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 I was a little more withdrawn at school and acted out a bit more at home, from what I can remember.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

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11 Steps For A Better Night’s Sleep

If you ask someone how they slept last night, chances are you’ll get one of two answers – “fantastic” or “not at all”. It seems like a lot of people have trouble getting a good night’s sleep. The reasons can be many – having young children, an uncomfortable bed, too hot, too cold, too much stress…the list goes on.

When you live with Chronic Pain, it’s an entirely different story. Pain is usually the main factor in keeping us awake, and the likelihood of a good night’s sleep is generally not to be expected.  Read on to find out more about what it takes for a good night snooze. 

man sleepless in bed

 

Sleep And Your Immune System

Without sufficient sleep, your body makes fewer cytokines, a type of protein that targets infection and inflammation, effectively creating an immune response. Cytokines are both produced and released during sleep, causing a double whammy if you skimp on shut-eye.  Chronic sleep loss even makes the flu vaccine less effective by reducing your body’s ability to respond.

Stock Up on Naps

To stay healthy, especially during the influenza season, get the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep a night. This will help keep your immune system in fighting shape and also protect you from other health issues including heart disease, diabetes, and obesity.  If your sleep schedule is interrupted by a busy workweek or other factors, try to make up for the lost rest with naps. Taking two naps that are no longer than 30 minutes each —one in the morning and one in the afternoon—has been shown to help decrease stress and offset the negative effects that sleep deprivation has on the immune system.  If you can’t swing a half-hour nap during the workday, try grabbing a 20-minute siesta on your lunch hour, and another right before dinner.

Other Healthy Tactics

Person washing their hands

Of course, there’s more to boosting your immunity and guarding against illness than getting ample sleep. It’s also important to practice smart stay-healthy strategies such as washing your hands with soap regularly, avoiding close contact with people who are obviously under the weather and talking with your doctor about getting an annual flu shot.  And remember: Even if you do come down with a case of seasonal sniffles, you’ll be able to bounce back faster if your body is well rested. 

11 Tips For A Better Sleep

  1. Keep a consistent sleep schedule. Get up at the same time every day, even on weekends or during vacations.
  2. Set a bedtime that is early enough for you to get at least 7 hours of sleep.
  3. Don’t go to bed unless you are sleepy. If you don’t fall asleep after 20 minutes, get out of bed.
  4. Establish a relaxing bedtime routine. Use your bed only for sleep and sex.
  5. Make your bedroom quiet and relaxing. Keep the room at a comfortable, cool temperature.
  6. Limit exposure to bright light in the evenings. Turn off electronic devices at least 30 minutes before bedtime.
  7. Don’t eat a large meal before bedtime. If you are hungry at night, eat a light, healthy snack.
  8. Exercise regularly and maintain a healthy diet.
  9. Avoid consuming caffeine in the late afternoon or evening.
  10. Avoid consuming alcohol before bedtime.
  11. Reduce your fluid intake before bedtime.
  12. Take your medications on a regular basis. If you take sleeping meds, take them on a regular basis as directed instead of just hit and miss each night. 

Some Items to Help with Sleeping

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Yolmina 3D Contoured Eye Mask for Sleeping

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ZzzQuil Pure zzz’s Sleep Aid

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Contoured Heating Pad for Neck and Shoulders

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White Noise Machine

Conclusion

Good sleep is available to all of us, but it can take some work to achieve it. Just think of the benefits at the end though…those zzzz’s are worth it!

There is always hope

Chronic Pain Comforts

Welcome back!

When you live with Chronic Pain, whether it’s from Fibromyalgia, Osteoarthritis, Migraines or any other Invisible Illness, you want to find as many ways to be as comfortable as possible. You may or may not be taking pain medications, so sometimes the things on this list are the only things you rely on to get relief. You can find lists like these all over the internet, but I’m going to share my favourite ideas here.

I won’t give you product names as there are far too many to mention and everyone has their favourite brands. I don’t tend to use all of these products myself, but many people do. If it works for you, great! If it doesn’t, don’t worry about it…move on and try something else.

Some of these things are for use at home, some are for taking with you when you’re out and some can be used in both locations. I like to have doubles of things such as Wet Wipes. They’re refreshing on the go or at home when bathing is a challenge and you need a quick clean up.

