We’re Going to Disney World- and I have to take EDS with me.

Y’all, I’m going back to Disney World in a few days, and I am beyond excited. Okay, at this exact moment, I’m beyond stressed. I hate packing. I hate preparing to leave. I’ll sum it up like this- Tonight’s dinner came from Dollar Tree, because I was too tired to walk through the grocery store. (I bought frozen vegetables. I feel like I deserve a medal for not deciding tonight’s dinner would be peach rings and circus peanuts.) I’m trying to rest, so I’ll feel decent once we get to Disney. But, seriously, who has time to rest when they’re preparing for a trip?

I’m going to let all of you in on a secret. Last year’s Disney trip wasn’t exactly stellar. Don’t get me wrong; Joe and I had a great time. But I sort of fell apart. My neck developed new pain (I didn’t think that was possible) so severe that I actually lost vision in one eye for a while. That whole situation never fully resolved. (Although, both eyes work again, thankfully.) I missed an entire day of fun, because I couldn’t keep food down. I’m guessing my problem was a combination of dehydration and pain, but I’m not entirely sure. The skin on my forearms literally fell off, because EDS skin and vinyl arm rests on wheelchairs (with the addition of 100 degree Florida heat) are apparently opposed to one another. In short, I was a mess.

In order to go back to the Most Magical Place On Earth, I’ve had to make a few changes. And since a lot of my blog readers are also living the chronic life, I thought I’d share my changes in hopes they’ll help someone else enjoy their vacation with relatively few medical meltdowns.

I’m leaving Snookie at home.

If you’re new to the blog, you might be wondering why I’m leaving my (very unfortunately named) child at home. Snookie is my wheelchair, and she’s basically been my bestie for the past three years. BUT, I’ve outgrown her in terms of needs. (Yes, I can still fit myself into Snooks.) Snookie, though fabulous, is a very bumpy ride, and Disney World tends to have rough pavement anyway. My neck and back are no longer well-suited for the bumpiness of a manual wheelchair. (I’m sure Joe’s back is duly grateful.)

Instead, I’m renting a scooter for the first time. I ran across an amazing company called “Disney World Scooter Rental” that will deliver a scooter to my hotel and provide on-site user training (Yikes! You can expect to see a video of that hot mess.). I came across DWSR when I saw a post they had made defending their clients who need to use mobility devices in the park. They were responding to a comment on their site about how those with disabilities should just stay home. (People are jerks sometimes, am I right?) Anyway, DWSR replied to the comment in defense of all of us who deserve to enjoy their vacation just as much as our able-bodied counterparts. I instantly fell in love with the company, and I am excited to try their services. They’ve already been awesome at answering my questions when I needed to find a scooter model to rent that wasn’t difficult on my upper body to maneuver. (The scooters that require you to push a button with your thumb to accelerate cause my thumbs to dislocate.) I’ll leave a full review after the trip, but I’m expecting this to be a great experience.

For those of you wondering, the new wheelchair will be named after another super obnoxious reality star- Abby Lee. (Although, I think the real AL is serving time in prison now, so maybe I should name her Free Abby Lee instead.)

Amazon Prime delivers to Disney.

I love Amazon Prime. I mean, it’s shameful how much stuff I purchase via Prime. I have no clue why this hasn’t occurred to me sooner, but I can order stuff through Prime to be sent to my hotel! Why is this so exciting? Last year, I struggled with hydration. Yes, you can get free water at any counter service restaurant in the parks. However, my body isn’t patient enough to wait until I get up, get ready, wait in line for the bus and security, and actually get into the park before I start hydrating. Not to mention that water isn’t exactly the gold standard for hydration when you’re medically complicated. (Electrolytes are important, kids.) My problem last year was that I would tell Joe, “No, I’m fine. I can finish my water bottle from last night rather than buy a Gatorade for $4 before we leave the hotel.” Then, I would get to the park and already be dehydrated, tachycardic, and nauseous from the Florida heat before we started our day.

