Ilana Kruger

@ilana_kruger | contributor
Ilana Kruger is a youth engagement and volunteer coordinator for Yachad New England, a nonprofit dedicated to inclusion and opportunities for people of all abilities. She balances juggling her misbehaving esophagus with her day-to-day professional life. She loves mangos, penguins, her Spotify playlists, and spending time with her supportive friends.
Aylat Lifshitz

Receiving a Cancer Diagnosis as a Young Adult

Summer is my favorite season because I get to spend two months in my happy place: sleepaway camp. This summer was not unlike the previous, but it was overshadowed by evenings of intense headaches and excessive tiredness. I did not think much of it until a week a half after moving to my new apartment in Boston. I really was feeling off and it was not just because my body needed some extra compassion after two months of non-stop work and fun. When I started developing some additional symptoms, my primary care doctor called me at 10 pm and said it was time to go to the emergency room. My most recent ER visits were all when I was in crisis and required observation and transfer to a psychiatric ward, so this was different. I did not know what to expect or if maybe I was overreacting by telling my doctor everything that felt off. I can still vividly see myself on a stretcher in the hallway of the ER, trying to get even the slightest amount of sleep between doctors, x-rays and CT’s. It was not until the next morning that I finally got some privacy in a room. A nurse practitioner from neurosurgery showed me a picture of my brain and said they saw a lesion on the scans. I was in shock. I was thrown off guard and did not know what to say or ask or do. How many times had my generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) told me that I had a brain tumor or some other obscure illness? I just always know that those are irrational thoughts I can challenge or try to dismiss. And yet, the day I am told that there was a tumor on my brain I was not at all prepared to hear the news and everything that followed. They did not know what it was, if it was cancer, if it was benign or malignant. But they did know that to learn more and to stop my symptoms, they had to take it out. Less than two days after going to the ER, I was having brain surgery. There were no discussions of plans beyond the surgery or time to process the situation; the doctors said I needed something, and we let them do it. After surgery, recovery was smooth for me physically, but my emotional recovery over the next few weeks and months was tumultuous. The hardest part was waiting. I was discharged from the hospital with follow up from the surgeon and an appointment with a neuro-oncologist, but no diagnosis and no plan. Even meeting with the oncologist there was still no information on the pathology, or the make-up of the tumor, so there was still no way of deciding what treatments were needed. One afternoon when I was back home and both my parents had returned home after multiple trips to Boston, I got a call from my surgeon. This was the most abrupt and life-changing call I’d ever had. The pathology came back, and the tumor was a rare, aggressive cancer called angiosarcoma, and I would hear from the cancer center regarding appointments. I had not ever really thought of how I would like to receive such heavy news about my health, but I’ve always imagined from TV and movies that a person would be sitting in an office with family, the doctor sitting behind a desk. It is structured and there is sympathy in their voice. They give you a list of treatment options and support resources. Let me tell you, I never expected to get a life-altering diagnosis alone, on the phone with little regard for my emotional response to such heavy news. How do I move forward from that? Do I call my parents and tell them, do I call my friends for support, do I google my diagnosis and see the grim prognosis, do I cry, do I scream or do I just sit with this news and do nothing? I have learned from experience that we can make all the plans we want, but life will take us where it decides to go. I had to take time off of college to focus on my mental health, which delayed my graduation. Then I did not end up teaching right out of college, yet I was still on a path moving forward, even if it was not the one I had envisioned. To be totally honest, cancer was not something that was ever on my mind besides when my aunt passed away from cancer when I was in middle school. I have been fighting an uphill battle with my mental illnesses the last few years, and I always foresee them to be a challenge even when I am on a path of recovery. But this was the year I was going to take back my life and start moving forward on a new path, wherever that might take me. Over the summer I turned 24 and just a week before my surgery I got a job as an assistant teacher at a special education school. I was making strides towards my long-awaited goal of being a teacher, yet after one day of orientation my entire world changed. Through my experiences over the past seven months of my cancer journey, I have noticed there are many resources geared towards pediatrics or geriatrics. There is this group of young adults, on the cusp of independence, breaking into the real world and life after school, who has unique challenges when given a cancer diagnosis. I moved to Boston just a year before this happened and was still learning what it meant to be an independent adult living eight hours away from my parents and where I grew up. Suddenly, I felt that was taken away from me because my parents would alternate coming up to Boston to stay with me in my apartment that I shared with two roommates I met merely two weeks earlier. Every time I go to the hospital, whether it is for chemotherapy treatments or when I have needed inpatient care, I am reminded of how I do not fit in with the patients around me. I am not looking for a picture perfect cancer story like we often see on TV shows where patients are playing games and know each other. But it begs the question, does my oncologist and my team understand that I still have my whole life in front of me? I have not seen everything I want to see in the world, and I have not accomplished all that I wish to accomplish. I believe these are very important factors when we have to plan my treatment. How can I continue to grow as an adult and have meaningful life experiences while simultaneously fighting the caner and hopefully reaching a point where I can say I am in remission? The past seven months have been filled with aggressive and frequent chemotherapy treatments and radiation treatments for multiple body parts. I unfortunately was not able to keep my job and have been trying to volunteer at some local non-profit organizations when I am feeling well enough. I have really struggled seeing my friends and peers continue to progress in their careers and schooling, while I have felt stagnant at 24. I am seeing some light at the end of a long tunnel and will be having at least two months off of chemotherapy, which is allowing me to begin to think of what I might want to try to do for the next school year. Maybe I can reapply for teaching and assistant teaching positions and try to dip my toe in the water of “normalcy.” It is going to continue to be a long road, but all I can control is how I handle the situation. And right now I am choosing to have hope for a future beyond cancer.

