Tag Archives: EDS

“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.

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!

Awareness Months Matter

During Dysautonomia Awareness month, someone asked me how the awareness month helps me personally. This person wasn’t being snarky or belittling. He just wanted to know what the purpose is. I understand his line of thinking. Sharing a Facebook post will not make me feel better; wearing a tshirt that supports awareness will not pay my medical bills. When faced with the reality of a chronic condition, all the tshirts, Facebook statuses, and Instagram graphics in the world seem inadequate.

However, for many of my chronic illness friends (including myself), awareness is our hope and life line. We’re met daily with not only the challenges of our condition- but also the lack of understanding of others. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t believe the whole world has ganged up on me. Not at all, most people are quite lovely. However, due to the lack of understanding of my condition, I find myself in situations often where a little awareness would go a long way.

Awareness month matters to educate medical professionals.

Remember, Dr. Deficient? ( This guy ) I’m fairly confident that he reads online news, uses social media,  or has idle conversation with people while standing in line at the movies. Why? Because, even if he wasn’t a very understanding doctor for me, I’m assuming he is a human who engages in human activities. What if in the days before I went into his office he had seen several infographics about my disorder? What if he saw an Ehlers Danlos awareness tshirt while he was standing in line? Of course, it’s entirely possible he wouldn’t have noticed or cared, but there is also the chance that could have been a game changer for my medical care.

Awareness month matters to educate friends and family.

I realize I talk a lot about my illness on my blog- because my blog was created to support others who are dealing with the crazy, chronic life as well. In day to day communication, it doesn’t always come up. (Trust me. I’m awkward enough without greeting people by saying, “Hello. I have a rare disease that makes me fall apart sometimes!”) My friends and family learn about my illness through the information I share. How does that help? What if I’m out with a friend and faint or dislocate a hip? He/She will be more likely to know what is happening if they have a basic understanding of my illness.

Awareness month matters to the undiagnosed.

I was diagnosed with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome two days before my 30th birthday. Up until that day, I truly believed that I was less resilient than the general public. I had no clue why I had to fight tears when I walk down stairs, and other people can handle it. I thought I was immature as a young child when writing made my hands cramp until I cried, and no other students my age were crying. I had no idea there was a name for my struggle. I believed ugly words like weak and lazy, because I didn’t have a diagnosis to explain how I felt.

My mom recently shared a post about Ehlers Danlos Syndrome on her own social media. I was touched that she took time to do that. When I asked her about it she said, “I thought of all those years when we didn’t have answers for what was wrong with you, and I knew how much I would have appreciated someone sharing this information with us. Maybe it’ll help someone else.” Good words, Momma. So true.

May marks the awareness month for many conditions. (I’ll be honest. I’m afraid to try listing them, because I know I’ll leave someone out.) If it’s your month, let me encourage you to share information, encouragement, fund raisers, and anything else that you think needs to be said. This is your time of the year to attract attention for your struggle. Make some noise! Spread the word! Your awareness month matters!

Peace, love, and health, friends.

Sorry, not sorry. Social media is my bestie.

My husband is the ultimate extrovert. Put him in a crowded room and he’ll feed off the energy for days. Me? Well, the very thought of a crowded concert or even a potluck makes me cringe. I love people, but I’m not a person who can work a room. It’s unsettling for me. Add to that the constant fear of brain fog moments, health issues, and general social anxiety, and I’m a hot mess in a crowded room.

This seems to be the lament of many of my chronic illness friends. It’s not that we don’t like people, but rather that being around people is complicated. When you feel bad it’s hard to have the ambition for social engagements. Chronic pain makes it hard to concentrate on the conversation you’re having. And, to be honest, just the general lack of understanding the public has for my (and many others’) invisible illness is unsettling.

Basically, I’m too dang awkward to be in public. Just this morning at church a woman a couple pews in front of me turned around to shake my hand. She was far enough in front of me that she had to lean over the pew between us and still couldn’t reach me. I was sitting while everyone else was standing, because my heart was doing the cha-cha in my chest. In an effort to act like I had decent social skills, I stood up to lean toward her- then stumbled and grabbed the edge of the pew for balance. Then I burst out with a barely intelligible line- “I’m sorry. I don’t stand good.” WHAT?!? Of all the possible things I could have said, why did I say that? Seriously, there’s never an excuse for bad grammar. I should be kept in a cage.

However, on Facebook or Instagram, I’m a completely functional adult. Given the time to think about what I’m saying before I say it, I make sense, and I’m typically grammatically correct. (Full disclosure- I still rely on autocorrect for spelling.) With iPhone edits and social media filters, I’m way more cute and graceful. I need social media to be a normal person. I realize that you’re probably thinking, “You don’t have to be perfect. You want to make friends based on who you are- not a contrived online profile.” I agree with you. However, when illness turns your body into something you don’t even recognize anymore, I think it’s fair to find your confidence for entering the public realm wherever you can find it- even if it’s in the unrealistic world of social media. It’s helped me find who I am again, so I thought I’d share it’s virtues with you.

