s all I did. I didn’t bathe, I didn’t eat, chores went by the wayside, forget about cooking and crafting. I did the bare minimum to keep my cat alive and my husband had to fend for himself after a 12 hour day at work when it came to eating, plus do the dishes. I rarely left the bedroom, unless it was to spend mindless hours on the computer doing nothing.

Once we realized how serious the problem was, my husband and I realized it was critical that I needed to be on medication. I saw my doctor and was started on Seroquel. After that drug stopped working, I’ve been taking Abilify, which has been excellent for me in terms of managing my symptoms. Unfortunately, the side effects have been harsh and I’ve been paying the price.  I am not a vain woman, but I’ve put on 20lbs since using the medication (in 6 months) and it’s 20lbs I can’t afford to carry on my 5’2″ frame. I have no ability to exercise and lose the weight, especially now that I’m wearing an Air Cast on my left ankle to try to help reattach a tendon that has torn away from the bone. Plus I take other medications that all have their own side effects…so I have to be careful with those as well.

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I’ve also experienced some other unpleasant side effects including severe brain zaps, and I’ve been seeing shadows on the sides of my vision. These were enough to send me back to my Psychiatrist to discuss making another medication change – the dance that you tango when you have a mental illness. He’s decided to try me on one of the older drugs that is less likely to cause weight gain like so many of the newer ones do. It’s called Zeldox (my family doctor says it sounds like a cartoon character and I agree!) and the side effects listed are as follows:

  • constipation
  • cough
  • diarrhea
  • dizziness
  • fatigue
  • flu-like symptoms (e.g., fever, sore throat, chills)
  • leakage of fluid or milk from breasts (women)
  • menstrual changes
  • nausea or upset stomach
  • rash
  • restlessness
  • runny nose
  • sexual difficulties
  • vomiting

In general, most of these are mild and go away in the first couple of weeks of taking the medication, so I’m not too concerned. I’m just hoping that the brain zaps disappear as this is one of the most unpleasant of all the side effects that I experience. What is a brain zap you ask?

Brain zap or brain shiver is a term used to describe the sensation of a sudden jolt or buzz in the brain. It is also compared to the electrical shock, has no apparent cause and is brief in duration. In most cases, it’s relatively mild but people have reported the occurrences of very extreme and painful jolts. They are a temporary occurrence. Brain zaps can sometimes be accompanied by dizziness, tinnitus, mild pain and ache and a general sense of discomfort.

I experience mine as a buzz that goes across my head from ear to ear. I can hear the loud buzzing sound as well as feel it, but there isn’t any pain. It’s almost like the hum of an electric razor, but very quick and sudden. Sometimes it’s just one zap, sometimes it’s a series of them. They’re mostly just annoying more than anything but a side effect I can do without due to their frequency.  The shadowing I’ve been getting in my vision is more worrisome as I tend to freak out about anything to do with my eyes. I have no eye problems (other than wearing glasses) and I’d like to keep at least one body part in good shape for as long as possible if you know what I mean!!

I start the new medication on Monday, Dec. 17th but am writing this post to be read in February so I’ll add an update underneath so you know how it’s going.

Bipolar Disorder can be tricky to manage but with the right care, the proper medications and taking them at the right times, it can lead to a normal life. I’ve found the perfect balance between mania and depression. Now I’m able to function most days with the cooking and cleaning when my other health issues allow it and my poor husband can come home to dinner waiting most of the time. I feel more likely to work on a craft than when I was in a depressive crash, and while my sleep still isn’t the greatest, I’m not staying awake for days on end either.

Sometimes called Manic Depression, Bipolar Disorder causes extreme shifts in mood. People who have it may spend weeks feeling like they’re on top of the world before plunging into a deep depression. The length of each high and low varies greatly from person to person. If you are experiencing these symptoms, please see your doctor. There is help available and beyond that…

There is always hope!

Fibromyalgia and Loneliness

Having a chronic illness like Fibromyalgia can be a very isolating experience. Many of us used to work and found a lot of our social life revolved around our jobs, whether it was getting together with the gang after work for drinks or volunteering with a workgroup for a community project. Often, a best friend was made at our jobs whom we would hang out with more frequently, and those sorts of friendships became treasured relationships to us.

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After you become chronically ill though, you often have to give up working, and those relationships no longer exist, not even with the “best friend” that you made. How do you handle the loneliness that comes from that? We tend to not go out a lot in the first place, because of pain and fatigue, so without a reason to get together with former co-workers, there’s now more reason to isolate ourselves than ever. It’s depressing to know that you’re no longer “part of the gang”  and that you don’t fit in anymore. It’s even more depressing to know that your former friends don’t even realize that they’ve shut you out. It’s just the natural progression of you no longer being at the job, and nothing personal.

Reaching Out

But what happens when you try to reach out, to make plans, and people don’t return calls? Or when people reach out to you, but you’re unable to go, because their plans are too ambitious for you? I’d love to see people for coffee, but they always want to combine it with shopping followed by dinner and drinks afterwards, and that’s too much of a day for me. Lunch and shopping, I can do that on a good day, but then I want to go home. And if it’s a bad day, then I have to say no right from the start. And what happens if I start having too many bad days when friends want to get together? They stop calling, period. I am “too sick all the time” and no longer any fun to be with.  It’s easy to get depressed when this happens.

