You have every right to feel overwhelmed, as though no one understands. Maybe you feel like a burden, afraid of your future, or even lost of all hope. As far as I know, everyone living with long-term illness understands these feelings well. I know I do.
It doesn’t make it any less horrible to know that 100 million Americans with chronic pain can relate to that feeling, but it may help in some way to remember that your feelings are absolutely normal.
Illness, pain, long-suffering literally deprive the brain of the chemicals and hormones required to feel a general sense of happiness and peace. It’s not pain or illness alone that causes depression, but instead the high levels of physical stress, constantly, over a long period of time which can inhibit the production of important nerve cells. The “optimistic” neurotransmitters like serotonin, oxytocin, and dopamine are no longer in balance to counter feelings like uselnessness, loneliness, fear, and hopelessness.
What might have been a passing thought of fear, thanks to the ongoing imbalance in the body, can become a spiraling pit of despair and feelings of doom. Pain can wriggle into your very soul, and drain you of every resource.
This month is my 13 year anniversary with chronic pain (RSD/CRPS). Then when the condition progressed to stage four with comorbidities 6 years ago, I felt as though I completely disappeared. Illness swallowed me up.
If anyone is reading this and is being swallowed up by sickness, then you know it’s the loneliest feeling in the world to watch everyone go on and move forward with their lives while you fight for your own in the shadows. Being drowned by an invisible adversary can seem like a practical joke. Everyone is in disbelief it could be “that bad.” But truly, aren’t we all in disbelief that it’s this bad?
I want to tell you what your brain would tell you if she were allowed to work at her full potential. I want to share what your soul is crying out for that pain has hacked.
You have a purpose, you always have. Your purpose did not end when you were diagnosed. A calling is not just a job, purpose goes beyond the walls of a building. You are meant to be.
You are enough. You are just as worthy and amazing as you always have been. Even though you might feel weak, you are gaining strength of character, wisdom, and you are learning valuable lessons from this battle that no one can ever take away from you. Please don’t accept the lie that you’re a failure, you are not. You are in the midst of the fight of your life. We can’t allow ourselves to believe we are losing.
If your daughter, son, or grandparent were suffering from the very same condition as you, what would you want to tell them?
You can do this. Though you may be exhausted and fragile right now, and you aren’t even sure how you’ll go on another day, the pain might be pushing you over the edge of what you can bare…but somehow you have risen to meet every single day before this. Remember every sickening treatment, painful surgery, and frustrating doctor appointment. Never forget how many miles you have walked already. You have overcome so many impossible days. Just get through this day. Tomorrow is not for today.
You are beautiful. Sometimes we lose touch with our bodies as protection from all of the horrors we are living through physically. Weight gain or weight loss, hair loss or teeth changes, swelling or skin changes…. we can look in the mirror and see a complete stranger staring back. You may not look or feel as you once did, but you can still get to know this amazing, lovely, and beautiful person. You are worthy of love. (P.S. it’s ok to take selfies even if you don’t look like your old pictures!) People love you for all of you. You don’t have to appear perfect, no one is.
You are still the same person. Illness has a tricky way of detaching us from the longing of our past, splitting us apart from the face in the mirror, and isolating us from people we care for. Who we once were can float away, and illness can feel as though it’s taking us over. You are still her. You are still on your journey. Your path, your life, your experience is no less meaningful than anyone else’s.
One last thing that I think your brain would want to remind you… Things won’t be this way forever. Chronic conditions change over time. Life changes. Our perceptions change. Yes, any day your condition could progress and worsen. Or any day, you could begin to improve or go into remission. The truth is that we hear about progression and complications 10x more (TEN TIMES MORE) than we hear about people regaining health and wellness.
There is no doctor or article online that can assure you what tomorrow will hold. As much as your body and mind whisper terrifying words like “incurable, degenerative, progressive,” it’s easy to let that be your daily mantra, or you can make HOPE become your weapon of choice.
As illness continues to speak its lies to us, we must scream back truth to ourselves so loudly that every part of us can hear!
“The road that is built in hope is more pleasant to the traveler than the road built in despair, even though they may both lead to the same destination.”
