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    Community Voices

    Mantra

    <p>Mantra</p>
    21 people are talking about this
    Community Voices

    I know I’m being irrational

    I just started to be serious again with losing weight. I’ve done it before so I know I can but this morning I’m so depressed. I’ve never been this heavy and I never thought I would get here. I don’t look like what I see in the mirror and I can barely stand to look at it. I’m close, if not already to ruining my health. I sweat constantly because of menopause. I’ve developed skin tags on my inner thighs that hurt and get worse if I wear shorts. If I’m not careful I will get diabetes. I started getting sugar free snacks. I have been eating salads. And I know it is stupid to get on the scale after three days of determination that says this is no longer acceptable and NOT have lost even 1lb. I know it doesn’t work that way. But with chronic headaches, menopause and feeling out of breaking waking upstairs I’m panicking going, “it feel so impossible here…how do I possibly get there.” I never really understood how amazingly hard it was to get to this weight (227) and find it so hard. I thought, “it’s not that hard for someone to eat better and get up and even just walk.” And I’m seeing just how wrong I was. I don’t want to be here and I know I have years to stop this in it’s tracks but how can I stop being depressed and do that if after 3 days I’m this low. The only reason I can write this is because I don’t know any of you. Im so incredibly embarrassed to be seen by the ones I love even though they are being encouraging. I just feel stupid for being this upset. I did this to me. I don’t feel like I deserve sympathy. #WeightLoss

    Community Voices

    Motivational Monday: Hope Over Fear

    <p>Motivational Monday: Hope Over Fear</p>
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    Community Voices

    Reflection

    <p>Reflection</p>
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    Community Voices

    Food & Nutrition Friday: Building Nutritious Meals

    <p>Food & Nutrition Friday: Building Nutritious Meals</p>
    Community Voices

    Relax

    <p>Relax</p>
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    Community Voices

    Quick Tip Thursday: Keep Snacks And Stick To Your Eating Schedule While Traveling

    <p>Quick Tip Thursday: Keep Snacks And Stick To Your Eating Schedule While Traveling</p>
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    Coping With the Effects of Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome on the Whole Body

