It’s time for the annual series I run on There Is Always Hope called Interview October. I have spent time asking questions about health conditions that these amazing people are living with, and their replies help bring education and hope to my readers.
Today, we’re meeting my dear friend Michelle Curtis who runs the blog site The Zebra Pit. Let’s hear her story!
Include a photograph of yourself:
Introduce yourself and tell us a bit about you…
Hello! I’m a 47 year old queer disabled woman living in greater Cincinnati. I live a housebound life due to my conditions. Though I am completely disabled by my conditions, I work from home doing freelance writing and managing two websites. Lately, I’ve been working on reviving my creative writing career as a poet and fiction writer, as I’ve managed to improve my cognitive deficits enough to go back to writing and editing some shorter works.
I have been happily married for over 13 years and have a grown stepson whom I love very much, but get to see very little. I am an avid fan of the arts (both high brow and pop), music and nature and consider myself a lifelong learner. I am a huge fan of sci-fi and fantasy, love to learn about astronomy, archeology and science, and spent much of my life protesting the abuse of marginalized peoples and our planet.
I hold a BA in women, gender and sexuality studies with minors in ethnic studies and creative writing and a master of fine arts degree in creative writing. Prior to becoming disabled by my conditions, I worked as everything from a cab driver to a college instructor and have experience in the fields of education, communications, business administration, human resources, healthcare and non-profits, not to mention my illustrious career in retail and banking prior to going to college.
One fascinating fact about me is:
This is always a hard question for me. I think all people are fascinating when you get to know them. I guess the thing that people are usually fascinated the most with is that almost nothing about me is considered conventional: I have disabling genetic disorders, I am neurodivergent, atheist yet spiritual, pansexual and feminist.
Chronic illness(es)/disabilities I have…
I am what is known as a Trifecta Zebra, as I have a trio of rare illnesses that are often seen together; Hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (hEDS), Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS), and Mast Cell Activation Syndrome (MCAS). I also have gastroparesis, IBS, Fibromyalgia, ME/CFS, Dystonia, cognitive dysfunction with significant memory loss (both long and short term), coronary arterial spasm, degenerative disc disease, osteoarthritis, CRPS in my right leg, endometriosis, and intractable migraine. I strongly suspect and am seeking diagnosis for chairi and/or craniocervical instability and autism.
My symptoms/condition began…
As a child, though my symptoms wouldn’t become really apparent until early adulthood.
My diagnosis process was…
Fraught with misdiagnoses and errors. Despite my many health problems which I reported to every doctor, I was not diagnosed with EDS until I was almost 45. I was first diagnosed with fibromyalgia around age 40 and CSF a couple of years later. A couple of years after that, I was diagnosed with POTS. I had to find EDS and MCAS, figure out that I had them and then find doctors to diagnose and begin treating them.
The hardest part of living with my illness/disabilities is…
The cognitive dysfunction. I had developmental delays as a child and everyone thought I was just plain stupid and wouldn’t do much in life. I had terrible self-esteem and no faith in my abilities. I didn’t figure out I was probably pretty smart until my mid-twenties and finally went to college because I simply couldn’t manage doing the only sorts of jobs I could get, those with a high level of physical labor.
I spent years working toward a career I thought would save me and that I loved more than I could ever imagine allowing myself to love anything. By the time I was done, I no longer had the cognitive ability left to actually do the work I’d been trained for, even if I could find ways to accommodate my deteriorating tissues.
I’m glad I’ve found new things to consume my life with and I can’t say I regret the journey. But the knowledge that I could have had a brilliant career had I the capacity to go on is sometimes too much psychic pain to bear. These days I try very hard to focus on what I can accomplish and find focusing on the present helps me to avoid these hard truths.
A typical day for me involves…
I like to say I live on tilt, because I quite literally have to. If I spend too much time in the upright position, I suffer terrible pain and cognitive symptoms and sometimes have seizures. If I’m flat on my back, I develop pain in the back of my head. So I spend much of my day tilted back in a recliner, working on my blogs and writing, trying to avoid the pain caused by being completely upright or completely prone.
Most of my time spent upright is to cook (I cannot tolerate processed foods at all), do therapies and keep up my movement routines of recumbent bike riding and strengthening exercises. In the evening, I try to relax in front of the TV or with a good book.
The one thing I cannot live without is…
Myofascial therapy! I’d be in so much pain if not for it!
Being ill/disabled has taught me…
Never to judge other people’s lives or make assumptions about why someone does something.
My support system is…
My husband is my primary source of support, but we both have chronic health conditions so things can get pretty hairy from time to time, but we usually manage! The remainder of my support comes from within the chronic illness/spoonie community.
I know there are any number of people I can turn to for emotional support or needed advice regarding my health and wellness. I would be lost without them, as I have few others in my life.
If I had one day symptom/disability-free I would…
It would be a lot like Ferris Buehler’s Day Off without the teen angst! A great deal of sightseeing, dancing and celebrating of life, topped off by an exciting and romantic evening of a show, an amazing dinner, more dancing and a carriage ride around Fountain Square.
One positive of having a chronic illness/disability is…
It’s made me take responsibility for my mental health and taught me what real support looks like, allowing me to walk away from all the toxic people in my life.
One final thing I want people to know is:
No matter how bad things get, there’s always the possibility that things will get better, as long as you keep fighting. I spent years so inundated by symptoms and disabled by my health that I could no longer see the point of living. I nearly took my own life.
I’m so glad I managed to pull myself out of that deep depression, because it turns out I have quite a lot of life left in me. How did I succeed? I started saying yes to anything that I thought could help, searching exhaustively for solutions. It worked! I found my correct diagnoses and ways to treat my pain and symptoms that affords me a life I can live with.
Now I also have some joy and a sense of my own strength. I may not have beat chronic illness, but I am doing a pretty good job of not letting it defeat me and helping others to also find things to help them.
My links are:
https://zebrapit.com a health and wellness site for spoonies and zebras
https://mykiewritesit.blog a site to display my writing services, poetry and short stories, and discuss writing and blogging strategies and techniques.