Tag Archives: Chronic Illness

ie. lupus, MS, dysautonomia, Crohn’s, and all the other horrible everyday yuckiness

Birthday, Anniversary, and U2- Oh my!

Who am I? Where am I? Does anyone know what day of the week it is?

Seriously, y’all, we’ve had way too many holidays in the Early household. First, there was Joe’s birthday. He doesn’t ask for much- just a small party with his parents, a day in Louisville for the two of us, and a small party with close friends. Dude wanted 3 celebrations. Now, I can’t judge. I declare the entire month of September as the “Festival of a Tiffany,” so I can’t really begrudge his three celebrations. But . . . by the final celebration, I was sticking potato chips in the dishwasher. Because, when I’m tired that seems like a totally logical place to store chips.

Now, if you’d told me six years ago when Joe and I chose a wedding date that my body would eventually require a couple weeks to recuperate from Joe’s birthday, then I wouldn’t have had the wedding eight days after. But, it’s not legally possible to change my marriage date, so the next weekend was devoted to our anniversary- which happened to involve a U2 concert.

Yikes. Here’s the thing- I love music but, sort of, hate concerts. But, you guys! It was U2! That’s basically a check on everyone’s bucket list, so I had to go. The problem? I was still in recovery mode from Joe’s birthday palooza. Literally, the day before the U2 concert, I was in the recliner all day with insane chest pain. (Note- I’m not being an idiot and refusing to get a medical emergency checked. My chest pain comes from EDS/ POTS, and I have a decent understanding of its source. Over the last six years, I’ve learned this weird body better than I ever thought possible.) There were several points that day when Joe offered to sell our concert tickets on Facebook. But, it was our anniversary trip. I could have cancelled. Perhaps it would have been wise to cancel.

But, to be entirely honest, I’ve lost enough to illness. My marriage has lost enough to illness. If there is a possible way for Joe and I to do something (within reason, of course), then we’re going to do it. Friends, here’s the truth. I didn’t feel great. The concert was outside. U2 came on a couple hours later than expected. It was hot. Joe and I were both tired (him from pushing my wheelchair in 95 degree weather and me from this new phase of never ending chest pain), but we did it. We saw U2! I’ll be honest; if you watch Bono, and don’t get a little emotional at some point- you’re made of steel. I was already a U2 fan (albeit not a superfan), but I have so much more respect for that group and all they stand for. Fan girl shout out- One Republic opened for U2, and they were the bomb.com!

But . . . you know what? The weekend wasn’t over. After the concert there was still the matter of our anniversary. Fortunately, Joe and I decided to forgo the whole gift giving/ fancy dinner thing and instead spend a couple nights in Louisville. That meant I got two nights of 10+ hours sleep (Why do I always sleep better in a hotel? I refuse to admit that it might be the lack of the four-legged bed hog named Zoey that sleeps between Joe and I.) Obviously, when we made our plan, we didn’t know that I was going to be very much on the struggle bus. But, I was so grateful for those two nights of rest.

Here’s my point. Being chronically ill complicates every aspect of life. My marriage is permanently marked by the stain of illness. Joe asks how I’m feeling/ doing every single day- because my health is unfortunately a constant theme. However, Joe and I have made a commitment to having all the fun we can in our time together. Sometimes, that means taking a chance on a concert when I feel like dirt. Other times that means going honky tonking in Nashville the night before a serious doctor’s appointment at Vanderbilt. Friends, I’m far from a relationship/ general life expert, but I still have advice. Take every chance for fun. Put yourself in situations that might be hard but will also be fabulous. Obviously, make sure you’re with someone who will understand if you have to bail, but take the chance that the entire experience could be wonderful.

While I’m giving advice- here’s a little more. I used Snookie (the wheelchair) in order to enjoy the concert. That wasn’t in the original plan, but she became necessary. Once we realized that I was feeling rough on Thursday, we called the venue to see if disabled seating was available. This required us to drive to Louisville a little early in order to swap our tickets. Switching to accessible seating also meant we were on Club Level, so I could go inside and cool off under air conditioning as needed. Also, by taking Snookie to the concert on Friday, I saved what little energy I had available in order to enjoy Saturday/ Sunday in Louisville.

My memories from the U2 concert? Priceless. I wheelchair danced like an idiot. I sang along loudly and off-key with Joe. (We sort of specialize in both loud and off-key singing.) My weekend memories with my husband are just as special. This life is rarely simple, but I am so glad that Joe and I have made enjoying each other a priority. My challenge for each of you is that you take a risk in order to enjoy time with someone special to you. Maybe that’s going on a vacation to a whole new place (if so, I want to hear all about it!) or maybe that’s staying up late to watch a movie that will make you both laugh until your sides hurt. Do what works for you, but take a chance on something fun with someone who matters (family, friends, significant other).

By the way, we’ve already bought tickets for a Bruno Mars concert in Louisville this September. (Thank goodness, the Yum! Center is indoors.) The fun and insanity continue. Live it up, friends.

Peace, love, and health.

I’m Pretty Sure You Want This Book.

This (link at the bottom) is my book. Okay, technically, it’s Joe’s book too, because he did a lot of work on it. But since I’m the person with the chronic illness and this is a book about chronic illness- well, I’m a little emotionally attached. Just in case you’re thinking you don’t need this book or don’t especially want it, humor me while I make my case.

So, here are the “Crazy, Chronic Reasons Why You (might) Want to Read This Book.”