In no particular order:
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Heating Pad: Many people find using a source of heat to be extremely comforting. Just remember to take safety precautions with your skin, and never use a deep heating rub with a heating pad at the same time, or you’re asking to be burned.

Ice Packs: In much the same way as using heat, ice packs can be a lifesaver for pain. Some people with chronic pain use both at the same time…heat in one area and ice in another. Experiment with what works for you.

Eye Mask: When you’re having trouble sleeping, this can be quite soothing, especially if you prefer to sleep in complete darkness. It’s also helpful for Fibro induced migraines.

Ear Plugs: Again, super helpful to block out distractions to help you sleep better and to aid when Fibro migraines strike.

Epsom Salts: Soaking in a hot Epsom Salt bath is one of the best things you can do to soothe aching joints and muscles. There has been an explosion in Flotation Therapy lately in cities all over North America. People spend up to 90 minutes at a time in skin temperature Epsom Salt flotation therapy tanks, literally soaking up the benefits of this mineral. The ratio of Epsom salt to water in most tanks is such that many are more buoyant than the Dead Sea!

Magnesium Rub or Gel: Another essential mineral needed by the body, most of us are deficient. Using a good rub or gel can help alleviate pain. Ask your doctor if a supplement of Magnesium is right for you as well.

Pillows: Pillows for sleeping, pillows for propping, pillows for wedging, body pillows…wherever you need some extra support, finding the right pillow can be crucial to your comfort. Firm, medium or soft; feather or foam, whatever your preference is, you’re going for comfort, so let your body be the guide here.

Shower chair: If bathing is uncomfortable for you, but showing tires you out, consider getting a shower chair. They come in many sizes and shapes and can be found in lightweight, portable designs.

Kindle or e-reader: Take your entertainment with you or leave it at home, but always have your favourite books at your fingertips with an e-reader. There are many services that let you download books for free including your local library.

Body Lotion: Your favourite scent can help keep you smiling.

Magic bag/wheat pillow: These are the type of bag you can either microwave or freeze and use for spots on your body for various aches and pains

Scented candle: Some people find having scented candles burning helps them to relax. Try different scents according to the seasons or just choose your favourites.

Mints or Gum: If you tend towards having a dry mouth, you might want to keep mints or gum handy, or hard candies to suck on. I personally like Tic Tacs as they are small, come in lots of assorted flavours and are easy to pack in even the smallest of purses.

Colouring book: Currently one of the fastest growing trends to help relax you, there is an endless array of styles and designs to choose from. I have several on the go at any time, and use both pencil crayons and felt markers to colour mine. Jenny Lawson’s last book is part story/part colouring epic.

Herbal Tea: Even if you’re not normally a tea drinker, a good herbal tea at night (decaffeinated of course) can be a wonderful way to unwind before falling asleep. Many delicious flavours are there to choose from; I personally like fruity flavours the best.

Water to stay hydrated: Whether you use a water bottle or fancy decanter, having cold fresh water is essential in maintaining optimal good health for any condition. Make sure you keep it fresh by changing drinking the contents often.

Chocolate: Definitely an indulgence but if you’re not a fan of chocolate, at least keep a favourite snack nearby as a treat.

Fan: A small portable fan or a hand fan can help if you have trouble regulating your body temperature.

TENS Machine: Many people swear that using a TENS Machine helps with pain. I personally haven’t found relief with one, but everyone is different. Find out if you can rent one through a Medical Supply Store first before buying a unit, so you know if it will help you or not.

Portable Cane: A foldable cane can be super handy for around the house or outside if you find that sometimes you’re unsteady on your feet. They come in various colours and patterns so you won’t be stuck with “just” basic black if you want something to stand out with.

Essential Oils: These oils have long been thought to have medicinal purposes and many people swear by their properties. There are several good companies that market these and many more little independent companies to check out. Some carry a full range of products designed to use as a set and some carry individual offerings. Find what works for you.

Wet Wipes: The portable bath! When you need to freshen up but you’re just not feeling well enough for a proper bath or shower, wet wipes are the miracle bath.

Dry Shampoo: Like the above, dry shampoo is a spray/shake in, brush out helper for clean fresh hair without having to go through the full and proper wash and dry.
Favourite Pet or Stuffie: Everyone needs someone to cuddle!
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So there you have it, my list of essential comfort items when you need a little pick me up. Are there things you can think of that you would use? Share them in the comments so we can add them to our own lists.