    Seeing a bird perched perilously upon a high wire seems reminiscent of living with chronic illness, which is a human health condition or disease that is persistent or otherwise long-lasting in its effects. I’ve thought about what life can be like for the chronic illness community. Some days, chronic illness can seem to take up the entirety of a room, and accomplishing anything outside of the difficulties of the illness may feel impossible. Other days, you may be able to hold chronic illness in your hand, place it in your pocket, and carry on as you try to create enough good memories to get you through to the next inevitable hard day. Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (EDS) is a rarely diagnosed condition that affects every system in the body. It mismanages the production of collagen, the protein “glue” of the body, and it weakens every part that is involved. Skin, joints, ligaments, and hollow organs are directly affected — which leaves the rest of the body with a cascade of struggles. There are 13 different types of EDS, and more are added as they are discovered. Some are more severe in their presentation than others, and they affect each patient differently. This makes it difficult to have a universal treatment plan for all of the symptoms that may occur. Currently, there is no cure for Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, so mediating a body’s response to the collagen defects incrementally is typically the best way to have the highest quality of life. Also, responding to each patient’s individual difficulties in their own way can help them feel validated and respond better to treatments that can truly help. One major hurdle many of us with EDS often have to deal with is not being heard and treated properly by our doctors. Generally, doctors are not trained to deal with conditions that can affect every part of the body. Medicine is usually more of a “reactive” profession — treating what is obvious and emergent — than a proactive trade in which symptoms are treated before they get out of hand. This system can be difficult to navigate as a chronically ill patient with multiple needs. We are sometimes pushed through appointments without having the time to dig to the root of each symptom completely. The areas in which we live, the insurance that we have (or don’t have), and the amount of money we are able to spend on treatments and out-of-pocket costs are big factors in the amount of care we are able to obtain. This process can leave us feeling lost, embittered, and alone when we are not able to stay on top of our chronic illnesses. It can also make us feel ecstatic, hopeful, and accepted when we are simply heard and a doctor is willing to try the treatment plans we have researched so diligently. There are often no easy answers for this, and no amount of being more assertive about what our needs are can necessarily help. It’s a delicate balance in a system that is not built for treating chronic illness. I’ve had multiple doctors placate me to not look for further diagnoses, stating that “One ‘zebra’ found is enough” or “We like to keep everything in one basket,” though doctors don’t often realize that with EDS, all diagnoses are the same “zebra” and in the same basket. The more identifiable traits that can be addressed and the more manageable our entire syndrome can be, the higher the quality of life and the greater longevity we’ll tend to have. Another major hurdle we often deal with is having bodies that have “minds of their own” and will often not cooperate when we want them to be active. Many types of EDS are multi-systemic conditions that have many comorbidities, which are other illnesses or conditions that are caused by Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. EDS is also a progressive illness, which means it can continually get more severe as we age. When we have flares that exacerbate the symptoms in one body system, it can have a ripple effect to other systems and be so overwhelming, painful, and untreatable that we cannot leave our homes. These ripples can last for days, months, or even years without proper treatments, guidelines, and cures. Living with EDS can be a never-ending cycle when there are so many factors that lead to delicate imbalances in such a difficult-to-manage system. We must often consider everything we consume, how we sleep or spend our time, where the bathrooms are at every location, whether we’ve been keeping up with a hygiene routine, how accessible the areas we wish to visit are, and the effects we may have to deal with after a social excursion of any kind. At this time last year, I was barely able to leave my home for appointments — and I couldn’t do much else. My health had gotten to the point of being bigger than I could handle, and I couldn’t stabilize it. For the sake of learning, growing, and teaching, I’ll share some details in this latest physical hurdle. 1. I feel exhausted to the point of often not being able to drive myself. Even walking the dogs in a zombie-like state was a chore I could hardly endure. Running an errand? Never. I do have blood sugar symptoms too, which contribute to exhaustion, but fortunately, there are current studies regarding EDS and diabetes. Many rare diseases are on the verge of breakthroughs of varying degrees all over the nation, but for now, I struggle with being tired. 2. Everything I eat goes through me. I can no longer determine which foods I was sensitive to even though I don’t have many foods I can eat. CT scans revealed stool retention even after a 24 hour cleanse, so I was “backed up.” Everything getting through is called “overflow,” which generally consists of collected water. I was incontinent because of this — sleeping on pads and towels, only leaving the house when necessary, and using pads, crossing my fingers, and hoping for the best. This is a rarely talked-about part of health decline and can keep a person at home all on its own. I knew the next steps could be dire, and I wasn’t looking forward to those possibilities. 3. My thyroid wasn’t always producing as much of its hormone as it should be. This is no surprise since I only have half of my thyroid. Just getting it within “healthy range” was not enough for me — I had to fight to get it down to a lower number based on symptom improvement. This took several months and appeals to the doctor, and it made a positive difference, but did not clear up all of my health struggles. I’m used to not having all health symptoms worked out, but the more symptoms resolved, the better. 