Category Archives: POTS

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.

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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.

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.

 

Overcoming the Fear . . . of New Places

I’ve talked a lot about how chronic illness has changed me. It’s changed everything from my physical appearance to my patience. One thing that continues to surprise me, however, is how much more nervous I am about new experiences now. There’s just so much that could go wrong. It may not- it typically doesn’t go quite as wrong as I imagine it will- but there’s always the very real possibility.
Let me explain using a real-life example from today.
Joe and I decided to visit a church where some local friends attend. Now, before this whole chronic illness and rapidly deteriorating joint situation began, I would have never thought twice about visiting a church. However, I’m a hot mess on any normal day of the week. Add to my normal hot mess having to dress like a real adult (you know, something that isn’t a Disney tshirt and athletic shorts), having to be ready by a certain time, and actually leaving the house before noon (I don’t really get a functional blood pressure until later in the day), and I’m an accident looking for a place to happen.
Today, while walking up the ramp into church (Shout out for an accessible entryway!), my knee quit doing the whole “knee thing.” I crashed into the side of the church to keep from falling. Joe, who is totally used to such shenanigans responded with, “You okay, Margaret?” I, of course, am now convinced the entire congregation thinks I came to church drunk and my name is Margaret. The second faux pas is way worse though. Today was Lord’s Supper/ Communion day at the church. It’s a beautiful service that I’m always humbled to participate in, but leave it to me to turn it into a debacle. As the deacons were passing out the communion wafers, they motioned for me to pass the plate to Joe on my left. Cool . . . except holding anything is complicated with EDS. I overestimated how hard I needed to hold onto the plate, my hand jerked awkwardly, and I spilled the symbolic Body of Christ on the floor in front of the back pew. Joe and I tried to clean it up- but those little wafers fall apart like chalk. And, you guys, it was just bad.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Church was great. No one asked me to leave- or even to stay behind and vacuum under my pew. All in all, I’ll call the day a success. However, that story brings me to this point- taking a chronic illness into public is a bit like taking a rambunctious toddler out among non-toddler humans. You have no clue how it’s going to behave. Yes, we all have socially awkward moments, and today’s mistakes could have happened to an able-bodied person, as well. However, the fact remains that the combination of chronic illness and me has turned me into a one woman wrecking crew.
There was a time when today’s events would have humiliated me. I would have told Joe I was never going back to that church again. However, at this point, I’ve accepted that these things just seem to happen to me. My body is unpredictable, and I doubt that’s going to get better with time. Here are a few things I remind myself to keep from hiding under my bed when social interaction turns into social embarrassment.
I’m not a celebrity.
I’m a somewhat normal 32-year-old woman living in Campbellsville, KY. Paparazzi could not possibly be less interested in me. I’ll never be featured on the cover of US Weekly (Thank goodness.). So, why on earth, do I think that anyone is enormously preoccupied with how I act? You see, in my mind, everything I do is amplified times a million, and I’m convinced the whole world is offended by me. I spend serious time stressing over my inability to sit and stand at the appropriate times during church. I just know that someone is hurt by my seeming irreverence. The truth? Most people probably don’t notice, and those that do are probably more worried about whether anyone is noticing that they’re singing off key or that their breath smells funky. I’m really not that big of a deal.
New experiences are worth the risk.
Today I participated in a beautiful church service. I met new people and visited with others I already knew. I even got a sucker after the children’s service. (I’m not sure how the minister knew I would really enjoy a sucker, and I’m seriously hoping I wasn’t staring at the candy box as though I’d never seen such delicacies before.) The experience of worshiping with other believers, sitting beside my husband during church, and seeing welcoming smiles on the faces of friends and strangers far outweighs any embarrassment I felt. I have yet to have an embarrassing public experience where I felt that my embarrassment wasn’t worth it to do something fun or new (although there have been a couple close calls).
People are generally great.
We hear a lot of stories about the mistreatment of those with invisible disabilities. I get it. There are people in this world who are jerk faces. However, for the most part, people are good. The deacon whose plate of communion wafers I threw in the floor? He chuckled good-naturedly and waved his hand as if to say, “Don’t worry about it.” The people sitting around me who noticed that I didn’t stand for all the opening music? They smiled and nodded and shook my hand when it was the time to do so.
The moral of the story? I’m a mess. That’s okay. People are cool. Keep taking risks- and learn to laugh at your failures along the way.

