Hannah Helmers

@hannah-helmers | contributor
Hannah Helmers is a 19-year-old who’s chronically fabulous. She’s currently pursuing a degree in nursing to be able to help people like people have helped her. Follow her journey on You Gotta Lot of Nerve.
Hannah Helmers

Why Breakups Can Be Especially Hard When You Live With Chronic Illness

Dating in general is hard, but dating with chronic illnesses feels nearly impossible. I was in a longterm relationship and it came to an end mutually. We dated when I was going from diagnosis to diagnosis, and when we decided to call it quits, I felt lost. The one person I could always count on for support was, all of the sudden, gone. The person I had by my side for nearly two and a half years of fighting illnesses could no longer support me through everything. I didn’t know how to fight alone. Breakups are hard in general, but having a breakup and having chronic illnesses is earth-shattering. On a scale from one to 10, I generally have pain level of eight every day without the emotional stress of a breakup. When my relationship ended, I went spiraling downward. My pain wasn’t only out of control physically — it was now mentally and emotionally out of control as well. How was I supposed to move on when every day I was in even more pain than usual? I wasn’t just grieving the breakup — I was grieving the fact that I didn’t know how to control my pain without him. I was grieving because I thought I had to fight these beasts alone. The night it ended, fighting alone seemed impossible. I immediately tried to find new people to fill his space. My friends stepped up to the plate and supported me through the good days and the bad days. My family gave me strength, perseverance and love. The funny thing is, this wasn’t new at all. These people had been supporting me through it all and had also been there every step of the way. They came to the hospital to visit me, and they picked up my medication and listened when I had things I needed to get off of my chest. Even though the breakup sucked, I’m happy it happened because it showed me the support system I had all along. I was just so invested in one person, I didn’t realize it. Now that we’re more than five months down the line from “D-day,” I’m in a good place. I’ve learned I’m even stronger than I ever imagined, and I’m more than capable of fighting this battle alone — well, with my family, friends and support group by my side, that is. Since then, I’ve also been featured on numerous news outlets, including Cincinnati.com and the Cincinnati Children’s blog. All of this helped me pull myself out of the rubble to realize how strong I am. Not only do I have my family and friends behind me, I have the city of Cincinnati aware of complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS). This is a huge feat for the CRPS community. The thing that’s now in my face is…. dating. Dating in the first place scared me, but now dating with chronic illnesses frightens me even more. When are you supposed to say? “Oh hey, by the way, I have several chronic illnesses and they will never go away and I’ll be in pain the rest of my life.” Talking about my illnesses comes naturally. I’m not scared to talk about them, and I happily spread awareness for what means so much to me. It’s just going to come down to who’s going to happily accept me for who I am and wants to take on these battles with me. But no matter what happens, I know I’m not fighting this alone. Months after going through this myself, here’s what I would tell someone with a chronic illness who’s going through a tough breakup. This is a completely different kind of pain than you are used to. It’s a heart-wrenching, drowning in your own tears kind of pain, but you are strong enough to move on. The next few days, weeks and months might be tough, but know that you are tougher. Know that you have so many people who are here for you, and reach out to them to build a support system. There’s nothing wrong with needing help and needing support to get through the tough days. Know that you will experience a roller coaster of emotions, but it’s OK to cry and be angry. But know that you deserve to be happy, too. Know that, day by day, the pain will become a little less and you will begin to rebuild yourself. If you can fight chronic illness on a daily basis, you can surely get through this breakup. And one day a great guy or girl will come along, and you’ll realize all that pain was to help you meet the person of your dreams. Today might suck, but tomorrow looks a little brighter. Hey, you have a 100 percent success rate of getting through every day so far, and that’s something to celebrate.

Hannah Helmers

I Ran to Win Before My Chronic Illnesses. Now I Run for This.

Someone once told me if you love something, you should keep it close to you. This is what running does for me. Since middle school, running has been one of my biggest passions. I loved being able to go out on a run and forget about all of my worries. I was a successful runner in high school. I consistently came in the top 10 in races and at my peak was running a 5K race in under 20 minutes. In my junior year of high school, my calves began to hurt and my feet began to feel numb. A local doctor told me I had compartment syndrome in both of my calves. In both calves, there are four compartments that hold muscle and around those muscles are fascia. My fascia was too thick, which cut off my blood flow and nerves. It’s like having 2 pounds of meat in a 1-pound bag. I thought having surgery would help me, and it did solve the problem at hand. However, little did I know what I was in for. Two surgeries, nine scars and four drain holes later I was in more pain than I could ever imagine. My legs constantly burned. They turned weird shades of purple and red. Riding in a car from the vibrations was torture. This is when Dr. Kenneth Goldschneider at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center diagnosed me with complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS). CRPS is a rare condition where my brain and sympathetic nerves are telling me my legs are hurt even though they aren’t newly injured. They told me that a cure is possible, but it can be very hard to achieve sometimes. I’m working hard every day to hopefully reach remission. I was also diagnosed with fibromyalgia, widespread pain and dysautonomia, a malfunction of the autonomic nervous system. My doctors immediately started me on physical therapy, medication and pain psychology appointments, but the one thing that truly saved me was my passion for running. Running taught me that when the going gets tough, you just keep going. Since my diagnoses, I have made it my mission to spread more awareness for the various chronic illnesses I have. Before I was diagnosed, I had no idea these even existed, and now, at times, it feels like they control my life. When I want to go out with friends, my CRPS might say, “Hannah, I’m going to flare up for you.” Or my dysautonomia might say, “No no no, Hannah, it’s time to be dizzy,” and I may not be able to get out of bed. This is when I decided I was going to train for various half marathons to spread awareness for CRPS, dysautonomia and fibromyalgia now that high school had ended. The first half marathon I completed was the Flying Pig Half Marathon in Cincinnati, Ohio. I finished under my goal time, but my dysautonomia decided to act up at the finish line. I almost passed out, but thankfully, my dad and a nurse with a wheelchair who was knowledgeable about my conditions were nearby. My legs felt like they were on fire and my body ached, but I was over the moon that I accomplished my first half marathon. I’m planning on making a race schedule and running a few in the fall and then continuing year round. Being able to combine my love of running and raising awareness for what is so important to me is life-altering. Without running, my doctors say my pain could be even higher. I can’t even imagine this considering my pain level is usually an eight out of 10 daily. I have also learned that winning doesn’t necessarily mean crossing the finish line first. Going from a competitive high school cross country and track runner to the back of the pack after my chronic illnesses wreaked havoc on my body. I felt lost. Running fast made me feel alive. I loved the feeling of knowing you were going to come in the top 10 or having a really good race. But now I know that winning is getting out of bed. Winning is giving your body a break when it needs it. Winning is getting to run even when the odds are stacked against you. Winning is getting to spread awareness about CRPS, dysautonomia and fibromyalgia one race at a time. I may have complex regional pain syndrome, but it sure doesn’t have me! Follow this journey on You Gotta Lot of Nerve. The Mighty is asking the following: What’s the hardest thing you deal with as someone with a chronic illness, and how do you face this? What advice and words of support would you offer someone facing the same thing? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to community@themighty.com. Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our “ Share Your Story ” page for more about our submission guidelines.