Dani Birzer

@danibirzer | staff
Super Contributor
(He/They) 26 yr old nonbinary lesbian rocking Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, Type 3 & 6 as a journalist. Anxiety/OCD/PTSD warrior. Cat dad, bartending and baking enthusiast.

What 'Encanto' Teaches Us About Disability, Family, and Acceptance

This past month I think I’ve probably watched “Encanto” almost over five times, if not more. It’s really good, OK? On around my third or fourth watch, I started to relate my disability narrative and experience with what was happening on-screen. Stick with me, I think I’m on to something here. Naturally, there will be some spoilers up ahead! Mirabel Madrigal is a young woman growing up without a gift while surrounded by people that are incredibly gifted. Every day she is painfully reminded that other people have gifts and talents that she doesn’t have. At a baseline level, she feels inadequate even in her own family. Disabled individuals like myself that are surrounded by abled family members oftentimes feel alone and in some ways, abandoned. How can we relate to those we love when we can’t even muster the strength to get out of bed some days or perform basic daily tasks? Sometimes other family members don’t understand how their ableism is impacting us. They may make passing comments or even direct comments about our weight, our ability or stamina to function, our jobs, our relationships, our parenting styles, etc., or it’s possible that they may directly uninvite us to certain family functions or occasions simply because they think we’re flaky. Abuela doesn’t intentionally harm Mirabel, but she misdirects her frustration and concerns that the family’s magic is coming apart at Mirabel, making suggestions that Mirabel stay out of the way for Antonio’s big day — the day he gets his gift as the first child since Mirabel to approach the magical door. Once Antonio receives his gift, Mirabel feels those same pangs of feeling othered as she sings, “Waiting on a Miracle:” “Can’t keep down the unspoken, invisible pain Always waiting on a miracle Always walking alone Always wanting for more Like I’m still at that door longing to shine Like all of you shine.” Her final, heart-wrenching words to finish the song are “Am I too late for a miracle?” Like so many of us, if only we could get a miracle to transform our mental health, our physical health, or something else that we feel would bring us that sense of belonging and familiarity amongst our able-bodied friends, family, co-workers, and those we meet in everyday life. There are moments of acceptance for Mirabel amongst her family members. It’s clear that while many in her own family don’t understand her, she does her best to level with them about trying to discover her own magical ties through her Uncle Bruno. As she opens up and begins searching for answers, other family members open up about how their own health is doing and how much they’re struggling. They also explain why they “don’t talk about Bruno,” Mirabel’s uncle. Disabled people are always looking for community and family, since many of us often don’t connect with our blood relatives often and, like Mirabel, feel “othered” more frequently than not. The moment of true understanding for Mirabel comes when she seeks out her Uncle Bruno, whose gift is to see vague happenings in the future. Isolated by the family himself, Bruno is what we would call “the black sheep of the family.” He explains to Mirabel how he isolated himself from everyone else because of a vision he had regarding her. She is the first person in a long time to express how she feels isolated and othered by her family, and he not only listens but comes alongside to help. For someone who is feeling othered by their own family, even having just one family member sit down and listen to what’s going on in your life, what things about your chronic condition are wearing you down and more can mean more than they know. By the end of the film — skipping over more than a few spoilers here — Mirabel finally attains the acceptance and love that she has been seeking for so many years. The Madrigals gather around her, finally listening both to what she has to say and what her heart’s desire has been this whole time — to bring her family together. The concluding song “All of You,” sung by everyone in the family wraps up with the following final lines: “We see how bright you burn We see how brave you’ve been Now, see yourself in turn, You’re the real gift, kid, let us in.” Abuela draws Mirabel close, presenting her with a magical doorknob that will bring the Madrigals home for the last time, and says, “ Abre los ojos. What do you see?” And Mirabel, for the first time in her life with the Madrigals sees both herself and how loved she truly is. “I see me. All of me.” How long have so many of us longed to feel seen and heard in our families, disabled or otherwise? Sometimes it’s those that we live with and are related to that we have the hardest time making them see and hear us on such a foundational level. Forgive these long-winded ramblings of a reformed Disney adult, but I hope that whether or not you actually perceived the message of disability found tucked away in Disney’s “Encanto “ or not, you understand how valued and loved you are. If you’re feeling unloved or othered by your family, I hope that you know that there is a family and community out there waiting for you. Waiting to listen to you and waiting to hear whatever you have to say. We at the Mighty see how bright you burn and how brave you’ve been. Keep on seeing it through. If you don’t find that same acceptance in your family, there are others who will be your found family. You’re never alone.