  1. I’ve made friends. It’s true. When I have exciting news, one of the first places I want to share my news is one of my chronic illness support groups. You see, at one point I had work friends, but the disabled life doesn’t exactly afford many of those. I met people for lunch and coffee, but that’s a little harder to do now. There are weeks that go by, and I don’t speak to any humans in person other than Joe and the lady who gives my allergy shots. However, my online friends are always around, and if they’re not they will be eventually. I’ve had the opportunity to meet people who live a life very similar to mine. I can share victories that don’t seem like victories to my healthier friends. My chronic illness friends understand when I post, “Guess who took a shower, fixed their hair, went to lunch, and unloaded the dishwasher today? This girl!” Normal people would probably not realize this is a huge achievement. My chronic illness friends on social media understand that this is a big day!
  2. I’ve found a way to be a part of something that matters.  As my health has changed, I’ve been less capable of doing a lot of the things I used to do. I can’t volunteer to tutor students or teach Sunday school. My body isn’t very reliable. For a while, I felt like I no longer had a purpose or a way to contribute to the good in the world. However, I learned that the social media world is filled with lonely and isolated people- like me. I can’t be there physically, but I can listen. I can offer prayers and hope and encouragement. Online support groups have been a fantastic outlet and a great way to try helping others rather than focusing on my own problems.
  3. Social media has an off switch (and it’s available 24/7 too!). If I have a migraine or a particularly symptomatic day, I have the option of not looking at social media. Instead of being online when I feel sick and grumpy, I can make the choice to stay away. Of course, you can make that same decision in real life, but it’s more difficult. Real life people involve commitments and explanations. Online interaction happens when it happens. There’s always someone there when you’re ready.

Is social media the perfect answer to all social interaction? Of course, not. It’s important to make friends who can actually be there physically when you need someone. However, if you can’t handle all that yet, social media is an awesome place to start. I’m unapologetically in love with Facebook and Instagram. (Twitter is just not my jam.) Does that mean that I’m one of those people that’s tied to their phone screen a lot of the time? Yes, but it’s only taking away from my napping life or doctor’s office waiting time. I’m okay with that. This life is difficult enough, and if an online support group, online friends, or anything else makes life easier for you- I say do it. Social media can be your bestie too. She’s big enough for all of us, and I promise not to be jealous.

 

Peace, love, and health, friends.

Taking a Chronic Illness to the Gym- the loftiest of endeavors

I hadn’t been to the gym in a while until today. A few weeks ago my body went all “Let’s throw a fit and make Tiffany black out and have chest pain,” so it slowed down my work out flow to say the least. Today I made it back. I’m doing a very amended work out (one hour on the recumbent bike with no resistance- yeah, I know. I’m a beast.), but I’m trying. I figure as long as I’m still trying, Joe isn’t married to a potato, and that’s a positive thing. (I think- I mean the guy really likes potatoes). Since it was my first day back, I decided to record my thoughts- not because they were especially brilliant, but because I knew my crazy, chronic family could relate.

Sitting in the car- I’m not going in. Everyone looks skinny and healthy. Holy moly, that girl is lifting some serious weight. (I am too, but only when I get myself out of the car . . .) Is the whole stinkin town training for a marathon I know nothing about? Do I have any chips in my car? That seems like a better decision at this point.

Walking in the gym- Don’t let the man who works here notice when I scan my check-in card that I haven’t been here in close to a month. Dang it. He totally knows. He said, “It’s nice to see you.” What he’s really saying is, “It’s nice how you drug your lazy self back in here.” (Actually, no. He’s so nice that he would never say such a thing, but the guilt is real.)

Beginning the work out- Where do I start? What is everyone else doing? Oh, yeah, I can’t do that. Abs. I can work on abs. I think somewhere along the way a doctor told me that working on core stability would help my symptoms- or maybe I heard that on an infomercial. Sigh. I have no clue what I’m doing. The ab machine looks least likely to dislocate something, so I’ll do that.

The actual work out- Ouch. Ouch. Should working abs make your lower back feel like it’s going to split open? Is that normal? It’s probably normal. No one else is crying. I’m not going to cry either. Is that a tear? Nope! Just sweat! #killingit A man just asked me if he could work through. What does that even mean? Is he asking if he can work through his problems? I certainly hope he can. Should I offer to pray for him? This gym thing totally confuses me.

I’m moving on to the recumbent bike. It’s totally not made for the under 5 foot crowd, but if I pedal with my tip toes it’ll work. Holy cow. Is that girl still lifting weight? There’s no way she weighs as much as the weight she’s lifting. I must find out her secret. Oh wait, her secret is probably joints that don’t dislocate from simple tasks. Maybe I’ll ask her about that. I won’t. That would break my cardinal rule of gym attendance- don’t speak or make eye contact. They’ll never realize what a hot mess I am if I just don’t speak.