Community Voices
Ilana Kruger

What 'Alexa and Katie' on Netflix Got Right About Teen Illness

I admit that I gravitate towards feel-good, heartwarming and non-stressful television shows. I don’t like watching violence or anything remotely scary. This is why last year I watched the first season of Netflix’s original series, “Alexa and Katie.” I was instantly hooked and thoroughly enjoyed the second season as well, which came out last week. I know that I am probably not the target audience, as the show is about and aimed at high schoolers, but this show is very different than most shows in this genre. The main characters, as you might have guessed, are best friends Alexa and Katie. They share a specific type of friendship that is not always reflected in shows about teens. They are not catty, petty or selfish. Sure, they’re worried about typical things like what to wear on their first day of school or how to impress cute boys, but they have been there for each other through some really tough times, including Alexa’s leukemia. What sets this show apart is how it handles Alexa’s identity as someone with cancer. She is a typical teenager who just wants to start high school, try out for the basketball team, and spend time with her friends. At the start of the show, Alexa is cleared by her doctor to start high school but soon learns the challenges of dealing with school and illness. I did not expect to relate to Alexa as much as I have. While I am not a cancer survivor, when I was in eighth grade I dealt with severe illness and its aftereffects. I know all about trying to maintain normalcy while dealing with doctors’ appointments, medication side affects and limited physical activity. My appendix burst right before my 14th birthday. When most people have appendicitis, it is caught before it ruptures and is a simple procedure with a short recovery time. I have a high tolerance for pain, and the rupture was not caught until my body began to enter septic shock. My organs were shutting down, and I was later told that if it had been caught any later I would not have survived. That’s a lot for an eighth grader to process. I had never been admitted to the hospital before, or had surgery or even just an IV placed in my arm. Like Alexa, before I got sick I was just focused on getting to high school. I was in the hospital for about a month, and missed around three months of school in total. My surgery was not simple and I had to have open surgery, in addition to several smaller procedures to get rid of the infection. Seeing the pediatric ward that Alexa spent time in reminded me of my time in the pediatric intensive care unit. I know all about wanting your body to just go back to how it was before you got sick and about having to stay home from social events because of a compromised immune system. My recovery was not instant and lasted into high school. The physical and psychological scars from my ordeal have not gone away, and a season 2 episode of “Alexa and Katie” nails this idea of medical PTSD. In the second season, Alexa is in maintenance and doing a lot better. She is cleared to try out for the basketball team, and is back to most of her usual activities. In this episode, focused on her family’s Christmas celebrations, she finds a bag from when she was first in the hospital. These objects transport her back to when she was feeling the worst. She has trouble focusing on the festivities around her as she is still processing what has happened to her. My ordeal was over 11 years ago now, but it definitely still has an impact on me. A lot of my ongoing health issues stem from that time, and being in the hospital at such a young age definitely gave me a maturity I hadn’t had before. Alexa is also mature for her age, as she has had to deal with a lot that her peers have not. Throughout it all, Katie is there for her, which strongly reminded me of my best friend. During hospital stays when I was only allowed to have family in my hospital room, we said she was my sister and snuck her in. This is the type of bond that Alexa and Katie have, and I love seeing this friendship on screen. I hope that the show continues so we can continue to see these girls’ story, especially as Alexa (hopefully) enters remission.

