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.
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.
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.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to share your story or to ask how you can get involved with advocacy programs online.
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
If you’re buying for a loved one with a chronic illness this holiday season, I have you covered with these gift suggestions, links, gadgets and creative ideas to help you find the perfect present especially for them!
*Starred items are sold by disabled entrepreneurs.
Those of us with chronic conditions tend to have extreme dry skin. Personally, I also have extra sensitive skin (because I hit the genetic jackpot). A deep moisturizing product with collagen or an anti-aging night mask helps soak into that dehydrated skin. Mary Kay’s Extra Emollient Night Cream at only $14, has been a top seller for decades. My mother used it from the time I was a little girl and she has always had beautiful skin. My sister and I love it, so it’s definitely one of those heirloom products you pass down through generations. Now I’m passing it on to you! I recently heard a woman in a chronic illness support group suggest that this cream works better than antibiotic ointment for healing her sores caused by autoimmune disease. I wish I could give a bit of this to everyone suffering from chronic dry skin.
I’ve been scouting medical alert bracelets, and these are my top picks specifically for those of us with multiple conditions, rare diseases, or complex health needs.
These fabulous medical ID Italian charm bracelets are available on Gadow jewelry, Ebay, and Etsy for between $20-$40. The individual links are sold separately, and I love that they can be custom ordered. If you want to add a new diagnosis, or take a medication off, links can be added or.removed easily. If you lose or gain weight, they can be easily adjusted by adding or removing a couple links. I also love the idea that you can mix your serious seizure condition alert charm next to a sparkly pink unicorn charm just for funzies 😁 As far as EMT paramedics go, in an emergency, they’re more likely to look for an alert bracelet rather than searching for a necklace, key chain, or wallet card, etc.
The new tech trend in medical info/alert jewelry is sporting a hidden USB in your bling. If you have ever been at the ER, urgent care, or doctor appointment when you couldn’t advocate for yourself, then you might see the benefits of medical USB jewelry. This technology is available in a broad range of styles from bracelets, key chains, necklaces at every price point.
One thing I learned when I entered the POTS world is that they have the lockdown on health technology!
Since you can get a quick-read blood pressure cuff at any drug store, I’m going to try and kick it up a notch here.
Today, smart watches can read heartrate, blood pressure, and blood oxygen level, along with tracking steps, distance, calories burned and has a sleep companion which all syncs with your mobile. It comes in Dysautonomia blue as well as black; price range on Amazon, $93-$250. If this works as well as the company claims, that is one heck of a Dysautonomiac invention!
I learned Biofeedback 11 years ago to help me manage pain, stress and sleep. Four years ago, when all the crazy Dysautonomia and POTS symptoms undid my body, I started whipping out my Biofeedback techniques like my life depended on it (well, it has). Learning to have better control over typically automatic responses like breathing, heart rate, blood flow, circulation, and blood pressure are very challenging, but can be so helpful in conditions affecting the heart, nervous system, or in conditions which interrupt sleep.
This amazing Biofeedback and Neurofeedback smart phone app was made by a little known group you might know called THE US DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE! The app can monitor respiratory rate, skin responses, temperature changes, as well as brain waves. Check out more about this FREE app here at Neurogadget.com which includes links to purchase the biosensor devices for your smart phone. Good job, America!
I can’t say enough about compression socks. And now, they are finally cute! You can even find printed compression leggings. They help us keep the “blood pooling” or edema to a minimum by encouraging circulation. Compression stockings displace blood from the lower extremities and squeeze it into the upper body where we are desperately lacking. It also lowers vascular issues in the legs and helps prevent strokes. This is one pair of socks that earn their keep! Check more cute compression socks links here on my last gift guide for people with Chronic Pain.
If you know someone with Dysautonomia, POTS, or Hypotension, then you know we are a little obsessed with our salt intake to raise our blood pressure. For the holidays, turn your loved one into a connoisseur of specialty salts by allowing them to sample 6 different types of sea salts from around the world. Purchase through Amazon, made by The Spice Lab, for only $29.95. They arrive in a wooden stand, nestled in a kraft gift box. Or, spice up your loved one’s pallet with specialty seasoned salts. SaltWorks.com creates 5 unique salt blends like Merlot salt and black truffle salt in their Fusion Flavored Salt Sampler, $26.95. Mmmm, pardon my drool!
