Screenshot of December's chronic beauty calendar, featuring a girl with auburn hair.

Lyme Warrior's Chronic Beauty Calendar Shows the Beauty of Women With Chronic and Invisible Illnesses


Living with a chronic illness can take its toll on your body. Even those living with invisible symptoms can feel their bodies changing with flares or new medications – often altering the way they feel about themselves. That’s why Lauren Lovejoy started Chronic Beauty, a calendar campaign that features 12 women living with chronic health conditions, to highlight the beauty and strength of those who face medical adversity.

“Chronic illness can be so different for each individual, but in the end all women want to feel validated and beautiful,” Lovejoy told The Mighty. “We started this project to show symptoms invisible and visible are beautiful.”

Screenshot of December's chronic beauty calendar, featuring a girl with auburn hair.

Lovejoy, who is also the founder of Lyme Warrior, felt a calendar would be the best way to tell these stories, with each month highlighting a different woman’s story. “We want others to know that living with a chronic illness is different for each person,” Lovejoy told The Mighty. “Illness is not only about symptoms. We all battle with other issues that stem from illness… Many [of the women featured] were frustrated that people didn’t take them seriously because they didn’t look as ill as they felt. Their illness was underestimated because the symptoms were invisible, but there were also women who were upset that their conditions showed and it made them feel unattractive.” 

Screenshot of April's chronic beauty calendar, featuring a white woman with blonde hair.

The 2017 Chronic Beauty Calendar features women with endometriosis, cerebral palsy, asthma, arthritis, chronic migraine, lupus, essential tremor, degenerative disk disease, kidney disease, lyme disease, stroke and Huntington’s disease.

Women selected for the calendar not only represent a variety of conditions, they show chronic illness doesn’t discriminate – that all ages and races can be affected. “These are women who have been through experiences most others will never face,” Lovejoy explained. “These women not only survived but continue to fight and spread awareness to others. We found these women’s spirits inspiring and wanted to share it with others.” 

Screenshot of February 2017 featuring a black woman with short black hair.

Calendars can be purchased through the Lyme Warrior website for $22.00. Proceeds from each calendar will be donated to research endeavors for each condition featured.

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Young and old women holding cups.

Why I Feel More Comfortable With Older People as a Young Woman With Chronic Illness


I am a 25-year-old woman, but I have always felt older due to my multiple medical conditions. I do not relate at all to people my age, I never have. I have always felt so much more comfortable in the company of older people. I think the main reason for this is because older people know what it is like to have your body fail you. They have been through a lot over the course of their entire lives, while we chronically ill people have gone through a lot in the course of a few years.

I’ve found that people around my age and younger often lack compassion and foresight. They live in the now and can be spontaneous. People my age are physically able to go on an epic adventures at will. Older people and chronically ill people do not have this luxury. I would love to be spontaneous, but I can’t because I never know how I will be feeling at any given moment. I cannot live in the now; I have to live carefully weighing every option I take because I know that each of my actions has a very serious consequence in the future. Young people usually don’t think like this. They do not necessarily weigh every option, they often just act upon impulse.

It is so hard for me to be around people my own age because the differences between us are staggering. I feel like an outcast among young adults and I often choose not to spend time with people my age, or to be more selective of the ones I do allow in my life. It is hard for young adults to know and learn real compassion because they are just at the beginning of their lives. Most of them have never had to struggle so they cannot necessarily relate to those who have had to struggle their whole lives. It is something I witness far too often.

I enjoy the wisdom of the older people I have in my life. I feel like we are kindred spirits in our struggles. The older that people get, the more their bodies change and start to fail them. Older people can understand what it feels like to want to do something but to not be able to because your own body won’t let you. This is a concept that seems hard for young people to grasp. I’ve found that young people in general tend to look at a person with a chronic illness and automatically assume they are lazy because they don’t do things that other young adults do, but they never seem to assume an older person with the same struggles is lazy.

When people look at their elders, they know that their bodies do not move in the way that they used to and they often show great compassion to these people, as they should. Through my experiences, people tend to not show as much compassion to those with chronic illness because we are young and our illnesses are invisible — but if a perfectly healthy-looking older person is in the same situation, regardless of if they have a chronic illness, I think they are more likely to be treated with kindness and understanding.

When I talk to my elders they can truly empathize with me. They know what it’s like to not be able to get out of bed due to pure exhaustion and pain. My elders know what it’s like to have multiple tests done at the hospital and know what it’s like to have various medical procedures. To them it is just how their life has to be at this age. To me, it is also normal to go through multiple medical procedures and to go to the doctors a lot. Older people know what it’s like to have to take different medications because it is the only option you have if you want to have any shot at a normal life.