7 Psychological Impacts of Surviving Childhood Trauma

I’ve wanted to write about this idea for a long time. You see, in my work as a therapist and in my personal life, I watch something happen really, really often: People who come from traumatic childhood backgrounds comparing themselves to peers who didn’t and beating themselves up for not being further ahead in life or at the same level as their peers. This, obviously, is super painful for those who are comparing themselves to others and finding themselves lacking. But it also doesn’t and cannot make sense for physiological and psychological reasons. In today’s post, I want to tell you why this doesn’t make sense and share with you what kind of comparison (if any) is going to make more sense instead if you yourself come from a traumatic childhood background. What Is Childhood Trauma? Childhood trauma. Those words, for many of us, evoke a sense of heaviness and somberness. And rightly so. But they are also sometimes very misunderstood words. In my experience as a therapist, the idea of what defines trauma is often not very well understood. Trauma, by definition, is an event or series of events that occur and where one’s coping abilities fail to metabolize and process the emotional impact of such events. Childhood trauma isn’t “only” isolated, more easily-pinpointed events like a kidnapping, a car crash, a scary surgery or being assaulted by a parent. (I say “only” because I don’t intend to diminish any of these events in the slightest! Rather, I want to highlight the singularity and traumatic obviousness of such events.) Childhood trauma can also involve more complex, protracted, less easily “pin-pointable” traumas that come in the form of repeated, persistent, prolonged events involving physical, emotional or mental abandonment, neglect or abuse most often by a caregiver or by those in a position of authority over the child. For example, parenting that consistently made you feel physically and psychologically unsafe, chronic poverty, disownment by a parent figure, perpetual emotional, mental and physical boundary crossings by guardians, coaches, grandparents, your church leaders, etc. The Impact of Childhood Trauma Trauma — whether isolated and singular or protracted and complex — can have very profound effects on the physiological and psychological development of the child who undergoes it, especially when and if parent figures, authorities and caregivers are the perpetrators and/or fail to recognize what has happened and help the child process and metabolize the stressors. In their attempts to cope, survivors of childhood trauma often have a host of physiological and psychological impacts that can last into adulthood including, but not limited to: 1. Loss of safety and trust Especially in your parents if they were your abusers. But also a loss of safety and trust in the world, believing the world to be a dangerous scary place where anything can happen. As well as a loss of safety and trust in relationships in general. 2. Flashbacks and re-enactments Actual memories of traumatic events and/or disproportionate responses to triggering events that unconsciously remind you of/reenact past experiences. 3. Depression , anxiety , PTSD and other disorders Trauma survivors often deal with high levels of anxiety, depression or both as a result of their experiences. For those who experience complex, protracted relational traumas, there is an increased possibility of PTSD and possible personality disorders developing. 4. Loss of self-worth An underlying belief system may develop in which you see yourself as unworthy, and/or alternately as grandiose and better than others. You may see-saw between these feeling states, both of which compensate for the absence of a stable sense of self eroded by childhood trauma. 5. Heightened stress response A hyper-aroused nervous system that makes you jump at the slightest noise, an inability to relax, a depressed immune system, a dysregulated body system or a disconnect from your body altogether. 6. Loss of a sense of self Not knowing who, at your core, you are and what your most basic needs and wants might be. A hollow or false sense of self. 7. Use of distorted coping mechanisms Compulsively using food, alcohol or other substances or repetitive behaviors (exercising, shopping, gaming, sex, gambling) to cope with the intolerable feeling states you may be feeling and/or developing emotional responses or life preferences as a reaction to traumatic experiences such as compulsive aggression responses or isolation tendencies. And this is really just the tip of the iceberg. The impacts of a traumatic childhood will be subjective and differ from individual to individual. So while the above list is just a sampling of some of the ways that childhood trauma can manifest and continue into adulthood, it’s by no means comprehensive. The Playing Field Was Never Level to Begin With But even with this short list of symptoms, one thing is probably very clear to you