This year, I’ve ordered water, Gatorade, and breakfast bars for our hotel room. I contacted Disney to make sure this is okay, and they sent me the address (and a warning that I might have to pay a $5 handling fee- basically the cost of 1 gatorade).

For those of you keeping score, that means I’ve found an affordable solution to my Disney related hydration issues as well.

Hot/ Cold packs- duh.

I am nothing without my heating pad and ice packs. I have no clue why it didn’t occur to me to take them with me on vacation. Last year, I was trying to “ice” my head and neck with the condensation on my Disney mug. Not exactly helpful. This year, I’ve bought a few hot/ cold packs (that can be frozen or microwave) to take with me. I don’t plan to take them with me into the parks- although that could happen. My plan is to use them in the evening when I’m trying to melt off some of the pain of the day. Again, I’m not sure why I didn’t think of this sooner.

I’ve addressed mobility, hydration, and pain management issues from last year. It’s not a perfect plan, because the reality of vacation with a chronic illness is that anything can happen. However, I’m learning every year. Joe and I love Disney World, and I don’t plan to give up our trips without one heck of a fight. If you want to join us on our trip, make sure you like my blogger page- CrazyChronicLife We plan to do some live videos of the things we see and do at WDW. I’ll upload pictures, videos, and live events to the page.

Also, it’s a little early to be spilling these particular beans, but Joe and I are planning to release our co-authored chronic illness guidebook as soon as we return from Disney World. I’ll give more details as we get closer to the release date, so, for now, just join us for vacationing fun.

Peace. Love. Health.
And, oh yeah, Mouse Ears.

A Message of Hope for World Rare Disease Day 2017

It’s World Rare Disease Day, and I feel more encouraged than ever this year. You see, years ago World Rare Disease Day was barely a blip on the social media radar. Few people knew about it, and even fewer cared. I’ve not even eaten lunch yet today, and I’m already seeing #WRDD17 trending on social media. Friends and family members have shared WRDD information- even those who are personally untouched by rare disease. It’s touching and encouraging to see the reach of rare disease advocacy expanding into new corners of my world.

I’m from a rare family. The scope of my immediate family covers multiple rare disease- so much so that my geneticist refers to me as a “geneticist’s treasure.” (In case you’re wondering, being a treasure chest of genetic abnormalities is way more of a curse than a blessing. The whole family would prefer to be uninteresting.)Roughly twenty years ago, my older brother was diagnosed with Wilson’s Disease- a rare genetic disorder which causes copper to build to toxic levels in the body. At the time, (when Internet and social networking were still limited) there was limited information about his disease available and even less support. My parents and brother did what they could to inform themselves, my brother and I, and others in direct contact with my brother, but at the time the spread of information was slow.

A few years passed, and my Mom was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa- a rare eye disease in which the back wall of the retina is damaged causing limited vision and eventual blindness. Again, she was alone in her diagnosis. The extent of empathy shown to her was the random people who tried to empathize with her condition by telling about that one time they had pink eye. (Lol, seriously, why do people try to empathize using completely unrelated situations?)No doubt there were a lot of lonely and scary days as she tried to process her diagnosis.

Fast forward to now. There are online support groups, research agencies report findings on social media and web sites, organizations like Global Genes make an effort to make patients’ voices heard. The world isn’t quiet as dark and hopeless as it was 15-20 years ago- when having a rare disease meant that you carried a personal responsibility to inform others. Are there still days when it’s frustrating to be rare? Heck, yeah. I imagine there always will be. But as a proud member of a family full of rare genes, I think the future looks bright. There are so many who are blessed with gifts of research, advocacy, and treatment that I believe will be able to help my family and I in the future.

So, on World Rare Disease Day 2017, raise your voice. Speak out. The time for silence is over. The louder our voices are the more likely we are to be heard. Awareness leads to research funding. Research leads to a cure. Care about rare, my friends.

Peace, love, and health.