My New Year's Resolutions as Someone With Chronic Illness

It’s very difficult to realize that it’s almost 2022. And of course, with that comes the tradition of selecting a few—or maybe just one—New Years’s resolutions. As someone with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS) and a few other co-morbid conditions, thinking about how the next year will go seems a bit of an uphill climb, to be perfectly frank. With chronic conditions, you’re never sure when your next flare will be, your next hospitalization or emergency department visit and other anxieties that many others simply never even have to consider. It can be exhausting and daunting. However, I hope to provide you with just a handful of the resolutions I’ve created for myself to pursue in 2022. I’m never one for much rigorous holding myself to a particular standard so for me, these will involve more encouragement and affirmations. Life is too short to hold oneself to self-set rules anyway! This year, I choose to be more kind to myself, despite whatever circumstances I’m undergoing. I struggle with this a great deal, since kindness to self seems so difficult since I know all of my own mistakes and live with their consequences. That being said, my therapist has been working with me quite a bit on this… and I’ve been daily encouraged similar by my partner and fiancée, so it’s my main goal for 2022. This year I will be patient with myself and allow myself to take extra time as I need it. Patience is a virtue I daily strive to work on. Chronic illnesses can tend to slow us down in their own unique and challenging ways. We all simply deserve more patience, both with ourselves and others. This year I will share my needs with my family and whatever I’m comfortable sharing about my experiences with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, as I have need. This is more personal to me, as I tend to keep whatever I’m struggling with the most as close to my heart and my inner circle of friends as I can. Sometimes, though, family can surprise you with their supportiveness. It’s up to you if you’re willing and able to educate or explain intimate details with them, but sometimes it’s worth opening up, provided you are safe and have healthy boundaries. I am worth treating myself to something I want. Not everything has to be for things I need. Being a young adult in the world often means stumbling into situations where emergency savings are necessary. If you have the privilege to spend a little on yourself, I can’t recommend it enough. Ehlers-Danlos syndrome and other disabilities can be quite expensive, but you are allowed. Stick to the advice of the proper doctors, physical therapists and specialists. Chronic illness comes with its own grab bag of doctors—both good and bad and everyone else in between. I’ll be the first to admit I’ve had quite a few bad ones, so that tends to make me less than trustworthy of those I should trust. However, even sometimes with good doctors it’s difficult to listen to their advice. If you have good doctors, listen to them! And if you don’t and have the privilege to do so, find new ones. You deserve proper care. Live within the moment. It’s hard to stay focused on the moment when you’re being pulled in, out and around by my pain (and sometimes my joints too…which tend to go out more than I do…just some EDS humor for ya!) But it’s incredibly important to enjoy as much of every moment as you can. You never know which one will be your last. What others think of me is not my business. People are judgmental, and oftentimes, their judgment can be very hurtful when directed toward those of us with disabilities, regardless of our diagnoses. This year, I’m challenging myself to be far less concerned with what others think about me, and instead to concentrate on the positive, enlightened energies that I can put out into the world instead. I hope that moving into the next year, you allow yourself to feel all the feelings that you need to while also taking care of yourself and looking ahead into the excitement of the future. You are valid, worthy and loved.