-Marion Zimmer Bradley
Thank you to The Mighty for choosing my article for publication.
If you are shopping for a loved one with a chronic illness, long-term illness, or disability, you may feel unsure of their needs, wants and special daily circumstances. Here are a variety of gift ideas meant to inspire, comfort, entertain, and are still appropriate for someone who is mostly confined to their home or uses a walking aid, if applicable. Here are several gift ideas along with advice and links to help you shop!
*Starred shops are run by disabled sellers.
Streaming video allows your chronic friend to watch movies and television any time instantly from anywhere. Especially on those bad days when doing nothing but resting is the best and only option, distraction therapy like settling in to watch great movies and television is a wonderful gift they will certainly thank you for. Netflix, Amazon Prime, or Hulu Plus are a few of the most popular video streaming subscriptions, and they all cost about $100 per year. The Amazon Prime subscription also allows access to a wide variety of ebooks, audio books, and music, alongside streaming video.
The Amazon Prime 2-day shipping feature is an great option for anyone who has trouble getting to the shops. In certain areas, Amazon has rolled out Fresh, a grocery delivery service which is another fabulous gift subscription.
An audio book subscription to Audible is a sweet gift in my opinion! If your loved one is like so many of us with chronic illnesses, reading becomes a tricky task due to blurry eyes, migraine headaches, brain fog, and more. Audio books can make reading enjoyable once again. It may or may not be on my Christmas list this year (hint dropped!).
Article dated February, 2015
Last week, the Institute of Medicine re-named Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, also known as ME, now renamed SEID (Systemic Exertion Intolerance Disease). CFS is the name most commonly used in the United States while Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME) is the more common name used internationally. As of last week, there is a third name to distinguish this already mysterious condition: SEID.
For many, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome onsets after a virus. Imagine being a perfectly healthy adult, child or teen and after a bout with a feverish flu, you find yourself feeling worse and worse. The appropriate time for the virus lapses, but as much as you fight to get well, your body and mind feel as though they are in shut down mode. No amount of rest or sleep is enough anymore. Just chewing your food makes you feel as though you need a nap. Your thoughts become so blurry and confused- you begin to fear Alzheimer’s or dementia. Migraines, loss of appetite, body pain, hypersensitivity to smells, sounds, lights- these symptoms are the tip of the CFS/ME/SEID iceberg. Imagine feeling like you are moving through quick sand- and there is no end to the breakdown. You are sure it will pass in time, but as time passes, you only become more weak, frail, and may even struggle to stand and walk. Doctors help you by telling you to “get more rest” and send you home. This is what many with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome experience.
The name, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome has been a problem since its origin. Can you imagine suddenly finding yourself confined to a bed, unable to raise your arms from sheer fatigue only to be told by other medical professionals and family members: “Sure, aren’t we all ‘chronically fatigued?” That has been the overwhelming problem with the original name. Doctors without enough education of the disorder have been brushing their patients off, leaving them incapacitated and searching for answers on their own limited energy supply. It’s estimated that as many as 91% of those with CFS/ME have yet to be diagnosed because physicians are still unsure whether or not it is psychological or “all in their [patient’s] heads”.
Over one year ago, the Institute of Medicine began running studies and tests to narrow down specific symptoms and markers in individuals who develop Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/ME. An independent panel of 15 physicians then met to narrow down a few diagnostic criteria and to decide on a new name for CFS/ME. They believe that each word in “Systemic Exertion Intolerance Disease” is more specific and clear as to how the condition affects the body.
Systemic Exertion- indicating the extreme fatigue or malaise all over the entire body.
Intolerance- implies impairment from any sort of activity. ‘Orthostatic Intolerance’ is an example of a common type of intolerance found in those with CFS (cited in the IOM study).
