Discussing Chronic Illness & Disability Globally
Are you in a heat wave? It seems the entire country is encountering record high’s this week. Our AC has been pushing so hard that it shut down! It got ugly in here, but thankfully, it wasn’t out for long.
Just the short spell of overheating, and increased pain gave me a better appreciation for the privilege of air conditioning. Things which are so commonplace to us in this part of the world, are luxuries to others who don’t have the same amenities.
That’s something I’ve been considering more and more in regard to health.
Not that we should compare ourselves to anyone else, but it can be valuable to approach your life from a different lens now and then.
So, I share my own perspectives with you in the hope it encourages you in your life as so many of you have encouraged me.
So many are dying globally from diseases that can be managed, even treated successfully. I can’t even imagine living the life I’ve been handed in an area where water is miles away, let alone a doctor. But there are children, teens, women, and men who do these same battles each day armed with so much less.
It breaks my heart to think about how people go on living in the same unimaginable pain, and try to accept these very same conditions without the hope of treatment so many of us have here. But, I imagine their lives aren’t built around doctors, medications, and treatments, but instead, seeking to find more meaning behind the curtain of life.
In my reality, it’s easy to fall into depression over the people and life opportunities that I’ve lost in the wake of illness.
Grief is an important part of processing major life changes. There’s nothing wrong with sadness and sorrow. Self loathing and hating my life, however would be.
Still, I struggle with feelings of hopelessness, as is common for all of us fighting chronic pain and rare diseases. As if our bodies aren’t suffering enough, we can suffer just as much in mind and spirit.
I suppose that’s why the mission of seeking out hope is so meaningful to me. I know we don’t always have the strength to find hope for ourselves; our lives at times appear devoid of all light. That’s why I wanted this to be a place anyone could reach out and find it when needed.
A short online course on the history of disability last month had quite an impact on me. Individuals from India, Japan, China, Africa, Australia and the UK shared their personal experiences living with various impairments.
Around the world, people like myself are viewed as cursed, and are disowned by society. Many believe their conditions were brought on by sins from their past lives, or they believe they are being punished for wrongs done by their ancestors. In many parts of the world, society sees disability as contagious- even demonic. It’s not uncommon for disabled children to live on the street, or to be “put away” in facilities for life. We have a shameful history of treating our disabled brethren in a less than dignified manner here in the states as well.
I think of my own faith and how it has shaped my experience through this journey. Jesus was never afraid of being seen around sickness, disability, poverty, or with the people who had been most marginalized. He put a spotlight on the parts of society which had been ignored. He didn’t run away, He ran toward people who were suffering.
I’m not the young woman I was 13 years ago- I’ve been changed by this journey.
There’s always a new version of us that emerges from the flames of adversity; we have to get to know ourselves again and what each new chapter of life will bring next.
I know having multiple rare diseases isn’t a life anyone anywhere would wish for.
Yet, this is my one life, and I’m tasked with finding a way to make the most of the days I have. That challenge to myself can seem impossible, but I’ve become convinced that the fight is worth it. My life is worth fighting for.
And so is yours.
Below is more information about our disabled brothers and sisters around the globe.
-Today in the United States, chronic pain patients are often denied treatment, especially if their condition responds best to opioid pain medication.
-In Japan, women were forced to terminate their pregnancies if the baby was found to have an abnormality. (This law was abolished as recently as 1995.)
-In China, disabled individuals are depicted on tv like side shows which doesn’t translate easily for disabled individuals living in society.
- 70 million people need a wheelchair, but only 10% have access to one
- 360 million people have significant hearing loss, but less than 10% of people who need hearing aids have access to them.
- 93 million children worldwide have moderate or severe disability
Mental Illnesses are on the rise worldwide.
- Depression: 300 million people
- Bipolar affective disorder: 60 million
- Schizophrenia & other psychotic disorders: 21 million
Chronic Illness has become a worldwide epidemic.
- 300 million people live with Rare Diseases (1/2 are children).
- Chronic Pain effects 1.5 Billion people around the world.
- It’s estimated that 60% of the world’s population has at least one chronic illness (highest percentages in developing countries).
See World Health Organization and NORD (National Organization for Rare Diseases) to read more.
The HIV/AIDS Crisis changes Healthcare for Chronic Illness Patients
World Aids Day 2017
So much progress has been made for a killer autoimmune disease/infection/virus that was once surrounded by so much prejudice and misinformation.
Healthcare was far out of reach. Doctors did not seem to understand. The public turned their backs.
Meanwhile men, women, children, and infants were infected, without care, suffering and passing away.
So much has changed in a relatively short period of time. Still, there’s a long way to go, especially internationally.
Maybe you have a chronic pain condition and feel as though doctors, society, and family have singled you out as a drug addict. Maybe you’re being denied treatment. We continue seeing our own friends in pain pass away due to lack of care… Or if you’re a rare disease survivor and are feeling hopeless about the healthcare situation at hand, please keep this hope in front of you.
If the HIV/AIDS community could create a revolution for themselves in the midst of such a horrific crisis, please keep hope alive that we can also. But we can only do change the system if we stay united.
#worldaidsday #hivawarenessday #raredisease #rarediseaseday #sicklivesmatter
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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Inspiration, for a bad day with Chronic Pain
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.
