Annie Basil

@anniebasil | contributor
Just a 24 year old who loves farming, hiking, animals, running, and yummy food! Trying to figure out how to adapt to life with CFS and in the meantime I write about my experiences with illness under the pen name Annie Basil.
Annie Basil

12 Tips for When Food Makes You Nauseous

For the past few weeks, I’ve been struggling with nausea. It’s never been a symptom I’ve had long-term before, and it hasn’t been easy getting used to it. I’ve been leaving classes early because I’m afraid of getting sick in class. I’ve avoided eating with other people, or even being around people who are eating. I study vegetable production, and until this started I never realized how much we talk about vegetables. In the class I TA for, the professor spent a lecture discussing winter squash, and I had to leave when he started naming different squashes. No pictures, no scents, just the thought of food. But one of the hardest things has been forcing myself to eat. I love food, I always have. I love cooking and baking, but mostly I love it because I love eating good food. I choose my career because I want to help more people have access to high-quality food. But lately, nothing is more disgusting than the idea of eating. Here are some tips I’ve found helpful for eating when you’re constantly nauseous: Note these aren’t for if you’re struggling with vomiting or other problems, but for ongoing nausea with no known cause. 1. Talk to your doctor about your nausea. Nausea can be a symptom of many illnesses, and like any new symptom, it’s important to get it evaluated by a doctor, especially if it lasts longer than a few days. 2. Take anti-nausea medication if your doctor will prescribe it. The first time I saw a doctor for this, they didn’t offer medication. Three weeks later, when I saw a new doctor, he offered it and I immediately said I’d try it. It doesn’t fix the nausea, but it does make it go away sometimes when I need it to, and it makes it easier to eat. 3. Cook foods you normally like. Often when I’m sick, I find myself avoiding my favorite foods because I don’t want to associate them with feeling sick. But when you can’t stand the thought of any food, sometimes it can help to remind yourself that this is something you do enjoy, even if it doesn’t seem like it right now. 4. Eat foods you know won’t irritate your stomach. For me, this means a lot of rice and toast. After a few weeks, I’ve added in vegetables and protein, but I eat the same foods several days in a row once I know I can trust it. I don’t want to eat anything that will make me sicker than I already am. 5. Eat foods that don’t require a lot of cooking. For me, one of the hardest things is walking into the kitchen and forcing myself to cook when I can’t stand the thought of food. It’s much easier to tell myself that I need to eat, then go and grab something from the fridge that’s already cooked and ready to eat. The less time I have to think about food or smell food before I eat, the better. I’ve found that minute rice, frozen vegetables, or frozen pre-cooked meals are helpful for this. 6. If you have to cook, don’t do it right before you eat. If I plan to eat pasta, or something else for dinner that requires some cooking, I’ll do it earlier in the day. That way, if cooking makes me feel worse, I don’t have to then also force myself to eat. 7. Distract yourself from the nausea. Usually, I try not to read or watch TV while I eat, and instead focus on the food I’m eating. However, when you don’t feel well, the last thing you want to do is remind yourself that you’re eating. I watch my favorite TV show, listen to a podcast, eat outside, or read a book every time I eat so I have something else to focus on. 8. Make sure you’re staying hydrated. Nausea can often be caused or made worse by dehydration, so it’s important to make sure you’re drinking a lot of water, sports drinks, or some source of electrolytes. 9. Try eating smaller meals throughout the day. Especially if you’re having trouble with an upset stomach, it can help to only eat small amounts at a time. Personally, I haven’t found that this works well for me, but it’s definitely worth trying. 10. Don’t eat in places with a strong smell. If you can avoid it, try not to eat in places with strong scents, like many restaurants or cafeterias. It can be a lot easier to eat if you’re not already overwhelmed by the smell of food. 11. Be honest with people you trust about your struggles with nausea. When my friends asked why I wasn’t going to a lunch meeting, I told them that I would be sick if I had to see anyone else eat food. Which was true. I obviously didn’t tell everyone at the meeting that, but it can be helpful to let your friends know what’s going on. That way, if more things come up that you need to say no to, they can understand and will help you find alternatives. 12. Exercise. It can be hard to exercise when you’re sick, and especially if you haven’t been eating a lot you should be careful. But even going for a five-minute walk outside can make you feel better, and might even make you feel hungry. I hope you found some of these tips helpful. What else have you found that works well for dealing with nausea?