People my age tend to shy away from these subjects and are often uncomfortable discussing medical issues and this makes it all the more hard on me when I am around them. I try not to bring up my medical problems, but often I am forced to remind people that I cannot keep up with them because of said medical problems and then that becomes everyone’s focus — I become “the sick girl.” I want to never speak of them again, to just be an ordinary young adult, but I can’t and I often feel suffocated, like there is no escape from dealing with my chronic illness. When I am with older people who have similar problems, I feel like I can breathe. My pace of life mirrors that of older people, so my medical problems don’t have to be brought up as often, and if they are I am able to just move on from them and they do not become a focus point for everyone, I can be myself.

In many ways I wish I could be an ordinary 25-year-old woman who has other friends her own age. I wish my life could have the pace that it should at this age, but I know it can’t. I am so grateful to all of my elders because they truly understand and have real empathy. I am glad in many ways that the pace of my life is slower — if it wasn’t, I would just be another young adult who wouldn’t have gotten to know and learn from my amazing and very wise elders. I don’t want to have my body fail me and I don’t want to be in pain all the time, but I am glad that I have individuals who can have gone through or are going through the same things in their lives. I obviously do not want anyone to go through these struggles, but I am glad I have a community of elders who have become my true friends. It is because of them that I do not feel like a total outcast.

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Lead photo by Thinkstock Images

10 Honest Text Responses to 'How Are You?' From Someone With Invisible Illness


Every time I am asked, no matter the medium, ‘How are you?’ I freeze. I start running through the list of qualifying questions in my head to decide how honest I should be in my reply. Straight up? White lie? Semi-truthful?

How close am I to this person? Are they having a good day? Are they asking just to be nice? Do they really want to know? Do they know about my mental illnesses? How much do they know of my chronic pain? Have they responded well in the past to my disclosures of pain? The list of questions can be endless.

When struggling with a variety of invisible illnesses and mental health issues, the simple question gets blown to extreme proportions. The question poses endless possibilities; I could answer more honestly and vulnerably and enhance my relationship with them, or, I could fib and keep myself and my feelings at arm’s length.

Often if the question is over text, I sit staring at my phone for minutes trying to figure out my answer. Almost always, I cave. I respond with, “I’m fine, how about you?” or “Not bad, you?” making sure to quickly turn the conversation to them.

However, each time that question is asked, it’s an opportunity to do things differently. It’s an opportunity to be more transparent, more honest. It’s an opportunity to be closer to those around you, an opportunity to raise awareness for your disability, disease, diagnosis, etc. It’s an opportunity to get support that you may need.

Here are 10 real texts I could have sent during the last week:

1. 

Not great. I’ve been fairly anxious all day because of some drama at work.

2.

text that says could be better. my hips have been in more pain than normal tody and i am not off work until 5 pm
Could be better. My hips have been in more pain than normal today and I am not off work until 5 p.m.

3. 

text that says meh, im feeling pretty unsettled lately, a lot has changed for me in the last few months
Meh. I’m feeling pretty unsettled lately, a lot has changed for me in the last few months.

4.

text that says tired, i couldnt sleep last night because i was in so much pain
Tired. I couldn’t sleep last night because I was in so much pain.

5.

text that says honestly, not really sure. i just feel overwhelmed by everything today
Honestly, not really sure. I just feel overwhelmed by everything lately.

6.

text that says crappy. i slipped and fell down some stairs and hit my bad hip
Crappy. I slipped and fell down the stairs and hit my bad hip.

7.

text that says exhausted. it has been a long day
Exhausted, it’s been a long day.

8. 

text that says remember the scenes in the titanic when the ship sinks. i feel like that
Remember the scenes in the Titanic when the ship sinks? I feel like that.

9.

text that says in a lot of pain today. feels like i was used as a stunt double for a really bad action movie
In a lot of pain today. Feels like I was used as a stunt double for a really bad action movie.

10.

screenshot of text that says im feel sad
I’m feeling sad.

 

Honest, straight to the point. The precise opposite of how I typically answer. Why not respond truthfully, then ask for the support you need?

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doctor holding clipboard next to patient sitting on exam table

Why I Felt I Had to Hide My Mental Health History When I Went to the Doctor


I recently made the trip to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota trying to find some answers and explanations for my chronic health issues I’ve been dealing with over the past four years. Before my mom and I made the eight-hour drive, we wanted to be sure that we were as prepared as humanly possible. That meant combing through my medical records and getting copies of every note, report, scan, and test I’ve had and organizing them by date and marking each subject with its own tabs. There was one report, however, that I purposely left out.

