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Chronic Spotlight Series: A Conversation With Ottum Yates

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When I get signs from the universe, I listen. Like if I can’t decide between watching “House of Cards” or “Game of Thrones,” then an image of Jason Momoa chopping down a tree pops up in my Facebook feed, GOT it is! That’s pretty much how the Chronic Spotlight Series came to be.

Last month, I was humbled and honored to join the cast of This Is My Brave (TIMB), whose mission is to end the stigma of mental illness by sharing personal stories of progress and success. More jaw-dropping than the stories of struggling was the strength of the women who live to share them. I am so inspired by the TIMB community that I’ve decided to shine the spotlight on some incredible warriors within our chronic pain community.

First up in the Chronic Spotlight Series is Ottum Yates. She is one in a million – her heart is big enough to get lost in. Ottum is a wife and mother and a passionate advocate for mental health, chronic pain and authentic living.

chronic pain chronicles newspaper article with photos of ottum yates and puja rios

Ottum, what conditions do you have?

“I have a history of pre-existing psoriasis, hypothyroidism, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and childhood PTSD. I’ve also been diagnosed with fibromyalgia, Hashimoto’s disease, arthritis, spinal stenosis, degenerative disc disease, neuropathy, migraines, IBS, insomnia, manic depression (bipolar disorder), anxiety, chronic fatigue syndrome and intestinal intussusception. I also had a devastating miscarriage in 2014. Just this year, I was diagnosed with gastroparesis and lupus.”

When were you first diagnosed? Tell us about your experience.

“In 2007, I nearly died after giving birth to our daughter. I lost so much blood that I needed four additional days in the hospital. During my recovery, I began to feel chronic widespread pain consume me. My neck, shoulders, back, hips, knees, feet, arms, fingers, elbows, my head, my chest – everything hurt. Symptoms of nausea, vomiting, insomnia, IBS, anxiety, depression and chronic pain stole my life, my happiness and my freedom.

As a new mom, my family struggled. Hospitalizations, prescription drugs, narcotics, injections, treatments, tests, the withdrawals and therapies only made my physical and mental health worse. Some of them almost killed me and, at times, I wanted to die.

When I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia (2008), the doctor said, ‘You will never be the same.’ She was right.


My symptoms progressed and I nearly lost my life again. This time, it was due to adult intestinal intussusception, a very rare condition that typically only affects dogs, infants and one to five percent of adults with an intestinal blockage.

The surgeon suggested my fibromyalgia, stress and dehydration (caused by the excessive amount of prescribed narcotics for pain) was the cause.”

What has been your highest high and lowest low since being diagnosed?

“My highest high since being diagnosed was becoming a wife and mother. Our daughter doesn’t remember or know me as a ‘healthy’ or ‘normal’ mom. Instead, she knows me as sick, not feeling well and disabled. My daughter is my muse. Her love, compassion and fresh perspectives give me hope. She sees me as brave, strong and resilient.

My husband – my best friend and soulmate – has stood by me and loved me for 16 years. His deep love has carried me through it all. I’ve lost pieces of myself throughout this journey, yet my partner – my heart – has never wavered with his love and support.

My lowest low since being diagnosed was my miscarriage in 2014.”

Ottum, what’s in your survival kit?

– My Emotional Support Animal, our Maltipoo.

– My online and social media community, my tribe.

– SPAcific Essentials Cherry Pit Stone Thermal Pillow

– U Pillow

– Medical Marijuana/Edibles

– MED Evaluations

– Creams and Balms

– Anxiety Blob

– Music and/or Meditation App (Spotify/Headspace)

– Massage, cupping, and/or water therapies

– My favorite #SelfCare treats

– Art Therapy (follow @dankcanvas)”

What are the most unexpected side-effects no one told you to expect?

“In addition to the disabling depression, anxiety and isolation, I wasn’t prepared for the effects of and the loss of relationships with friends and family. Also, being in a constant state of ‘survival mode.’ There’s guilt, loss and grief over losing who ‘I’ used to be and it takes patience, time and effort to learn who ‘I’ am now.”

Ottum, what’s your daily routine?

– My daily routine consists of this mindset: Lean into the uncomfortable and just show up.

– Any attempt is an accomplishment when you’re sick.

– It’s OK not to be OK.

– Just show up.

– I do what I can when I am able.”

What is your coming out story? How did you tell people about your conditions and how did they react?

“Sharing my painfully beautiful story has saved my life. On a journey that has been overwhelming and exhausting, talking about it has given me hope and comfort. You can find my story here, or you can watch my This Is My Brave performance here.”

How did you and Puja get to know each other?

“I found Puja when she released her first piece, Me vs. Fibromyalgia: Part 1. It was the first time I had ever read anything from a woman who shared such similar struggles with fibromyalgia.

I have ‘followed,’ shared, liked, loved, cried and laughed with Puja through Facebook now for over a year. After sharing my story with This Is My Brave, I had the honor and pleasure of asking Puja to share her own story with TIMB Chicagoland, and she did!

The rest is history.

Puja is my friend and shero.”

What is your personal mission and what do you do to #ShoutAboutPain?

“My personal mission is to help create a community that thrives on hope and comfort by sharing stories. Everyone has a story. I share my story to #ShoutAboutPain.”

Ottum, thank you from the bottom of my heart. You’re my shero too! With people like you standing up for those in our community without a voice, big things are on the horizon.

Interested in sharing your story too? Contact me at

This post originally appeared on The Huffington Post.

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Originally published: June 8, 2017
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