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It’s so frustrating when friends give up on you. I can’t control my good and bad days. I have no idea when a good day is going to go bad. I can feel great in the morning and then start to go downhill by the early afternoon. I try to explain that to people, but they don’t always understand how unpredictable Fibromyalgia can be. Sometimes it can change from hour to hour and even minute by minute. It’s like going outside in changing weather and never being sure of how many layers you should wear. Will you be too hot, too cold or just right? And what do you do with all those layers if you don’t need them?

There’s also the other side of the coin though. What if your friends continue to invite you out, but you keep turning them down? Your reasons seem valid; you’re in pain, it’s too much of a hassle, the weather is too difficult, you’re tired, or you just don’t feel like it. It’s easy to make excuses, but you also need to search the real reasons for saying no. Are the reasons you’re giving valid? Or are you turning down invitations because of depression?

Signs to Watch Out For

How do you know if you’re becoming depressed or socially isolated? Here are some signs to watch for:

  • Being less motivated to leave your home
  • Feeling more anxious or worried when leaving the house
  • Declining invitations from friends or family to meet or attend gatherings
  • Planning fewer social opportunities for yourself
  • Ignoring supports when they reach out to you
  • Seeing only negatives associated with social connections

If you recognize any of these symptoms, please see a doctor in order to be treated appropriately. If you want to be more socially active, but find your friends are not as available as they’ve been in the past, the following suggestions might be helpful for you:

  • Volunteer with like-minded people
  • Help out in an animal shelter
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  • Take up a new hobby
  • Join a support group (in person or online)
  • Join a Social Group in your City (look on Craigslist)
  • Keep a journal – it can help put things in perspective

Loneliness can be hard to deal with, but with the right understanding and support, you can overcome it. Make sure you’re staying in touch with people and not isolating yourself, and reach out to others if your friends have stopped reaching out to you. It’s okay to move forward and make new friends. Listen to your body and do what’s right for you. If you’re feeling up to it, go out and make new friendships through volunteer work or so social groups. If you need to take a break from socializing, that’s fine. Just don’t fade into the woodwork. Remember, your presence is valued no matter how much of it you are able to give at any time. You are loved. And as I always say…

There Is Always Hope!

 

 

Invisible Illness – But You Look Fine!

One of the hardest parts of living with an Invisible Illness such as Fibromyalgia, MS, Ehlers Danlos, etc. is that you quite often look just fine on the outside, while your insides are screaming in pain. This leads many people to wonder if you truly are ill, or how serious your illness actually is. How do you handle this, as a Person with Chronic Pain (PwCP)?Screen Shot 2018-12-10 at 10.56.48 AM

For one thing, you should never have to make excuses for your pain to anyone. What you feel is what you feel, and there is never a reason to justify it or prove it, not even to your doctors. For years, people with Fibromyalgia went undiagnosed or misdiagnosed because Pain was often the only symptom a patient could describe. There are no other outward symptoms and nothing comes back in the blood tests or x-rays that a doctor might order. It’s only through using the 18 Tender Points and determining how many of them you have that a definitive diagnosis can be made for Fibro.

Other diseases often come with outward symptoms – the “butterfly rash” of lupus, the enlarged joints of Rheumatoid Arthritis, the dislocating joints of Ehler Danlos, the varying symptoms of MS – all of them a visual reminder that there is something wrong with a person. Fibro doesn’t present itself that way, and so a person can often look “normal” like everyone else, yet be in a flare up.

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So how do you handle it when the people who are closest to you don’t believe you are ill or doubt the severity of your illness. The first step is to educate them on what Fibromyalgia is: a disorder characterized by widespread pain, which causes many symptoms like extreme fatigue, sleep issues, memory loss and mood issues. It is essentially a very painful, exhausting disease, for which there is no cure and few treatments.” It is becoming much more recognized in the Medical field, unlike in the past, and is well accepted as a legitimate condition, just like arthritis, Lupus, MS, etc.

Basically, your brain miscommunicates with the nerves in the spinal cord and sends out the wrong messages to your body, resulting in an overload of symptoms. This graphic may be helpful in showing you just some of what you can experience:

FibroSymptoms2

And this is the reason it’s such a hard disease to diagnose because these symptoms are often looked at just on their own, and not seen as part of the bigger picture. It’s no wonder people look at us and think we’re crazy. To have all these symptoms and yet still look perfectly normal on the outside…well, I’d wonder too perhaps. That’s where the education comes in. The more we teach people about Fibromyalgia and how it mimics so many other diseases, the more people will realize just how huge a burden we are carrying every day.

Nobody wants to be told they look awful though, so how do you break this Catch-22? You want people to see you as you really are, but you don’t necessarily want to look ill at the same time. Are you obligated to dress up and put on makeup everytime you go out, just to look “good” for strangers? Of course not, but I am advocating that you do it for yourself if you’re able. Run a brush through your hair, throw some lipstick on, go for a trendier haircut or a manicure. Never do it for someone else though and never let a stranger’s comments get to you. Only you know how you’re feeling at any point and sometimes it’s just not possible to do these sorts of things. Pain may get in the way, or finances or depression…in these times, just do the best you can with what you have in the way of energy and time and desire.

