Category Archives: Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Sydrome

The Day the Squirrel Got Stuck to the Highway

Alright, kids, gather round. I have a story. This story- though disturbing- has a purpose, I promise. So, just hang with me, please. Every young driver can tell you about the first time she accidentally hit an animal with her car. It’s upsetting and morbid and, based on my frantic swerve of avoidance, quite dangerous. I was around eighteen and driving the interstate between Corbin and Williamsburg (Kentucky) when I saw a squirrel skittering out in front of my car’s path. I screamed (which is my very helpful response to a crisis) and swerved- but ultimately felt the awful “Clunk” as I rolled over the little guy.
Imagine my surprise, when I looked in my mirror (to pay my respects to the poor critter) only to see Little Guy was still alive- sort of. Instead of hitting the squirrel with one striking blow, I ran over his tail. Let me say that again- I only Ran. Over. His. Tail. So, I look in my rearview mirror expecting to see devastation (which, I suppose the scene I saw was technically devastating as well), and instead, I saw a Little Guy with his tail flattened to the road but otherwise very much alive. If you’ve ever believed squirrels weren’t self-aware, then you’ve obviously never witnessed a squirrel running frantically- hoping to unstick his flattened tail from the interstate.
Now, I realize this story is HORRIBLE. Fifteen years have passed, and I would still go back and change that poor squirrel’s tragic fate if I could. However, the ridiculousness of the situation isn’t entirely lost on me- rather than accidentally striking down an animal- I somehow pancaked the poor thing’s fluffy tail to I-75. If that isn’t some sort of strange luck for both me and the squirrel, I don’t know what is.
I’ve thought about that poor squirrel a lot in the years that have passed since our unfortunate meeting. I have this bizarre hope that he somehow remembered his friends and family on the other side of I-75 and that gave him the will to pull his very fluffy but very stuck tail up from the interstate and continue with his life. I hope he had a weird story to tell all his squirrel friends about why his tail wasn’t quite as voluminous as the other squirrel’s. Heck, I hope he got a really cute squirrel girlfriend out of the whole ordeal. But, Little Guy (the squirrel), has become a bit of a symbol for me over the years.
You see, I, like the squirrel, get caught in moments where I’m very much alive but also very much stuck. In the days that have followed since Joe returned to school for the fall semester, I feel like I’m stuck in my own failure to launch situation. Much like my squirrel friend from many years ago, I want to move forward, but I’m a bit tethered by life’s circumstances. You see, I want to work- but my health won’t allow it. I want to be the ultimate house wife- but I get winded from carrying the broom through the house. I’m trying, but I’m stuck.
Ultimately, my tail is stuck, and I’m scrambling for a foothold. The pain of leaving the classroom never fully goes away, but it gets more tolerable with time. However, the thing no one tells you about disability, is there’s no room for growth. I’m never going to advance in my field or reach a level of professional competency as a disabled person. At times, it feels a little hopeless. Like, Little Guy, I’m still very much alive. My heart is beating and my brain is firing (sort of). However, my tail is stuck. I’m trying to move forward by scraping and grasping at anything and everything and can’t establish a foothold in this new reality.
So, there’s nothing left to do but to scrape my tail up from the road. I said that I hoped my squirrel friend found the power and the will to pull his flattened behind off the interstate. And, well, I think enough of myself to want the same thing for me. I’ve found myself waking up and not finding the will to get out of bed lately. I don’t know what I’m getting up for (except Zoey- I always get up when Princess Zoey beckons) because my days lack purpose. However, in an effort to act as my own spatula and scrape my furry tail from the road, it’s time to find that purpose. I don’t know what is next for me. I’m entertaining ideas of a new book, or maybe a new in person support group (in addition to the current one- not replacing it!). Maybe I’ll start a youtube channel or just enjoy my new oven by learning new recipes. I just know that this week of lacking ambition isn’t the beginning of that life. I know that even if my silly, squirrel tail feels stuck by medical tests and doctors’ offices who don’t return calls, it doesn’t mean that my life is forever and always stuck in this place.
So, friends, I’m telling you now. I’m picking my tail up off the road and moving forward. I’m not sure what’s next, but I promise it will be an effort to help all of us. And, please, know that I’m truly sorry that Little Guy had to suffer in order for me to learn this lesson years later.
Peace. Love. Health.