Why the 988 Crisis Hotline Number Will Help Improve Mental Health Care

By July 16, 2022, thanks to lobbying by groups such as Vibrant Emotional Health, access to a critically important mental health hotline will be easier than ever before when the 1-800-273-TALK (8255) telephone number is supplemented by a three-digit dialing code. Those of us who have experienced mental health crises know that quick, confidential counseling can be incredibly important, especially if thoughts of suicide are involved. It’s no surprise, given the year that we’ve had that the U.S. — and frankly, the rest of the world — is experiencing a collective mental health crisis. The suicide rate has climbed by nearly 30% since 1999, increasing in 49 out of the 50 states. Already suicide is the second leading cause of death amongst young people, as well as the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. Frances Gonzalez, the Senior Director of Marketing and Communications for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and Vibrant Emotional Health, said, “For too long, our system for mental health crisis services has been underfunded and undervalued. We will now meet this challenge with the evidence-based crisis intervention that the 988 crisis line will provide.” The 988 crisis line was designated by federal law to become a three-digit dialing code for the Lifeline, signed into law in October 2020. Individuals and organizations focused on mental health had been lobbying for this accessibility transformation by the Federal Communications Commission for years. Their hard work will finally pay off on July 16, 2022. So, why the hype? Why the importance of just three digits? Well, Gonzalez says that besides accessibility, this change will send a global message that “healing, hope, and help are happening every day.” Gonzalez added that she hopes the 988 crisis line will be able to quickly and effectively connect a person in a mental health crisis to a trained counselor who will help their needs, reduce health care spending, reduce the use of law enforcement and public health officials, meeting the ever-growing need for care, and will help end stigma. “988 will help to save lives, every day,” Gonzalez said. Want to learn more about how you can support your local crisis center while we wait for 988 to go into effect? Click here . Want to learn more about 988, its inception, and other information? Click here .

'Introducing, Selma Blair' Chronicles Her Multiple Sclerosis Battle

Selma Blair, the award-winning actress known for her work in “Cruel Intentions,” the Hellboy series, and many more, has created a documentary about her life and experiences living with multiple sclerosis. You may remember this earlier piece published in August regarding her diagnosis announcement. In that piece, I discuss the actress’s career and her announcement of her diagnosis to entertainment media. She told many publications that her prognosis was good and that her documentary was an opportunity to open up to others about a very intimate aspect of her life. Now in October, her documentary entitled “Introducing, Selma Blair” on Discovery+  reveals an intimate, dynamic portrait of her life with multiple sclerosis. Blair was diagnosed in 2018 after living for years with various symptoms that led to her diagnosis. The 49-year-old actress opens up her life both to scrutiny and compassion as she shares what it was like being diagnosed, enduring a stem-cell transplant to treat the disease in 2019, and living her life day by day. She told the New York Times in an interview, “This is my human condition, and everyone has their own, but I think we are united in feeling alone or frightened when we have a big change in our lives. This wasn’t a vanity project at all, and I’m very capable of loving vanity.” Blair met up with the director of the documentary Rachel Fleit just days prior to the transplant, and the two began working together to produce the intimate, finished masterpiece you can stream today. Fleit herself is no stranger to autoimmune disorders, as she lives with alopecia universalis — an autoimmune disease that causes hair loss. Multiple sclerosis is not a disease that one sees often represented in media of any kind, much less on the silver screen. Just a few that have included it in their narrative include “The West Wing,” “Hilary and Jackie,” “Chicago Hope,” and a handful of documentaries. The power of sharing one’s story is not one to be taken lightly. The Mighty is the perfect example of this — a platform where individuals who have felt silenced by their disabilities, mental illnesses, and more can share their experiences so that others feel less alone in their daily challenges, whatever that looks like. And that is exactly what Selma Blair is doing. Living openly, sharing her experience honestly through a documentary — just so those who have multiple sclerosis feel less alone. Feeling alone with your multiple sclerosis diagnosis? Join our MS Connections group on The Mighty to get support from people who understand.

Dr. Aaron T. Beck, Creator of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, Dies

