Grieving with a Chronic Illness
This 20-year-old blogger and survivor of multiple chronic illnesses describes her grief process. You may be surprised to see that even on a somber topic like mourning loss of health, she writes from an outlook of gratitude; below she shares why she chooses her approach.
If you like this post, check out the article she wrote last week- it will give you a boost of inspiration!
With a chronic illness, there is no cure. It is all about treating the symptoms and learning to live life with it. It’s like an enemy you can’t get rid of. Its hard to cope with at times. For me, I was working, in college, and training for a half marathon, and one day it hit me like a truck. Within 2 days I was in the hospital. So going from constantly on the go and enjoying a normal 20 year old life to daily appointments, constantly miserable, and not being able to take care of myself alone. Its normal to have grieving stages while being sick, here are ways I grieve with having several chronic illnesses.
- The anger phase.
Its okay to be angry, I completely understand this phase. I’ve lost a lot like my job, a lot of people in my life disappeared, and I can’t do a…
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If your body is a boombox, and the nervous system is music…
Think of the nervous system like a boombox up on your shoulder, 80’s style, playing sweet jams at all times. When the body is healthy, balanced, and running smoothly, the music playing from your system’s radio station are your favorite hits at the perfect volume, and your drop-in harmonies are totally on point.
When the nervous system is out of sync, those beats flowing from your station are tragic- like the song you hate most, on the loudest setting, playing over and over again. You can’t change the station, no matter what lengths you go to!
When you have a chronic neurological condition like Parkinson’s, Multiple Sclerosis, Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, or Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome for example, it’s as though someone traded out your cool retro stereo system for an old broken down radio. You can play records on it sometimes, and it’s AMAZING to listen to any music again when you’re not in a flare or a relapse, but even then, all the records have scratches on them, so the music is constantly skipping and warped. The stereo’s wiring gets so bad over time that the record player doesn’t work anymore, and your radio only receives static.
A chronically malfunctioning nervous system is like listening to a broken radio stuck on static at full volume constantly.
When the “music” or the nervous system’s wiring is flowing properly from the brain throughout the body, pain receptors react to appropriate painful stimuli, telling us when there is a problem, and the pain subsides when the problem is resolved. When we have “faulty wiring” we may experience hypersensitivity to touch, sound, light or even smells so intense that it can cause a severely painful reaction. Think of raw wires on the end of electronics sparking and flaming just to the slightest touch.
The malfunctioning nervous system might react to normal stimulus with severe increased pain, increased stress may cause a seizure, or in others severe tremors and body spasms may occur. For some with POTS, (Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome), a loud noise or changing positions can cause the body to completely check out, going into fight or flight mode, and beginning to pass out, or passing out completely.
Going back to the stereo analogy, imagine being invited to a party where the DJ had a broken stereo system, playing static on blast or his stereo catching fire in front of everyone. That’s exactly what it’s like to live with a chronic neurological disease…well, sort of.
Meditation, spirituality, organized religion, trying to improve sleep, and other stress reducing efforts are ways we try to turn down the knob on the stereo. Medications, alternative therapies, eating well, surrounding ourselves with positive support are all ways we can continue turning the knob down little by little. The static kicks out on full blast each day, and we use our tools to adjust or manage the incoming noise levels. We may not have the ability to turn the station away from the blaring static and back to music, but we can attempt to turn the volume down so it isn’t blasting constantly every day.
Invasive and surgical approaches to treating neurological diseases are like kicking the side of your stereo to try to get it to work again. Jolting it hard enough may coax the system to finally play music once again, or you might kick it so hard that you completely break your stereo. For many, surgery and invasive treatments are worth a risk of causing additional problems for the possibility of returning to good health and functioning.
That’s my super-scientific explanation of the nervous system, and how it’s exactly like a boom box. So…. this analogy might not end up in a medical school text book, but if it helped anyone better understand an aspect of neurological disease, or put a smile on your face, then virtual high fives all around!