Annie Basil

Life With Chronic Illness Can Be Hard and Good at the Same Time

Recently, one of my friends was complaining about our job. And I responded, yes, it’s hard, but I love it. And she was shocked. We often discuss challenges and frustrations about our job, and I feel like I’m usually overwhelmed by the amount of work that I still need to do. I realized that even though I also love it, I don’t always express that to her. Possibly because I know that she hates it and is considering quitting. Or because I assumed she saw the good parts too. It reminded me of a quote, “It can be hard, and it can be good.” When I worked as a farmer, this was my boss’s motto. The summer is always the busiest season, and it means long, exhausting work days. But it’s also the best part of the year: everything is alive and there are so many different types of fresh produce. Customers get excited about local produce, and suddenly the farmer’s market is so busy. It’s easy in those moments to get caught up in the hard: the being exhausted, stressed, or overwhelmed. But it’s also important to see the good, and to realize that they can exist together. As I’ve been thinking about this, I’ve realized how much it applies to my physical health. I’ve been dealing with worsening symptoms of my chronic illness, and it hasn’t been fun. I realized I went to my doctor’s office more often in the past two weeks than I went to work. But when I’m struggling with my health, it’s so easy to label days, weeks, or even years as “I was sick.” And yes, sometimes being sick is all-consuming. But sometimes other things happen. Especially living with a chronic illness, you realize that life keeps going even when you’re sick. Looking back on the semester, I’m tempted to only think about the fact that “I was sick.” I spent so much time in bed, dealing with doctors’ appointments, and generally just frustrated by how many things my health was preventing me from doing. But I’m trying to remember that even when it’s hard, it can also be good. A few days ago I was on campus all day (a rare thing for me anyway, and never happens when I’m sick), because I had meetings and classes. During that day, and looking back at that day, it was easy to get in my head about how stressful that was for me. How I had to wake up early because I wasn’t sure I could eat breakfast. How I sat at lunch with my friends and could barely eat because the idea of food made me so nauseous. How I ended up going to take a nap in my car after lunch because I realized I was too tired to focus on anything, and I woke up to texts from my friends who had worked together to finish a homework assignment I still needed to do. But it wasn’t all hard. There were so many good moments also — walking with my friends back from class, laughing about our professor and how all his examples involved either cows or rabbits. The fact that I had meetings in person, which I hadn’t had in the two years since I started this job. The flowers blooming on the trees across campus because it’s finally spring. And the fact that I knew myself well enough to take a nap so that I could be awake for my last class of the day. Knowing that even though I felt terrible for most of it, I still went to classes and meetings, I still learned and participated. I’m not saying we need to be positive all the time. There were absolutely days, even weeks, when I was too sick to get out of bed, and I can’t list a single positive thing about that. Which I think is 100% OK. And there were days when I felt physically fine, yet I wouldn’t describe them as “good days.” But I do believe that it’s easy to be busy or overwhelmed or not feel great, and to believe that’s the only thing going on. I think it can be powerful to realize that yes, it is hard, but it can also be good.