Those of us who are veterans of mental health counseling, psychiatry, and therapy are likely familiar with the abbreviation CBT, which stands for cognitive behavioral therapy. This form of therapy, known for its intentional, thought-monitoring process of thinking that alters behavior over time, was created by psychiatrist Dr. Aaron T. Beck. On Nov. 1, Beck passed away at age 100. Beck was trained in the late 1950s in Freudian analysis, a kind of psychoanalysis developed by Sigmund Freud which analyzes both the conscious and unconscious decisions each individual makes based on what Freud believed to be psychological drives. Beck decided to take Freud’s psychoanalysis methods and transform them into a kind of thought-process analysis that patients could do to help themselves both during a session and in daily life. He believed that his patients’ unconscious minds would generate “automatic thoughts” that helped goad on the symptoms of depression, anxiety, PTSD, and other mental illnesses and syndromes, and that given enough self-training and patience, patients could undermine these false assumptions of self and replace them with solid evidence instead. For example, a patient with depression may have internalized a pattern of thought such as “I am unlovable.” Beck’s therapy would encourage the patient to analyze this thought, pull from practical evidence like how the patients’ friends, family, and perhaps even pets loved them, so the individual is very much lovable. With time, patience and dedicated processing, patients saw marks of improvement in their mood and outlook on life. Beck wrote about his new therapy for patients in a book published in 1979, and psychology as we know it today has never been the same since. Since its creation, CBT has been used on a global scale by millions of psychiatrists and therapists. As explained by Seth Gillihan, Ph.D., in a Psychology Today article entitled “Why Does Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Work?”, CBT has been used for centuries under different names. Mindfulness could even be one term for some of the benefits that CBT brings to patients. Gillihan writes how CBT’s structure and system are not unlike an exercise program that individuals perform to get well over time. “Repeated and focused practice is an integral part of CBT,” Gillihan says. CBT may not be the right program for everyone, but millions have been helped by it every day. The loss of such a great doctor is certainly one felt by many — both patients and doctors alike.

How Migraine and Mental Illness Impact Each Other

Any time you have a general feeling of being unwell, I find everything else tends to drag you down. There just seems to be not enough energy to get you through the day, you know? You feel weak, sluggish, possibly congested in the sinuses, and more. All in all, it’s frustrating, regardless of whatever illness, infection, virus, or chronic pain flare-up you’re experiencing. For those of us who endure migraine, our mental health can also be pretty significantly impacted. Besides having a throbbing head, potentially visual auras, muscle spasms, feeling nauseated, and more, there’s a mental illness impact as well, not only making the pain seem that much worse, but may involve feelings of anxiety, depression, and more. Dawn Buse, Ph.D. director of behavioral medicine at the Montefiore Headache Center said individuals who suffer from migraine are five times more likely to develop depression than someone without migraine. She also notes approximately 20% of all individuals who have episodic migraine (headaches on 14 or fewer days per month) may have depression. That number climbs pretty dramatically for individuals who have more headaches per month. Thirty to fifty percent of all individuals who have chronic migraine have anxiety as well. Still to this day, the medical world is still not entirely sure what causes migraine, which is pretty significant since 12% of the U.S. population at minimum endure migraine headaches. In a 2015 study conducted by the Department of Neurology at New York University, the Department of Internal Medicine at New York University and others, discovered more than a few fascinating aspects of migraine and their impact on mental health. Patients who have migraine with auras are three times more likely to have bipolar disorder than the general population. Over half of patients with migraine will meet criteria for at least one anxiety disorder in their life. Anxiety disorders are two to five times more prevalent in patients with migraine than the general population, and up to two times more common in patients with migraine than in patients with depression. Patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) are also at a high risk of experiencing migraine. Patients with migraine and anxiety spend an average of over $4,500 a year more than individuals without comorbid anxiety. Childhood emotional abuse is a risk factor for chronic migraine, disabling migraine, and earlier onset migraine. At this time, there is limited data on how migraine and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) impact one another. Mental health and how it impacts medical conditions and vice versa is no joke. It can have a debilitating impact on life, so much so that those who have the condition who aren’t currently enduring a migraine in that moment can be impacted significantly by symptoms of their depression, anxiety, and/or other mental illnesses. If you endure migraine and mental illness, what are some things you wish others would tell you or encourage you by saying? What things would you really wish that you wouldn’t say?