2016 has been the worst year by far when it comes to talking about pain levels. I was hospitalized twice within the first three months of the year and the second time I was there for 18 days. For the initial appointment that started that mess, I drove myself the four hours to the office despite being in excruciating pain and waited for an hour in the waiting room. I was then taken back to the exam room where I waited a while longer for the doctor to come in. After speaking with them it was decided that inpatient treatment was needed and I waited for another hour and a half in the waiting room for the orders I needed to take with me to admitting. After driving myself to the hospital, the admitting area was so packed I had to wait another hour before there was a room ready for me.

By the time I was taken to my room I was completely beside myself in pain, crying, and unable to open my eyes from the searing photophobia. That’s when the doctor came in and told me that I “was not having a normal reaction to pain” and that I “absolutely had to see psychiatrist.” I was put on suicide watch and felt completely dehumanized for the next 24 hours until the psychologist made a visit to my room and decided I didn’t need someone to watch me.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I think that after a combined total of nearly eight hours of waiting and traveling while dealing with immense pain, some tears are damn well deserved. I also believe if they were worried about my safety, they could have left someone in the room with me, but I wish they didn’t invalidate my reaction to my physical pain.

Also, I’ve been through the mental health battle before. I’ve had horrible reactions to medications given to me to treat depression and I am not interested in letting a neurologist tell me to go straight to psychiatry — do not pass Go, do not speak with a mental health professional and go straight to a prescription. I eventually told this doctor that I would be willing to make an appointment with a psychologist and would listen to their recommendation on whether or not they felt I needed medication, but please stop scolding me for not wanting to go to a psychiatrist.

Fast-forward to this project of gathering my medical records. I had nearly four years of records outlining the efforts I have exhausted trying to get a handle on this nonsense my body has been throwing at me, but I was concerned that this one report would be the only thing that mattered. I have heard so many stories of people with conditions like fibromyalgia and migraine and other invisible illnesses being swept under the rug of depression. I wholeheartedly agree that chronic illness and mental illness often feed off one another and mental well-being should be monitored and treated when need be, but to act like that is the whole diagnosis when there are clearly physical issues happening is something that makes me very nervous. I have been invalidated by doctors before and it. Feels. Like. Crap. I would do anything in my power to lessen the chance of that happening.

The more I thought about this, the more it angered me. Why is mental illness something we feel the need to hide? How messed up is it that lying seems like a better option than allowing a chance for a doctor to send you to the psychiatric ward? Why is mental illness often seen as a weakness? I don’t know the answers and I don’t know the words to say when I meet a new doctor and have these worries, but for anyone in my position who’s afraid of being seen as one-dimensional, know you aren’t alone. You are valid. Your struggles are real and people care, even when they seem hard to find. Mental illness isn’t something to be ashamed of and it shouldn’t keep you from getting the physical care you need.

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Lead photo by Thinkstock Images

gremlin

How to Turn Your Chronic Illness 'Gremlins' Into Your Furry Cheerleaders


We all have that little gremlin inside us.

You know the one — she shouts up, “What makes you so special?” when you dream about something more. She’s the cute smiling assassin who sabotages your plans while saying, “Well, you wouldn’t have been any good at it anyway. I’m saving you the heartache.”

Your gremlins are your fears, they are the limiting beliefs you hold about yourself, and you will notice that they stick their head up right when interesting stuff starts to happen. You see, gremlins don’t like change. They don’t like the unknown and they definitely don’t like you stepping outside your comfort zone… and that is when you will hear them shout the loudest.

Chronic illness is the worst for creating gremlins because let’s face it, when you get ill it’s like your world implodes. People aren’t who you thought they were. You aren’t the person you thought you were. Your subconscious mind creates brand new stories about yourself as a way to cope with what has been thrown at you and how much your life just changed.

For me when I was feeling lonely and wanted to reach out, that gremlin shouted up, “You don’t need anyone. They will only hurt you, Keep yourself safe.” The fear kicked in. I told myself it was true. When I was struggling to snap out of negative over-eating for comfort, my gremlin would whisper, “Why should you care how you look? Who’s going to love you with all this baggage,” and I took my thoughts as truth. You know that saying that if people tell you something enough times then you start to believe it? Well think how powerful that is when the person telling you that thing over and over again is your own mind!