Remember…you are perfect just the way you are…everything else you do is a bonus.

Education of others is key, and I truly believe that the more we can share about Fibromyalgia and other Invisible Illnesses with them, the more they will understand what we are going through, and the more compassionate they will become. Perhaps then they will stop commenting on how “fine” we look, and will start seeing us in a true light. Maybe they will see our struggles, our problems, our symptoms and what we have to go through on a daily basis just to survive and finally understand how difficult our lives truly are. Then and only then will come the appreciation and admiration we’ve been waiting for.

There is always hope.

 

Fibromyalgia – In Tune With Our Bodies

I’ve been thinking lately of how lucky I am that despite the fact I live with Chronic Pain, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Fibromyalgia and Invisible Illnesses, I’m actually quite healthy. I know that sounds like an oxymoron, but I rarely come down with colds, I can’t remember the last time I had a flu or stomach bug or even when I could say I was “sick”. I try to remember to get a flu shot each year because I’m Diabetic, but it didn’t happen last year and so far this year, I haven’t made it to a clinic either. It’s also in my best interest to get one, because since having surgery for severe Gastric Reflux Disease in 2004, I am unable to physically vomit – if I get sick where vomiting becomes an issue, I have to go to the hospital and have a nasal gastric tube placed to remove my stomach contents. Not fun!!

As the old saying goes, aging ain’t for sissies! When you live with Fibromyalgia, you live with all sorts of “side effects”. This diagram displays some of the many “extras” a Fibromite can expect to experience:

FibroSymptomsDiagram

These are all common symptoms and it can be difficult to tell them apart from other illnesses, which makes it extremely important to be aware of your body and to note when something feels “off” or different than what is normal for you. We are generally quite in tune with our own bodies and are quickly able to determine when a new symptom appears that doesn’t fit in with our usual symptoms.

What happens though when you do experience something that you’re unsure of? Your first step should always be to see your Primary Health Care Provider anytime something comes up that is markedly different than your normal. It could be one of Fibromyalgia’s many symptoms, but it’s always better to be safe. I remember one time many years back when I started having severe pain in the lower left quadrant. It happened when I was living in Calgary and I had just finished a volunteer shift at the Calgary Stampede grounds. I’d eaten a corn dog and a few minutes later, was suddenly hit with terrible pain in my lower left side. I could barely walk but managed to make it on to the C-Train (the Lite Rapid Transit) and then called my husband to pick me up at the station to take me to the hospital. It turned out that a cyst that I didn’t know I had on my ovary had burst. I was prepared to put it down to something Fibro related and the only reason I got the proper diagnosis is because the pain was so bad, I went to the ER.

It’s easy to be dismissive of everything we feel and call it Fibro related, so we have to be careful not to fall into this trap. How do you tell the difference between Fibro related pain and something new or different for you? Here is a checklist to use:

  • Familiar or not – have you felt this same symptom before, or does this feel like something “new” to you?
  • Does it last longer than usual? This could potentially be a new situation that needs attention
  • It it more intense than usual? This could be the sign of a new problem
  • Is it in a new part of your body? This is more likely the sign of something new
  • Did it start suddenly or gradually? Gradual pain is more likely to be Fibro related.
  • Does something just feel “off” to you? Trust your instincts!

It’s recommended that everyone go for an annual checkup, but it’s especially important that you and your doctor stay in touch with how you are doing, outside of your Fibromyalgia. Don’t forget about the rest of your health.

Speaking of health, I want to share this new Health Alphabet. It may be helpful in future medical discussions, especially if aging is becoming a concern for you:

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Okay, a little humour never hurts, but when it comes to Fibromyalgia and changing symptoms, you do need to be careful not to overlook something that could have the potential to be serious. Always trust your instincts about how you’re feeling and see your doctor if something just doesn’t seem right. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

There is always hope

Do Migraine Glasses Really Work

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Today’s post is from Guest Author John Martinez. John  is a writer from California who sufferers from chronic headaches and occasional migraines. He works for Axon Optics, showing migraineurs how to treat their condition using science and clinical research.

 

 

Migraines can be, for lack of a better phrase, a real headache. Once you start to feel the symptoms of a migraine coming on, it can be hard to get away from the tumbling snowball of pain, dizziness, and sensitivity hurtling towards you. People with migraines know how desperate attempts to find treatment can be.

Migraine glasses are a hot item on the market right now, but if you’re skeptical about whether they work to prevent or treat migraines, you’re not alone. This guide can help you decide whether or not migraine glasses are for you and how they can help relieve common migraine systems.

What Are Migraine Glasses?

Migraine glasses (also known as “precision tinted glasses,”) have FL-41 lenses to block out specific light wavelengths that trigger photophobia and light sensitivity symptoms. Photophobia and migraines are closely linked; many migraine sufferers find that migraine glasses relieve migraine symptoms or prevent common migraine triggers.

About Photophobia

Let’s go back to a word that you might not have seen, but probably have experienced before: photophobia. No, it’s not the fear of photographs or selfies. Photophobia isn’t the fear of light either, but it is a word used to describe an extreme sensitivity to light. People with photophobia experience a range of symptoms. Some people may be only sensitive to bright lights, whereas different types of lighting (fluorescent, LED, sunlight, etc.) may be more triggering.