The Worst Lie in Chronic Illness
As chronic illness sufferers, we are so often reminded of something that I believe is of great detriment to our well being. When well people tell us that our health struggles, our personal challenges, the great storms of our lives “will some day be of use.”
I’ve grown to loathe this idea. I realize that it is meant to be an encouragement, however, it causes myself and my brothers and sisters in pain deeper despair. “Some day?” It’s as though they are reminding us that we don’t have as much to give until we are restored to health. I completely reject anything of the sort!
I believe that you and I are worthy and valuable just as we are. Yes, right now. You were no more “special” when your nervous system was working properly, but I can attest that the memory of wellness certainly has a shining halo around it.
We feel so small and insignificant after illness devours our lives, and those we love in its wake. There is no “after the tsunami lifts” with chronic illness, as we are always seeking out cover, our safe places are constantly being destroyed, and the physical and emotional turmoil can feel endless. My personal peace rests in God, a relationship which has grown inside of my own tsunami.
This message of purpose is one I try to frequent on this page because I struggle so deeply with the whispers that my life isn’t enough, I should be doing more, and I would be so much more valuable as a person if only my body worked again.
This is my pride speaking!
In those moments when the whispers win, I have forgotten how many opportunities I’m supplied with to have an impact, even in the very midst of my personal battles. Maybe, and probably because of my personal struggles, I’ve been allowed these chances. What seemingly small opportunities and connections might you be taking for granted in your own life?
The next time someone reminds you that all the pain and struggles you are battling will be worth “something” some day, please remind them that pain doesn’t have to stay hidden, and that your time traveling the path of illness is not a waste.
I don’t believe we have to wait until we’re perfect for our lives to have value. If that’s true, then I guess we will all be waiting forever!
Are we meant to see the silver lining in every storm before God can give us purpose through it? Even in the very midst of the battle, your story, your experience, your willingness to relate to and comfort others is so rare and valuable that it stands out among the noise and busy crowded world we live in.
It’s so easy to withdraw when the going gets tough. In time, however, we feel so marginalized and isolated. You do have a voice. Your story, your purpose, your personal gifts matter- and you are needed in this world.
We greatly undervalue the quiet connections, asking others how they are and actually listening in return, sending a note by mail to a struggling friend, or letting someone know they’ve been in your prayers.
Society does not measure these acts as successes, but what if you redefine what success means in your life? You may have very little energy to spare, but what you have to share is precious.
I believe God’s measure of success looks much different than our own. We become so focused on perfection, staying hidden until the right moment to present ourselves shiny and clean, having overcome our difficult and uncomfortable circumstances. This is what the rest of the world applauds. But don’t we each have unique and valuable lessons to share that come with the daily perseverance of ongoing trials?
It’s one thing to be crippled by a body that relentlessly fights against you, but please don’t believe the lie that you are less-than or it will cripple your spirit.
You are Never too Messy to Matter
A Positive Message for your Lying Brain
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!”
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.
The Dream #SickLivesMatter
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.
To share your story or to learn how you can get involved in advocacy online, email email@example.com
Dear Body, I’m breaking up with you
There are many things you can forgive your body for, but there are moments, relationships, days in life you miss which you will never get back, unforgettable, unforgivable events you are denied in the face of disability. My body is broken, and she continues to break my heart.
This is how those of us with chronic diseases struggle so deeply to have “self love.” Trapped inside bodies that attack us, and hearts which shoulder the guilt of our loved one’s pain from the hurt our illnesses have caused- child, love thyself. Love your abuser. Forgive the one which harms those you love the most. Forgive, forgive, forgive….
Body, you have taken my choices from me all of my adult life. Body, you are the abusive relationship I have never been able to flee. Body, you have stolen my health, my career, fun, freedom… my dreams. No permission was granted to you, yet you take all you touch. You are a jealous, volatile disease, and you only care about your own needs. I have suffered abuse and trauma at the hands of doctors on your account, though, you still batter me without compassion. I’ve been abandoned and made to feel worthless, INVISIBLE because of you body; I’ve had enough of your games!