In case you’re wondering where this blog’s title came from, click here.

Advertisements

Nashville, Nerves, and Not- Football Season

“Few things thrill me as much as a doctor’s appointment . . .” -said no one ever. There’s never been anyone in all of time who enjoyed discussing ailments with anyone- let alone a stranger. I have an appointment at Vanderbilt next week, and I’m exactly 0% excited. But . . . we are also going to Nashville for this appointment, and I really like Nashville.
You see, Joe and I (okay, mostly Joe- he’s the unofficial commissioner of fun in our relationship) try really hard to make all things painful less torturous. We play music while we cook, listen to audio books while we drive, and dance while we fold laundry. (Our house is pretty much a talentless variety show.) Sometimes, though, trying to make the best of things gets a little muddled.

This doctor’s appointment is a big deal to me. Now, it’s not a matter of life and death. I’ll be fine regardless of the outcome. However, I need this doctor to listen to me. I need her to understand that my complaints- while not life threatening- are greatly affecting my quality of life. You see, the current state of my health (and I know I’ve discussed this more than enough with all of you, so bear with me one last time) is basically a neurologic mess. I’ll spare you a repeat of the details, but I need someone to help me. The frustrating thing is that all of this was going on a year ago when I saw my neurologist, and she opted to “wait and see” what happened next. I’m not being critical of my doctor. When you deal with chronically ill patients, I’m sure you learn that you can’t run full force at every complaint. To be fair, a lot of my symptoms wax and wane over time. However, this year, I can’t handle another year of “wait and see”- or at least I really don’t want to try.

So, I’m nervous about this appointment. To be honest, it makes me nauseous to even think about it. (This is also the doctor who orders the tests to check my tiny carotid aneurysm- in case I didn’t have enough to worry about.) But, we are going to Nashville on Sunday, and the appointment isn’t until Wednesday.

Joe and I have decided to turn this trip into an end of summer mini-vacation since we also love Nashville. While I know that I have nerve wracking things ahead of me, I can’t focus on that until it’s time. So, I’m striking a balance. I will be making notes and having hypothetical conversations in my head to prepare for my appointment. But I will also be visiting a friend (and her beautiful baby girl!), having one last summer adventure with Joe, and soaking up the last few days of my favorite time of the year- also known as “not football season.”
This life isn’t perfect or easy, but it’s mine- and I’ll make the best of it.
Peace, love, and health, friends!

New Workout Plan- Getting Over Myself

Friends, I’m going to be entirely honest with you. Sometimes my biggest obstacle in living with chronic illness is me. I stand in my own way sometimes, and I’m trying to learn how to stop that. I’m trying to learn to get over myself- my ego, my plans, my wishes- and enjoy life as it is.
Getting over myself at the gym.
Today, I was at the gym (it’s not official unless I tell someone on social media, am I right?), and I had one of those moments. You know, those moments when you’re completely aware that you’re struggling and no one else is. There was a young woman in the gym who based on my observation must be training to be the next Ninja Warrior or planning to fight dragons. She lifted weights, jumped with said weights, hopped like a frog, leaned, and grunted. It was an impressive sight. Meanwhile, I was chugging along on the treadmill at a snail’s pace. Was she doing her best? Obviously. Was I? Yes. That should be the end of the standard for success, but it’s not for me. You see, I kept thinking about how embarrassing it was to not be able to do anything but walk on the treadmill. I played out scenarios in my head where someone asked why I wasn’t doing more. None of those things happened. The others at the gym did their thing (including Super Woman doing her ninja training), and I did mine. I had to repeatedly remind myself that the judgment I was feeling was all imaginary. Everyone has a different best effort, and that’s okay. I know that. It’s just easy to forget when it seems like everyone is way more impressive than I am.
Getting over myself in my marriage.
You may have noticed, but I tend to take things personally. I swear, Joe could say, “It’s a beautiful day outside,” and my insecurities would immediately lead me to believe he’s trying to hint that he wants to be outside away from me. I’m working on it; I know this is a weird character flaw, but it’s part of me. So . . . sometimes, I have exactly zero patience with Joe’s complaints. I get it. I’m being a jerk. Don’t worry- I’m self-aware. You see, Joe has aches and pains as well. This shouldn’t be a surprise to me, but sometimes it is. In my own struggle with chronic pain, I sometimes forget that non-chronic illness folks (muggles, as I like to call them) have their own struggles.