Fellow Dysautonomia fighter and advocate, Suzanne Stewart makes fabulous custom awareness jewelry to your desire. A portion of her earnings go to help chronic illness organizations because her rapidly beating, pace-maker equipped heart is also full and generous! Take a look at her website, *Support in Jewerly, and order something pretty for the chronic diva in your life.
Dr. Lam, a leading expert on Dysautonomia, has developed Tai Chi for Rehabilitation, $24.95. I first learned about Tai Chi for Dysautonomia from POTS and chronic pain blogger, Elle and the Auto Gnome who attributes Dr. Lam’s Tai Chi in part for her improvement. The DVD’s can be adapted to a sitting position or even (as I’m learning) a flat position, thanks to my cardiac rehab therapist. [If you give a gift of “
healing” to a friend with a chronic illness, it’s best to include it in addition to her main gift. Otherwise, it may send a negative message to us that we aren’t doing enough for our health in your eyes.]
Artist, Sarah Allegra has developed this magical *2016 Calendar with Red Bubble, depicting her favorite images. Sarah Allegra is not only a provoking photographer, she also suffers from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/ME/SEID which always influences her art. She is an activist, raising awareness through her blog, Mythic Pictures, as well as through her expressive images which speak volumes. If your loved one has severe fatigue associated with her disorder, often artwork can say so much more than words.
Other awesome gift ideas include: a nice juicer/blender $30-$200, electric toothbrush $5-$200, Funny original Awareness tops $20-$30 on Zazzle and Cafepress, Whole Foods gift card, Amazon gift card, vitamin shop gift card, massage gift certificate, electrolyte drink drops, or ear plugs.
As you are shopping for your friend, consider that she has to lay down A LOT due to chronic daily fatigue and because of many other symptoms causing falling or potentially fainting when she tries to get up and around. Anything cozy, things she can do laying down, and compact items she can keep near her bedside are all ways to play the chronic shopping game. Thank you for playing! Most of all, your solid presence in your loved one’s life is already a win as far as they are concerned. Just so you know, you are the best! Thank you for visiting,
Find out what my gift-giving NO NO’s are when shopping for your chronically ill/ disabled loved one here.
This CFS/ME blogger and advocate at TipsforME.wordpress.com is writing about 2 colliding conditions which are rarely explored: the intersection between ME and POTS. Her questions and discoveries are so engaging and intelligent. I am excited that someone is finally writing about this, and I hope more awareness will come to light on 2 very similar conditions which need attention!
I am POTS but what’s ME?
I’m sitting at the computer typing this wearing sports compression leggings and a sports’ heart rate monitor, when the most strenuous activity of my day is likely to be a sitting shower (at which point the sports equipment will come off!).
Topics touched on in this post: POTS vs ME symptoms; heart rate monitoring and exercise; exercise for POTS; post-exertional malaise; adrenal fatigue and POTS; diet and nutrition.
Background: I’ve had ME 17 years but I’ve recently acquired an additional PoTS diagnosis effectively backdated 17 years. I’m trying to get to the bottom of which is which in terms of symptoms and management.
This is a post which is more about asking for tips from you than offering tips (although you may be able to infer some tips from what I’m already doing). Please comment on the end of this post, rather than Twitter or Facebook, and then other readers can see your tips too.
I’m feeling a little stuck and confused. My confusion stems partly from the blurred boundaries between POTS and ME/SEID (see Am I PoTS or is it Just MEfor background on this). Since writing that post I have had a formal Tilt Table Test diagnosis of POTS, but confusingly the SEID renaming process now includes a Tilt Table Test as part of the diagnosis (not as part of a diagnosis of exclusion, so notsaying that you have POTS instead of SEID/ME because your heart rate increased when tilted). This leaves me a little confused both in terms of illness identity and practical advice. Is PoTS just part of ME for a subgroup and therefore ME strategies apply?
Currently my symptoms are more obviously POTS than ME (if it is possible to separate out the two). My most stressful symptom is concrete legs which I seem to be getting more frequently again, despite being on beta blockers. This means that I can’t leave the house by myself and sometimes I get stuck within the house (halfway up the stairs is the worst). I even get this from sitting upright. My understanding is that this is caused byblood pooling in my lower legs meaning there isn’t enough blood flow to my thighs, I can still move my calves and can sometimes do a little shuffle. It definitely helps to know what causes this. Previously I was told it was ME fatigue related which didn’t really fit and led to unnecessary extra bed rest (more on that in a future post on symptom based pacing).