Body, I break up with you. Sorry, not sorry.
I tear you from my soul and leave you. I will still care for you, because I am obligated. I am bound to you in ways I cannot choose, but I will no longer adore you. I will not call you my own. We are committed to one another, but I turn my back to you, body. From here on out, you will be “Body” and I will go forward being Me.
This is my self love. This is my self compassion. This is my choice.
I rage against your victimization. Your assault on my essence is over. I choose to make my life despite you, in spite of you!
I choose, I choose, I choose.
My flesh and bone surrenders, but my spirit rises up! Your reign, your emotional and psychological torture is over. Call it dissociation, call it compartmentalizing, call it what you will- it IS a detachment, and it is necessary.
I sign the papers and I box up your things. You can live in the basement and I will now and forevermore preside upstairs, in charge of THIS HOUSE.
Sign here X _________________
Please support Rare Disease Day on February 29th. www.rarediseaseday.us
A Peace Premonition
Just over one year ago, I wrote a post which I now believe may have been a premonition. On one of the last days of 2015 I wrote No Fear Campaign, 2015 and I have thought back to that post as well as revisited it so many times throughout this past year.
I was fueled with courage at the beginning of the year, but I had no idea why I would need it. And then the bottom dropped out of my life and I REQUIRED that courage more than ever. I suffered so much loss this year, I made a huge transition, fought a difficult battle, saw several new doctors, visited the hospital, started physical therapy, home care, and have been exposing myself to many new faces, new experiences, and could never have imagined any of this just one year ago. It’s true that this year, I’ve been in constant crisis management. But it’s also true that I’ve been managing my own crisis. That might seem like a given, but illness doesn’t always allow us that luxury.
Last year, the messages to be courageous seemed to jump out everywhere: Have no fear, do not fear, I am with you, be not afraid. If God wants you to hear a message, you will see it constantly whether it is on Facebook or Twitter or television or out of your home or in your Bible- if you feel like there is something that keeps popping up in front of you repeatedly, that message is JUST FOR YOU! Truth finds you. You can try to ignore it, but if God wants a message in front of you, He will repeat it and confirm it. It’s not a coincidence. And I am so thankful I grasped the message to have courage when I did. It truly saved my life this year and courage continues to change how I move forward.
Things are so hard now, SO HARD. But I’m planning to beat fear once again, and go to my sister’s wedding… in 7 days. This is possibly one of the scariest things I have ever attempted. And yes, I am afraid. As it comes closer, all of those I CAN’T thoughts are terrifying at times.
These posters were made around the end of last year. Around the same time that I wrote No Fear Campaign, I wrote a few other, fearless-themed posts. In one piece, I said: “The strength comes for the step you need it, not days or months ahead.” That is what I am counting on for this wedding adventure. And it helps give me peace that God will strengthen me and my body to do what needs to be done when the time comes, for my sister, and for me.
Whatever trials wait for you tomorrow, and paralyze your heart with worry today, I hope you feel comforted remembering you can call on that added strength and courage at the moment you need it. You aren’t walking your path alone.
~Peace be with you~
“Freedom lies in being bold.”
― Robert Frost
My War with Gravity #POTSproblems
This time last year, I published my first and only post detailing life with POTS and my recovery process, My Toothbrush, My Trophy. One hour after hitting the publish button: BOOM, I was back in the hospital for more POTS shenanigans. It felt like some kind of blog jinx! October is POTS Awareness month, and last year my body threw a parade in honor of it.
For me, the thing about POTS is that I didn’t know there was an illness I couldn’t fight my way through. With chronic pain, I had forced my body into submission for so many years- all of my adult life in fact. Whether I needed to utilize walking aids, medications, treatments, or therapies, my crippling pain hadn’t kept me from working, going to school, or being there for my husband and family. So, when my autonomic nervous system kicked it (and it really crapped out on me), I was (and still am) shocked that my willpower has not been enough to overcome.