  1. It’s a beautiful love story. Okay, it’s not exactly a beautiful love story. As a matter of fact, I mention bodily functions that are neither beautiful nor lovely a couple times. However, Joe and I wrote this together. He literally saw my desire to write a book and not only encouraged it- he did a lot of the work. We talked through every chapter together before I wrote it. He physically typed a lot of the book, because my crazy, dislocating hands wouldn’t allow me. We have called ourselves #TeamEarly from the beginning, and this collaboration showcases exactly why. We work together. We laugh together- and, when necessary, we cry together. So, while a book instructing you with how to cope with very public and very projectile vomit isn’t exactly romantic, the love and cooperation that went into each page certainly is.
  2. It’s likely to boost your confidence. Do you want to know why it will boost your confidence? Because as you read through this book and experience our raw honesty, there will be times when you’ll think, “I would never be dumb enough to get myself in that situation.” See? You’ll feel smarter. Okay, seriously, this book talks about embarrassing symptoms that so many of us face- brain fog, incontinence, mobility struggles, etc. Let’s be honest- I’m about as graceful as an elephant changing underpants. I have a long history of blunders to share. I will give you tips to saving face as much as possible when your body decides to be a jerk in the least convenient of places. Personally, I always feel more confident when I have a contingency plan.
  3. People seem to actually like the book. You guys, I have reviews, and they’re not bad. They’re actually, well, great! Even more impressively, to the best of my knowledge I am not related (by blood nor marriage) to anyone who has reviewed my book. You never know when you write something if it will reach your audience in the way you hope. There’s a chance that Joe and I have been drafting and typing our little hearts out on a project that stinks. But . . . it’s beginning to look like it doesn’t. I actually believe we may have accurately portrayed this life in a way that others can relate.
  4. It will make you cool. Okay, there are many words that could describe me, and “cool” will never be one of them. I will never listen to the right music or understand pop culture references. However, illness has made me more sensitive to the needs of my chronically ill/ disabled friends. We have done our best to convey to significant others, caregivers, friends, congregations, and ‘that lady from WalMart’ how to be aware of the needs of others. And, seriously, what’s cooler than compassion? Am I right?
  5. I will appreciate your support forever. Everyone isn’t in a place where they can buy a book. I understand that completely. Please know that every word of encouragement, like, and share mean the world to me. My Crazy, Chronic Life blog audience was the driving force behind this book, and your love and encouragement help me keep my head above water on the hardest days.

Friends, each of you have encouraged Joe and I throughout this process, and we truly appreciate it. (I considered telling everyone that to show our gratitude Joe would be available to sing at the wedding of anyone who buys our book. Strangely, he didn’t consent to that.) So, one more time for the people in the back- my book link is below. Try an excerpt. See if it’s for you- or if it might help someone you know.

Peace, love, and health to each of you.

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.

“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.

A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes . . . When You’re Falling Apart

Based on that title alone, I’m fairly confident Disney will never ask me to right lyrics for their next great princess anthem. That’s okay, because my heart is set on writing of a different sort entirely. Want to know a secret? I started dreaming of being an author when I was an awkward high school sophomore (who used to lock her bedroom door and play pretend in order to imagine how my newest story should transpire). But . . . dreams are scary. If I tell people and fail miserably, you’re exposed. Everyone knows that you tried and failed. That’s painful, and I’ve felt more than enough pain in my 31 years.

Why am I telling you this now? Because jumping out on a limb is scary enough- why not ask the blog world to watch?!? I have an e-book! I’m a sort of author. It’s on Kindle only, so I haven’t realized the dream of having a physical book to hold in my hands. It was compiled by Joe, because the sick life is complicated and his help is necessary. It’s not the exact dream I imagined, but at the same time I have a certain awareness that something I’ve wanted for a long time is finally happening.

When I became sick, I suffered the loss of so many dreams. I lost the dream of being a mother. (I’ve been naming my future children since I learned to spell.) I left my dream job as a middle school teacher. The life I intended to live slipped away. However, I’m learning that God in His infinite wisdom places new dreams in our hearts- or in my case, He rekindles old dreams that seemed unattainable. When I look at the series of events that led to this moment, I’m amazed.

I married an author– a legit author with 10 books at real, legitimate presses! (Don’t worry. I don’t even aspire to surpass him.) At the time we married, I thought it was cool and respected his accomplishments. I never dreamed that the most painful part of my life (the whole illness/ disability thing) would lead to me wanting to write again. I could have never fathomed that my super author husband (Is that his new super hero name? Super Author!) would encourage me to pursue this inkling of a dream. He’s the person who encourages me through my process (which includes a lot of procrastinating and Netflix) and gives me pep talks when I complain that I’ve sold exactly 2 books in 2 days. He believes in me, and he legitimately knows what he’s talking about (in regard to writing, Tennessee football, church history, and making baked potatoes- beyond that, his advice isn’t worth as much).
While I’m deep in the process of writing completely new material, I’ve released an e-book of my blogs as well as some new material. Why publish previously written blogs?
1. Blog readers have asked for an offline version of blogs to give as a gift to newly diagnosed friends. While this isn’t a hard copy, it’s easily purchasable and able to be sent to anyone with an e-reader or smart phone.
2. This gives me a practice run before my new material is ready for publishing. There have been some serious hiccups in this process, and I’m hoping to get those out of the way now- before my new material releases.
3. If sales go really well, I might be able to buy a Diet Coke at Disney World next year.
Ultimately, I’m new to this process and learning as I go. I’m touched and honored that anyone would purchase my writing. It’s an odd feeling to have someone purchase something that contains some of the rawest parts of your heart. So, thank you for reading my words. Thank you for sharing my heart. Thanks for letting me realize a new dream I never believed could happen.
Peace, love, and health, friends.

Sorry. This post wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t include a link to the book. Thanks for understanding my shameless self- promotion.

Preview my book HERE, please!