At my worst, I’m almost offended that Joe has the audacity to tell me he hurts. I’m irritated when he tells me (to be fair, he’s telling me for the zillionth time- sorry, snark attack) that his shoulder hurts from an old weight lifting injury or that he has a headache. Don’t get me wrong. I love my husband. I have no desire for him to ever hurt or be uncomfortable. If I had the ability to take all his pain on myself I would- but I would probably act like an obnoxious martyr in the process. Being sick puts a strain on any relationship. Being perpetually sick basically gives your marriage/ relationship an eternal toothache. It’s not easy. As much as I love my husband and never want him to be in pain (misery does not love company- I have no idea what kind of sadist came up with that idea), I’m sometimes offended that he is so brash as to tell me about his “muggle maladies.” I feel as though he is disregarding my struggle if he tells me his shoulder hurts. I feel like I’m being minimized if he feels bad on a day when I’m also struggling. Again, I know I’m wrong, and I’m trying to grow. However, we sometimes show our ugliest self to those we love the most. (If you don’t believe me, think about how we all acted to our parents when we were teens.)
Getting over myself online.
As a person who spends a lot of time isolated because of chronic illness, roughly 70% of my life occurs through social media. I’m not ashamed by that, because my support groups and online friends have helped me find strength for this fight, and I’m very grateful for their support. However, there’s a tendency in online forums to want to be sickest. I feel like I have slayed this particular dragon to some extent, but it seems worth mentioning. Often, as people with chronic illness, we go to social media forums seeking understanding. I would venture to say that no one in an online support group got there while thinking, “I have all the understanding and support I need in my life.” Everyone there wants understanding. However, sometimes in the quest for understanding, we can get a little competitive. In our desire to have others understand why we struggle, we sometimes try to eclipse each other. I remind myself frequently that while it’s great to empathize with others, there’s no need to share my personal experience all the time. Some friends just want to be heard, and that’s valid as well.
Ultimately, I’m a work in progress. I have worked through some of the emotions of being chronically ill, but there are new feelings and mental dragons to slay every day. While my own physical workout plan isn’t exactly impressive, I’m adding the mental feat of getting over myself to the list. It’s not easy- and some days it feels almost impossible- but my health, my relationships, and my happiness are worth it.
(I’m stopping here, because the All-Star game is coming on- Go Braves!)
What about you? Are there areas where you struggle to get over yourself? It’d make me feel way better to know that I’m not the only one.
Peace, love, and health.

I’m not always Pollyanna.