Working Full-Time With Chronic Illness and Making Choices

I sometimes look back on life before lupus and psoriatic arthritis and feel startled by the richness of my days back then. I woke up, exercised, taught a full day as a preschool teacher, studied, and often went out for a drink or coffee with a friend before winding down for the night. My schedule required fewer choices than it does now. I thought nothing of how that kind of fulfillment from everyday activities merited keeping — or what the cost would be to my mental health were I to lose any major life activity. As my lupus developed along with psoriatic arthritis, working full days grew difficult, and working full weeks was impossible. Exercise turned from a joy into a challenge. My friendships transformed from meetups to texts. My thinking transformed from always sharp to often cloudy. I could no longer keep up with the life I had been living. I realized there was a choice before me. What pieces of my life did I want to keep, and what would I have to let go? Working brings me meaning, direction, and a sense of growth and self sufficiency that I refuse to lose. I’m so grateful that my body still allows me the option to work, even though working comes with many caveats. Teaching no longer fit with my body, so I found a job in social work with a more flexible schedule. I now work with an organization that supports individuals with disabilities who want to work and sets them up with employment positions. I’m setting people with disabilities up for success — a mission that resonates with me. When I work, I look capable. I handle my caseload well. I complete my administrative tasks thoroughly and on time. I work well with the individuals and families I advocate for. I love my job, supervisors, and coworkers. However, when I work, I hide the extent of the pain and fatigue I am working through. I hide my pain because I constantly hear the advice “Take care of yourself first; then take care of others,” but saying this to many chronically ill individuals asks them to never support other individuals. Wellness for people with chronic illness often means coping in the best way we can with the choices we make, which we may work to choose and thrive at. Living with our choices while knowing our limits may come close to taking care of ourselves at work, but it may be the best we can do. When I get home from work, I clean very little. The disarray of my room, my apartment, and the dishes in my sink causes me distress. My supportive roommate gets frustrated but tries to understand me and exercise patience. I also know I have to do many other things cautiously because of my health. Just one day of exercise could cost me days of work. I inject weekly medications on Fridays because I know I will lose the next two days to vomiting and nausea and cannot lose any work days. Still, though, without taking any vacation, I plow through sick days and “vacation days” I spend sick. The guilt I face when taking time off because of chronic illness becomes chronic too. My job is my life. My job became my life not because I focus too hard on work but instead because physical limitations, pain, fatigue, appointments, and medications take up the rest of my time. I love my job, and when I do not work, I fall into grief. When I need to take time off and use my vacation days or the FMLA, I often fall into depression. My friends and family never left me, and my support network stands by me. But my life isn’t perfect because I still have to choose, and I know I need my work. Just barely putting in all the time I need to work becomes more than a full-time life. Choosing to work with a chronic illness — or choosing anything with a chronic illness — often also means choosing what to exclude from life. These personal choices may come at a cost — like cooking, reading, or even family bonds and friendships. For each choice, excluding the other options often relieves no stress but may only come from necessity. We may give our all to these choices we focus on, and some of us may never feel like we can give enough. My choice was my work, but I still struggle with how “full-time” my chronic illness is too.

Annie Basil

When It Feels Like You're Starting Over With Chronic Illness

“ Don’t be afraid to start over. This time you’re not starting from scratch, you’re starting from experience.” — Unknown This quote has been everything to me lately. I’ve been sick for the past six weeks, and I don’t know if it’s a flare-up of other chronic illnesses or if it’s something new. But it’s been reminding me of things that I thought I was long past. It has reminded me of the fear of not knowing what will happen next. Being terrified that my body will never recover. Not knowing what new symptoms I’ll start experiencing next, or how they’ll affect my life. It brings back memories of endless doctors’ appointments. The unclear lab results. The disappointment when tests come back normal. The being dismissed by doctors, until suddenly they call you in a panic when things are more serious than they realized. Long wait times to see specialists who often didn’t have any answers. Endless tests that come back with inconclusive results. Being sent to the ER for mentioning certain symptoms. The new medications with different side effects every time. It’s terrifying to think that my illness might have come back. Last time I felt like it destroyed my life. It took away everything I considered my identity: my school, my hobbies, my friends. It took me two years to be able to work again, even part-time. It took me even longer to learn to trust my body again. I wasn’t sure how I could go through that again. The depth of depression it caused. Am I strong enough to go through that again? I don’t know. Managing not just the physical symptoms, but the fear and other emotions, and working with doctors to get answers. How can I do it all again?  I’m also balancing a lot more in my life right now than I was last time it happened, will this all fall apart? Will the life I’ve struggled to rebuild come crashing down again? Last time, I was relatively near my hometown, near the doctors. But this time I’m halfway across the country. I’ve had to find new doctors for everything. In a small town, there are not the specialists I worked with before, the doctors who specialize in my conditions and teach at the country’s best medical schools. But what I do know is this. I’m not starting over. I am starting from experience. I am afraid, but I can use what I learned last time to help. These are the things I’m doing now, my non-negotiables: I am only working with doctors who respect me and listen to me. I don’t care if they have all the qualifications in the world, or if they’ve literally written books on my condition. If they don’t even act like they care about me, it’s not worth my time. I am finding doctors who will advocate for me. Last time I didn’t have a good primary care provider, so every doctor sent me to different ones, in an endless cycle of referrals. Now, I have an excellent PCP, but he’s halfway across the country and can’t even treat me virtually due to licensing restrictions. But I saw a few different doctors at my school’s health center, and the one I trusted I have made my new PCP. I am preparing for appointments. I get nervous when I meet new doctors, and in the past, that has resulted in me barely saying anything, which means I just leave the appointment frustrated by the lack of answers. This time, I’m making a plan before each new doctor I see, with an overview of symptoms, more detailed description of symptoms specific to them, questions for them, and a medication list. That way, when I walk into the appointment, I know exactly what I need to say before I leave. I am getting accommodations from work and school. Last time I didn’t do this, and when I approached my professors they were not accommodating. However, after I went through the formal accommodations process they were very helpful and supportive. I’m asking for support when I need it from my friends and family. Last time, I was ashamed to ask for help, and I felt like I was always being too lazy. Now, I know that the people I need in my life will help and support me, and I’m not dealing with people who can’t. I’m being nice to myself. Last time, I judged myself constantly. Anytime I couldn’t do something I had previously agreed to do, I felt guilty. When I couldn’t finish things I used to be able to do, I felt broken and lazy. This time, I’m sure I will still feel those same feelings. But I will try not to judge myself for them. Because it isn’t easy being sick, and I am doing my best. I’m prioritizing my health. Instead of doing everything I can to stay on top of work and school, I am putting my health first. I am taking time to cook nutritious meals. I’m exercising when I can. I’m resting when I need to. It can be so scary to feel like you’re starting a chronic illness journey, whether it’s for the first time or the 15th time. If you’ve been through this before, what have you learned from your experience? Even when it feels impossible, you will get through this. I hope you’re able to find the support and help you need to make it easier for you.