How long have I been on this bike? I’m only pedaling an hour. Darn it. It’s been 6 minutes. Why doesn’t time go by this slowly when I’m drinking coffee and binge watching One Tree Hill? Oh yeah! I can watch OTH while I pedal. No, I can’t. Someone is sitting next to me talking loudly. He’s talking about how nice it would be to be 30 again. Maybe so, dude, but 31 is a struggle right now.

The end! The beautiful end! I made it! I survived an entire hour, and I only stopped once to move a kneecap back into place. (Tricky little booger) I didn’t black out, double over in chest pain, or have any dislocations that I couldn’t handle on my own. YES!!

It can’t be a coincidence that my gym is located next to a Sonic. Time for a milk shake!

Peace, love, and health, friends.

Chronic Christmas Craziness and Other Communicable Diseases

Confession time, friends. Yesterday, I had a full Clark Griswald-esque Christmas meltdown. You know that scene from the movie when he finds out his long awaited Christmas bonus is nothing more than a membership to a jam of the month club? (Which is a pretty dang cool gift, if you ask me.) He proceeds to totally have a total freak out of epic proportions . . . yeah, that was me. Now, before you label me a Scrooge and believe that I need to be visited by some of Charles Dickens’ ghosts, let me explain.

Holidays are tough for the chronically ill- really tough. For me, I feel like holiday time exposes all my flaws. The rest of the year I can hide that my house isn’t always neat and organized. I can keep you from noticing that I don’t have the energy to wash my hair (or even shower sometimes) more than every other day. My cooking short cuts (I’ve got to make a blog about that soon!) can fly under the radar. But at Christmastime, you’re going to see these things. When I sit around with family members chatting about the past year, you’re going to notice that I start lying down or leaning over- because for some reason I can’t sit up for long without my ribs moving out of place. You’re going to see that my Christmas cooking came from Kroger (grocery store, non-US, friends!). And, if you look closely, you might even notice that Joe has to open bottles and cans for me, because my hands won’t cooperate lately.

Although these are all parts of my daily reality, Christmas makes me feel much more exposed. Don’t get me wrong- my family is fantastic. I can’t think of a single member that would tease me (well, they might good-naturedly tease me- but NEVER hurtfully) for the things I cannot do. I’m very blessed to have a group of people who love me and do not think less of me when I just CAN’T do something. The problem lies in that I hate looking pathetic. I hate looking like that hot mess that just can’t get it together. There’s nothing more dehumanizing than being pitied.

So, anyway, back to last night’s meltdown- here’s how it went down. I was trying to cook real food- things that didn’t come pre-made from Kroger. In the process, I cut my finger, dislocated my shoulder and a finger, dropped essentially everything I touched, and somehow my blender full of boiling strawberry puree exploded. (FYI- If you’re covered in boiling hot strawberry puree and you yell for your spouse to come help you, FIRST explain to him that the red super-mess is NOT blood. The poor guy was preparing to apply pressure!) Somewhere during all of this, in a moment of panic (and chest pain that’s been haunting me for a couple days) I sat down on the kitchen floor and wailed, “I think I need to CRYYYYYY!!”

Poor Joe. He’s been through these meltdowns enough to know the protocol. He brought me a chair and a Cranberry Sprite Zero (yum!). He reminded me that everything that we were preparing for was fun- not something to freak out over. He even reminded me that we are celebrating with people that we love (and even like) who accept us exactly the way we are. He’s right. I just got caught up in the craziness of wanting everything to be perfect.

Here’s the truth. I will never have a Pinterest-perfect Christmas. My Christmas cards will be store bought, and my handwriting will probably be illegible after the first few. My gifts will always come from whichever store looks the least crowded- or better yet, Amazon. I can’t remember to buy things like bows for gift boxes or name tags. Joe did the wrapping- it’s not exactly his greatest gift in life. The gifts we bring are lumpy; the paper is ripped and patched, and the recipients’ names are written on the side with Sharpie. To be honest, Im not even sure if I put the correct name on gifts. So it’s possible there will be a gift shuffle at the end because I have given my brother the Princess castle intended for my 2 year old niece.

But . . . post-Griswald-esque meltdown, I’ve decided I’m okay with the imperfections. I may not feel fantastic sometimes; I’ll excuse myself and rest. I may not be able to get food on the table on time (you know, that food I just have to re-heat because I ordered it from Kroger), but we can just eat later. I might lie down while I visit with my family; I’m sure they’ve seen me do stranger things. I’m going to relax as best I can and enjoy this crazy, chronic Christmas.

So, um, could all of you remind me of this over the next few days?

Merry Christmas, chronic illness family. May your heart be filled with the hope and joy of this very special (and sometimes crazy) season.

Peace, love, and health friends.