How Migraine Glasses Help Patients With Photophobia and Migraines

Experts at the John A. Moran Eye Center at the University of Utah Health Sciences Center have been studying the causes and effects of photophobia for quite some time. They discovered that certain wavelengths are more triggering than others. Blue-green wavelengths were most “dangerous” to people with photophobia.

These awesome Utah experts also discovered that a special type of lens filtered out these annoying blue-green wavelengths. These lenses (also known as “FL-41 lenses”) have a rose tint. Migraine glasses use FL-41 lenses to help people with photophobia get through the day or a migraine with mitigated symptoms and an increased tolerance to light.

These glasses aren’t just designed to be worn at the time of a migraine. A 2014 study revealed that three out of four migraine sufferers experienced light sensitivity throughout the day, even after they stopped experiencing migraine symptoms.

“Why can’t you just wear sunglasses?”

This last finding is especially important. Photophobia doesn’t switch on and off like a light switch. Moving from a dark to lit room can trigger photophobia. Long periods of screen time can trigger photophobia. Flashing lights can trigger photophobia.

Even if these lights aren’t particularly bright, they can still trigger photophobia – after all, people with photophobia have a lower tolerance for many different types of light. And it’s hard to determine when or where these triggers might appear in your daily life.

Many people ask themselves (or migraine sufferers) why they just can’t wear sunglasses to treat photophobia. For many people, the answer isn’t to make the room darker – it’s to avoid the types of wavelengths that are most triggering.

Plus, who wants to wear sunglasses 24/7?

Light Sensitivity Relief Helps Reduce Other Symptoms

The effects of migraine glasses aren’t just limited to light sensitivity. Often, migraine sufferers link light sensitivity to pain, anxiety, and discomfort. When walking into a room with bright lighting or looking at your work computer is more comfortable, your day becomes easier and you can avoid migraines triggered by stress or discomfort.

Migraine Glasses Aren’t Just For People With Migraines…

So the answer to our question (“Do migraine glasses really work?”) is: yes. But migraine glasses don’t just help people who suffer from migraines.

Migraine glasses have been tested and proven to help patients who suffer from benign essential blepharospasm (BEB.) People with BEB often experience rapid eye blinking or eye spasms. They also experience a similar type of photophobia as people with migraines.

Other studies have shown that migraine glasses can help to relieve photophobia symptoms in blind migraine sufferers and blind people with photophobia. That’s right; even blind people can experience migraines and sensitivity to light. Photophobia is much more common than you might think, especially if you have migraines.

Migraine Glasses Might Be For You

You might have read to this point and thought, “I don’t have photophobia, so these glasses probably won’t help.” Pump the brakes. Unfortunately, a lot of migraine sufferers don’t realize they have photophobia. Light sensitivity is often overlooked or misdiagnosed alongside all of the other insufferable side effects of migraines.

Researchers at the Baylor College of Medicine asked 84 migraine sufferers whether or not they suffered from photophobia. Twenty-four percent of respondents said they didn’t. After more questioning, the researchers discovered that over 90% of participants did experience some sort of light sensitivity or photophobia.

Talk to a medical health professional about the symptoms of photophobia and how they may affect your migraines.

Where To Find Migraine Glasses

When you start shopping online for migraine glasses, know that you will come across a very similar cousin: blue-blocking glasses. These glasses (also known as “blue light” glasses) help to filter out blue wavelengths that we absorb when we stare at screens. Users offer rave reviews of blue blocking glasses…but these users don’t always suffer from migraines.

The difference between FL-41 glasses and “blue blocking” glasses is that FL-41 glasses focus on the wavelengths that specifically trigger photophobia or migraines. These wavelengths can be found across the blue-green spectrum. There is no harm in trying blue blocking glasses, but people with photophobia may find migraine glasses to be more effective than blue light glasses.

Look for glasses that specifically have FL-41 lenses. Axon Optics, for example, are a popular brand of light sensitivity glasses (migraine glasses) that use FL-41 lenses to relieve symptoms of migraines and light sensitivity.

FL-41 lenses don’t just come in one type of frame or style, either. Migraine sufferers can even find relief in FL-41 contact lenses that have been recently developed for the market.

If you suffer from migraines, migraine glasses are definitely worth a try. Enjoy a life with decreased light sensitivity and reduced migraine symptoms. See the world through rose-colored glasses…literally and figuratively!

Refresher Course

I thought I’d start out the year with a refresher course on the conditions I live with and how blogging has had such an impact in my life. Because of my blogging, I have had chances to be interviewed in a Canadian National newspaper, on two different podcasts, and several different articles online. The various conditions I write about are because of the fact I live with them and am personally acquainted with them. So, without further ado, here we go:

  • Chronic Pain
  • Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
  • Fibromyalgia / Myofascial Pain
  • Osteoarthritis (in all my major joints)
  • Forestier’s Disease (aka D.I.S.H.)
  • Type 2 Diabetes (on insulin)
  • Trigeminal Neuralgia
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Gastroparesis
  • Internal Adhesions/Scar Tissue/Chronic Pelvic Pain
  • Hypothyroidism

So I’ve talked about my Chronic Pain from Fibromyalgia and Osteoarthritis, and when I say I have arthritis in all my major joints, I’m serious. I have it in my shoulders, elbows, wrists and fingers, my cervical, thoracic and lumbar spine, left hip (right hip has been replaced), knees, ankles and toes. Some areas like my left hip and right knee are quite serious and will need replacing, but the rest I’ll have to live with.