Matt Sloan

Video Call Habits When You Live With Anxiety

Stop me when this sounds familiar: You’re joining a Zoom (or another video call) meeting for work, with friends, or anyone at all, and your anxiety gets the notification that it’s time to come and play. Anxiety sucks, and it doesn’t take a break from making you question every little thing you do just because you’re talking to others via the marvelous medium of internet video calls instead of “real life.” That’s been particularly true over the past few years (since, you know, everything with COVID-19 ). I don’t know about you, but social anxiety never lets me have a break, even if I know the people on the call extremely well. So, speaking for myself and maybe you too, here are five habits you might have on video calls if you’re a highly anxious person like me. 1. Checking your own video feed. Oh boy. I’m constantly scared about this one. You’re in the call and trying to pay attention to what’s being said, but your eyes keep flicking to your own video feed like you’re Narcissus and you’re obsessed with your own reflection. I swear, I’m not vain. In fact, I’m constantly checking how I look in case there’s something for me to worry about: “I smiled there now; I hate my smile. What does it look like? Oh god, look at your teeth. When did you last brush them? Why is your hair so weird? You’re resting your head on your hand. Nobody else is doing it! Stop it! Wait, is it obvious you’re looking at your own video? Stop looking! Stop it! OK, one more look.” I feel like an anxious mess during video calls. 2. Not actually disabling the self-video feed. You’d think, given the distress caused by all of the above, that I’d disable the ability to see my own video feed. That would be wise, right? Yeah, no. My anxiety tells me that I absolutely must be able to monitor my own video because, otherwise, how would I know if I look or do something “weird?” Believe me, I’ve tried disabling my own video display, but it doesn’t take long before I get so anxious that I need to reenable it. I swear, if it wasn’t an option, I’d polish my laptop’s screen so highly that I’d be able to see my own reflection anyway. Come to think of it, maybe it would get me to actually clean the fingerprints from my laptop’s screen. 3. Stimming. There’s nothing wrong with stimming. Lots of people do it for various reasons, from attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism to anxiety itself. There exists a multitude of different stim and fidget toys to do so with, such as the classic fidget spinners, cubes, putty, and even magnetic cubes. And, if you don’t have one on hand, there’s my personal favorite stand-in: the pen. It has the added bonus of making you look like you’re taking notes (or maybe you are). But, of course, this comes with its own dangers and triggers, namely numbers one and two on this list. Do I look “silly” right now? Am I in danger of biting through the pen and covering my mouth with ink in full view of my colleagues? There have been times I’ve been stimming and I’ve dropped the fidget tool on the keyboard or floor, making a loud noise and thus scaring myself in the process. Or, if I have nothing on hand, I bite my nails. That’s a whole other anxiety worry. 4. Extreme hesitance before speaking. This one takes me right back to my school days. It might not be the case for smaller or one-to-one calls, but every time I feel ready to unmute myself and join the conversation… I stop. Maybe someone else started speaking first, and I want to be polite (of course) and not continue talking over them. Maybe I just second-guessed myself due to a pesky lack of self-belief. Whatever the reason, I commonly pause, unmute myself… then mute myself again. Sometimes, I’ll go through this dance three or four times before the conversation has invariably moved on and I feel like a fool and a failure. Oh, and I know there’s a “raise hand” option on Zoom. Somehow, that’s even more anxiety-provoking! 