I don’t have the Privilege of opting out
I can’t sleep. I feel so helpless and outraged over the losses and violence in the last week. I don’t want to pray about it. I don’t want to blog about it. I definitely don’t want to discuss it incessantly with others on facebook or twitter while we sit safely in our homes.
I want to do something.
I want to help.
I want kids to stop being killed on our American streets: black kids, gay kids, cops… are we at war? Because we are tearing our own people apart.
I don’t actually feel like I have a card to play. I’m a white woman in a safe neighborhood. I have plenty to eat. I am certain I’m privileged in ways that I haven’t even thought about.
Until I was in high school, I was raised in a home with bars on the windows, guns shooting every night, across the street from the projects, all the kids in the community had to be inside by dark. We were the only white family around, but our neighborhood was so diverse, that I grew up without the concept of racial divisions. But this world is going backward. My mother said yesterday that this week reminds her of the riots of 1968 as tears rolled down her face. We are going backward.
I told my sister this weekend that I’ve been having nightmares about her upcoming vacation to FL ever since 50 kids out at a gay night club were murdered. She said that she and my sister-in-law have been cautious after dark, and try to stay around areas with police even if they are out to eat after the sun goes down. They are an interracial gay couple, and theoretically this America accepts them today. But if you follow the news, you know that they BOTH remain in danger, so they show up in my bad dreams.
There’s a whole lot of sharing right now about forgiveness, unity, and praying from white people like me, but where is the outrage? Where is the responsibility to DO SOMETHING?
I might be white, but I don’t feel I have the privilege of doing nothing right now.
We are ALL responsible, don’t you see? This our world.
Use the hands and will and talents God blessed you with to rise up and help when something terrible happens in our country. Give blood, go to a peace rally, set up a GoFundMe page for one of the families involved in the shootings, organize a fundraiser in your community for an ending gun violence organization.
Instead, a lot of people are saying things like, “all lives matter” not just “black lives matter.”
Listen, it’s easy to say that when you aren’t part of a disenfranchised community who is desperate for a voice. If you have said that, remember that you have children right by you who don’t have enough to eat, young women, men and children being sold into sex slavery right in your community, and someone within walking distance is home-bound for the rest of their lives because we haven’t received competent medical care. These lives matter, and there are groups concerned to raise awareness for these victims as well.
My point is that it’s hypocritical to give children with autism a voice who need it, and also say that the black community shouldn’t raise its voice also. To have an ALL LIVES MATTER world, we have to be equals, and ALL have an equally loud voice.
You don’t have to use a hashtag or join a group of protesters to help build equality. Compassion, empathy, and action are the missing links that can help build bridges that we are craving for unity.
I pray this video from poet, author, and life force of nature, Maya Angelou is a peace to your heart, and an encouragement for you as she is for me.
I may feel helpless today, but never hopeless for change. Please be safe. God be with you.
Opioid Tax: Letter to my state representative
Dear State Representative,
Myself and my family are very excited about all of the things you are doing to support those with disabilities. My father heard you speak on the issues of pain medication and addiction, and trying to find common ground so both pain diseases and addiction disease can be treated simultaneously. That is a stance we in the chronic pain community are very excited to hear and support you in that!
In case you did not know about this newly proposed opioid tax, I wanted to give you a little information.
It is proposed that opioid pain medication will be taxed one cent per milligram to fund treatments for addiction.
As you can imagine, those with chronic pain diseases like Lupus, Multiple Sclerosis, CRPS/RSD, Fibromyalgia, or post-cancer pain would be paying for addiction treatments while those with addiction will just buy their drugs illegally instead of paying a raised price from the pharmacy.
Because this tax proposed is “per milligram,” those suffering with the most severe, most debilitating cases of degenerative neurological pain will likely have the most un-affordable pharmaceutical pain management care, as our doses are typically higher, as you might imagine.
As I am a newly single woman, more recently on disability, I know that the government works hard to keep drug prices low for those with disabilities. A tax will only make pain medication more un-affordable for those who are spending all of their funds on medical care as is. If this tax is passed on pain medication, it will begin a precedent to tax other RX drugs. It’s one cent now, but it won’t stop there.
Since the CDC’s federal guidelines on opioid control, chronic pain patients are struggling to find pain management care with good pain doctors who are not afraid to treat us. Deaths and overdoses continue to rise. Deaths of people in pain, who are without treatment, and deaths from those who are addicts, continuing to overdose. The guidelines do not work! The tax will not work either.
Again, pain patients are being forced to pay for a disease (addiction) which is not our own. The tax would exclude hospice patients, but what about pain patients who are bedbound like myself? What about those of us who have tried every treatment available and medication therapy is the only option that doesn’t worsen our conditions? What about those trying to maintain a somewhat functional life through chronic pain, and to keep off of permanent disability, taking medications is the only way to continue working and participating in family life?
Medical treatments should never be a punishment. Is this a “sin” tax? Am I sinning? Why should I be ashamed of having an illness I didn’t choose? I am alive in part because of my medications, and so are many, many people! That is nothing to be ashamed of.
Will diabetic medications be taxed to help treat cancer? Maybe Methadone, Suboxone, and Narcan (addiction medications) could be taxed to pay for chronic pain treatment facilities! We are certainly in need of those.
Thank you for using your platform to speak for people like myself.
Please do write your representative today, so a ludicrous tax like this would never get passed. No time to waste!
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
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.
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.