Thanks for reading and remember…

there is always hope

Good Advice…

I want to share with you some valuable advice from another Pain Warrior. This is a person who lives with Chronic Pain from Fibromyalgia and his name is  Tom Seaman from The Mighty.  He just shared these thoughts recently and they struck such a chord with me that I had to share them with you.
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I used to blame myself for having Fibromyalgia and Chronic Pain and not being able to do things like everyone else. I figured there must have been something I had done in my past to cause it. I was a pretty rebellious teenager and did a lot of heavy partying, including drinking and drugs. I was in a very abusive relationship with my first “love”, the man who became the father of my two children. I have no doubt these things may have contributed to the stresses in my life, along with a huge and ugly surge of hormones when I started my period at the age of 13 (and turned from a normal young girl into a rage monster…no lie, you can ask my sister!).

As other stresses entered my life, my Chronic Pain got worse. So did my Osteoarthritis and my Chronic Fatigue. I was a single parent for a period of time and worried about my kids being on their own so much while I commuted three hours a day and worked at a job I loved. There were other relationships including a marriage that didn’t work out before I finally met my (now) husband Ray who is the finest man I could have ever hoped for. All of it took a toll on my health though, and I believe that a surgery I had in 2004 was the catalyst for my real downfall.

I had been suffering from severe Gastric Reflux Disease…GERD. I thought it was normal to eat a handful of Tums at a time and so had done nothing about my heartburn until Ray convinced me to talk to my doctor. She sent me for tests that showed I had a very severe form of GERD and recommended that I see a surgeon to have a surgery called a Nissen Fundoplication. It was named after the doctor who invented it, and basically what they do is take the top of the stomach and wrap it around the bottom of the esophagus, effectively preventing anything from backing up into the esophagus again. This means no more acid reflux and no more heartburn. It also means you lose your ability to vomit, so if you ever come down with the flu or become pregnant, you are in huge trouble. If you are dry heaving or attempting to vomit, the strain on the Fundoplication can stretch it enough that it loosens so you do bring up the contents of the stomach, and need to have the surgery redone. In my case, I need to go to the hospital and have an NG tube placed down my nose and into my stomach to empty the contents…a procedure I’ve had done 3 times now, so I’m a pro at swallowing the NG tube now.

I went ahead and had the surgery, and for what it was done for, it worked extremely well. I’ve had no problems with heartburn except a very rare exception every now and then. Unfortunately, I suffered nerve damage in my sternum area where an incision was made to hold one of the instruments in the surgery and which caused me tremendous pain for many months afterwards. I was drugged up on morphine pills (plus pills for nausea and itching) for so long that my friends could barely recognize who I was. It got to the point that I had to be hospitalized to wean off the morphine because I was hallucinating that I could hear a band playing, and I kept looking behind my computer to try and find them. The doctors were at the point they were going to crack open my chest to try and find the problem when the Thoracic Surgeon suggested trying Gabapentin for nerve damage and it worked. Unfortunately, that 11 months of pain and misery put me into such a Fibro flare that I don’t think I’ve ever properly recovered from it.

I went into quite a depressive spiral during that time. I was off work for months…I tried to go back but had to take more time off. I missed working…it’s always been my passion and to not be there with my team was hard. I was missing church and my Lifegroup, and missing my friends and times of social gatherings…I was just miserable. Eventually, I got better – well enough to go back to work, etc. but I’ve never felt 100% again. A year later, my body decided to go rogue on me and I ended up in 2006/2007 having 3 separate surgeries in a 6 month period of time; my left ovary burst, my gallbladder gave out and then my right ovary burst, putting me into surgical menopause (I’d had my uterus out at age 28). That in itself was traumatizing, so again, my Fibromyalgia kicked into high gear and I was flaring badly. I had one more surgery in 2007 that actually had to be cancelled while I was on the operating table as the Anesthesiologist couldn’t find a vein for the IV. I have tiny crappy veins and I’d been left waiting all day without liquid. No wonder.

So, my poor body went through the wringer during that period between 2006-early 2008 and I blamed myself so much. I don’t know why, there was nothing I could have done to prevent anything, but still…it just seemed like I was constantly ill or recuperating and I was never able to go out with Ray when he wanted to. All I wanted to do was sleep or rest and I felt like the worst wife in the world. All the chores were left for him, I had no energy to do anything…and yet he never once complained. He truly is the most remarkable man, and I know God picked him especially for me. Ray takes the best care of me and I am so grateful.