Like other conditions, those with CFS/SEID experience a long list of symptoms which are not all included in the short diagnostic list; keeping the diagnostic criteria short is meant to help doctors understand and treat patients with this disorder better. Here is the list of symptoms the Institute of Medicine’s special panel narrowed down after one year of testing those with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome:
-Profound fatigue lasting at least six months
-Complete exhaustion even after minor physical or cognitive exertion
-Cognitive impairment or “brain fog”
-Worsening of symptoms upon standing or Orthostatic Intolerance
There is a feeling in the CFS/ME community that the re-naming is confusing and sets struggling patients back further. Many in the CFS/ME community are disappointed that the new name is not “Myalgic Encephalomyelitis” to make the name cohesive, finally. Even though Chronic Fatigue Syndrome was the official name in the United States, the international name, “ME” has been largely adopted by CFS sufferers here in the US. However, the IOM argue that there is not significant research showing that patients with SEID have brain inflammation or muscle pain as the core symptoms (the meaning of ME). Some CFS specialists and patients with CFS/ME feel the updated name and new marker symptoms overlook critical issues of the disease like chronic pain, headaches, sensitivities, cardiac disturbances, and gastro-intestinal disruption. This isn’t the first time this disorder has had a make-over, however. Epidemic Neuromyasthenia, Myalgia Nervosa, Epstein Barre, and Royal Free Disease are a few of the names that have been given to those with CFS, now called Systemic Exertion Intolerance Disease. Researchers say in the next 5 years, it may be re-named again, as new research will likely continue to emerge.
Even though there is still uncertainty regarding the new name, many believe there is reason to be positive. The 235-page report released by the IOM is expected to lead to more research for the disease, better funding, and more appropriate treatments for Systemic Exertion Intolerance Disease. Those who at one point may have called up to 2.5 million Americans “complainers” or “lazy” will have more information and education to help the ignorant understand this debilitating condition. Doctors who may have once brushed off their patients’ symptoms because there were unclear guidelines, now have clarity on which criteria specify SEID. And lastly, it is now called a “disease” which shows there is progress in understanding how it affects the brain and body. For such a complex condition that is so debilitating, more understanding and more awareness is paramount!
Read the IOM report for yourself here: http://www.iom.edu/~/media/Files/Report%20Files/2015/MECFS/MECFS_KeyFacts.pdf
Those with chronic illness, chronic pain, and disabilities are all heroes to me. I know yesterday was hard. The holidays are always a challenge no matter where on the spectrum of disabled you are, celebrations push us to our limits.
We mentally feel pushed to be up and feel grateful or in the spirit of the season. When pain and illness bombards our thoughts constantly, at times it can feel like a mountain to climb to find a hint of the same holiday spirit we once felt. Physically, we are pushed to do the things we really want to do like spend the time with the people we most want to see, bake, shop, go to sporting events, etc. Some in the “Spoonie” community cannot leave home any longer or their illness is such that they are now confined to a bed, yet they still find ways to express gratitude and the spirit of the season (heroes).
Many push to try to do things we’ve always done despite our declining health like cook, or play a sport or game with everyone else. Even though I’m confined to a bed in a back room while the family is having dinner and festivities, this year I pushed myself to change into something cute. Honestly, changing clothes took away from my energy and added to my pain; I know I could have used those spoons to spend more time with a loved one later on. When I was still able to cook, I overdid it in the kitchen and my pain would spike. The truth is, some of our actions aren’t for other people, some things we do are just for us- and it’s healthy! I have spent the last few holidays either in days old pajamas or in the hospital, so changing clothes helped remind ME of who I used to be. And I’m so grateful I had some extra spoons to do something so frivolous this year and still have some quiet moments with a few loved ones as well.
I know spending time around your family takes so much courage for fear of getting bumped and pain skyrocketing, eating a bite of something that triggers your body to become inflamed, or an unexpected noise setting off a migraine or cluster headache- these are some of the sacrifices you make for LOVE. You are brave and you are warriors. If you always listened to the will of your body, you may never open your eyes each day. Your body tells you NO!!! But your heart calls. Your heart is always stronger. And I admire each and every one of you. You teach me courage. During the holiday season, we make many sacrifices: trading spoons for love of others and longing for who we still are inside. Balancing emotional needs and physical needs. Always juggling.
That is why those with chronic illness and the disabled are my heroes.
“Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says I’ll try again tomorrow.” ― Mary Anne Radmacher
Articles to Reinvigorate your Spirit:
Have you ever thought that you are the best friend you know? Are you the most responsible, caring, compassionate, shoulder-to-cry-on kind of friend who drops everything to be there for the people you love? Have you ever wished for a friend like yourself?
