Category Archives: Chronic Illness

Party Etiquette for a Sassy Spoonie/ Missed Manners

Living with constant chronic pain or chronic illness is no party, but you may have been invited to a few this holiday season. Here are some ideas and tips to help you make it through the festivities as we approach the new year.

Original Painting of Glamorous Woman by Kim Legler on Etsy | Party Etiquette for the Sassy Spoonie

Glamorous Woman | Kim Legler

1. No Cocktails
I know, I know, at your next party, you may be thinking:
“Ughh, why did I come? How do I even get comfortable in this chair? At least I’m not squished on the couch. Did anyone notice that full body spasm? Oh great. And now my hands are shaking. Better put my drink down before I spill it. At least it isn’t red wine. Of course not, because wine is a trigger food and 8 of 10 of my medications don’t party well with alcohol.”

See, isn’t this fiesta turning out to be fun?! But don’t worry about the NO DRINKING POLICY. Your brain fog keeps you so fuzzy and clumsy on a regular basis that you’ll fit right in with your drunk buddies!

2. Polite Conversation
Look at all of those healthy attractive people around you playing ping pong with their witty dialogue. “Hmmm? What? Oh, no that’s not a fashion statement. That’s called a compression sock. Thank you so much for noticing. Yes, those are my favorite shoes…I guess. I know, I always wear them, don’t I? Ha, ha. You are so observant. You know, you should really go bird watching sometime- I hear that is a great hobby for people who enjoy staring.”

See, you can play this game of witt too. What a wonderful party!

3. Smile
When in doubt, smile.

Always keep them guessing. When your pain is on red alert and your brain is on complete shutdown, SMILE!
It tells people that they can relax and have a great time no matter how sick you are. You can always go to the ER later, tonight is for celebrating!

So flash those pearly whites and watch your friends dance, karaoke, tell work-related stories, and get jiggy. They’ll remember you being a sweet, saint-like creature, and little did they know you were just half-conscious from pain. Talk about a party trick!

Nope, parties just aren’t as fun as they used to be. And please don’t go around asking people what I USED to do at parties… (seriously, don’t). But it’s still great to get out and make memories whenever we are able. And when you are not able, know the party won’t be the same without you.

Merry Christmas, happy holidays!

This is one of my favorite pieces I published in 2014. A snarky spin on the old Emily Post / “Miss Manners” columns from the 1950’s.

Going Dim by Cammie LaValle, Part 1

 

Going Dim

Part I of II – By guestwriter Cammie LaValle

(trigger warning)
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Picture of Cammie taken on the same day.

 

Remember that light inside of you that used to shine?  We reminisce about it in our heads; to that person we used to be.  That silent yet screaming conversation in our minds we have on a daily basis.  For some, it’s the majority of the actual conversing we do and sadly, it’s only with ourselves.  We are feeling ourselves; our internal light; the fire that once helped us accomplish so many things in life, be reduced to less than a flame; more like a sad, almost non-existent spark which could barely keep a match lit.

 

Sure, there are flickers of hope and tiny little fires at times; but personally, they are getting few and far between.  I have not given up all hope, but I am struggling to keep the grasp.

 

One of my motto’s is “Let Your Soul Shine” taken from a song.   How hypocritical of me to tell others to do just that when I am watching, feeling and experiencing my own go darker and darker every day.  I don’t mean dark as in evil, although I will admit I’ve had some pretty evil scenarios which I wish would play out in the lives of some of the doctors I have encountered in the last few years.   No, I would not harm anyone; but as you read that, I am certain you can recall one of those thoughts that has played out in your mind so detailed as though you were actually plotting a dismemberment.  I for one thought a log-splitter would suffice.

 

As I am writing this, I have backspaced hundreds of times thinking what I have to say or what I feel is not ready to be heard or will be perceived as seeking pity, over reacting, not being thankful for what I do have or God forbid, the “It could be worse” reaction we often get.  Yes, we all comprehend that, but more often than not, it is far from a supportive statement as we perceive it.  Minimizing our hell is what most of us feel; even though we know most of you mean well when it’s said.  But I realized the words I put down, if were written by someone else and read by me, are exactly the words I would need to hear; and yearn to hear.   So without a hesitant mind, and the pain jolting through my body and hands, I shall spill the complete ugly truth that I am not shining by any means.  I’ve gone dim.   This is not news to some; as they know me too well to believe the crap that spews out of my mouth when I say “I’m fine.”

 

I ask myself daily, how much more can I handle?  Do I even want to for that matter?  Yes, those thoughts are there when in my dimmest hours.  Will I say it out loud?  Probably not.  Will I say it here, when I know others just like me are reading this; yes, yes I will.  I can’t say I am proud of my thoughts, but I can say I am not about to blow sunshine up anyone’s ass; especially knowing the people reading this are struggling right along with me.   That’s not what we need and I may very well do it to others so they don’t have to worry about me, but I will not do it to you.  I know that sounds terrible as I have more than likely never met or ever will meet 99.999 % of you.  Why be truthful to people I don’t know and hide and lie to my own family and friends?  I have no clue the rationale behind this and won’t pretend I do either.  What I do know is that there is a greater chance those reading this, understand it to their core and need no explanation of the words, the thoughts, the expressions, the pain, the isolation, the self-doubt, and the meaning behind “Going Dim”.  I fully understand all humans go through struggles in life and I am not discounting any of that; anyone or any struggle of any kind.  I am addressing our struggle.