Rare Disease in Small Town America

The shower head in mine and Joe’s bathroom won’t stop dripping. It’s incessant “drip, drip, drip” keeps Joe and I awake at night. I catch myself nodding my head in time with the drips. It has essentially become the metronome of our existence at home. We’ve tried everything to fix it. We turn the shower on and back off again. Sometimes that slows the dripping- other times it gets worse instead. We’ve cleaned the shower head and the on/off lever. Sometimes we push really hard on the nozzle in hopes that we’ll make the shower completely stop running water. It doesn’t work. Nothing works.

Now, some of you are saying, “Why don’t you change the shower head?” Well, that’s a fine idea, but it’s not exactly in mine and Joe’s skill set. You see, Joe and I have a variety of gifts and talents- none of which include plumbing. I mean, technically, Joe fixed our sump pump a couple months ago, but he used a couple dumb bells and duct tape to do so. I’m not sure that solitary experience makes him qualified to change out shower fixtures. I once fixed the toilet chain in a college dorm toilet (Seriously, Cumberland College, why was I fixing my own toilet?) with a paper clip, but again, that’s hardly professional experience. It has come to this- we need a real, licensed plumber. That comes with its own set of difficulties. It takes days of sitting around the house before a person actually shows up for non-emergency water problems. “Real, licensed plumbers” are way more expensive than mine and Joe’s pseudo- expertise. At this point, we have just accepted that the shower drips, and that’s a strange quirk of our home.

Why do I think you care about my plumbing woes? Well, I don’t suppose you do. However, the drippy shower has become my constant analogy for living life with a rare disease. My body has several medical “quirks.” The quirks are the background noise for every day. But, at this point, I don’t have the time, energy, or money to address the issues. Much like my dripping shower faucet, my aches and pains have become such a part of my existence that while I’m not happy with the situation, I’ve accepted them as part of life. My pain is not adequately managed, and I don’t always deal with it well.

However, small town medicine is about as effective with managing a rare disease as Joe and I are at handling our plumbing situation. I have great doctors, really. I am sure they are great with managing many common illnesses. I feel like if I were a typical patient and went to any of my medical team with strep throat or high cholesterol or any number of other common problems they could handle it beautifully. Let me be clear- my frustration is not directed toward local practitioners. My frustration lies in the fact that awareness is lacking, physician education is lacking, and I’m the one suffering. Unfortunately, when you’re a “zebra” in the medical community, your problems are anything but common. Even when my complaints are “common” there’s always a rare disease (and its complications) to take into account.

The people that are equipped to help me (you know, the ones who have actually heard of my illness?) are hours away. They’re in clinics with a two year waiting list. But, I’ve never really had a medical issue that I’ve thought, “Wow. This should probably be addressed 24 months from now.” That’s not how illness works either. It’s complicated. It really is. For my friends with complex medical issues, medical care is pretty much a gamble. We are begging to be heard (drip, drip, drip), but we are blending in with the masses.

I get it. I don’t expect that any doctor in small town America is an expert in any rare disease. I’m not blaming doctors for this discrepancy. I’m simply saying this life is difficult. My medical issues aren’t easily addressed, and I am tired of being turned away. My illness is a constant dripping that keeps me up at night- praying that at no point does the drip turn into a gush- and knowing that if it does, I’m poorly equipped to handle the fallout.

Peace, love, and health.

In which I extol the virtues of Lula Roe 

Okay, let me start by saying at no point in this blog post will I try to sell you anything. I promise. Besides, if I had any extra Lula gear, I wouldn’t sell it. I would wear it. 

What’s the big deal? First, let me just say that Lula Roe is the softest, stretchiest fabric ever. I’m serious. It’s the bomb dot com AND the bee’s knees. Are you still confused about what I’m talking about? Google “Lula Roe.” Go ahead. I’ll wait. . . . (In case you’re not willing to leave me long enough to google, Lula Roe is a company that is sold through Facebook and in home parties. They specialize in leggings and tunics, but they also have dresses, skirts, and jackets.)