There is a silver lining though. First, if it’s true that you can trick your mind into believing all that negative rubbish, then you can also trick your mind to believe a bunch of amazingly positive stuff about yourself too, right? You can turn the gremlin bullies into a furry army of ferociously positive cheerleaders.

The first step to taming your gremlins is to realize that they are there — because sometimes we aren’t aware this self-talk is even happening. Often our first suspicion that something negative is going on in our heads is when we start to feel the negative impact of those thoughts: fear, shame, anxiety and the like… They are the red flags you should be looking out for. Because when they go up, a thought in your head has probably put it there.

I caught myself one day leaving the house feeling great, and by the end of the road I felt nauseous from worry. I was suddenly aware of this huge swirling mess of things I was worrying about: “What if this happens?” “I forgot to make that call…” “I don’t think that girl at work likes me.” “I’m going to be late. I’m always late.” “Wy can’t I be more organized?” “People like me are never successful.” Whoa! It was like I had walked through that wardrobe to Narnia and instead of finding magical creatures I found a nasty little tribe of back-stabbing, gossiping furry monsters that had control of my subconscious thoughts!

So how do you deal with the gremlins once you know they are there? You call them out and see them for what they are, bring them out of the shadows and face your fears. Maybe you don’t believe you deserve money. Maybe you don’t believe you are worthy of love. Maybe you don’t believe you are smart enough, or beautiful enough or brave enough. All those beliefs are there because you put them there. The gremlins told you it was true, and you believed them. But you can create a new story about you. A story that says: I am strong, I am deserving and capable of love, I am brave, I am smart, I am unique, I have something amazing to share with the world.

I believe all that about you, but you have to believe that about yourself. You deserve to believe those things about yourself, my warrior friend.

Not sure where to start? I’m hosting a fun and free “Tame Your Self-Talk Gremlins” five-day email challenge starting Monday December 5 to give chronic illness warriors and warriors in recovery the support they need to tackle those pesky gremlins. Sign up here to get the emails. P.S. Don’t worry if you’re late to the party. It’s running all week and you’ll get a link to all the previous emails when you join so you can still catch up.

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woman leans against her hand looking angry and a man sits behind her with his hand in his hands

When Friends Become Resentful of Helping You and Your Illness


Accepting help is a hard skill to master. In my life, that skill has been made less attainable by a certain type of person. They always volunteer to help me – I do not ask. But then they get in over their heads, and instead of talking to me about it, they start to resent me. That resentment grows and grows to the point where they become abusive, suddenly kick me out of their lives or turn me into a villain in their heads.

Recently, I was offered a place to live rent-free by two friends until I could receive disability or be able to work again. They offered. I did not ask in any way, shape or form. I asked over and over again if it was still OK and over and over again I was told it was. I worried about being a burden and communicated this. I worried they wouldn’t talk to me if there was a problem.

However, over time they became less kind. Eventually, when I asked to be treated with kindness, everything blew up. I was called names, told I was using them, told they were actually trying to make me cry and promised I would be kicked out if I kept acting how I was acting (asking to be treated with kindness). I was thoroughly confused until I heard, months after I moved out and from other people, that they were upset about money.

All they needed to do was say something. But when things go unsaid? Resentment poisons relationships. It grows and grows until everyone has been hurt. Communication and honesty are the antidotes, but it is so hard to find people who realize this. All I had ever done was try to communicate when things were bothering me; if they had done the same it wouldn’t have ended in such an ugly way.

Instead of treating me like a human being and talking to me, they got in over their heads then hurt me. In the end, their “help” hurt me more. I would have rather struggled to pay rent than to be treated that way. I don’t share this story because it is a fun thing to reminisce on. I share it because there is a clear lesson here I hope others can learn from.

Caretakers and Helpers

For those who volunteer to help someone: if you get in over your head, say so. Know your limits of what you can give. You aren’t being brave or saintly for pushing past these. All that exceeding those limits does is lead to resentment, and like I’ve said, resentment hurts everyone involved. If you take care of yourself you can better help others as well.

People With Chronic Illness

For those being helped, hesitate taking help from people you don’t trust to communicate with you, even if it is a difficult conversation. Even if you are receiving help, you deserve to be treated kindly. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you owe it to people who are helping you to be purposefully hurt, abused, degraded, humiliated or mistreated in any form.

You are not a burden or responsibility to be put up with, but a human who should be treated as such. Anyone who loses sight of this doesn’t deserve to be in your life.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Lead photo by Thinkstock Images

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