I used to think that. Although I so adored the people in my life, there were times when I felt some of the things I did for them went under-appreciated. When I had problems in my own life, when I needed someone to make me feel better, I felt empty handed. Sound relatable?
I was a doer, a giver, I needed to be needed. I set my life up so that I was the go-to person for all of my people. I was the Olivia Pope of my world. Even when I moved to a different state, within months I was the one person anyone who knew me could count on. I constructed a safety net for everyone else, but when my own life turned upside down in the form of chronic illness, I felt there was no one to lean on.
Even after illness set in, things did not change. In fact, I felt that no one had a grasp of anything I was going through. For the first time in my life, I was desperate for some care from others and it seemed that no one knew what to say or do for me. Looking back now, some people were generous, and a few did reach out to me. I think it’s because I never learned how to ask for help before, I couldn’t recognize a gift of compassion and I was too prideful at the time to see when people were trying to be there for me.
I was so programmed to say, “No thanks” and “I’m fine” when people tried to help me out. I think I probably pushed them away without meaning to. I didn’t fully learn the gift of receiving until later on.
Sometimes tragedy is like this. The harder things get, the more clarity we can find.
You get so accustomed to being self-reliant and needed by others for so long that when it is time to accept help from another person, it’s like a foreign object that you naturally repel.
People who cared about me wanted to be there for me, but I usually shut them down. There were those who never knew what exactly to do or say, but they tried to just be in my life. I know now that the people who stick around in uncomfortable times are keepers.
Letting loved ones know how exactly they can help makes the people around us feel less powerless. If you give your loved ones specifics, they can learn how to better help with your complex needs. Hints and mind-reading definitely doesn’t count.
I know from personal experience that receiving help and asking for what you need can be a humbling experience. It’s lovely to help others but it can be humiliating when you’re the one who needs the help. That is the first thing I had to try to accept. You will have anger about it…try not to take it out on those giving to you. Don’t say things like, “I’m sorry you have to do this for me,” or “you will get tired of helping me,” or “I can tell you don’t want to be doing that for me.” Don’t critique their attitude, or predict future resentments. Instead, lead with gratitude. Say “thank you.” Your appreciation makes others feel positive.
Gratitude isn’t only an emotion, it’s also a state of mind, and a form of personal expression. The great thing is you can choose to be grateful even at times you don’t necessarily feel that way.
You already know how good it feels to do for others. Learn to be a gracious receiver.
Remember, you are worthy enough to accept the very thing you do all the time for other people. If the situation were reversed, would you be there for your loved one in the same way?
It has taken me a while to learn that lesson. I am still learning… Those who give of themselves are always teaching me to be humble.
I had to consider why my life had always revolved around being helpful, yet I could not receive the help offered to me. To top it off, I was too prideful to ask for help.
When I was finally able to say “thank you” and mean it from the bottom of my heart without resentment, anger, shame or fear: gratitude swept over me and lit up everyone in my life like Christmas lights.
Before, giving and being needed was how I defined myself. Learning to receive showed me the love everyone around me had to offer.
This lesson has been such a challenge; I am still learning to receive and to appreciate the blessings in my life, but the gift of gratitude has been a life-changing lesson. I believe learning to receive with a grateful heart makes a person a more understanding, more compassionate giver.
People love you and are there for you, too. Maybe not in the way you want them to be, but they might be exactly what you need. You are worthy of their love and their help. Please don’t miss out on receiving the blessings that God is trying to bring into your life.
Living with constant chronic pain or chronic illness is no party, but you may have been invited to a few. Here are some ideas and tips to help you make it through as we enter into the holiday season.
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!
When in doubt, smile. Always keep them guessing. That’s why they call them “guests”! Or, em…anyway… 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 good 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.
Go purchase a fabulous original piece from this talented artist! Thank you so much for contributing Kim Legler!
Message from the artist and from her recovering brother: To keep video game playing to a minimum as it can be harmful to your health and to spend time in nature to promote healing. Twitter: @kimilegler