The Legal Challenges Ahead for Telehealth as COVID-19 Rulings End

Telehealth has benefited millions of Americans since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. With the threat of infection ever present, it’s no surprise telehealth has experienced a significant boom since 2020. This boom has led some individuals seeking appointments to ask, “If I can access telehealth from any doctor in the U.S. technically with the click of a button, does it matter if that doctor doesn’t live close to me?” It legally matters a lot, causing millions of healthcare practitioners, hospitals, and other care facilities to examine the finite details of the legality of telehealth. Several states in the U.S. and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services temporarily waived rulings that required licensed care practitioners to hold a valid license in the state in which their patient is living. Given the pandemic in its early stages, this was a critical step in the right direction. Now, those rulings are starting to come back. Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland alerted over 1,000 Virginia residents their telehealth appointments are “no longer feasible” since the emergency orders are either expiring or are in the process of being rolled back in 2021. The Alliance for Connected Care is an organization whose goal is to “create a statutory and regulatory environment in which every provider in America is permitted to deliver and be adequately compensated for providing safe, high quality care.” According to the group’s tracker available online, as of July 19, 2021, 30 states and the District of Columbia have ended their emergency declarations. Twenty-one states still have their declarations in place with 17 of that number having licensure flexibilities included in their emergency declarations. The tracker details exactly what executive order was issued, what the state’s expanded insurance coverage includes, the specific area of health care it includes, and other critical information for potential telehealth patients seeking health care. With these licensure expansions coming to an end, state medical boards, health insurance companies, telehealth psychiatric care companies, and more will be forced to reexamine their policies and coverage across stateliness. For now, any doctor who needs to get an additional license to offer telehealth in a particular state must submit applications in every state where their patients are living, pay the application fees, submit the appropriate paperwork, and more. There’s a lot to study here and even more to discuss in both insurance and health care facilities across America. The debate has already reached Congress in the TREAT Act which summary reads, “To provide temporary licensing reciprocity for telehealth and interstate health care treatment.” Have you received telehealth care during the COVID-19 pandemic? Have you run into any of these legal snags along the way? Tell us about your experiences below.

7 Useful Tools for Coping With a Migraine Flare

If you struggle with migraines or any other type of chronic pain condition, you’re already likely aware of the benefits that a collection of easy-to-get-to items can bring in a pinch, particularly if you’re mid-flare. With as misunderstood (and often unexplainable) of a condition as migraine, having a handy toolkit for migraine can also be really beneficial. Here are seven items you should consider including in your migraine toolkit! 1. Use ice packs to reduce head and neck pain from migraine. This migraine tool seems like it’s probably a no-brainer, as they say. The nervous system can often become overloaded with pain and inflammation, and it will cause trickle-down effects for every part of one’s body. Having an ice pack handy to lay on the back of your neck can help mitigate that! Our Picks: Headache Hat, Reusable Hot/Cold Packs 2. To reduce sensory overload, listen to a playlist of soothing sounds or white noise. I often get migraines where I am less light-sensitive, as opposed to sound-sensitive, so my default is to listen to soothing music to get me to relax. Our Pick: White Noise and Soothing Sound Machine 3. Migraines can cause light sensitivity; using an eye mask and/or wrap-around sunglasses can help. This ties back to the light-sensitivity aspect. The less light coming into my eyes during a migraine episode, the better off I feel. Having a barrier can help take care of that for me. Our Picks: Real Silk Eye Mask, Polarized Wrap-Around Sunglasses 4. A phone charger so you can reconnect when migraine symptoms lift. Frankly, I never know how long my migraines are going to stick around to ruin the rhythm of my day, so I always try to plug my phone in to charge when I know I’m going to be out of commission for a few days. Our Picks: Anker 3-in-1 Charger, Wireless Charging Pad 5. Take a bath with soothing Epsom salts. Who doesn’t love a good therapeutic bath? It can be difficult to get your mind and body to relax by sinking into some warm water, but you’d be surprised at how nice it feels, especially if you’ve not done it in a while. Our Picks: SaltWorks Unscented Epsom Salt, Dr. Teal’s Lavender Epsom Salt 6. Keep easy-to-access sources of protein and nutrition on hand. Sometimes it can be difficult to keep track of how much protein you should be putting into your body during migraine flare-ups, which is why protein bars are my instant go-to! Everything you need (for now) is right there in something portable (and they keep for a while too!) Our Picks: Balance Bar (cookie dough flavor), Zing Plant-Based Protein Bar (variety pack) 7. Remember you have the ability to say no. This isn’t so much an object as it is a state of mind. Sometimes you have to know when to say no. The show will and can go on without you at work, despite how much you may have guilt over your condition. It’s going to be OK. What items do you keep in your migraine toolkit? Let us know!