as you read it: Those who have lived through traumatic childhood experiences often have to deal with a host of complex and painful issues and symptoms that their peers who did not live through childhood trauma do not have to face. So from this perspective, the proverbial playing field between those with traumatic childhoods and those with non-traumatic childhoods was not and cannot be level earlier in life. Why? Because it takes an enormous amount of life energy and time to cope with and then, hopefully, and ultimately, heal from childhood trauma. For example, because of the above list of symptoms, childhood trauma can arrest psychological and even physiological development and inhibit survivors from accessing the energy and capacity to achieve certain developmental milestones that their non-traumatized peers might more easily be able to do, such as dating, exploring interests, forming close friendships, clarifying and working towards a career paths that feels authentic and fulfilling to them. If this is you, if you had to spend a majority of your life surviving an abusive childhood, and then later coping with the lingering impacts of it, and now you find yourself looking around at your peers — folks from childhood, college or on the news or TV screen — and feeling jealous and upset that you’re “far behind,” please recognize that it’s utterly unfair to compare yourself to someone who had literal developmental advantages over you. A Better Comparison to Make Look, we all get jealous. It’s a normal and natural human emotion. And contrary to popular belief,  I actually think that jealousy can be an important clue for us . But what’s really unhelpful is to have jealousy about and compare yourself to others who didn’t have the same early childhood disadvantages that you did have. And while I don’t think it’s necessarily helpful to compare ourselves at all, if you’re going to do it (and let’s face it, we’re all human so you probably will at some point) I think it makes more sense to compare yourself either to: People who had the same set of early childhood traumas/disadvantages as you. Or, better yet, you from one, five, or 10 years ago. When we compare ourselves to people who had the same set of early childhood traumas and/or disadvantages (think siblings or peers whose similar life stories you know well), we can level the proverbial playing field a bit. But, of course, even if you had the same childhood as your sibling, how children cope with traumas subjectively differ so you may see different outcomes even as adults. So please just be mindful of that. And certainly, the comparison that I think is the most helpful to make (if you’re going to make one at all) is comparing yourself to you a year ago. Or five years ago. Or even 10 years ago. Compare yourself to your past self and reflect on and appreciate how far you’ve come, what you’re now capable of that you may not have been back then. Reflect on your own growth and progress and use that as your benchmark, not the achievements and “progress” folks who did not have your childhood experience seem to be having. Resources It takes tremendous courage to face your childhood trauma. Acknowledging the truth about our pasts, how our past continues to be present, and then being willing to do the hard work of grieving, processing and moving forward in life requires so much bravery. Overcoming a childhood of trauma is not easy, but it is doable. And certainly, no matter where you find yourself on this journey, nothing will beat  working with your own trauma-trained therapist , but if you’d like some additional resources to support you in your healing, here are some of my recommendations: “ Journey Through Trauma: A Trail Guide To The 5-Phase Cycle of Healing Repeated Trauma “ by Gretchen Schmelzer, PhD (book) “ Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma “ by Peter Levine (book) The Trauma Project (Facebook page with excellent resources and information) “ Guided Imagery for Post-Traumatic Stress: Healing Trauma “ by Belleruth Knaperstack (audio) ACEsConnection (website dedicated to understanding and advancing knoweldge of the impact of childhood trauma) These  PDFs of the effects of childhood trauma and how to support trauma responses in kids  from Echo Parenting (downloadable PDFs) “ What does it mean to remother yourself and why is it so critical for our growth as women? “ (blog post) “ Stop going to the hardware store for milk! “ (blog post) “ Neuroplasticity and the Critical Practice of Speaking More Kindly to Yourself “ (blog post) Now I would love to hear from you in the comments below: What’s one tip or suggestion you have for others who have survived traumatic childhoods who may compare themselves to those who didn’t? What’s been one resource that’s helped you in your own recovery and healing journey? Leave a message in the comments below so our community of blog readers can benefit from your wisdom. And until next time, take very good care of yourself. Warmly, Annie