So, I’m not always Pollyanna. Don’t get me wrong. I try to look on the bright side. I remind myself that this exact moment of emotions and self-pity won’t last forever. Joe and I are known for being the people who have figured out how to make the best out of bad situations. That’s who we are- and that’s what we do. But, some days it doesn’t happen.
Some days I’ve been awake most of the night with aching joints and tingling arms and legs. I’ve slept fitfully at best. New neurological issues haunt my body- some which I’m not comfortable enough to even write about yet. I feel like I am begging for help that isn’t coming, and I’ve been down this road enough times to know that it’s a long one. Today is a day where I’m aware that even if my diet is perfect and I combat all my inflammation issues, my body will still be affected by this disorder at the most basic cellular level. I know there aren’t enough trips to the gym to enable me to enjoy Disney World in a couple of months without the aid of a scooter. I even realize that holding my body together for a week of vacation is going to require an effort of epic proportions.
I’m not trying to be negative. I don’t write this for pity. I don’t want anyone to feel like they have to encourage me to keep going on (though I appreciate all those who have done that in the past). I won’t quit. I know this feeling won’t last forever. However, today I’m sad. I’m so pitiful, in fact, that Joe is cooking lunch and bought me surprises at Walmart (a Frozen toy, Saved by the Bell t-shirt, and chapstick- I have simple taste, friends.).
My point is- it’s okay to be sad sometimes. You can’t live in the valley of despair forever. I’m not suggesting anyone live a life of self-pity, because that requires more energy than any of us possess. However, give yourself permission to mourn your losses sometimes. Tomorrow, I start with a new physical therapist. Wednesday, I get a haircut. Friday, Joe and I have a date night scheduled. This week won’t be a waste- I won’t let it. But, today, I’m tired. I’m a little sad. I need girly movies and puppy cuddles.
The Braves come on in less than hour. The lunch Joe is cooking smells highly edible. Today won’t be the worst one ever, but it’s a bit more complicated than most. (Even this blog is short, because my fingers refuse to do what my brain is telling them. What the heck, body?) Occasionally, I feel like a fraud, because I encourage everyone to try to make the best of living the chronic life- and, to be honest, occasionally, days like today happen. So, here I am. I’m being totally honest with you, and letting you know I’m drowning in self-pity today. I promise I’ll return to your regularly scheduled Crazy, Chronic programming soon. But, today stinks, and sometimes making the best of it means admitting that and having the best sad, lazy day possible.
Peace, love, and health, friends.
Does anyone know if “Pollyanna” is available on Netflix or Amazon Prime? I need an outside, sunny disposition.

When People Say, “You Don’t Look Sick.”

Every person living with a seemingly invisible illness has lived this scenario. Maybe you’re speaking to a distant family member when it happens. Perhaps you run into a former classmate or friend from work. It could be the sweet lady who sits in front of you in church. Regardless, we’ve all been in those situations where someone says, “You don’t look sick.” It’s a double-edged sword of sorts. On the one hand, this person thinks they’re paying you a compliment. On the other, it only adds to the invalidation we often feel. So, let me make it clear to all those who aren’t living with chronic illness. I think I can safely speak on behalf of all those with invisible illnesses when I say- Please, for the love of all that is good and kind and understanding in this world, stop saying we don’t look sick. It just isn’t conveying the nicety that you’re trying to insinuate.

For instance, if I “look healthy,” there’s been some serious effort that has gone into that façade. I begin preparing to go into public hours before I go. I know there will be people who try to diagnose my current situation based on how I look that day. I save myself effort and aggravation if I try to look like everyone else. This has nothing to do with make up or wardrobe choice- it has everything to do with waking up in time for my medicine to start working before I go in public. It is about me achieving a manageable blood pressure and often using enough heat or ice to make my joints feel functional.

Let me try to explain. I look mostly healthy. Don’t get me wrong- I’m exceedingly aware of all the ways illness keeps me from measuring up to society’s standard of health. However, I look like every other thirty something for the most part. This means when I see doctors I often feel like I don’t meet the bar for what is “sick enough” for them. I typically feel that my smile or laugh or even pleasant disposition (let’s be honest, that comes and goes) inhibits me from getting the care I need. Quality of life is not easily quantified, so I often feel like it is being determined at face value rather than by my actual experience. It’s frustrating. So, when you tell me I “don’t look sick” you’re listing another problem that keeps me from receiving care- rather than giving me a compliment. I completely understand that isn’t your goal; however, I would be lying if I pretended that I perceive that phrase as some sort of compliment.