4. My muscle fatigue and weakness has increased. This is probably because of all of my exacerbated symptoms. My legs are the weakest, but I do have generalized muscle weakness due to neurological issues resulting from hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos syndrome and tethered cord . The earlier EDS and its comorbidities are diagnosed and treated, the better. 5. I’m always in pain everywhere. I believe the increase in my pain is due to exacerbated symptoms and other conditions, like lipedema and Sjogren’s syndrome, that I’m still trying to get diagnosed. This is yet another reason why diagnoses and treatments are so important. 6. My skin and liver are struggling right now. I’ve always had skin that flares after a shower. Lotion helps, and treating mast cell symptoms does so even more, but splotchy, red, dotty, tiny, itchy patches everywhere? This is new. Also, we found a spot on my liver, and we have to keep an eye on it. I had one “good” organ left! Ha! 7. I visit many doctors. I even finally have a new internist, but they just seem to be a cog in the wheel of never-ending tests, procedures, and difficulties. I have recently received some help in much better ways than I have before, and now, I’m starting to catch up on treating a few of my chronic symptoms. I feel blessed that I still have some life left in me and am not completely relegated to my house at all times, but I still have to be vigilant about “overdoing it.” I sometimes feel like I have a cloud of worry hanging over my head as I wonder when my life-changing symptoms will surprise me next, even as I try to live my life to its fullest and stay grateful for what I have. When you see me smiling, it is genuine. My smile may mask my difficulties, but I’ve truly found happiness in focusing on the positives. Having a silly husband who naturally evokes laughter helps too. Here are some treatments that are currently helping and making a positive change for the better: 1. I get saline IV infusions. Navigating the medical system to receive this much-needed care was difficult, but the effort was worth it. I now access my own port weekly and administer my own fluids. I have dysautonomia (My autonomic nervous system does not regulate properly), I have hypovolemia (I have low amounts of bodily fluids), and I have a lot of neurological damage that keeps my gastrointestinal (GI) system from working correctly. This treatment has brought some of my body back to life. 2. I take supplements. Some of my supplements help me rebalance electrolytes, while others keep my joints and tracts in working order. Potassium, magnesium, salt, vitamin D3, B12, multivitamin, even cranberry and glucosamine chondroitin all play roles in helping all of my systems work as well as they can. 3. I wear braces. It’s best for me to stabilize my joints from the ground up. I have shoe orthotics to keep my arches in place and ankle, knee, and joint braces to keep everything as stable as possible — which helps lower my pain levels and increase my leg stamina. 4. I use adaptive devices. I use a wheeled walker for any distance outside of my home and a power wheelchair for longer distances that I can’t navigate on my own. My legs gradually lose power as they are used. This is common in EDS, but society can be difficult to navigate when your ability level isn’t constant. Most days I don’t notice reactions, other days I can’t help but notice. Hopefully, someday, tolerance and objectivity will rule. 5. I eat to meet my body’s needs. I don’t eat meat or gluten, and I watch my histamine intake too. With so many medical conditions constantly vying for my attention, I try to keep all of my systems as happy and compliant as I can. I cannot tolerate statins, and after my stroke, eliminating meat was the best solution for keeping the right cholesterol levels and a healthy heart rate and blood pressure. I keep my protein levels up with plant proteins. My body doesn’t respond well to gluten, so it’s not an option. Everything in my body works more easily when my GI system is engaged and functioning as best as it can. When the medical community and our physical bodies are determined to hinder our best efforts, I am thankful that the internet can provide some answers and relief. It helps me find other doctors in my area and locate insurance providers through the help of online support groups. The experiences and connections that others with chronic illness share can be so helpful in finding any small measure of positive reinforcement. A friend in one group stated that people with chronic illness often get so used to being in “survival mode” that we may tend to have a different quality of life baseline than most other people have. That sure hit home. We also may “mask” well to try to fit in, but masking our symptoms can be invisible to others and may twist our perceptions of ourselves. If you’ve been surprised by anything I’ve mentioned thus far and wonder why you don’t know these things are happening, keep in mind that “survival mode” is a place in life that may make it difficult to reach out or talk about what we may be going through. Chronic illness survival calls for extra grace, mercy, and leniency in not taking cancellations or long pauses personally. In fact, reaching out can help us have support systems that can help us move forward. It can also feel daunting to breach the chasm that forms while we’re busily trying to keep our bodies going or are figuring out how to navigate our conditions in public. Consider that some of us with chronic illness may feel like a “burden,” which can take a lot of work to overcome. In fact, it took me two weeks to write this article. It is daunting to put myself out there and be vulnerable about such life-altering symptoms, but hopefully, the help it can potentially bring others will be worth it. Trying to receive the basic care needed to enhance wellbeing with chronic illness can feel like a two-step shuffle. The possibilities of something going “wrong” can seem endless, but I urge and encourage anyone struggling with lack of proper care and diagnoses to strive to move forward regardless of the hurdles. While it can feel lonely and daunting along the path of living with chronic illness, you are not alone. Together, just like a herd of zebras, we are a dazzle, and the more we all learn from our conditions independently, the more we can share and look forward to as a group. We can be a flock of birds on a wire, perched perilously but proudly.