I am opening up my broken spirit and soul, my tired mind, and using my pain riddled body, to let YOU know, you are far from alone in this battle.  And I may be writing what you can’t dare to say out loud, but feel it as if it has taken over your entire being.  I know I have read some stories which after the first sentence I felt the lump in my throat.  I certainly am not sharing to cause distress or any tears, but if anyone reading this has that lump, let yourself feel the emotion and release some of that internal pain that is eating you alive and has taken over a portion of your soul.

 

More than likely you have caught on that I have not begun to describe the pain.  If you are reading this, you already know how it will read.  However, for those friends or family that are reading this who have a loved one suffering, I will follow this with a brutal truth that the one you know, who is  suffering, is too damn scared to tell you.  Whether it be pride, or wanting the world to believe we can handle this, or the complete farce we muster up in order to appear stronger than we actually feel.    Your loved one has gone dim.  And you might have as well; attempting to care for them.   Addressing the other side of this is just as important as addressing ourselves.

The ME I once was, is still seen by my husband and some family and friends; however, I don’t see her.  I feel as if she’s gone for good.  I talk with her in my mind and actually pray she will come back, somehow, some way.  She could light up a room (from what I was told).  She was vibrant, funny, witty, intelligent, strong, hard-working, worthy, helpful, selfless, and although some deep down pain existed as we all have and hide; she was happy.   She helped raise 2 children, who she loves.  She was a good wife, a good friend, a reliable sister and had worked since a very young age; worked her ass off.  Now, the relentless quest for her to return has come up empty.  She was me.  I was her.  We’ve both gone dim.

 

Where did she go?  CRPS (full body), Fibromyalgia in addition about a dozen other health issues; some quite severe, has held her captive and the ransom demand at this time cannot be met.  The hope and flicker of light is diminishing.  Sure, I say I am hopeful and staying positive, but who am I kidding?  It’s gradually becoming such a farce, I can barely hold back the tears when I say I am still positive.  It’s a blatant lie.  I feel as if I am getting a very real glimpse of Hell.

 

Ice pick, razor blade, vice, hammer, pins, needles, knife, match, truck, salt, gasoline, fire, electric shock and flames; all of which I feel has been used during this captivity.  A scene from a mysterious attempted murder movie in which we wait in the trunk to be rescued.  Someone on the outside may not comprehend that comparison, but I, along with so many others; truly feel this.  And the trunk is our lives at times.  That dim, cold, dark, isolated place, we don’t willingly go to, but find ourselves there, stuck; more often than not.  The tools used is what we compare our pain to; as CRPS/RSD plays out such a brutal attack on our bodies daily.  As we wait for the ransom, which in our lives is a doctor, a treatment, a cure, we succumb to this attack and 24/7 try to prepare ourselves for the next dreadful blow.  I try to hold it in as to not be a burden; not wanting people to see how bad it is.  There are times it just comes out, screaming, howling, paralyzing pain to the point I can barely breathe.  Arms, legs, feet, back, hips, face, ears, chest pain where it feels like I am having a heart attack, but I know I am not.  Then I think, what if I do have a heart attack?  If I feel like that daily, if I have one, will I even know?  And my hypertension gets so out of control, my neck feels like I am being stabbed, my vision gets blurry, I lose minutes and have lost recollection of hours of time.  I get scared to be alone in my own home.  This scares the sh*t out of me!  On nights the blood pressure is too high and the chest pain is severe, I am too damn scared to go to sleep as I honestly wonder if I will wake up.  Yes, that is how my mind works.  I pray I wake up.  I won’t go into the thoughts and prayers that go on, when I honestly question if my life, as I know it, is actually ending that evening.   This is brutally honest and I know it sounds far-fetched to some.  But, many reading this feel the same way or have felt the same way.  I am saying it now, to give you some peace of mind that you are far from alone.   It is not by any means a healthy way of thinking, but it is where one’s mind tends to go at times.  I am not proud of these thoughts, but they are true.

 

Pain changes people.  It’s relentless.  The beast wins in those moments and all I can do is wait for it to let go of its ever so tight grip of my body.  I think to myself during these times, how the hell am I to live this way?  How is my husband to live this way, with his wife being consumed by pain, lost herself and her feeling of self-worth?  I am not the woman he married.  Far, far from it.  He is my biggest advocate and has not left my side, although I wouldn’t blame him.  His wife is gone.  The anxiety, stress and depression that goes along with this beast leads my mind to wonder “when” he will have had enough; not “if”.  For better or worse, sickness and in health, meant something to him, just as it did and does to me.  How lucky am I to have such a man who took his vows so serious, that as he watches his wife diminish and change into someone he didn’t marry, he continues to assure me we are in this together and he will never leave my side.  He is the only one who can make these demons stop in my head.  He is the only one who has seen it all and still has faith I will come out of it; come back as the woman he married; come back from “Going Dim”.

 

What has brought you to this page, is why many of you will understand what I am about to say next.  You are dim yourself from disease and pain or you are caring for someone and are desperately trying to find a way to understand and help that person; your loved one.   (For those seeking help to care for another – THANK YOU!  Sadly enough, you may be the only one doing so for that lost screaming soul).

 

Too many are left alone and instead of having support in waiting for that ransom, they remain in the trunk; dim, isolated, begging for relief, kicking and screaming to get out; get help and for someone to actually listen.  When there is never a response, those broken souls take it upon themselves to put an end to their private mysterious movie which is their life.   They don’t think they can handle the next blow, they have been disregarded by doctors, family, friends and in their mind; the world.