Here’s the thing. Clothes are a legit struggle for me. I mean LEGIT STRUGGLE. Seriously, one of my earliest memories is crying at night, because I knew I’d have to wear itchy tights to church the next day. Dramatic? Heck, yeah. But, if I’m being entirely honest, my skin is different. People with EDS have super soft and fragile skin. A tag or rough seam in clothes will raise a rash or even tear my skin. Comfort is hard to achieve, and I’ve struggled my entire life with finding clothes that were comfortable enough to wear. True story- My mom had such a hard time getting me to wear a bra, she was convinced I’d be the only college graduate that was, um, under dressed. (Don’t worry. I eventually learned to bear that particular cross- regardless of discomfort.) 

As an adult, I’m not much better. I have certain clothes that meet my diva-esque comfort requirements, and they get worn for everything. Putting on jeans causes my hips to dislocate. Buttoning a blouse dismantles my fingers. I’ve been living in clothes that make me dislike my body even more, and it’s not ideal. 

*Enter LulaRoe.* Chronic illness ladies, this has been such a help to me. It’s so soft and comfortable, AND I actually feel like I resemble a female in it! After years of being very aware of all the ways my body is less than ideal, it’s so refreshing to feel girly and somewhat normal. 

So, do you need to go buy some Lula Roe clothing? I have no clue. It may not be your thing, and that’s totally cool. However, if you find a thing that makes you feel like YOU, indulge yourself. Of course, indulgences aren’t cheap, so maybe exercise a little bit of restraint. But, seriously, take a chance on something that makes you feel special. You’re worth it. I promise. 

Peace, love, and health, friends. 

“How are you?” and other tough questions

Joe and I had a conversation about how others perceive my illness the other day. It wasn’t a confrontational conversation- it was more the random musings that happen when you’re waiting for dinner to come out of the oven. Joe mentioned that a mutual friend had once said to him (not an exact quote), “I understand Tiffany’s illness, and I think people believe she’s sick. It’s just hard for them to understand when they see her out and she’s smiling and bubbly.”

Hmm. Okay, I’m typically the great empathizer, so I can try to understand what others see. I can understand to a degree that it’s difficult for people to see a 30 something with a loud voice and ridiculous laugh- and reconcile that with the stories they’ve heard about me being ill. I suppose I can understand how it’s all confusing.

But, geez Louise, people! How on earth am I supposed to act? If I’m in public, I try to act like I belong in public. I don’t leave the house if there’s no chance of me staying conscious. When people ask how I’m doing, I say, “Fine” or “The best I can” and I smile. That seems normal, and that’s how I’ve chosen to handle my illness. If I know that I have an event to attend (even if it’s a seemingly ‘no big deal’ event like dinner with friends or an evening basketball game), I prepare the entire day beforehand, so I will seem “fine.” I rest more than normal. I don’t lift anything or do any exercise, so I can protect my joints. I eat foods that aren’t likely to make me sick. There’s a lot of work that goes into appearing “fine.”

The problem with so many people who live in my world of chronic illness is that we never fake being ill- but we’re masters at faking being well. It makes people uncomfortable if I’m honest about how I’m feeling. Think about it. If you say, “Hi, Tiffany. How are you today?” and I reply, “I feel horrible. I just popped in a dislocated elbow, and I’m really nauseous now” then the conversation is awkward for everyone. You suddenly feel like you have to offer me some sort of comfort (You don’t.). I feel awkward, because you’re pitying me. It’s just more difficulty than I want to add into running my errands or joining my husband at a football game.

An acquaintance recently asked if I’m “doing better now.” Well, that’s complicated. In that exact moment, I had been running errands for a bit. I was drenched in sweat and shaky. In that moment, the answer was “no.” In life in general, I have a chronic condition. There will always be good days and bad days. There will more than likely never be a time of being better or worse, because symptoms seem to come in unpredictable waves- the kind of waves that sweep you off your feet and make you eat sand and get salt in your eyes. However, the best response I could give this person- who had all the best intentions- was to say, “I’m trying my best to do better.” Cue the smiling and awkward giggling.

So, for the sake of everyone’s sanity, I’m going to keep giving oversimplified answers to difficult questions. Please, don’t misunderstand. I appreciate that people include me in small talk. I choose to keep my answers simple- even if they don’t accurately describe my current condition. I don’t feel like I’m lying- I’m shielding people from an uncomfortable truth. We all do it to an extent.