Meanwhile, my thoracic spine has a different type of bone condition called Forestier’s Disease or D.I.S.H., which stands for Diffuse (Widespread) Idiopathic (Of Unknown Cause) Skeletal (Referring to the Skeleton) Hyperostosis (Excessive Growth of Bone). It forms in the shape of a bone spur, but instead of a normal spur that could be removed, it looks more like melted candle wax on the spine, so nothing can be done about it.

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I also have regular bone spurs on my right hand – I had one removed from inside my pointer finger as it grew through a tendon, and there is a second one on the outside of my middle finger growing through the knuckle. Both have been very painful and interfere(d) with typing and writing.

My Type 2 Diabetes has been with me for 8 years now and is mostly under control. I go for regular blood tests every 3 months, to get my A1C numbers that show my average blood sugar levels for the previous 3 months. Generally speaking, I average around 6.9 to 7.2 which is slightly higher than the 5.9 – 6.2 my doctor would like, but I do my best. I use long acting insulin at night, 14 units which does a good job at helping to keep things under control. I’m trying to eat better, but I’m a sucker for sweets and it’s hard to be disciplined.

My Trigeminal Neuralgia is something I’ve talked about before so you can read the article about it here.  The same goes for my Bipolar Disorder.

So, what else is on that list. Ah yes, the ever lovely Gastroparesis

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Now, the way they determine if you have this or not is through something called a motility test. In my case, they wanted me off ALL of my meds first to make sure they weren’t contributing to the problem, so for 2 days prior to my test I had to quit my medications cold turkey. That included my meds for Fibromyalgia, my anti-psychotics AND my opioid narcotic for pain. Do you have any idea what going through withdrawal is like? It was horrendous. I had the shakes, the runs, I couldn’t eat or sleep, and for those 2 days, I alternated between thinking I was dying and wanting to die to having to feel better in order to die.

On the day of the test, I went to the hospital to where the Nuclear testing is done. I knew that I was going to be eating an egg sandwich with a radioactive tracer in it and that tracer would be monitored through a series of special x-rays, but I explained to the nurse that everything I ate was immediately running right through me like water. She was so sweet…she “reserved” me a private bathroom, brought me my sandwich and told me to eat as much as I could while I sat there. Talk about embarrassing!!! It’s embarrassing writing about it!!! But, I managed just over 3/4’s of it, which she said was enough. She brought me into the x-ray room where there was a gurney to lay on, and then gave me a warm blanket.

The first pictures were taken every 2 minutes, so I just sat. Then they took them every 5 minutes apart, then 10 minutes apart, then 15, then 30 and finally 2 pictures 1 hour apart each. In between, I slept on the gurney, and my nurse brought me as many warm blankets as I wanted. She also brought me a cold wet face cloth for my forehead. When it was all over, I gave her a big hug and thanked her for being so kind. Then I took my medications asap!!!!

The tests showed that I have a moderate degree of low motility so my food sits in my stomach for a long period of time before moving on to the intestines. This explains why I always look bloated and pregnant. There are medications that can be taken, but I’ve asked my doctor if we can just hold off and wait on that for now. This is more of an inconvenience than anything right now, and I just don’t want any more drugs in my system than I absolutely need. If the problem becomes hugely bothersome, we’ll revisit it, but in the meantime, I’ll just try to watch what I eat, drink more water and try to exercise a bit more.

The Internal Pelvic pain is because I have had a number of pelvic surgeries over the years, so there is a lot of internal scar tissue left over that has attached itself to things like my bladder and bowel, etc. There are occasions when I move a certain way, and those adhesions stretch very painfully – it feels like velcro being ripped apart except it’s my body doing the ripping. It takes my breath away sometimes, it’s so painful, but it only lasts for a minute or two, then it’s gone.

Which leads to Hypothyroidism. For a long time, I assumed that Chronic Fatigue Syndrome was the only reason for my constant exhaustion, as my Thyroid numbers always came back normal on blood tests done every three months. One day though, my thyroid went rogue and those numbers were crazy. I had been especially tired…like dragging my ass tired, needed toothpicks to keep my eyes open tired

DraggingMyButt

Oohhh, that is NOT a good look on me!!! My doctor put me on meds and I could feel a difference in a very short period of time. On my next 3 month course of blood work, everything was back to normal, so now I take Synthroid on a daily basis for the rest of my life, to ensure I have a properly working system. So glad that was an easy fix!!

So there you have it. It’s a tough road to walk, I have to be honest. I live with pain 24/7 and have for almost 30 years now. Suffice it to say that you have to be mighty strong to live like this, to get through the day-to-day of actually living in pain. I know some people who just couldn’t. They tried so, so hard, but in the end, their pain was too much for them, and they took their own lives.