 

Pain messes with your mind.  Even those who truly have support; at times feel like an overwhelming burden to everyone, isolated and alone (even if the room is filled with 20 people) and misunderstood, they would rather not be on this earth for one more second of pain or one more feeling of being dismissed by a friend or loved one.  That emotional pain alone when one’s suffering is dismissed; as if we are over-reacting to a common cold; could and has triggered people in pain to start planning their demise, as it is too much for them in their broken mind and body to fight anymore.  Death, in their mind, however wrong one deems that thought process; is what they are contemplating.  If you think this is reaching; just read through posts in some of your or your loved one’s support groups.

Daily, I see people tell people they never met, that they “can’t handle it anymore”, “I just want to end it”.  Keep in mind, if you look at their FB page, or Twitter, or recall a recent phone call, most would have just said or posted on how great their day was.  “I am fine.”  It’s a farce, which most of us continue to do; as to not upset our family or friends with our true feelings and pain, or to not be honest with people we actually know because we’ve been dismissed too many times and are broken to the point that some knowingly make a decision to NEVER again speak to a loved one, hug a family member; and even their own children; as their mind has told them it’s easier to die than live.

 

How sad is that?  Are they selfish?  When people take their lives due to pain, any type of pain; they cannot comprehend the ramifications other than they no longer will have pain.  So completely torn down, the thought their child will lose their parent, is not strong enough to stop them.  How in the hell is our society missing this?  How are family and friends missing this?   How are people in pain getting to this point?  Whether it be lack of treatment, lack of cure, lack of support or the mind games played out in your head when your pain takes over your life; it must, meaning right now, start being addressed.  

Are you thinking your life is not worth it anymore?  Well, it is.  You don’t see it, but others do.  And I beg anyone reading this, to reach out to someone. I can almost guarantee these thoughts have gradually entered the minds of your loved one who experiences 24/7 pain; not remembering a day without it.  And if someone asks you, be honest.  I have uttered the words I’m fine for the majority of my life; over half of which has been in chronic pain.  I hid so many things from even my family; out of pride and factors which stem from my childhood, some of my own family do not believe I am in such a state of despair and pain; broken down with a tired soul and body that feels useless.  I hid for too long.  Yes, it’s my fault for putting on the mask.  I was and at times still very good at it.   A habit very hard to break.

It’s natural for me to pretend I am okay; for I’ve done it all my life in one way or another just like most of humanity in some aspect.  However, I am removing it now and so should you.   This does not give us the right to become an un-consolable hot mess of a person; but it does give us power to deal with what is behind the mask; our true selves.  It certainly will not be easy, but how worn out are you right now reading this?   My soul is tired and there is no amount of sleep in which can awaken it.

 

“Live without living?”  What does that mean?  If you ask that question, you have yet to comprehend how our minds work; how we feel & what this has done to us.  Or better said, what it has done with the person we once were.  The reason I; we’ve gone dim.   We strive to live better and we do anything and everything to get there.  Find relief, find a new normal, find peace, find understanding, find faith, find God, find a way; find ourselves.  I am trying and I have resorted to begging at times just to get a doctor to listen to me.   Most ignore it; but I’ve been lucky to find one that listened; one who upheld his oath.   One who has promised to help me find a way, a new normal, and a treatment in which I can maybe, just maybe, have a chance at finding myself again.  I don’t trust many, but trusted him and have for over 10 years.  Due to this trust and mutual respect between a doctor and a patient, I have a chance; a slight flicker of light in my dim world which I am grasping onto so tight, if I were to let go I feel as if I would crumble; again.

 

You see, although I’ve gone dim like many of you reading this, I also found HOPE and it was due to raising some hell and advocating for myself and not shutting up when I was told NO.  I kept going, I kept calling, I kept writing; I kept fighting.  I am still dim, but I have seen the flicker of light; that same light which could let “My Soul Shine”.  I don’t know if it will, but I’ll be damned if I’m not going to try.  I deserve it; as do you.

 

I started writing this 8 months ago.  When I started, I was in my darkest times.  I thought about deleting those parts; but that would be me lying to you, and again, as life has taught me, continue to pretend I am okay when I am not.   So I hope when you started reading, you felt you were no longer alone in the pain, the dark thoughts, the hopelessness, sadness and you knew, in your heart and soul, there are others like you.  And as you read on, you found understanding, a bond with someone you probably will never meet.  A bond due to pain, no one wants, but one everyone needs so they don’t feel alone and don’t ever think tomorrow is not worth waking up to.

******

I’m honored to share this project by chronic illness activist, guest writer Cammie LaValle, featured for CRPS/RSD Awareness Month. She’s not only a personal friend I met in the chronic pain community, but she’s a personal inspiration to me as well as so many others. She leads the charge in fighting campaigns for chronic pain and rare disease causes with the tenacity like none I’ve seen before, whilst attacking her disease with the same vigor. I’m proud to be in the same warrior club with a woman like Cammie, as I have learned much from her. Read more RSD/CRPS articles, see art projects, poems, and survival stories here.
Thank you for visiting and sharing -Mary

Author Interview & Book Giveaway! But God, wouldn’t I be more useful to You if I were Healthy?

Thank you, Esther Smith for joining us to discuss your brand new book, “But God, wouldn’t I be more useful to you if I were healthy?” Congratulations on being Amazon’s #1 hot new release in Christian Counseling and Recovery in your first week as a published author! Let’s jump in and talk more about your book!
But God wouldn't I be more useful to you if I were healthy Abodyofhope Interview with Author Esther Smith

1.    Did you do anything special to celebrate the release of your first book? ~or~ How did you reward yourself when you completed writing “But God, wouldn’t I be more useful to you if I were healthy?”

The night my book was released I celebrated with dark chocolate and a glass of red wine. My favorite indulgence. I am hoping to get out to my favorite restaurant this month, and that will definitely be a part of the celebration. To me celebration equals all of my favorite foods!

