Tag Archives: Dysautonomia

Because nothing works right!

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.

Being a Sick Perfectionist

This morning I stood in my bedroom for a full minute trying to wrap my head around the amount of laundry, luggage, and shoes that currently litters the floor. It’s not all mine, but a fair percentage certainly is. Things like this drive me bananas. I like to have everything in its place at all times, but there are times when I lack the energy to put it there.
I’m a perfectionist. Don’t misunderstand- I am ridiculously far from being perfect, but I always have a very clear picture in my mind of how things are supposed to be. When reality doesn’t match my desire, I get stressed. I’ve always been this way. When I was a kid, I wanted my books arranged on the shelf in size order. As an adult, I have very particular views about the direction the toilet paper must turn. (Time out here to say that I have 0 understanding of people who don’t even put the toilet paper on the roll- I’m looking at you, husband!)
Unfortunately, my body can’t always keep up with the demands of my brain, and I have had to let a few things go that I never would have dreamed I would. For example, my towel closet (I think I’m supposed to call it a ‘linen closet,’ but we just aren’t that fancy here.) is a mess. In the perfect world where I have plenty of energy, I would fold everything neatly. Towels would all face the same direction, and there would be a stack of white towels and a stack of multi-color towels. In reality, everything in that closet is clean, and that’s all I can promise. I’ve developed a few general rules to keep this perfectionist as calm as possible- and to keep me from threatening my husband with bodily harm. (See what I mean? The man is an animal. PS- This is NOT my bathroom; it’s his.)

tp
Decide whether the issue is truly a matter of right and wrong.
When you’re bothered by someone’s actions, it can sometimes feel like a personal attack. It typically isn’t. For example, Joe has a strange pile of assorted pajama/ lounge clothes in the corner next to his nightstand. That pile makes me crazy. I can’t conceive ever not folding clothes when I’m not wearing them. There is an illogical part of my brain that tells me sometimes, “He just does this as a passive aggressive attempt to irritate you.” You know what? That’s not the case. The pile of clothes just does not bother him, so he doesn’t think twice about it. If it’s really bothering me, I ask him to minimize the mess, and he has never failed to do so. There isn’t a rule that says “comfy clothes” must be folded when they’re not in use. No one is trying to personally wrong me by not following my imaginary rule. This is not a battle I’m willing to fight.

laundry

Ask for help- even if it doesn’t feel helpful.
My perfectionist tendencies tend to make me cringe when it comes to asking for help. Why? Because the person helping doesn’t do things “right.” Again, these are typically not matters of actual right and wrong- but more matters of how I want things done. I tend to go back and forth between saying, “Joe, will you help me with laundry?” and “Never mind, I’ll do it. I’m picky.” Now, occasionally my concerns have warrant- he has put my “Hang to dry” clothes in the dryer a couple times. But, typically, it’s stuff I can learn to deal with- like folding tshirts down the middle instead of in thirds, as I prefer. Do I really care if I walk around with a crease down the front of my shirt? Probably not.

Laugh at yourself.
Sometimes I have to step back from a situation and laugh at how uptight I’m being. I’ll even ask Joe, “Am I being a little crazy right now?” (He always answers that question way too quickly.) I can recognize how silly it is that I cleaned out a closet before we had friends over to watch the Super Bowl- even though there was absolutely no reason for our guests to look in our closets. I can even laugh at how ridiculous it is that I refuse help when I’m physically incapable of completing a task. That doesn’t make sense- at all.
Friends, if you lean toward being way too worried about insignificant things, the chronic illness life will be especially difficult for you. I’m learning to let some things go. I truly don’t care how things are put in the dishwasher, (Unless my Harry Potter cups are in the bottom- because they will melt, and I won’t be able to celebrate my Hufflepuff-ness daily.) My house will always be clean (or clean-ish), but it will never be spotless. There are probably a few pairs of shoes peeking out from under our bed right now. My kitchen counters probably have a few crumbs on them, and there’s a pile of laundry at the base of the stairs (that lead to the laundry room), because I lack the energy to actually carry clothes downstairs. In spite of all this, I’m sitting on the back porch and typing at the computer without hyperventilating. If I’m learning to deal with this perfectly imperfect life, so can you.

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.