Last October, the ER doctors thought I was having a heart attack because my chest pains were so intense, like electric jolts piercing my heart. I had experienced chest pains, palpitations, and a racing heart (tachycardia) regularly for years with the onset of POTS, however nothing as intense as the pain that began that morning. The ER had never heard of Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome or Dysautonomia before (go figure). They didn’t know what my other conditions were either (of course) but I wasn’t as concerned about those at the time. We explained how once upright, my blood pressure drops and heart races, and my autonomic nervous system shuts down. “Oh, almost everyone has that,” the ER doctor said under his breath, chuckling. “Well doctor, everyone doesn’t almost pass out every time they try to sit or stand up,” I whispered through my head pain, angry that he would assume I am confined to lie flat in a bed for years shrouded with earplugs, a headset, and an eye mask- all over a little dizziness upon standing. (Sure, everyone has that). Keep in mind, this is tucked into a tiny dimmed closet-size room in the ER, as my hypersensitivity to light and sound exacerbates my ongoing migraine disorder too much to be around noise. I lucked out with a sweet nurse who knew what RSD was, and she was the only reason I was given special accommodations. They did multiple tests at the hospital, then through the week, I had several rounds of tests at my Cardiologist’s office. You know, the usual fun…
Verdict? They couldn’t find any reason for my heart to experience the additional pain. That was excellent news. POTS is a nervous system condition which effects the way the heart behaves; it isn’t a cardiac condition effecting the way the body behaves. No heart condition- score!
Conclusion: Since they couldn’t find any cause for the pain and onset of increased symptoms, the next 5 months thereafter were out of the doctor’s hands. (Thanks doc!) My fatigue and brain fog were unwavering. Just trying to move my fingers across the keyboard, holding my phone to text, or forming complete thoughts enough to compile a short blog post became so trying…so overwhelming…so frustrating… my short-lived recovery progress had taken a step in the wrong direction. For the first 2 years after the POTS began, I was in stasis mode. Pancake body, syrup brain. I was so ill and no one knew how to help me. After the spinal procedures in 2011 which threw my body into this tangle of illness, I was basically a lump of pain and un-moving frustrated flesh. Having finally made my first bit of progress last year, working so hard to use the restroom on my own and do some of my own personal hygiene from bed, falling backward again was not in my recovery plan! By last Christmas, I became depressed that my body was no longer moving forward and I was still stuck in the same bed going on 4 years after all of the doctors, hospitals, medications and hard work. (If you follow my blog, my posts reflected my disposition.)
Many with autonomic nervous system dysfunction (dysautonomia) carry on normally, dealing with bouts of dizziness or feeling lightheaded periodically. About a quarter of those with POTS are too disabled to work a job. And a small percentage have symptoms which are so severe, they are confined to a bed and may be hospitalized regularly. I fall into the last category, though I haven’t been hospitalized for a whole year- take that chronic illness! (Let’s not count the times I’ve ignored my doctor’s recommendations to go to the ER). A very large number of those with POTS are teen girls. Awareness and treatment options are lacking for the estimated 70 million individuals living with Dysautonomia worldwide. [Dysautonomia International] Conditions like EDS, Fibromyalgia, CRPS/RSD, heart attack, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/ME/SEID, Chiari Malformation, stroke, Intracranial Hypertension, Traumatic Brain Injury, Spinal Cord Injury and Parkinson’s can cause Dysautonomia and POTS. To find out if you or a loved one have POTS, see a cardiologist for a “tilt table test” and cardiac monitoring.
Symptomatically, POTS is compared to Congestive Heart Failure, COPD, and massive blood loss. I’ve learned that everyone with Dysautonomia experiences it a little differently, but the most prominent symptoms for me have been low blood pressure, fatigue, confusion, trouble concentrating (brain fog), extreme hypersensitivity to sound and light, brain fog, head pain, trouble breathing, syncope/pre-syncope (fainting or almost fainting), vertigo, brain fog, muscle shaking, weakness, trouble digesting and absorbing food (gastroparesis), bladder dysfunction, chest pain, heart palpitations, brain fog, weak pulse laying down, heart racing when upright, orthostatic intolerance, brain fog, and temperature change intolerance…did I remember brain fog?