2.    Aside from writing, how do you enjoy spending your free time? (hobbies/activities)

I have had a hard time coming up with hobbies I enjoy since chronic pain became a part of my life, which is one of the reasons I turned to writing in my free time. But, I do enjoy reading, lying out at the local pool, and cooking delicious recipes.

3.    How would you describe your personal writing process? (Are you research-driven, methodical, intuitive, spiritually motivated, etc. Please explain).

 For me, writing typically looks like sitting down with an empty head and writing about a topic that is important to me without much prior thought. Oftentimes, I don’t know what I think about a particular topic until I put it into words on paper. It is the act of typing and writing freely without restraint that brings me to my best ideas. Then I come back later with research, additional stories, and more attention to detail. Those final changes are important, but it is the original brainstorming that gives life to my words.

4.    Thus far, what is your favorite aspect of becoming a published author? (designing the cover of your book, the writing process itself, doing interviews like these, etc.)

 I have loved hearing feedback from readers. It is the best feeling in the world when someone tells me that my book helped them in some way or that they were challenged to think differently by something that I wrote.

What is your least favorite aspect of becoming a published author? (the editing process, marketing, doing interviews like these, etc.)

I greatly dislike wearing all of the hats in the publishing process. I was not able to pay for help for any part of my book, so I edited it myself, though I am far from an editor. I also designed the book cover, though design is not my strong point. I would much prefer to focus on my strengths and get help with the rest. 

5.    “Resting as an act of faith” is one part of your book I felt was particularly inspired, and is wisdom that both well and chronically ill individuals can benefit from. Can you explain what in your own life lead you to write about resting by faith?  

For so long I tried to maintain the same life I had always lived even though chronic pain made this difficult. I became burned out, and my health started to regress because I was doing more than my body could handle. I maintained all my responsibilities because I felt guilty about giving them up. But I finally realized that letting go of what was physically harmful to my body was not something to feel guilty about. I realized that I was not stewarding my body well, and that being faithful with the body I had been given meant letting go of things that were good but harmful to me. It was a freeing realization and allowed me to better serve in the areas that I didn’t give up.

6.    One of your readers, Ginny asks: Did you have any hesitation in sharing the personal thoughts expressed in your book? (she adds that she can’t wait for your next book!)

Yes! My book was more personal than much of my blog. I poured out some of my deepest fears and failures. Releasing the book left me feeling so vulnerable. But hearing readers say that they could relate helped a lot. It all felt worth it in the end.

7.    Blog follower, Max asks: What was your greatest challenge in writing this book?

 
 For a long time, I had the basis of good material and important points that I wanted to convey, but I didn’t know how to make it interesting. Like I mentioned before, I did have hesitation about sharing personal thoughts and stories, so I left those out at first. As I read through my material and shared it with a few close friends, I could tell that the material was dry. Perhaps I was making good points, but what good was that if no one wanted to read it in the end? My greatest challenge was growing in my ability to write content that had solid ideas conveyed through interesting stories.

8.    Because I follow your blog LifeinSlowMotionblog.com, I know that you live with chronic pain. How has Chronic Pain influenced you or inspired you to write more often, or has it?

Before chronic pain, I would not have called myself a writer. It was chronic pain that gave me something important to write about. As I looked for answers to my own questions, I found limited resources on chronic pain from a Christian perspective. Many of the resources I did find were either lacking in depth or didn’t seem to understand the actual experience of chronic pain. As both a Christian counselor and an individual with chronic pain, I felt able to address the topic with both depth and insight. If not me, who else would do it? That is what led me to writing.

9. “Giving out of a poverty of health” was one of my favorite pieces of wisdom you shared in your book. Can you give a brief example (or explanation) of giving from a poverty of health?

 At one point my health regressed to where I could only work at my job as a counselor 2-4 hours a week. And even that felt almost impossible to maintain. I would go in every Wednesday to see as few as one or two counselees and then drag myself home. It felt ridiculous to work so little, and I seriously considered quitting my job. I am so glad I didn’t. My one or two counselees mattered. I may not have counseled a great number of individuals, but I did my best with the few I had. 

10.    Can you give us a hint of the focus of your next book?

 I am going back and forth between a few different ideas. The next book in the Chronic Pain and the Christian Life series may be about mourning and grief in the context of pain and illness. Or, it may be about communicating our pain and relationships with others. I also want to write about the shame of chronic pain at some point. Too many ideas and too little time! But, I am working towards the next one coming out this fall.
 

~Reader Reviews~
“This is the first book of its kind: reconciling faith with illness.”
“It’s a wonderful book, it is most encouraging and well written. It’s an excellent read for both sufferers of chronic pain and the people who care for them.”
-Nancy Belz
“I love her honesty and the reflection questions that conclude this wonderful book- I found insight- comfort- motivation, and hope in Esther Smith’s sharing. This would be a great book for a small group study in person or online!”
-Ginny Law

How to win a free signed copy or e-book?
To participate in the random book give-away drawing, in the comments section below, let us know:
1. Where you found the link to this interview
2. Tell us where on social media you are sharing this link
I will contact the winner Friday, Aug. 5th! Good luck, and thank you for reading!

 

But God, Wouldn’t I be More Useful to You if I Were Healthy? is Available to purchase on Amazon in paperback or ebook.

Positive Thinking vs. Healthy Coping in chronic illness

What is the difference between positive thinking and healthy coping?

“Keep thinking positively!”

“Keep your chin up!”

“Stay strong!”