5. Masking. On the inside, I feel like an anxious mess during video calls. I can feel myself shaking, I’m sweating, I’m constantly looking at my own feed, I’m stimming… and I feel like everybody on the call can surely see how anxious I am, especially if I do grasp enough confidence to take a more active role. However, on the outside? Somehow, by some miracle, I’ve been told I look… calm? What? You may already know why; I’ve probably become so proficient at masking my anxiety that people haven’t got a clue. I’ve even had people doubt that I have anxiety at all because to the outside world, I’m calm and collected, maybe even confident. But masking takes energy, even when it’s done automatically. Afterward comes the crash. Woe to the days I have multiple calls in short succession! Be a little kinder with yourself. There’s a lot I could add here besides the above; I could talk about the hyperawareness of how everybody responds to something I’ve said, watching for any clues that they think I’m silly. I could talk about the hesitance to even be on camera, or worrying about what might be behind me. (Thank goodness for virtual backgrounds, right?) My point is this: If you’re a highly anxious person like me, you might be able to relate to the above struggles. And hey, you’re not alone. Anxiety makes social interaction really tough. Every time you join a video call, you’re an absolute champion. I’m proud of you! Be a little kinder with yourself for your video call habits that come from anxiety. I’ll try and do the same. Sure, we check our video feeds and panic every time we need to join the conversation, but we’re still there, and that makes us Mighty. Can you relate? Do you have any other video call habits due to anxiety? Let me know in the comments below!

Returning to the Real World After Years of Healing From Lyme Disease

When I got really sick, I created a “when I’m better” list of all of the things I planned to do when I felt better. One of the things was start a business. I had no idea what type of business, but I knew it was in me, ready to be birthed, and that the details would come at the right time. Over the past few years, I started taking steps towards this goal — reading, listening to podcasts, discovering my passions and interests, and taking online workshops. Throughout all of this, I had unexpected crashes — mold exposures and Lyme flare-ups that set me back and made this goal seem like it was so far away. And that’s when I realized I had this belief that I had to be 100% better before starting anything. I was putting so much pressure on myself to get better quickly so I could work again and create the lifestyle I wanted for myself. When healing from Lyme disease, there’s so much talk of “remission.” To me, remission always seemed like a golden carrot dangling in front of my face as a reward for doing the “right” treatments with the “right” doctors. At times, it felt like a far-off place where I could go back to living my normal life. Where I had tons of energy, felt joy and happiness, and could do whatever I wanted. To me, remission felt like freedom. Looking back, waiting for “remission” wasn’t healthy. I would put off things I wanted to do because they would be easier to do when I was in remission. I would tell myself that I would work more when I was in remission. I was actually using “remission” as an excuse not to do things that I was afraid of doing. And this realization was terrifying and enlightening at the same time. I had a conversation with a friend and we talked about how there are so many stories and Instagram accounts of people being super sick, or in remission and leading active lives — and not so many in between. So what about this space? The space where we are following our passions, our dreams, making changes in the world, and taking time out to focus on our health, go to appointments, and get our bodies back into balance? This is the messy middle space. Where we are learning how to rejoin the world after months, years, or even decades of being too sick to work, to function, to show up at all. Where we are learning how to balance our health and work. How to balance helping others and helping ourselves. There is no guidebook for returning back into the world after time away. Everyone’s journey will look different. There may be overwhelm, frustration, setbacks, anger, and confusion. And know that’s totally normal. It’s not easy. It’s not black and white. This gray area is filled with trial and error, “mistakes,” learning, and being compassionate with yourself. Sometimes it looks like not being able to work for a significant amount of time to focus on your health. Sometimes it looks like working too much, crashing, and being forced to slow down and take time off. Sometimes it looks like working more in one week than you have in years and celebrating. Today I choose to celebrate starting a new business — an entirely new career path. There’s tons of fear — putting myself out there in new ways brings up tons of triggers — but I am taking each trigger as it comes, knowing that each one is providing me another opportunity to grow, to heal, and to show up in an even more powerful way.