It took 2 years for me to get properly diagnosed with POTS and Dysautonomia because pain management doctors and primary care doctors don’t know what it is, what the symptoms are, or how to treat it. Just yesterday, my pain management doctor tried to argue that I developed it from “laying around too much” when the immediate onset was actually damage to my spinal cord. For individuals with POTS, the opposite is true. Pushing yourself to do more than your body allows can send your blood pressure plummeting for weeks or months putting you into an almost comatose state, can cause fevers, flu-like symptoms, severe fatigue, wide-spread physical pain, swelling or “blood pooling”, and a long list of intensified symptoms (see all Dysautonomia symptoms here). Last October, for instance, I believe my trip to the ER and subsequent 5 month puddle-of-me was the result of pushing myself to climb a flight of stairs.
Thankfully, this past spring, my body let up enough to allow me back on my journey toward recovery. (Que happy music.) I’m currently doing home physical therapy from bed with a knowledgeable cardiac rehab therapist, I have new goals for my life, and when I am faced with my body’s set-backs, I’ll try not to allow my frustrations to defeat me.
My Toothbrush, My Trophy #pots
My toothbrush is relatively small and lightweight. My father would say, it’s “smaller than a breadbox.” It is inexpensive and is of no real value, but my toothbrush is a measuring stick for my ability recently. Independent tooth brushing is a high goal I set long ago, and I have finally reached it!
Just one year ago I was unable to brush my teeth without assistance. Whoever was caring for me (usually my husband) would help me to brush my teeth from a horizontal position in bed. This is how I have done just about everything for the past 3 years. With help, lying down. This past year, however, I have been working hard toward more independence and “going vertical.”
I have a condition called Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (Whew! That’s a mouthful!). P.O.T.S. causes my heart to race like crazy whenever I stand or sit and then my blood pressure drops so quickly and sharply that I pass out or nearly pass out. It’s like you are running a marathon for a moment and then you suddenly get very familiar with the floor. It’s quite a riot, let me tell you. It comes along with other problems like vertigo, chest pains, fatigue, head pain, labored breathing, dehydration, and sometimes I feel like I’m having a full-on panic attack all day. But the most disabling part is the passing out disorder (obviously, being unconscious is pretty disabling).
So, my fight with gravity began by quite literally crawling slowly with lots of rest stops- and only to the restroom. Then, for a couple of years, I was walking slowly to the restroom, held up by a caregiver, bent over with my body in an upside down “L” position so my head was down, keeping my blood pressure up. Now, on my good days, I am working on being fully upright, without help, for (drumroll) about ONE MINUTE altogether. It’s very exciting!
Brushing my teeth means trying to get out of bed, walk about 10 feet to the bathroom, and balancing to brush my teeth without passing out or falling down (P.S., I’m a tumbling expert).
Even though I’m not able to stand or walk vertical throughout, this is HUGE progress in my recovery. A minute upright gained in three years sounds very small, but for someone with an Autonomic Nervous System disorder (Dysautonomia) like POTS, it’s such a big step. Getting to the restroom on my own, and now doing my own dental hygiene on MY terms feels amazing! And guess who has given a stand-up hug? That’s right! THIS GIRL.
I have other neurological chronic pain and chronic illnesses, which many of those with this disorder do. But I am not alone, as so many young women and teen girls have POTS as well. Just know that people with POTS can range on a broad spectrum. There are those who have some mild heart and blood pressure symptoms once in a while, but are functioning normally otherwise, then there are those like myself who are in/out of hospitals for care and are bed-bound for years from the disorder (though hopefully not for much longer…). I’m coming for you POTS!
If you liked any of my images today, they are all original and you may share them, along with my POTS Awareness Plaque.
Great article on Dysautonomia from Elle and the Auto Gnome