I’m a huge advocate for assisted suicide for people who live with severe, intractable pain. We take better care of our pets when they are hurting than we do our humans, and I think that is just plain wrong. I believe every human has the right to choose to die with dignity and I’m glad our Government has come on board with this. I know it’s not perfect, but at least things have started and that’s the main thing.

One thing having all these conditions HAS done though is that it’s given me a platform to blog about them and to discuss them as a Patient Partner in my volunteer work. I live in Langford, BC Canada and I belong to an organization called Patient Voices Network. They help take the voice of the patient and partner us with Heath Care Organizations who need Patient Advocates for the work that they are doing. I’ve been involved in committee work, focus groups, conferences, quality assurance forums, seminars and more because of PVN. The educational experience I’ve received is on par to anything I attended in my working life and in fact, when I attend anything in their offices in Vancouver now, it’s like being greeted by family – I know everyone and they all know me, I’ve been there so often for meetings.

I currently sit on 4 different committees: I am a member of the PVN Oversight & Advisory Committee, I currently sit on the Clinical Resource Committee for the BC Emergency Physicians Network , and I accepted a role with the Laboratory Quality Council Committee. We are responsible for all Labs on Vancouver Island as well as all Medical Blood Collection Stations.

Most recently, I took on a new role as committee member on the Measurement System for Physician Quality Improvement- Surgical Group. I am surrounded by top surgeons in Cardiac Care, Orthopedics and Neurology, plus high-ranking members from the Ministry of Health, the BC Patient Safety & Quality Council and other Health Organizations – and then there’s me. The lone patient voice to represent the masses. It’s a huge responsibility and one I take very seriously. I’ve already spoken out to let them know that while they see quality one way, I as a patient see it differently, and I expect my voice to be heard. It was empowering to have them tell me that I am the whole reason the others are there, because it’s all about the patient in the end.

So all this adds up to some pretty amazing experiences for me because of the pretty extraordinary pain that I live with on a daily basis. I have been truly blessed in my life, and I’m fortunate to be able to share it with you, my Dear Readers. Thank you for taking this journey with me. I hope to bring you more articles this year about Chronic Pain, Chronic Fatigue, Fibromyalgia and other Invisible Illnesses. And remember…

There is always hope

Interview October – Frank

Today on our very last Interview October, we’re meeting Frank Rivera. Here is his story:

Frank’s Bio…  

Frank Rivera founded Sarcoidosis of Long Island in 2012. In 2011 Frank was diagnosed with Sarcoidosis after being misdiagnosed with lung cancer for 7 years prior. Since opening Sarcoidosis of Long Island he has been a local, state and federal advocate for Sarcoidosis. Frank strives to raise awareness for Sarcoidosis nationally, but specifically in the government sector. He has represented the Rare and Sarcoidosis community as a speaker at two Congressional briefings for Sarcoidosis. Frank is a National Ambassador for Foundation for Sarcoidosis Research, was a Global Genes RARE Foundation Alliance Member and was an Advocate, an ambassador for The EveryLife Foundation and a Working Group Member. Named RUGD Ambassador for Illumina October 2017 Frank organized RareNY in 2016, to raise awareness for Rare Diseases in the state of New York. He organized “A Day for Rare Diseases” on October 15th, 2016 in Long Island NY, in partnership with Global Genes, to raise awareness for all 7000+ rare diseases. In recognition of Frank’s efforts, Suffolk County and the town of Brookhaven officially declared October 15th “A Day for Rare Diseases”. In 2017 Frank was named Brookhaven advocate of the year. Frank also is an advocate for “Right to Try” even being interviewed by NBC Nightly News this year.

Chronic illness(es)/disabilities I have… 

Sarcoidosis, Sjogren’s Syndrome, and Parkinson’s and IBS

My symptoms/condition began… 

I was misdiagnosed in 2004, with Lung Cancer. I went through 4 years of chemotherapy and radiation while living in Florida. After the 4 years, I was told I was in remission. In 2011 after moving back to New York, I had problems with my IBS. While in the ER room they took a CT scan of my stomach and part of my lungs were shown in the CT Scan. They found more masses in my lungs. They took a biopsy and said I had Sarcoidosis. I ended going to Mt. Sinai Hospital to their Sarcoidosis clinic in Manhattan. They got my past tests from the hospital in Florida and found out that I had Sarcoidosis the whole time.

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

The pain and that they all are invisible illnesses. People look at me and they say well you look fine. But they don’t know what my insides feel and look like. Sarcoidosis has taken over 90% of my body. The only place I don’t have it is in my liver and kidneys.

A typical day for me involves… 

Everyday I never know how I am going to feel. So there is no real routine. I am on permanent disability. The only thing I do every day I wake up unless I can’t get out of bed is make sure both my wife and daughter have what they need for work and school respectively. I make them their lunch as well as breakfast. After that, I am too tired so I take a nap. Then since I run a non-profit organization I check my emails to see if anyone needs help. If not most of the days I rest. This disease has taken the energy out of me. In April I was downgraded from chronically ill to terminally ill. I used to travel to raise awareness for Sarcoidosis and Rare Diseases. I no longer travel far due to my body not being able to handle the travel and the long days in meetings

The one thing I cannot live without is… 

It may sound funny, but the one thing I need every day is my one cup of coffee every morning.