Fanny Nordgren

Why My Baby Being 'Healthy' Isn't Essential as a Chronically Ill Mom

As of writing this, I am 29 years old and 23 weeks pregnant with my first child. This means that I’m past the point of being able to find out what sex the baby growing inside of me is. This also means that people around me, like friends, acquaintances, and co-workers, are curious. They’ll ask if I have found out the sex of the baby and I welcome the question, because I can whole-heartedly give them my genuine answer: “No, because it really doesn’t matter what it turns out to be.” The comment I struggle with is the one I wasn’t expecting so many people to say in response to my answer. More often than not, people will say “That makes sense. The most important thing is that the baby will be healthy, anyway.” I understand that people say this from a place of well-meaning. Of course, they wish for my future child to be healthy. Still, I’ve found myself struggling with this comment, because my instinct is to protest. Now, let me give you some background on my history with chronic illness. I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis when I was 15 years old, and I was diagnosed with atopic dermatitis in my early 20s. Suffice it to say, chronic illness has been a part of my life for a long time, and it’s made me into the person I am today. This also means that my relationship with the word “healthy” is a bit complicated, just like for many, if not all, other people with chronic illnesses. Sure, one can argue that health is relative, but that is normally not what non-chronically ill people mean when they talk about health. In my own personal journey, I’ve reached acceptance of the fact that I will never be healthy, and I will go through life at my own pace, on my own terms. For me, and for many other chronically ill people, “healthy” isn’t a state we will ever get to, and that has to be OK. Our lived experiences, our contributions to society, and the ways we enrich the lives of the people around us aren’t worth any less because we’re not “healthy.” We’re not any less important. For me, the most important thing is to do things I enjoy. To experience life the way I can. To help people through my job as a social worker. To make a difference by trying to be an open-minded person. For me, being healthy isn’t the most important thing, and that’s why I struggle with people saying that my future child’s health is the most important thing. “So,” you might ask, “what is the most important thing, if not the health of your baby?” And to that, I’d like to say that the most important thing when it comes to my future child is that they will get the chance to experience life and explore the world on their own terms. The thing I look forward to the most about becoming a parent is getting to know the person my baby will grow up to be, and supporting them on that journey through life. Healthy or not.