These are very common cliche responses we hear from society as individuals with ongoing health difficulties. They aren’t incorrect responses, but when those responding seem to believe this is truly how we handle the horrible pain/illness, terrifying future of further health concerns, and crushing regular losses which all come with long-term illness, then encouraging “positive thinking” alone can have quite a negative fallout.

For example, if one is in severe pain (meaning pain worse than a fracture or pain worse than childbirth, but constant, daily, and indefinite) after years, with treatments only failing, and close friends continue to say, “stay positive” as their only source of inspiration, will those words be uplifting over time? No, the attempt at encouragement over time will add to your feelings of isolation, making you feel increasingly deflated, rather than the intention of making you feel more positive, optimistic, and empowered.

Would you say, “suck it up” to a friend who is grieving over the loss of a parent? I certainly hope not. Essentially, this is the idea surrounding “positive thinking.” The concept that the more we “suck it up,” the better off we will be, and the stronger we are.

PS, Our bodies work exactly the opposite of this construct.

The more we avoid pain, the more we distract ourselves from our true emotions (not negative emotions, but real emotions), the more likely our bodies are to feel the stress fallout and rage against us. One with a chronic disease would do well to minimize stress; we know this from immense research (and I can tell you this from my own personal research on chronic pain and chronic illness!).

Minimizing stress is not equal to avoiding difficult emotions or distracting from pain. We have to face our pain and emotions, recognize them, meet them, and accompany them through our lives. They won’t allow us to abandon them, and we know that trying to do so only causes added difficulty down the road.

In Positive Thinking, saying “sure, I’m doing fine” may make others more comfortable temporarily, but it is not necessarily “healthy” for you or for the relationship. Positive Thinking encourages us to become more closed off, in turn others also allow more distance to grow until the relationship diminishes. They realize everything is far from “fine” but both take part in a ritual of pretending everything is wonderful because it’s far more comfortable than confronting the reality.

“Healthy coping… differs from the popular notion of “positive thinking.” It implies the capacity to tolerate and express concerns and emotions not just the ability to put anxieties aside. Being able to discuss the anxieties, uncertainties and fears, losses and sadness that usually accompany severe illness is generally helpful, despite the pressure commonly exerted by family and friends for the patient to always “keep a positive out-look.”25 “Positive thinking” may represent an attempt to avoid confronting the distress of chronic illness, and doctors who care for these patients and their families are not immune to such patterns of coping.”  Quote from a study in -Emotional Demensions of Chronic Disease

So often during the course of chronic disease, we have to make choices between the temporary comfort of others, and protecting our own welfare. Regularly, our bodies make that decision for us and force us to miss out. Especially then, healthy coping is paramount! It helps us re-gain some footing again. The openness in healthy coping encourages sharing, allowing others around you to understand where you are, what happened in the situation, how they might play a role in being there for you, and how you can be there for them. It lets others know you aren’t too fragile to listen to them and what they are going through, either. Most likely, those around you are feeling helpless, and would like to be there for you, but don’t know how- or how to ask. Being specific in our needs can help us find our own voice, and being more open also can help others who care about us join in on our “support team.”

Fair warning, most will not know how to respond appropriately, but you may be surprised who is game to see how they can be there for you in big or small ways. In being more open, you may also find that your example sets off a chain reaction in others to become more open with you in how they are doing as well. Healthy coping is so much more contagious than positive thinking, because it encourages support, connection, and community!

Isn’t positive thinking the same as optimism? No. Optimism has more to do with responsibility, letting go of guilt, and looking to the past, present and future without seeing yourself as a burden. I recommend reading the book, Learned Optimism by Martin Seligman.

Healthy Coping differs from Positive Thinking in that healthy coping requires us to lean into our feelings- both physically and mentally. Checking in with ourselves periodically, and then making minor adjustments to our lives to course correct for better balance. This may mean you need more rest, more exercise, more time with friends, another visit to a doctor, see a psychologist, open up to a good friend, eat differently, spend more time focused on your spiritual life, take better care of yourself, etc. Chronic illness requires us to make these adjustments frequently instead of thinking everything is going to work itself out until the ignored symptoms or stress build up. Healthy Coping may be the more deliberate, mindful path, but it is the path of self care instead of conveying a false smile.

To start making these adjustments, we can ask, “How are you?” instead of “Are you ok?” A yes or no question forces us to choose only negative or positive, however, healthy coping encourages others to share and touch base with one another and ourselves- this is how support and compassion are built. We don’t have to choose sides in healthy coping. Try not to think of your days as being good or bad, black or white, suffering or overcoming, but instead- working to find balance every day, always learning from your body and those around you, and doing the best you can now, in this moment.

 

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1070773/

 

 

 

Cure Worship, Illness Gratitude, & Finding the balance between

To be thankful while you are suffering is one thing, but to be thankful for suffering….

Once in a while in the support group I administrate, there is someone who makes a statement that is so powerful, it catches me off guard and it sets my soul on fire. In truth, this isn’t a rare occurrence. I guess you could say that those suffering so deeply every single moment of the day have some profound insights to share. One thing that inspires me the most is when people say they are thankful for their illness. That is a bold statement that I believe one would never come to lightly- and no one would EVER openly say something so provocative in a support group setting among a band of individuals with severe chronic diseases, unless they truly meant it. That’s why it always gives me pause whenever I hear such powerful expressions.