If I dig into that phrase a little deeper, I’m able to understand why it strikes me as hurtful so quickly. When we say that someone does not look sick, we are essentially telling that person he/she has no obvious disability. This means as my illness progresses, and I inevitably begin using a walker or wheelchair, I will start meeting society’s standard of looking sick. I won’t necessarily be any sicker than I am right now. However, as my mobility changes, I will meet the definition others expect me to fit to be “sick enough.”

Please, understand that I am not one to nitpick over semantics. If you say something to me with the best of intentions, I will do my best to perceive it as you intended. I am not trying to make anyone hyper-aware of their language. However, in this world where I believe all decent people are called to learn how to constantly be better and to make their language as inoffensive as possible, I want to challenge you to say something different. In all reality, it’s not necessary to comment on how anyone looks anyway. Try asking someone how things are going- and genuinely wait for a response. Maybe tell someone that you are glad to see them- rather than invalidating their illness, you are letting that person know you value your time with them. I feel like all of us are above commenting on someone’s physical appearance.

Oh yeah, and if you make a mistake and accidentally tell someone they “don’t look sick,” no worries. All you must do is add some empathy. Follow up with “but I understand that you really don’t feel well.” See? That’s all it takes. I promise- I will always appreciate your empathy and understanding.

Peace, love, and health, friends.

Diagnosis: Christmas Brain

Y’all, it’s hit. I officially have a full-blown case of Christmas brain over here, and it’s not pretty. I’ll be honest, I’m making Clark Griswald look like a laid back guy in comparison. Here’s the thing- I thought I was prepared for Christmas. Two and half weeks ago, I would have told you I was right on pace to have everything finished early. Nope. Just nope.
In case you’re wondering what on earth “Christmas Brain” is, you’re friendly, neighborhood health blogger is here to give you a full symptom list. Please be aware that symptoms exist on a spectrum, and you may feel these symptoms to a greater or lesser degree than others with Christmas Brain. Also, I’m fairly certain that “Christmas Brain” can be experienced by a wide range of people- not limited to those who celebrate Christmas (See also, Hanukah Brain, Kwanzaa Brain, etc.).

“Famnesia”
Those presenting with Famnesia are likely to completely forget the friends and family closest to them regarding gift exchange. For example, one sufferer of “famnesia” has been known to wake up one morning and suddenly realize she’s married and her husband probably expects a Christmas gift. Famnesia may occur regarding one, several, or all friends and family. Sufferers typically have bouts of regaining memory- when their friends/family show up with a gift.

“Click-itis”
Others with Christmas brain may notice pain or discomfort in their “buying finger”- or the finger(s) used to click “Add to cart” on Amazon Prime. Click-itis often resolves when the sufferer finishes their holiday shopping; however, it is likely to resume when cases of Famnesia result in last minute gift giving needs.

Lack of Flying Candy Canes
Now, this particular symptom is often described using other (perhaps more colorful) wording. However, some sufferers have been known to say, “I do not give one Flying Candy Cane whether these gifts have bows on them or not.” When there is an overall lack of Flying Candy Canes, one may find themselves wearing yesterday’s socks, using an obscene amount of dry shampoo, and feeding one’s family from Papa John’s. (Because, at this point I don’t give one Flying Candy Cane about proper nutrition.)

Sugar/ Caffeine Cravings
Many sufferers of Christmas Brain notice they’re existing on little more than Christmas cookies and coffee (with frosted sugar cookie flavored creamer). When other symptoms hit their peak, sufferers will often self-medicate with more coffee, Christmas treats, and the occasional 5 gallon drum of popcorn. While these cravings offer little sustenance to help alleviate symptoms, sufferers are often incapable of and/ or unwilling to do anything other than indulge these cravings.

Impossible Expectations
Sufferers will often imagine themselves making homemade Christmas candy, assembling a 3-story gingerbread house, caroling with the neighborhood children, ending world hunger, and achieving world peace (and a puppy for everyone). These are illusions. The sufferer will do none of these things. He/she may babble incoherently for days regarding accomplishing these tasks. Caregivers should be aware that while the Christmas Brain sufferer is making plans to do these things, he/she will not make it around to them. Do not buy ingredients, scarves, or puppies in preparation.