Annie Basil

What I Wish I Could Tell My Boss About My Undiagnosed Chronic Illness

Dear Boss, I’m sorry I haven’t been honest with you about my health. I know that you’re trying to support me, you’re trying to help, and I really appreciate that. I don’t know what to tell you. I wish there were ways you could help, but I’m not sure there are. At this point, I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I don’t know if this is something that can be easily fixed with medication or another treatment. I don’t know when I’ll have answers for you. Yes, I could tell you any of the previous diagnoses which were used to explain some of these symptoms when they’ve happened before, but I don’t know how much that would help. You shouldn’t need a name of an illness to be ready to help me. I don’t know if I’ll spend my next few days or weeks seeing doctors and specialists to get answers. I’ve done that before. I have many specialists I’m more comfortable with at home, but that’s halfway across the country. I have already been to two doctors this time, and they don’t have answers. I don’t know how long this will last. I might be better in a week, or this might be something we’re dealing with for the rest of my time here. I know that doesn’t make it easy. It’s one thing to reschedule a meeting if I might feel better next week; it’s much harder to do when I don’t know when I’ll be able to go to the meeting. I don’t want to have to prove to you how sick I am, but I will if I need to. The last time this happened, after three months of trying to get a diagnosis so I could get help from my professors, my doctor diagnosed me with a concussion. We both knew I never hit my head, but we also knew that I needed time if I had any chance of finishing the semester. A concussion covered some of my symptoms, and we hoped it would give me time to recover. I don’t want to go through any of that process again. This time, I do have formal academic accommodations because of my chronic illnesses, but I hope I don’t have to use them. You say that you want to be supportive, and I hope that’s true. We can involve the administration if we have to, but it’s so much less work if we don’t. I appreciate it when you ask questions, and when you offer to help. Sometimes even just telling someone that I’m not doing OK can be endlessly helpful. But sometimes I’m not ready to do that. And I really appreciate that you accept when I don’t have answers. I need you to know that I’m scared. It’s terrifying to get out of bed and not know if you’ll faint before you get to the kitchen. It’s terrible having pain that you don’t know if or when it’ll go away. So yes, I might seem distant or distracted during our meetings. I might not care about some things as much as I used to. But I’m trying. I know answers would be helpful, and believe me, I feel the same way. I just don’t know yet. In the meantime, time and space and patience would be the most helpful things you could offer. I need time to rest, time to see the doctors I want to see, time to learn what works for me. I need space to experiment with different treatments. And I need patience. I still want to work on my projects as much as I can. I still want to plan regular meetings because there are things we need to discuss. But I might have to cancel them last minute, and I might show up unprepared. This semester might not look how you imagined it would, but I will do my best to finish what needs to be done.

Annie Basil

Why I Used to Wish My Fibromyalgia Pain Was Visible

In the invisible illness and mental illness worlds, I often hear that it would be so much easier if this was an obvious physical injury. I’ve often felt the same way: if only the doctors could see the cause of my pain, then maybe they would believe me. Maybe my friends, family, and coworkers would be more supportive. People can’t ignore a broken leg or an arm in a cast. Recently, however, I’ve learned how misleading this can be. I hurt my ankle six months ago. I waited too long to see a doctor (mostly out of fear of not being believed), but when I did, an MRI showed that I had torn several ligaments in my ankle. Obviously, I hoped that this would lead to a clear and quick solution. After six months of pain with every step, I was eager to spend a few weeks on crutches and get better. But unfortunately, that wasn’t what I had to do. Even though I had been in physical therapy for months, the only suggestion the doctor had was to keep doing everything, and it would heal with time. When I asked if taking a break from running would help (since it was always so much more painful after running), he replied, “No, definitely don’t do that. Keep running. Keep doing everything.” It’s been hard. It’s reassuring to know that what I’m doing isn’t making it worse. But it isn’t easy to come home and go for a run after my ankle hurts so much just from walking around all day. Throughout this process, it has reminded me of previous experiences with chronic mental and physical illnesses. When I was dealing with chronic pain and fatigue, and I just wished the doctors could see the problem. I wished they could see something wrong, and I wished it would help them understand and have ideas for treatment. But sometimes seeing a problem doesn’t lead to treatments. Sometimes, even when there is a clear issue, even when they can see your pain, they can’t do anything. In these situations, whether they’re from chronic illness or sudden injuries, I think there are two important things for us to do: find support and keep doing the small things. Finding support is the most important thing to do in these situations. Support can come from doctors — maybe it’s the physical therapist who pushes you harder every week, but encourages you along the way. Maybe it’s the primary care doctor who asks you to keep checking in with him, even though your conditions are being treated by specialists. But we can’t rely on doctors to be our support systems, we need to build our own. Family and friends can be the best support systems. Some of my friends don’t even know what’s been going on (either with my recent injuries or my chronic illness), but I can still turn to them when I need a distraction from thinking about these problems. Then there are my friends who I can call anytime and complain about a doctor’s appointment or a hard day, and I know they’ll always listen and support me. Obviously, every friend can’t play that role, but I encourage you to find at least someone who can. Maybe it’s someone you know who has recently recovered from a similar issue. Or someone from a support group, or even a therapist. I think it’s important to have many different people to support you, and at least some of them need to be people you can talk to about anything. The second most important thing to do in these situations is to do the “small” things. Even when there’s nothing doctors can do to help, there are usually “small” things that are important for recovering. Sometimes these small things feel too small to make a difference, and other times they just feel overwhelming. But we have to keep trying. For my ankle injury, I try to do my physical therapy exercises daily, and stand on a balance board several times a day. I also ice it often, especially after doing any physical activity. For my mental health, the small steps are usually things like exercising, eating filling meals, and making sure I take my medication every day. For my chronic illness, they’re things like sleeping, doing some type of movement, and seeing other people. Sometimes it’s hard to keep doing these things, because it feels like they don’t make a difference. But over time they do, and we need to keep trying. I think it can be easy to wish that our pain has a clear reason and a simple solution. But in the real world, that doesn’t always happen. In that case, I hope you’re able to find people to support you, and keep doing the small steps to get better. It takes time, but it will be worth it.