Being ill/disabled has taught me… 

To value life. It has told me to not sweat the small stuff. I have learned that living each day as the best you can. I also have learned you can’t please everyone so you need to please yourself first or you won’t be able to please others.

What advice would I give someone recently diagnosed… 

Be your own best advocate! Be involved. Learn about the disease

My support system is…

I would not be anywhere without my wife Diana and my daughter Savannah who is 15 going on 30. They have been there for me physically, emotionally and most important mentally. 3 years ago I thought about committing suicide due to the pain. I would have done it if it wasn’t for my wife and daughter. I ended up putting myself in a 72-hour hospital watch for suicide prevention.

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

I would go away with my family to the beach. That is my favourite place but now since I have Sarcoidosis I haven’t been able to go that much at all.

One positive of having a chronic illness/disability is…

There are actually two positive things that have come from having these diseases. The first is the friends I have met that have the same diseases as I do. They understand what I am going through and I can talk to them about it. The most important positive for me is I knew I was strong, but I never knew how strong I was until I have been with this disease. I have fought through things I never would have thought I could. My motto is ” I have Sarcoidosis and Parkinson’s but THEY don’t have me!”

My links are:

www.sarcoidosisofli.org

https://wordpress.com/view/lifeasararepatient.blog

 

Interview October – Maya

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

MayaNorthenAugelli

Introduce yourself and tell us a bit about you…  

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

Chronic illness(es)/disabilities I have… 

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

My symptoms/condition began… 

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

My diagnosis process was… 

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

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

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

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

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

A typical day for me involves… 

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

The one thing I cannot live without is… 

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

Being ill/disabled has taught me… 

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

What advice would I give someone recently diagnosed… 

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

My support system is…

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

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

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

One positive of having a chronic illness/disability is…

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

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

My links are:

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

Interview October – Jan

Interview October is almost over, but we have another guest to meet – Jan Collins

JanCollins

Introduce yourself and tell us a bit about you…  

I am Janet but prefer Jan and I am 60 years young. Recently divorced after 37 years of marriage I have 2 children, Zoe 35 and Nathan 26. Zoe has my only granddaughter Amerthyst who will be 7 in November and she is the light of my life

Chronic illness(es)/disabilities I have… 

I have among other things chronic brittle asthma, COPD, type 2 diabetes, osteoarthritis and the onset of osteoporosis in my left hip. For 15 years I was on steroids for my asthma which has caused me all sorts of digestive problems. I am pleased to say that I have recently come off the steroids and have already lost over a stone (14lbs) in weight

My symptoms/condition began… 

I have had asthma all my life, when I was 4 my parents were told it was infantile asthma and I would grow out of it. In the interim, I have had bad spells and good spells. About 16 or 17 years ago I collapsed at home and if it hadn’t been for my then 9 year old son who didn’t panic but kept his calm I could have died. For the next 6 months or more I was in and out of A and E, my mum and husband were on the phone every day trying to get me to see a specialist. We were told that as mine was asthma, not lung cancer I didn’t have priority. When I did see the specialist he put me on steroids and boy did that open a can of worms. Every time they found something else wrong it was due to the steroids. I put on loads of weight and lost all my self-esteem.

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

The worst point was being diagnosed with diabetes 3 years ago which restricted my already limited diet even more. My ex also has diabetes and could eat almost anything without it causing any problems. I quickly learnt I couldn’t and was put on insulin developed fat growths on my arm and in my eye and had problems with my feet. It was so frustrating, I lost my self-confidence and my controlling ex basically persuaded me I couldn’t do anything so I became housebound except when he took me out. Then he walked out, my son helped me do a food diary to work out what I could or couldn’t eat, yes it was limiting but at least I knew where I stood. I discovered an inner strength and regained some of my self-confidence. A haircut and losing weight with people telling me how good I looked did a lot for my self-esteem as well.

A typical day for me involves… 

At the moment a typical day for me starts when my alarm goes off at 5am. This gives me three-quarter’s of an hour to get up and get dressed before I wake my son. After the first of many cups of tea the dog and I go for an OK let’s get our bodies moving walk, we both suffer from arthritis. This is the first of at least 3 walks we do. Then it’s medicine time which can take up to an hour. 2 mornings a week the community transport bus picks me up from home and takes me into town (I can no longer drive due to my eye problems). My daughter comes over once a week and we go out for a coffee. Afternoons are given over to crafting and studying, I am doing an O. U. English literature and creative writing degree. After a late tea and my second lot of insulin and, my 3rd lots of nebules I do my son’s lunch box for the next day before sitting down for the evening. I usually catch up on social media and deal with anything that has cropped up, write to my numerous pen pals or read. Every day my intention is to be in bed by 10 but it rarely happens. For one thing, my evening routine of medicines, putting cream on my feet etc takes over an hour.