What to Know About the 4 Common Headaches (Besides Migraine)

Everyone at somepoint has had a headache, and unfortunately, a large percentage of individuals have also had migraine. In fact, according to the Migraine Research Foundation, one billion adults and children have migraine across the globe. But how do you tell the difference between headaches and migraine? Though it may be hard to explain verbally, many of us who get both can tell almost immediately. Migraine is actually a neurological condition impacted by hormone cycles, atmospheric pressure changes, and your body’s generation of particular chemicals. Headaches are far different and can vary significantly by what triggers them. In all, there are over 150 different kinds of headaches. Rather than expound on every single one, allow me to highlight the most commonly experienced headaches. 1. The tension headache. This is, unsurprisingly in this day and age, the most common headache since it’s usually brought on by neck, jaw, and cranial tension in the muscles. They typically last a short period of time and can generally be alleviated with over-the-counter medications, a gentle self-massage or a nap, if you have the liberty. 2. The cluster headache. These kinds of headaches involve a searing pain that is either throbbing or constant (or both, in some cases) that feels as though an ice-pick is piercing through your head. Some individuals feel forced to pace because the pain is so intense they cannot stand or sit still. These aggressive headaches are often brought on in groups that happen anywhere between one and eight times a day, for two to three months at a time. Hence, the name cluster. 3. The sinus headache. If you’ve had a case of severe hay fever, influenza, the flu, or any other kind of sinus-related illness, you are probably all too acquainted with this one. These headaches typically cause a dull, deep-set pain sensation that can spread not only across the head, but also through the sinus cavities in your cheeks, forehead, or nose bridge. 4. The post-traumatic headache. Post-traumatic stress headaches happen within a week after a head injury takes place. Vertigo, memory trouble, irritability, and extreme fatigue are common symptoms with this one. If you don’t feel better after a few weeks, make sure you contact your doctor as soon as possible. Do you struggle with headaches? If so, what kinds have you experienced? Hopefully not all 150.

What Nobody Tells You About Living With Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome

I have Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (EDS), and I’ll be the first to admit, I recognized that I might have the syndrome by seeing a graphic on… Pinterest. Yeah. I walked into my doctor’s office, hoisting high my iPhone, tapping the screen and saying, “I really do think I probably sound ‘crazy,’ but I really think I have this.” A year and some change from that point, and I was diagnosed by the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida. For those of you who also share the syndrome, you know how little most doctors actually know about it. Today, I’m sharing with you just a few things that no one really warns you about Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. Bear in mind, I have type three, or Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, hypermobility variant (hEDS), so not all of these may apply to your particular type of EDS. 1. How utterly exhausted I’d be most or all of the time. I knew it was “normal” to be an adult and be tired, but I had no idea just how fatiguing constant pain, soreness and stiffness would be. It makes sense, but if you’re like me, some days after doing even some activity most would consider to be mostly relaxing or only slightly strenuous, I can barely get out of bed. I’m pretty tired. 2. How I would prioritize my life differently. I look at life now as something to be thoroughly enjoyed to its maximum while I still can. While EDS is not technically considered degenerative, I do know that at some point I may lose my mobility and “freedom” to maybe participate in activities in a way I would like to. 3. Your fear of losing others because of your disability. This is a little emotional to explain, but feeling as though you’re a burden to yourself, your family, and your loved ones is far more common for me than I expected. 4. How much I would learn about myself in the process of being diagnosed and living with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. I don’t think I could ever realize how much I would learn and realize about myself throughout the process of being diagnosed, as well as what I learn every day while living with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. I have learned that I am capable even on my worst pain days, that I am strong, that I am worth caring for, and that regardless of how I may see myself at the moment, there are others in my life who think I am valuable and special to them. I didn’t always believe those things about myself. If you have EDS, what are some things about the syndrome that you wish you had been told?