When I read the words that Tom Seaman posted, I was reminded of all of this all over again. It’s easy to get into a “blaming yourself” mindset but nothing we’ve done is our fault. Fibro picks its own victims (ooh, I hate that word) and we have to live with the consequences. I know we all try our best to live with it and make the most of life, but we have a tendency to try and fault ourselves I think. We feel guilty that we can’t be there for our families, our friends, our employers, our volunteer work. We drop hobbies and things we enjoy because we just don’t have the energy to do them anymore. We see others picking up the slack for us, and there can be a sense of shame. And often, we retreat because depression kicks us hard.

Today, I say NO MORE!  We have been dealt an ugly hand, but IT IS NOT OUR FAULT. If you are feeling these feelings of guilt, shame, anger, depression or other negatives, STOP. Nothing you have done has caused your Fibro. If you are living with Chronic Pain or Chronic Fatigue, accept it. It is what it is. You can’t change it so you have to accept it. The only other alternative is to wallow in misery and I don’t think that’s an acceptable alternative…and neither do you, honestly. Take Tom’s words to heart, and my words too…

THERE IS ALWAYS HOPE!!!!

Can You See Me Now?

Welcome back! I want to talk about being invisible. As in, having an invisible illness, where you can look perfectly fine on the outside but the inside is a completely different story. The people who live with conditions with names like Fibromyalgia, Arthritis, Migraines, Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, Autoimmune Disorders, Sjogren’s Syndrome, Bipolar Disorder, Depression and/or other Mental Disorders…and the list goes on.
When you have an invisible illness, it seems like you have to fight to have your illness be seen as “legitimate” compared to someone who uses a mobility aid like a wheelchair or a cane. Anything that physically shows you to have an incapacity makes it easier for others to show acceptance and tolerance of your limitations and abilities. When you look fine on the outside though, it’s just another battle to face. Heaven forbid you park in a handicap parking space, even if you have the appropriate placard. The looks and the confrontations for not being “disabled enough” are frightening and you have to have a strong backbone to put up with the comments you might receive (not easy when your backbone is covered in bone spurs!).
Does anyone remember the old story The Picture Of Dorian Gray? About the man who stayed perpetually young, while his painting grew older and older? I think about invisible illness in a similar way. A Picture of Dorian Pain – where everything on the outside stays the same, but your insides grow withered and ugly. It’s not pretty, but it’s the reality we all face. And yes, we ALL wish things were different.
It’s also hard to explain to people why you’re able to do certain things one day and then not be able to do them again the next day – or do much of anything the next day. It takes so much energy to push through Chronic Pain, Fatigue, Depression, etc. that a simple task today may render you too exhausted to do anything but move from bed to recliner the following day – that’s certainly the pattern in my life. Everything has to be planned out so carefully to make sure I’ll have the energy to do what needs to be done. Dealing with chores and household tasks are aggravating enough, never mind wanting to do something fun.  Here’s a post I wrote on Facebook back in August of 2011 that really captured how I was feeling about that subject:
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This note is purely venting – no comments and/or replies are necessary, but I am completely and thoroughly peeved that my life is slowly being stripped of anything fun. Everything I do now is based on how I’m feeling…or how I might be feeling in a short period of time…and so on and so on. I’m peeved about having to cancel plans and I’m peeved that everyone can just go have fun whenever they want…and I’m peeved that even when I have my hip replacement surgery, it’s only going to “cure” a small portion of my health issues. I am worn out from trying to stay positive and if pain were a person right now, I’d kick it’s sorry @ss from here to Hell. *vent over* Carry on…nothing left to see here.
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I know that many people have heard of the Spoon Theory by Christina Miserandino, but if you haven’t, I’m sharing it with you here. It’s an excellent example of how we invisible people must be so careful with our energy. We want to do so many things…we want to be like we were before, having fun with our family and friends, doing spur of the moment activities, just because we can. We may look like we’re capable of it on the outside, but unfortunately…the Invisible Us makes it all so difficult.
I know this sounds like a big bunch of complaining, but really, it’s just stating the facts of what people with Invisible Illnesses experience. It’s a chance to educate others who are quick to judge when they see us looking “fine” on the outside – to help understand what our insides are really like. We want to belong, we want to do things like before, we want to feel healthy and well and normal and good. Right now though…this is our reality. Please look beyond what you see. We’re still the same fabulous people we’ve always been, but we just have a new reality now.
Until next time, remember…there is always hope

the first post…

Well, here it is. The first post on my new blog “there is always hope”. I’ve decided to start a blog to share my experiences with having an invisible illness (or in my case, illnesses), as well as to document my journey through having a Total Hip Replacement. Thanks for joining me!