    Jane L Edwards

    Lessons Learned in 10 Years of Living With Chronic Illness

    Ten long years. 10 years of hoping I will improve. 10 years of taking serious medications with serious side effects. 10 years and somehow, I don’t feel I have progressed physically. I haven’t gotten “better,” but I am better at managing my condition and my life. It all started with a toothache and a tiredness that sleep could not cure. The removal of all my wisdom teeth, three rounds of antibiotics, and numerous visits to the dentist later, and I heard the words that I will never forget: “Something is wrong, and you need to urgently see your doctor.” Thanks to my fab dentist (who I’m still with now), that is what I did. But getting a correct diagnosis is not always as simple as seeing your doctor for some tests. And so, several weeks of visiting my GP and having blood tests led to an emergency stay for two weeks in the hospital. Then countless doctors and endless tests later, and I received a diagnosis: microscopic polyangiitis, also known as Wegener’s vasculitis. It wasn’t the outcome I had expected, but what was happening to me was still not clear. When one doctor questioned my symptoms and another doctor proved me right, I learned valuable lessons. Ultimately, you must look out for yourself and find experts you can trust. I have learned a lot in 10 years, and maybe I have progressed more than I think. I have a team that I trust, I have some stability with my health, and I have family and friends who understand that sometimes, my illness is too much for me, and I need to hide away. But overall, I have a new life — one that wasn’t planned and one that is restricted in some ways. However, it is a life filled with love and respect. The new version of my life is quite lovely, so I think I will keep it — medications and all. It’s called “chronic illness” for a reason. After my diagnosis, I thought I could battle through. I thought I would win. I thought I was invincible. Unfortunately, I couldn’t win, and I was so far from invincible. 10 years on, I am still battling and visiting hospitals monthly, but I am also still hopeful. I did not understand the words “chronic illness.” When a colleague asked me how I was managing, and I said my illness was still dragging on, his response floored me. He simply said, “Well, it is chronic.” It was such a straightforward comment, but it really hit home. Did I think my illness would just go away? Had I not believed that it would stay with me for the rest of my life? Had I just ignored reality? Am I still ignoring it? I try to forget that I have a severe illness. I try to “prove it wrong,” almost as though if I keep going, somebody will soon tell me it was all a joke and that I am OK. The COVID-19 pandemic changed my life. The last few years have been tough for us all. The COVID-19 pandemic changed many things. For me, it felt like a strange clinical trial — I got to remove all the travel and interactions with people and see what happens to an immunosuppressed person with an autoimmune disease. The lack of infections allowed me to drop my medication dose. It also allowed me to work alongside colleagues as equals and not as the only one who was not physically in the room. The pandemic meant I had the energy to be with my family. The world became as restricted as I have been, and it leveled the playing field. Not anymore, though. As the world becomes “normal” again, I become “abnormal” again, and the pressure to join in returns. I have had a number of common infections, and so my medication dose went back up. The large “clinical trial” that has been my life during COVID-19 has given me resounding answers to some of my problems. But solving these problems is not financially straightforward in the real world. Thank you for all the support. The past 10 years have been tough — full of knockouts and disappointment. But they have also been full of laughter, love, and special people. My family has been amazing. Even if we do lots of shouting some days, when it matters, we are a tight unit, and we deal with everything together. My family members are my strength, and I wish I could repay all the support, love, and kindness they have shown me. To the friends who came to the hospital with me or looked after the girls for me when they were little, thank you. To those who have listened to me cry even if it did not make much sense, thank you. My online friends deserve a “thank you” too. Since writing the book, the support from Instagram, Facebook and Twitter has been critical. Online friends, you may understand me. You are often awake at the same time as I am when I cannot sleep, and you may also know how scary and uncertain this disease can be. Thank you. To my boss and colleagues, thank you for all the encouragement and support, positive words, and understanding when I just couldn’t be in the room. You have been the most fantastic company for the last 10 years. George, the black Labrador and Burt, the cocker spaniel have helped me too. George and Burt, you will never know how much you have kept me moving. The movement has helped me avoid diabetes, brittle bones, weight struggles, and depression. Our walks help me both physically and mentally. This is what the future holds. Unfortunately, the medication that has given me some stability has now caused the doctors to think it has brought on ulcerative colitis, another autoimmune disease. This disease affects my bowel and brings more inflammation, more new investigations, more new medications, and yet another thing to learn to live with every day. But I will manage. The past 10 years of medications have caused osteoporosis in my back and hip, medication dependency, and weight changes. The fatigue is constant, and when I get to the end of a working day, I am lucky if I can speak to my family. I keep going, though. I am proud of how my family and I have all dealt with this life-changing diagnosis. I am proud of our resilience and ability to fight. I am also proud of how my children view this world with kindness, and I know that they will make a real difference as they turn into extraordinary young ladies. Vasculitis forced me to step back, look at my world, and focus my energy on the things that really matter. For now, I celebrate being alive, and I thank everyone who has helped me stay that way. It was not so long ago that a diagnosis of vasculitis was an immediate death sentence. I am grateful for the clinical advances and the care I have been given. Now can someone please invent a cure?

    Community Voices

    Filter your thoughts

    <p>Filter your thoughts</p>
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