To the people who don’t feel like I act “sick enough,” I have no apologies. I’m doing my best to handle this life- same as you. I’m open to questions, because I understand that my reality is quite different from that of my peers. Let me share with you about my world. There are needs and concerns that exist for my chronic illness friends that others our age have never considered. I don’t expect those who don’t live this life to understand. I don’t fault anyone for not understanding either. I’m simply asking for the benefit of the doubt. Trust me, with this body, I’m bound to prove to you that I’m sick if you watch for a bit.

Peace, love, and health, friends.

The Stages of Falling- Crash, Bang, Pow, and Ouch!

Here’s a truth I don’t care to admit- I spend most of the time that I’m upright hoping that I’ll stay that way. The reality of worsening and limited mobility is that I’m forever afraid of falling. I joke that any day I’ve managed to keep my butt above my ankles is dang good day. To be honest, that’s a pretty high standard for success in this body.

Literally minutes before typing this I lost my balance while bending down to open a container and fell onto my ample behind. Thank goodness for its, um, padding. While lying in the floor deciding if I needed my husband to come help me out of said floor, I started thinking about the stages of falling, and I quickly decided my chronic illness friends would possibly identify with my struggle.

Stage 1: Confidence

I haven’t walked around with total confidence in a while. I always feel like I’m testing out my joints and hoping for the best when I take a step (or, God forbid, walk down steps!). However, it’s always in the moments that I forget how careful I have to be with janky joints that I end up biting the dust. Stage 1 is the most unassuming of all the stages. It’s also the most unavoidable- but, seriously, who wants to avoid having confidence?

Stage 2: “Oh crap!”

Stage 2 is that awful moment when you realize your plan has gone awry. It feels like the sudden onset of a stomach virus coupled with the awful realization that you’re naked. Lovely visual, right? The “Oh crap!” moment is worse than any injury, because your brain moves at lightning fast speed. In the split second I think I’m falling I manage to have each of the following thoughts. “Who’s watching?” “What am I going to hurt?” (Side note- I have a rather expensive bladder pacemaker inserted in my left hip, so I’m very careful to never land on it if I can help it.) “Am I wearing a dress- is there any chance of me flashing my unmentionables to the world?” “Don’t say anything crude or vulgar!” (The struggle is real, friends. When you frequently dislocate joints or tumble onto the ground you have to develop a list of family friendly interjections. My current favorite is, “Holy Potato!”) In the .04 seconds that I realize an impending crash, my entire life- or at least my entire current situation- flashes before my eyes.

Stage 3: Crash! Bang! Pow!

Occasionally, the “Oh crap” stage doesn’t lead to a fall. Occasionally, I recover, look around to see who noticed, and act like nothing ever happened. Typically, though, Stage 2 leads to Stage 3. Stage 3 is that moment when you hit the floor. I’ve learned to land on the most padded part of my body- my behind. It’s not nearly as noisy, and there’s not much there to break (assuming I avoid that left hip) or dislocate. The most important part of Stage 3 is avoiding injury as much as possible.

Stage 4: The assessment.

This is the part after you’ve hit the floor when you have to decide if you’ve wounded your body or your pride. It’s tough to tell. The waves of embarrassment, hilarity, and adrenaline hit much harder than a physical injury. However, before you jump up from your prostrate position (Seriously, there’s no “jumping” on these joints.), you have to take an inventory of injuries. Have I hit my head? No. Has anything dislocated? Probably. Is it fixable without an ER trip? More than likely.

Stage 5: Keep moving forward.

There was a time when I grieved over every stumble. I worried that someone had seen my body admit that it’s ill. You know what? I’m over it now. I make every effort not to fall in public. However, if it happens, I’ll get up- as soon as I’m able- and keep moving forward. Chronic illness and disability have so many limitations, and I refuse to let my own pride become one of those constraints. For now, I’ll laugh when I’m able- because, come on, sprawling in the floor is a little bit funny- and cry when I must.

Peace, love, and health, friends.