My name is Pamela. I’m 54 years old, living in Victoria, BC (Canada) and married to the most amazing hubby a gal could ask for. Ray has been by my side since we first connected in 1994, through a telephone dating service, back before the internet was even a thing. We hit it off immediately and after chatting for 6 weeks, finally arranged to meet in person. He cooked an amazing dinner, I made a fabulous dessert, that first date lasted for 3 days and the rest, as they say, is history.  😉

Cruise002
I have 2 children from a previous relationship. They are now adults – Troy is 34 and lives in Calgary and Ashley is 33 and lives in Vancouver. Ray and I are also grandparents to three cool boys – Eric (17), Jeddy (15) and Calen (11).

For as long as I can remember, I have always had some type of pain in my life, generally in my hips. Even back in my elementary school days, taking part in Phys Ed was tough – a lot of the stuff we did left me hurting so bad for days afterward, I just knew it wasn’t “normal”. I saw doctors, who basically said it was growing pains, but when you top out at 5’2″ as an adult, I tend to think that might not be the right answer.

Something else we checked into related to a condition I was born with, called Brachydactyly. I have bone missing in my ring fingers and corresponding toes, which makes them much shorter than they should be, and there’s improper knuckle formation as well. But, no…that didn’t seem to add up either, so basically, doctors had no answers and I was left to deal with it.

I learned to cope with it – it wasn’t agonizing or ruining my life, it was just different than what everyone else seemed to experience. Now of course, when I look back on it, I can see that I likely had Fibromyalgia as a pre-teen/teenager and may have been developing osteoarthritis at an early age as well.

Fast forward to adulthood though and the health issues are a lot more complex than “growing pains”. The list is long, but it’s all a part of who I am:

  • Fibromyalgia
  • Osteoarthritis in most of my major joints
  • Myofascial Pain
  • Trigeminal Neuralgia
  • Diffuse Idiopathic Skeletal Hyperostosis
  • Chronic Pain
  • Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
  • Raynaud’s Disease
  • Internal Adhesions/Scar Tissue/Chronic Pelvic Pain

  • Diabetes Type 2 (on insulin)
  • Bipolar Disorder

I haven’t had a pain free day in so many years, I don’t think I can even remember back that far. In 2004, I had surgery for severe Gastric Reflux disease, which led to some nerve damage around the sternum area. Over the following few years, I have several other surgeries and hospitalizations, including having my left ovary removed after a cyst burst (2006). Then my gallbladder had to be removed in an emergency surgery (2007) and 2 months after that, my right ovary was removed, again in emergency surgery (2007).

Those last three surgeries all happened within 6 months….my body was completely overwhelmed and I went into a major Fibromyalgia flare up that I don’t think has ever completely gone away. My daily pain is generally a 4-5 on the pain scale – and that’s with me taking various pain medications and other drugs, and using pain management techniques.

I don’t know if you’ve seen the various pain scales out there that doctors use to judge the level of pain you’re experiencing, but let me introduce you. This is the standard doctor’s chart:
Standard-Pain-Scale
This is the chart that people who suffer from chronic pain prefer to use:
ABetterPainChart
Thanks to Allie Brosh from Hyperbole and a Half for this – here’s the link to the post it originated from: Pain Scale

So, this is the first post of what I hope will be many, to share my journey of living with Chronic Pain and Chronic Fatigue. It’s about living with Invisible Illness and often having to prove that yes, there’s a reason you use a handicap parking pass. And it will become a journey of having a Total Hip Replacement at a relatively young age (haha!), because I couldn’t find a whole lot of personal experiences when I searched Google. I’m the curious sort – I like to know how other people’s experiences have been. I know the clinical stuff…what I want to know is the real-life stuff that patients experience. I’m passionate about that, and I’ll tell you more about that and why in another post. Until then…thanks for reading, and remember…

there is always hope