Peace, love, and health, friends.

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Blooming Where I’m Planted

tiffatvandyDo you see that girl? That’s me- four years ago. (Do you see my awesome collection of stuffed animals? Yeah, my husband specializes in fluffy gift giving.) Four years ago, I participated in an inpatient research study at Vanderbilt University Medical Center (Clinical Research Center) during the 4th of July. I knew that I would never be well enough to participate in cook outs or fireworks, so I spent 11 days in the hospital doing experimental treatment for autonomic disorders. I was new to my POTS (Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome) diagnosis and not yet diagnosed with EDS (Ehlers Danlos Syndrome). I was confused and angry. I had left my career as a middle/ high school Spanish teacher nine months prior to this picture. I had no clue who I was or where I was going. In my mind, I had lost my worth as a professional, wife, and friend. But, during the same hospital stay when this picture was taken, there was a faint bit of inspiration that flickered amidst my desperation. I have no idea where I got this phrase- but I’m not especially creative, so I probably read it or heard it on television. But, the phrase that echoed in my mind and heart was, “You have to bloom where you are planted.”

I, like so many others, did not choose to be planted in current circumstances. I did not study to become a sick person. I didn’t marry my husband with hopes of being his disabled wife. However, if we’re all being honest, there are few of us who have written our own way. Life has planted us in some less than ideal places, and we have to decide what to do with the situation. Don’t misinterpret what I’m saying. I’m not going to tell you that all you need to do is smile or have a good attitude. Not at all. There are days when life isn’t a greeting card. There are days when I cry and complain and whine and eat all the junk food. However, in spite of a difficult situation, I choose to bloom.

Yesterday marked four years since the first picture was taken. I can still remember the emotions and pain of that day. I can remember trying to force a smile for a picture- but feeling like the gifts I was posing with were little more than a sympathy offering- little more than flowers at a funeral. Yesterday, I took a new picture- at my first ever book signing. My symptoms hadn’t changed (Has anyone else blacked out when they heard a fire truck’s siren? That was new for me.), but my perspective had.

I’m not handling all this perfectly. I won’t ever be the great inspirational story of the person who overcomes adversity. However, I live my adversity; I accept it, but I also choose to laugh and smile and advocate in spite of it. I’m blooming exactly where I’m planted- even when I wish I could uproot and move to higher ground.

So, how did I get here? I didn’t wake up one day and decide I like chronic illness. I didn’t adopt my “Bloom where I’m planted” mantra and immediately become a blogger. Heck, I didn’t even start giving unforced smiles at that point. But, I started laughing. I started looking for the hilarity of my newfound life circumstances. I slowly changed my thinking from, “I can’t believe this is happening to me” to “You won’t believe what’s happening now!” Regaining my sense of humor and finding my voice, allowed me to bloom.

The past four years have been the most transformational of any I’ve experienced. I have hurt and endured more than I would have believed. However, I’ve become more understanding. I have increased my capacity to love. Ultimately, I’ve become a person I wanted to be- but that girl four years ago could have never believed possible.

I will never be grateful for illness. If I had the ability, I would heal us all in a heartbeat. However, I am grateful that my broken heartedness has healed. I am blooming. It’s not always pretty. (Heck, I’m probably more of a weed or a wildflower than a beautiful, manicured rose.) I am proud of the growth of the past four years, and I look forward to continuing to bloom with all of you.

Peace, love, and health, friends.