Being ill/disabled has taught me… 

Over the years I have adapted my lifestyle to suit my needs but despite what it sounds like my health doesn’t dominate my life I always say I am not disabled just less enabled in some fields but have learnt so many new things to more than compensate for those things. People feel sorry for me but I can’t understand why I have so much going for me and have learnt so much. These days I can’t imagine living without my health issues but that aside my Jack Russell Terrier Herbie is my lifeline, he is company, he gives me a reason to get up and walk him and thus exercise. As a result of watching my diet changes and walking Herbie, I have lost over a stone (14lbs) in weight. I am still overweight but every bit helps.

What advice would I give someone recently diagnosed… 

Pace yourself, set targets for yourself but don’t knock yourself up if you don’t achieve them.

One positive of having a chronic illness/disability is…

Being disabled has taught me so much it is difficult to remember them all. Tolerance, patience, understanding, empathy, compassion, I have become a better listener and learnt many new skills all as a direct result of my health problems

 To quote 2 sayings my grandad used to say

” count your blessings one by one every day.” These might be anything from the love of your family and friends, sunny days or just the fact that you are still breathing.

” Smile and the world smiles with you, cry and you cry alone”. People get fed up with you if you are always moaning.

Life is for living, enjoy.

My links are:

collinsjan20@gmail.com and people can private message me anytime.

Other than that I am a member of Disability Matters and I am an ambassador for the online group Carenity.com specialising in Respiratory Diseases, Chronic Pain, Depression and Diabetes.

Interview October – Beth

Interview October continues with another wonderful guest…let’s meet Beth Crutcher

BethCrutcher

Introduce yourself and tell us a bit about you…  

My name is Beth…I am a 52 yo, Married, mother of 2, Full time Registered Dental Assistant. I’ve been in the same dental office since 1995.

Chronic illness(es)/disabilities I have… 

I have Chronic Congestive Heart Failure, My Ejection Fraction, or how the blood pumps through the heart currently sits at 35- 40%, normal is 55-70%. I also have been diagnosed with Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome and Mixed Connective Tissue Disorder.

My symptoms/condition began… 

My symptoms first began with the birth of my first child in 1988, I was 21 years old and had an uneventful pregnancy, but soon after the birth of my daughter I noticed I could not take in a deep breath, and felt a heaviness on my chest. Since I had just had an emergency c-section, doctors overlooked any concerns as normal pregnancy symptoms. When I persisted they finally saw me and realized I was in distress as my oxygen levels were in the 70’s. I was sent to the ER and treated for pulmonary embolism, pneumonia, asthma, and even anxiety. I was away from my newborn for two weeks and discharged without a proper diagnosis. That of which I would not get until the birth of my second daughter 13 years later in 2001 and in post-pregnancy had shortness of breath, and swelling, and could not lie flat. after two weeks of medical professionals saying it was normal..an ER Cardiologist gave me a diagnosis of PeriPartum Cardiomyopathy. Pregnancy-induced heart failure,

My Ejection Fraction was at 10%  and I may get better with medications, or I may need a heart transplant.  I have been on an up and down EF rollercoaster of treatments and medications and am currently stable with an EF of 35-40%.  Still very symptomatic and having other symptoms of  extreme fatigue, lightheadedness, brain fog,  excessive heart palpitations, exercise intolerance, nausea, severe headaches, aura migraines, joint pain , stomach pain, sun/heat exposure intolerance, dizziness, high and low blood pressure readings led to having a positive tilt table test and a diagnosis of Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS), an autonomic dysfunction, Dysautonomia. and blood work revealed a high ANA reading which gave me a diagnosis of Mixed Connective Tissue Disease, an autoimmune disorder.  All aspects of each illness has its challenges and it is often hard to balance one against the other.

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

An unpleasant aspect of HF and POTS and MCTD, for me, is doing a task that involves squatting down (rather than bending from the waist, which makes me feel faint on standing upright). Getting something from the bottom of the shelf, or reaching and stretching in a continuous motion, walking up a flight of stairs, as well as taking the elevator leaves me very short of breath, or dizzy. I ask why this happens and they said it’s a bit like standing on a garden hose – squatting down like that with an inefficient heart restricts the return of blood to the right side of the heart through the vena cava, consequently there is less to go to the lungs for oxygen before being pumped around the body by the dysfunctional left side of the heart. I also don’t like the pain in my joints, it can make the smallest of tasks unbearable.

A typical day for me involves… 

First getting out of bed in the morning is slow moving.  I have learned to move carefully. I only have so much energy to use in a day. Monday-Friday I work full time in a busy dental office. I have learned my limits and go through life accordingly. When I’m in a flare-up, I rest. I do activities/ family functions when I feel up to it, when I feel I can’t… I don’t.

The one thing I cannot live without is… 

My Husband and children and soon to be granddaughter!

Being ill/disabled has taught me… 

You know who your real friends are. The ones that understand you may not be capable of doing what you once did, but support you when you can or can’t.

What advice would I give someone recently diagnosed… 

Trust yourself. Keep telling yourself, You’re not unreliable, Your health is. It’s not your fault

My support system is…

My family and friends and work family. And social media groups.

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

I would with all my loved ones around me, run down the beach, climb a mountain to look at the view down below. And just take in the sunshine and eat whatever I want!!!

One positive of having a chronic illness/disability is…

The connections I have made through social media and becoming an advocate for PPCM with SavetheMommies.com. My Heartsisters are like my family.

My links are:

SavetheMommies.com