This is my current EDS/ falling on my booty anthem- Unsteady

5 Ways I’m NOT a Total Drain on a Relationship

I’ve spent a lot of time writing about why it’s so hard to be married to someone with a chronic illness. It is. Joe puts up with a lot. He is as affected by my unusual sleep/wake schedule, my unpredictable pain levels, and the general emotional roller coaster of illness as I am. He drives me to appointments, suffers through medical jargon, and hopes for better days right along with me. I’m not trying to minimize his sacrifice, because it is most definitely significant.

Even though I recognize all Joe does for me, I’m sometimes exhausted by people who act like Joe is the holiest of saints for putting up with his crippled, reject wife. I’m aware of the sad glances, the hushed voices, the people who ask Joe how I’m doing- even when I’m standing there- because they assume he’s managing my care. To some degree, I’m glad they see his silent heroism. I’m glad they see that he is a trooper who has dedicated his life to making the best of a bad situation. Seriously, he’s awesome. If you would like to invite him twirl the baton in any parade, I’ll be the person cheering the loudest.

BUT I’m still a human. I’m still a vital part of this relationship. As a matter of fact, if I weren’t here, I sort of think Joe would get lonely. While I think Joe is the most fabulous of the male species (let’s be honest, males are their own distinct species), I think he and I need each other- rather than I simply need him and he kindly and good naturedly puts up with my drama.

1. We have fun together. Believe it or not, my life with Joe is at least 80% Netflix binges, sing alongs while we cook, puppy snuggles (with the dog- that’s not a code or anything), and philosophical discussions that make my eyes cross. The other 20% is less fun, of course. But, seriously, I know people that would love to have an 80% enjoyable life.

2. My brain is mostly functional. Sure, there are brain fog moments (which sometimes add some silly laughter to the 80% of fun in our lives), but for the most part even when I can’t walk, sit up for long, or do basic household chores- I can still think. That means I can help Joe brainstorm for book ideas, teaching techniques, or general household problem solving. I’m not completely useless. There are days that I feel completely useless, but I’m glad I still have a way to contribute.

3. I’m a good listener. Joe and I haven’t kept it a secret that he struggles with depression. I realize that depression is a complicated illness that requires much more than a good listener, and I’m forever thankful for doctors, therapists, and medication. However, I still believe that I have a role in his success despite obstacles. I listen to him. I occasionally offer advice. (Actually, I typically offer advice, but it’s only good advice on occasion.) I love this guy, and I want to do my part to make this life simpler.

4. I love the people he loves. My best advice to anyone in a new relationship is to learn to love who your significant other loves. His parents hold a special place in my heart, and I do all I can to help Joe as he cares for his parents. I’ve developed an affection for Joe’s friends, because it’s easy to love someone who loves my husband and treats him well.

5. I’m a valid excuse. Okay, this one might not be a “good” reason why I’m not a total drain, but it’s true. Here’s the thing- fevers and dislocated joints are a part of my daily existence. That stinks; it really does. BUT if there’s ever anything Joe really doesn’t want to do he can truthfully say, “My wife dislocated her hip and needs some help around the house.” Or “My wife is running a fever and vomiting. I don’t need to leave her.” Granted, he hasn’t utilized those excuses (except when I actually needed someone to stay with me), but I like knowing they’re there. It makes me feel like he’s getting a little something out of being married to me. Edit: Joe says he used me as an excuse once when he was sitting next to a really strange man at a meeting. My apologies to our friend, Twyla, because he left her alone with said unusual man.

I’ll grant you some of my reasoning is silly. I’ll even grant that most of the things on my list should be expected of anyone in a healthy relationship. However, I want the world to see that when you’re married to someone who is disabled, it’s not always a labor of love. Sure, there are bizarre moments that would never happen in a relationship between two able bodied adults, but for the most part we’re normal. Joe didn’t have to sell his soul or his life to get married to this hot mess. Do I regret that I brought illness into his life? Sure, I would totally change it if I could- for both of us. That, however, does not give me an excuse not to be as good of a partner as I am capable of being.

Peace, love, and health, friends.