This (quite tongue-in-cheek) list is not exhaustive, but it certainly covers a number of the symptoms felt by this exhausted elf. I love Christmas, and I am looking forward to spending time with the people I love most in this world. I also know (beyond a shadow of a doubt) that none of them expect the level of perfection that I tend to put on myself. However, the Christmas Brain struggle is real, and I’m secretly looking forward to December 26- the magical day when everything is half price, and I’m way too tired of shopping to care.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and Happy New Year, you Cotton-headed Ninny Muggins!

May our symptoms resolve by 2018.

Peace, love, and health.

 

This one’s for the teachers who can no longer teach . . .

Back to school time is one of my favorite times of year. I love buying crayons and pencils far more cheaply than any other time. I enjoy the enthusiasm of a second-grade girl picking out the perfect backpack. (In my day, kid, we had Lisa Frank Trapper Keepers, and they were the bomb.com.) I appreciate a clean classroom that shows the tireless efforts of the janitorial staff to prepare the building for young learners. And, I’m borderline obsessed with classroom decorations. (Seriously, parents. If your child has a teacher that has decorated every inch of his/her room, please comment to the teacher on how amazing your child’s learning environment looks. Those decorations are time consuming and EXPENSIVE- and more than likely came out of the teacher’s personal funds.) I have loved this time of year since I was old enough to join my older brother for back to school shopping when we were kids.
Now, though, it’s different. I still love the energy and hopefulness of both teachers and students at the beginning of the year. I still enjoy hearing about first days of school. I’m thrilled that my social media is filled with teacher friends’ pictures of their classroom for this year or parents’ pictures of their little ones headed off for the first day. I even look forward to taking a super obnoxious “First Day of School” picture of my own absent-minded professor (and husband) when he heads back to the classroom. There are aspects of this time of year that make me smile, but the fact remains that this time of year hurts.
I am a teacher- or I was, at least. Mentally, my calendar still runs August to May rather than January to December. I still have nightmares where I’ve missed the first day of school or I have a class of 40 students who won’t listen to anything I say. But, if I’m being honest, I’m also haunted by a dream where I go back to work, and I’m a teacher again. In the dream I keep saying, “I never thought I’d be well enough to do this again.” Then, I wake up, and my shoulder is dislocated and my heart is racing, and I realize I’m still in the same body that disabled me more than four years ago when I taught my last class.
I’m not complaining, really. I’m certainly not trying to put a damper on anyone’s back to school enthusiasm. I’m simply saying to all those who feel especially vulnerable at back to school time, I feel you. I feel your tears. I feel your mourning of unrealized future plans and dreams. Most of all, I get it. I understand how it feels to simultaneously be grateful that you’re able to stay home and focus on your health- all while being enraged that your body has demanded that of you. I understand how it feels to want to hide from your former colleagues because of the shame of “not being able to hack it”- all while hoping they’ll tell you about their classroom experiences so you can live vicariously for a moment. I understand what it means to hurt this time of year- even though it’s one of your favorite times of year.
I don’t have advice on how to handle this hurt, because I’m in the middle of it. I know that it gets better with time- I haven’t openly wept in the back-to-school section of Wal-Mart this year, so that’s progress. I don’t know when or how broken hearts heal. I imagine this will always hurt a little- especially at this time of year. So, while I continue to try ‘to bloom where I’m planted,’ I’ll be the first to admit that where I’m currently planted hurts, but I’m not the only person living that reality. So, former teachers, school employees, and students who can’t return to class for whatever reason this year, I feel your pain, and I’m here. Maybe if we keep our heads down and watch a lot of movies on Lifetime, August will pass quickly and painlessly.
By the way, my absent-minded professor has requested to wear a Spiderman costume for his first day of classes, because he saw it in a Wal-Mart back-to-school commercial. (Goodness, this guy . . .)
Peace, love, and health.