Annie Basil

Why I Used to Wish My Fibromyalgia Pain Was Visible

In the invisible illness and mental illness worlds, I often hear that it would be so much easier if this was an obvious physical injury. I’ve often felt the same way: if only the doctors could see the cause of my pain, then maybe they would believe me. Maybe my friends, family, and coworkers would be more supportive. People can’t ignore a broken leg or an arm in a cast. Recently, however, I’ve learned how misleading this can be. I hurt my ankle six months ago. I waited too long to see a doctor (mostly out of fear of not being believed), but when I did, an MRI showed that I had torn several ligaments in my ankle. Obviously, I hoped that this would lead to a clear and quick solution. After six months of pain with every step, I was eager to spend a few weeks on crutches and get better. But unfortunately, that wasn’t what I had to do. Even though I had been in physical therapy for months, the only suggestion the doctor had was to keep doing everything, and it would heal with time. When I asked if taking a break from running would help (since it was always so much more painful after running), he replied, “No, definitely don’t do that. Keep running. Keep doing everything.” It’s been hard. It’s reassuring to know that what I’m doing isn’t making it worse. But it isn’t easy to come home and go for a run after my ankle hurts so much just from walking around all day. Throughout this process, it has reminded me of previous experiences with chronic mental and physical illnesses. When I was dealing with chronic pain and fatigue, and I just wished the doctors could see the problem. I wished they could see something wrong, and I wished it would help them understand and have ideas for treatment. But sometimes seeing a problem doesn’t lead to treatments. Sometimes, even when there is a clear issue, even when they can see your pain, they can’t do anything. In these situations, whether they’re from chronic illness or sudden injuries, I think there are two important things for us to do: find support and keep doing the small things. Finding support is the most important thing to do in these situations. Support can come from doctors — maybe it’s the physical therapist who pushes you harder every week, but encourages you along the way. Maybe it’s the primary care doctor who asks you to keep checking in with him, even though your conditions are being treated by specialists. But we can’t rely on doctors to be our support systems, we need to build our own. Family and friends can be the best support systems. Some of my friends don’t even know what’s been going on (either with my recent injuries or my chronic illness), but I can still turn to them when I need a distraction from thinking about these problems. Then there are my friends who I can call anytime and complain about a doctor’s appointment or a hard day, and I know they’ll always listen and support me. Obviously, every friend can’t play that role, but I encourage you to find at least someone who can. Maybe it’s someone you know who has recently recovered from a similar issue. Or someone from a support group, or even a therapist. I think it’s important to have many different people to support you, and at least some of them need to be people you can talk to about anything. The second most important thing to do in these situations is to do the “small” things. Even when there’s nothing doctors can do to help, there are usually “small” things that are important for recovering. Sometimes these small things feel too small to make a difference, and other times they just feel overwhelming. But we have to keep trying. For my ankle injury, I try to do my physical therapy exercises daily, and stand on a balance board several times a day. I also ice it often, especially after doing any physical activity. For my mental health, the small steps are usually things like exercising, eating filling meals, and making sure I take my medication every day. For my chronic illness, they’re things like sleeping, doing some type of movement, and seeing other people. Sometimes it’s hard to keep doing these things, because it feels like they don’t make a difference. But over time they do, and we need to keep trying. I think it can be easy to wish that our pain has a clear reason and a simple solution. But in the real world, that doesn’t always happen. In that case, I hope you’re able to find people to support you, and keep doing the small steps to get better. It takes time, but it will be worth it.