Standing up I’m getting the belt-tightening-around-my-chest sensation, which might be more worrying if I hadn’t recently had lots of cardio tests. I’m also getting more dizziness standing again, although strictly speaking this is maybe low blood pressure rather than tachycardia related. By the way, when is low blood pressure dangerous? The other day my home monitor gave readings around 84 over 49, with related symptoms. I spent the day in bed, drank loads and ate salty things.What would you do in this scenario?
I had stopped wearing my heart rate monitor because my readings had become boringly low with the beta blockers, and it is a little uncomfortable to wear, but I wore it again yesterday to check. Although I’m not getting the previous bizarrely high readings I do frequently go over 100bpm standing while on Bisoprolol to slow my heart rate(technically still POTS because resting is more than 30bpm lower).
The two conditions have such similar symptoms that if it wasn’t for my sometimes odd viral symptoms I would think that CFS/ME was a misdiagnosis (afterall I was diagnosed with a diagnosis of exclusion method and they didn’t test for POTS at the time). I don’t really think it’s a misdiagnosis but part of me suspects that my non-POTS-ME may be relatively mild underneath all this POTS stuff and therefore I’m wondering if I should concentrate on POTS based advice.
Exercise and Heart Rate
Exercise is the main point of confusion. Although POTS is another condition where exercise makes you feel pants, it does seem to also be an important way to get better if done right. The crucial factors seems to be to start off lying down and strengthen calf muscles. I have got to the point that I can do this recumbent ME-specific yoga most days if I don’t have a shower:
Read More… – http://wp.me/p4uiV8-fb
I’ve started with a home health aid for the first time after considering it for a while now. Many people have asked me how it has been to have a home health care professional, so I will share a little bit about what the past two weeks with a professional caregiver have been like for me.
Nearly all of my doctors have suggested I hire professional help over the past four years of being bed bound from chronic illness, but both you and your family must be comfortable with that arrangement. Also, with my hypersensitivity to sound, light and worsening pain with speaking and movement, it might not have been conducive for minimizing pain when these problems were at their worst. Now that I can tolerate visitors at times and I am doing better with short, quiet conversations, I was curious to see how I would do with a professional aid. Also, I have needed more help recently, so I am very grateful to have an aid to assist me.
I have scheduled the aid to come in short shifts and she allows me to take lots of breaks, though I still end up sleeping for the rest of the day. I may start making lists for her the day before she comes so I don’t wear myself out or in case I wake up feeling too bad to communicate. I am still getting used to having someone who isn’t a loved one do things for me, but so far she has helped with things that I might not have asked for otherwise.
I was pleasantly surprised that my new caregiver walked into my room on her first day knowing all of my health concerns, special needs and requests. Even though I had been evaluated by a nurse prior to making arrangements, I assumed it would be a bumpy start- it wasn’t. She is certainly a professional! She is so sweet, kind, gentle, and very attentive. I liked her from the moment I saw her, and my family also likes her, which I was very happy to hear.
A professional caregiver can prepare meals, do light housework, laundry, help with bathing, dressing, run errands for you, take you to your doctor appointments, make phone calls on your behalf, or help you with special health needs you have arranged with them. If you are more mobile, they might act as a companion, going different places with you to make sure you are comfortable and have your special health concerns cared for.
Because this is a professional caregiver, I feel I have more independence and I am making more of my own choices again. For anyone who is being cared for by family or a spouse, you understand how important that is for your sense of self. With family members, my chronic illness issues and episodes can be distressing for them at times, and while I am so grateful for their willingness to help me, I hope that having an aid to help will also give them a bit of a break.
On the first day she arrived, she organized my room in a way that would suit me better, and moved a few things around for me (she is as quiet as a mouse). On the second day, she helped me with a sponge bath, put lotion on, and helped me change my clothes. Earlier today, she gave me a bath for the first time, changed my sheets and cleaned up my room. I was very anxious about the bath since that is one of the most difficult things I have to do apart from going the doctor, however she was such a great help. Aside from my usual after-bath fainting spell (which she handled like a pro), we both managed pretty well and got me clean! I have a lot more confidence going forward after today, and I feel she and I can conquer more difficult tasks together. The next time she comes, I’ve arranged for her to ride along with me and my father to my doctor’s appointment so she can see how he transports me from the bed to the car, then from the car into the Dr’s office- just in case she ever needs to take me anywhere.
I have big plans to get much stronger this year, so I’m hoping my new caregiver and I will be doing more and more things together. She is a lovely and compassionate woman, and I look forward to making her into a new friend!
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