It’s not unusual for those who go through a near death experience or a serious short term illness to find deeper meaning and purpose. It’s no less real, but it is more common when the storms have an end, and suffering can be left behind. While it’s not rare for those with ongoing illness to eventually find new ways to appreciate life again, to say they are grateful for their illness, it is so much more rare in cases of chronic disease. Why? Because an illness that is daily, constant, and does not see an end- is far easier to hate than to get excited about. A condition which may be degenerative, becoming more painful and physically or mentally compromising over time, isn’t easily beloved…as you can imagine. To me, it’s almost a miracle hearing that anyone would be happy or thankful that they became so sick. Others with chronic illness can find statements like these offensive, even. These ideas of “illness gratitude” certainly border on the extreme, but make one wonder where their personal journeys have lead them to truly embrace their infirmities.

 

I’ve heard people claim to be thankful they are in pain and chronically ill because it transformed their lives. It made them see the world in a different light. Their conditions allowed them to shake off the clutter and stress of a life that they realized didn’t have substance, and focus on a life of greater meaning and value. They once believed losing their career meant losing their purpose, but I’ve spoken to those who say that they are so thankful they became ill because now they found their true calling. Some have said that their new life of chronic illness has enabled them to be there for people in ways they never could have in their “healthy” life, so they are forever thankful for their new sick bodies, and how useful they can be to others through deeper compassion and connection. Sometimes people are grateful they are in pain because it has brought them closer to their faith, and they cherish a higher spiritual connection they never could have had without constantly being pushed to the edge of what they can endure. They are forced to cling to God instead of their own strength, and in that comfort, they find gratitude for suffering that brought them more enrichment spiritually.

Again, these are extreme statements, but thought provoking and inspiring nonetheless!

Most often, people I encounter long for a cure or pray to be healed. That’s normal, and that’s not at all unhealthy. Research in psychology equates the loss of health or a limb to losing a family member or spouse passing away. It’s earth-shattering. The losses just keep coming. With chronic illness, the grief starts over again and again. It’s cavernous, and there’s no end to the emotional roller coaster or the physical fight. Hoping for a cure, for healing, or for remission is what we all are desperate for, and that focus can at times become crucial for survival. But for some of us, restoration of health becomes a worship in itself, and begins to supersede everything else. Seeking a cure or healing can become such a focus that illness becomes nothing but a betrayal of God, of government, of doctors, and family. Nothing feels real except wellness and full restoration.

Obviously these are 2 opposite sides of the spectrum, and balance is always the goal.

When I was diagnosed at 22, I spent the first years asking God WHY? Staying up every night in excruciating pain, my leg felt as though it was breaking, nerves like being electrocuted and burning pain like nothing I could have ever imagined before. Full body spasms, tremors, the room spinning, my heart racing and palpitating, wondering how I had planned and worked so hard for everything that had lead me here, just to lose it to this “incurable degenerative” condition that no one seemed to be taking very seriously to help me try recover from. It didn’t make any sense. As much as I tried to analyze it, I couldn’t crack the code. It only made sense for me to get better, so I searched for my panacea, and prayed (demanding) that God must heal me. At the time, I wasn’t a big prayer person, but illness has a way of connecting you to your higher power. In the Bible, yes, there is healing, but there is also so much pain. The importance of learning through pain, finding ways to share strength or comfort inside of infirmities, these are scriptures that have been so encouraging to me.

I eventually felt lead to make a decision. I believed God would heal me, and I still do believe that is true. But, I decided that if I was going to spend any period of time living a “sick life” I was going to explore it. As much as I was desperate to go back in time, moving forward is all I could do, it’s all any of us can do- Even if it’s slowly, frightened, and with tears in our eyes. 

I cannot go as far as saying that I am thankful I am chronically ill. I can say that at almost 12 years, I’m so grateful I made that decision to press forward and try to find myself inside of this life. If I had stayed so distracted by my past, or so focused on what I might be losing in the future, I would have missed every bit of the beauty, the miracles, the blessings, the generosity of others, the opportunities to be of use, and purpose found inside of this pain.

*****

More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. Romans 5:3-5

 

I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:10

 

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. Romans 8:18

 

When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul. Psalm 94:19

10 insights on life: Awareness through ME

Today, May 12th is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/SEID) and Fibromyalgia World Awareness Day. This blogger @ Tips for ME discusses the mysteries of ME/CFS. Particularly interesting to me is the “Canary” or sensitivities aspect, which after 5 years, my doctors still haven’t been able to understand why I can hardly tolerate my own voice, sounds, lights, or smells. Chemical sensitivities alone can be such a confining aspect of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/ME for so many CFS/ME sufferers.

Thank you for checking out a few of these enlightening ME/CFS facts, life wisdom, and helping raise awareness today!

Tips for ME

This ’10 insights’ #May12BlogBomb post is a perspective from the awareness of having ME, looking outwards at the world through the lens of ME. I believe that people with ME (pwme) have useful observations to contribute to society, perhaps a little akin to Old Testament minor prophets. This can be compared to the voices of other marginalised people groups, such as the queer community, the Equal Rights Movement and feminism. Each marginalised group gains different insights on life, related to their specific barriers to inclusion.

Table of Contents

Background Information

1) Dignity is Vital

2) Anything Can Happen at Any Time

3) Listen to Canaries

4) A Rose by a Different Name Does Smell Sweeter

5) The Authority on Your Body is You

6) Access to Health Requires Self-Reliance

7) Very Little Knowledge is Truly Known

8) Learn your Limits and Take a Step Back

9) Money Enables Quality of Life

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The Dream #SickLivesMatter

Sick lives matter vitals

After sharing the original Sick Lives Matter, I’ve been surprised and grateful for the response of the piece! However in response, some said, it’s too late for change. Some responded that we are too far down this path of patient neglect in healthcare, and there is no returning from it now. But I believe it is just the right time for us to rise up. I’m not alone either, with online patient forums like Patients Not Addicts gathering to influence legislation in Washington DC, advocacy groups like Give Pain a Voice, pain organizations working to change the stigma of pain patients, and so many private individuals sharing their stories wherever the universe allows, we ARE in the middle of a revolution. Are you part of it?

How can we rise up when so many of us can’t even work? How are we supposed to change policy when doctors and family don’t seem to listen? How can we make an impact on the future when many of us are struggling to care for ourselves? These are the reasons we HAVE to do something about it.

Consider cancer patients. In the last 10-15 years, the treatment of cancer has turned around because cancer patients joined together and created a movement. Everyone knows Susan G. Komen represents Breast Cancer Awareness because hard working cancer patients were able to get big organizations to stand behind their cause. Years ago, minorities with cancer were being ignored, rare cancers were going undetected, and people were terrified of finding out they could have any form of cancer because there were so few options- and you were likely too late anyway. Now, we have cancer treatment centers popping up all over the country, treatments that are actually successful at sending cancer into remission, and celebrities who bravely share their cancer experiences with the public.

Consider HIV/AIDS. As recently as 15 years ago, HIV was still a death sentence. Celebrities may have been wearing red ribbons, but people were still dying so quickly, suffering in silence, and had little recourse. Not only did society brush off the disease as a punishment- so did healthcare professionals (#STIGMA). Now, not only is there awareness, there is a culture of S.T.D. prevention and regular testing. When the worst happens, and someone is diagnosed, life is not over, people are living long lives because they have treatment and accessible management. Educated HIV doctors aren’t rare, and medication is becoming more affordable (although there is still a ways to go in regard to RX coverage).

HIV patients knew something about being brushed under the rug of society and healthcare, and paying for it with their lives. They changed the game by telling their personal stories so that those who tried could not look away! They joined together for a united cause, and chronic illness survivors can look to their bravery for inspiration.

I dream of emergency rooms where doctors and nurses treat chronic pain patient’s emergencies as high priority as everyone else’s. I see a future of chronic disease treatment centers around the country. I envision home visit physicians covered by insurance. I imagine the homebound and bedbound having access to quality patient care and mental health care from home, covered by insurance. I pray for research facilities searching for a vaccine to end degenerative neurological pain diseases. I see a world in which sudden deaths from unmanaged pain, and suicides from under-managed pain are a heartbreaking thing of the past. Is under-treated chronic illness a sign of the end times we are meant to accept with apathy, or is there something we can do from our sick beds and wheelchairs to make a change? We can be the ones who flipped the script for future chronic patients, young and old. This can be the moment you decided to take a stand. What is your dream?

Your life matters. Your story matters. Your voice matters.

#SickLivesMatter

To share your story or to learn how you can get involved in advocacy online, email abodyofhope@inbox.com

 

Sick Lives Matter

Sick Lives Matter

I was messaging with my therapist recently, frustrated with the challenge of trying to find a treating pain management specialist under my new insurance. Sharing with her how angry I’ve been in recent years after being brushed aside by more than a dozen physicians I’ve looked to for help (messaging because speaking on the phone or seeing my therapist in person is out of the question for me). She rationally offered advice like, “Did you ask your last doctor for a referral for a new pain doctor?” And, “Have you tried seeing any specialists for your conditions? Why are you in so much pain? How about taking more pain medication?  No one should be suffering like you are.”

Why did her rational, reasonable solutions make me want to scream?! Maybe because after over a decade of chronic illness, I know that her innocent view of medical care is like the ABC’s and I’m working off of XYZ, but the issues we face concerning our health care should not be so complicated. We are ill, and so many of us aren’t able to go so far out of our way to find help. It really should be so much more simple to find a good treating doctor. And when it isn’t, we fall through the cracks. We get worse. And the worse we get, the worse we get.

When doctors are knowledgeable about your condition and how to offer solutions, they will. When the options available are helping you manage, and the practice is making money off of the treatments offered, everyone is content. However, if your condition happens to worsen outside of the doctor’s comfort level, you might find yourself in a pickle. Your records show that you’ve tried so many different treatments for condition A, however because you now have conditons A#%@, other practices are less willing to see you. You wear a scarlet letter “C” on your records for COMPLEX, and from then on, you seem to be tucked into the bottom drawer of society.

This is happening to so many patients across the country. The new CDC guidelines didn’t help by limiting pain medication for chronic pain management, and neither did Obamacare. But, this is not a new problem and cannot be solely blamed on new government protocols, even if the current “solutions” have only pushed those of us with serious ongoing health needs further under society’s invisible rug- making us more invisible. Who sees to our care when we become “more complex?” As it stands, the more simple your case= the better your care. The more complex, rare, or worse off you are= the worse off your care is likely to become.

People who could have fully recovered and started back to work if they had been deemed worthy of attention earlier on, instead, further decline physically, mentally, and economically, and into a state of no return, forcing more and more people onto disability and social security- a status which statistically is difficult to recover from once you start.

#sicklivesmatter

Meet Kayla. Kayla is near middle aged and was diagnosed just after her symptoms began. She was set up with a team of specialists by her Primary Care Doctor. Kayla has had to change her life around since her diagnosis and feels so much loss for the things she once loved to do. She wishes there were a cure, but seeing her doctors regularly and trying new treatments reminds her there is hope. She is managing her condition by resting at home much of the time and has been able to continue mothering and finding support in her husband. She continues to work only part time now, and in her rest/recovery time, she has started to do what she always wanted to…write a book.

Meet Jonathan. Jonathan is in his 20’s and saw several specialists soon after his symptoms began, but no diagnosis was made. He spent years asking various doctors what might be wrong, but he was told he seemed young and healthy and the few tests they ran came back normal. Over time, his health so interfered with his work that he lost his job. His wife thought he might be faking his disorder to get out of his responsibilities and eventually left him, taking the their newborn. He couldn’t pay the bills any longer and lost the home. Finally, after years of illness, Jonathan is diagnosed, but his original condition left untreated for so long has caused a few other complications which are likely now permanent. With his diagnosis, he can now apply for disability, but he will likely never be able to work again or get back on his feet- financially or physically.

#SickLivesMatter

You can see in the best case scenario, how much hope a good doctor can offer. Even in Kayla’s case, everything changes, and we need the help of reliable physicians because we can’t do it on our own.

I can tell you that this happens to those with money, those with the best private insurance, this happens to those lucky enough to have family who can advocate for us, it happens to those who can advocate for themselves, it’s happening to the young and old, it happens to those with government insurance, it happens to people who can’t afford the special doctors, and it is especially happening to people whose health suddenly takes a sharp turn so that they can no longer advocate on their own behalf. People are slipping through the cracks, and there are more of us with chronic illnesses and rare diseases now than ever before!

You think it’s the emergency of your life, and you always imagine doctors being there for just this time, but you are made to feel that a chronically ill person’s emergencies aren’t quite as worth while. Slowly but surely, like a Polaroid picture’s image emerges, you get the picture that your life isn’t worth while either. Many people like myself won’t even call an ambulance if they believe it’s a life or death emergency. We’ve been down the hospital road too many times, and believe from experience that there is no hope in that big white building- not for so many…too many of us.

If they keep tucking the sickest people away in the bottom drawer of society, if they keep us under wraps, if they don’t allow us the medication and doctors we need to survive, and if they continue to legalize euthanasia in the U.S., then maybe we’ll all just disappear, and leave them alone, right?

Wrong! They aren’t shutting us down, they’re starving us out! 

We might not be able to picket the CDC, or storm the halls of Congress, or hold a sit-in demonstration inside of a hospital building, but social media can’t contain us. We can write our senators, make videos, sound clips, share our stories on Facebook, become ambassadors for rare disease foundations, get involved with patient advocacy groups online, or guest write for blogs from our couches, wheelchairs and hospital beds. Maybe we can’t go on the walks to raise money for a cure, but we can help organize them! And don’t forget, our stories are the most powerful weapons we have to make change.

You are the same person you always were; your health changing is not your fault. Your worth is not defined by how well your legs work, or if you were able to eat something solid this month, or if a doctor deems your medical file “worthy” by looking at the papers inside. You are not your file. And I know I’ve caught some slack for saying this- but you are not your body either. You may not be able to scream, but we need your voice! Your story is unique, and will inspire someone else to keep going, and move another to vote differently. Even though it’s not your job to be an inspiration… you already are. You matter. 

#SICKLIVESMATTER

Email abodyofhope@inbox.com if you would like to share your story or to ask how you can get involved with advocacy programs online.

 

Is it Still working for you?

I’m a pretty tough customer in physical therapy. But, the other day my physical therapist said something very poignant that gave me pause. I’d like to share it with you.

He said, because I’ve had chronic illness for so long, I’ve adopted so many coping strategies to help me through. So many techniques and methods I call my own to get me from one day to the next. (And here he is teaching this old dog new tricks.) However, he was right when he asked me, “Is all of this still working for you?”

Is it still working for you

You start collecting techniques from the very first moment you hear the word, “permanent” or “chronic.” Our doctors don’t help as quickly as our own shifts and wriggles take effect. Soon enough, you’ve built a pattern for yourself that is keeping you going. Over so many years, and multiple conditions, you better believe I have some modalities and some definite patterns! Are they still working for me?

Could they be holding me back?

Adaptation is paramount with chronic illness. You have to be able to rebuild in order to find purpose again, to find yourself again amid your ever-changing body. But as your body changes, does the structure that you built change with it?

For instance, if all you were once able to do is use the computer or your smart phone, maybe you grew a strong online network which gave you purpose. You could have done nothing instead, but you were brave and reached out to others online. It was incredible how much your work online distracted from your illness and impacted your life and the lives of others! It may have even saved your life. But as your body changes, you realize you can do more tactile work like crafting. Is spending as much time on the computer still working for you? Or, could it even be holding you back from moving more?

I have to go over so many of the coping tools I use- all of the amazing methods which have helped me to this point and ask this question. It’s spring after all; time for a spring cleaning of sorts. Is it STILL working? It may have saved my life last year, but will it take me to my next goal this year?

Careful what you wish for

March is Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Month. Since many chronic illness symptoms can mimic MS, and since MS is completely different in everyone with the disease, the people suffering can get lost behind the vague name. This courageous young woman, blogger, and MS survivor shares about the “unforgettable” week of her diagnosis. She puts a very clear face on such a foggy disorder- thank you for reading for better understanding.

escharae

12 years ago today, October 20th 2002, I woke up, went to the kitchen in my pajamas, Sunday morning, made breakfast, went to the living room while eating it, flipped the pages of a magazine, got up again, put the mug and plate in the kitchen sink – and then everything went black. I have a very faint recollection of feeling dizzy and nauseous but I don’t remember any more. I know I walked three or four steps because I was found on the floor by the kitchen door. On the wall there was a mark my fingers made possibly when I was trying to hold on to it not to fall. But I don’t remember. No one knows how much time I was out. My left knee and arm were bruised, and so was my head.

The story they told me was that my grandfather, who was living with…

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