Ilana Kruger

Chronic Illness: Feeling Jealous of Other People's Normalcy

After years of chronic health issues, I have developed my own version of “normal,” a daily routine that allows me to function out in the world to the best of my abilities. This normal does not look like my friends’ or colleagues’ “normals,” whether they are fully healthy or not. I know this on some level, but it can still be frustrating to navigate the intersection between being a working professional and being someone with health challenges. This is revealed in often small, seemingly insignificant moments: making sure to count out my medications at the beginning of each week so they are easily grabbed on my way out the door on weekday mornings, basing my outfit on whether or not I will be spending an extended amount of time at a doctor’s office, juggling appointments with meetings at work, seeing my many surgical scars when changing for the gym. I have the above down to a science, but sometimes I am reminded that this is not what is normal for everyone. It has been my normal for the past 10 years since my first surgery. But just because I am used to the myriad appointments on my calendar, medication reminders of my phone or my ever-changing diet doesn’t mean I don’t have my moments of misguided envy. I envy my coworkers who are able to schedule vacations without worrying they’ll need the extra days for medical-related absences. I envy my friends whose biggest worries involve dating and where to get an affordable but not terrible haircut. I’ve realized that these misguided feelings of envy emerge when I am feeling the most stressed about my health. It is when my medical issues feel like a burden that I begin to wish I was more like those without chronic illnesses. At the same time, I also believe that a lot of my life skills have developed because of my health challenges. I am super organized and able to prioritize – something that is a daily balancing act for someone with a chronic illness, especially if one of their symptoms is chronic fatigue. If I go to this gym class, will I be too tired to attend my friend’s birthday dinner after? If I tidy up my room, will I have enough energy left to finish my term paper? For me, this translates easily to my work as a publicity assistant, balancing layers of responsibilities while trying not to max myself out. I think I also have a particular sense of self-awareness that stems from having to keep such a close eye on my health. This makes me keenly aware of any differences, however minute they may seem, between myself and others. When I am feeling particularly down, I view these differences in a negative light – as things that make me less normal, that set me apart. This self-awareness means I am also aware of how silly it is to envy someone else for what I perceive as their normalcy. Chances are, they have insecurities from challenges of their own that make them feel different. I am trying to change my thought pattern because on some level I know it is not a healthy way of thinking. What I’m trying to internalize the most is that I am comparing myself to a standard that in reality does not exist. There is no normal, there is no perfect, there is no one way of living. We all adapt to our unique situations and figure out the best ways to live our lives in ways that work for us. This means that my “normal” looks completely different from my friend’s “normal,” and even if I sometimes may think otherwise, I don’t belong in someone else’s equilibrium. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here. Thinkstock photo via AnaBGD.

Ilana Kruger

Learning to Accept That I Am Worthy When I Feel Anything but OK

For me, a combination of anxiety, depression, and physical illness has given me a negative perception of myself as a person and what I deserve in life. I am a firm believer in karma and sending good energy out into the universe. You get what you give. What goes around comes around. But what happens when you only give negative energy and thoughts to yourself? What are you left with to give out to the world if all you tell yourself is how unworthy you are? Self-worth, self-love and self-care are all intertwined. We are told, for both mental and physical health, the importance of taking care of ourselves. Our bodies and minds need rest, nutrition, space to breathe. But when I am dealing with a bad anxiety day or a day full of physical symptoms, instead of acknowledging that I need and deserve a break, I agonize over something I might have missed because I wasn’t feeling up to it. I beat myself up if I think that I made a mistake at work because I wasn’t feeling well. When I do allow myself the space and time to supposedly relax, I worry I am not being social enough or that there is something else I should be doing. I think I have not “earned” my time to just be. This is not conducive to a mindful lifestyle. It can become a vicious cycle, one I am still learning how to break. I am trying to have more positive thoughts about myself so when I do need to step back I can allow myself to do so without thinking that I do not deserve it. Part of this has been saying and thinking positive thoughts about myself and to myself. I have adopted a mantra I learned from one of my yoga classes, and it has gotten me through some tough situations: (Inhale) I am (exhale) OK. Acknowledging I am OK when I feel anything but OK is important. But now I want to be more than just OK. I want to feel that, despite my challenges (and we all have them, even if it doesn’t seem like it on the outside), I am worthy of truly thriving. For now, even though I am not 100% comfortable saying these things to myself, I will say them to you: You are worthy. You deserve love. You deserve to be happy. You are allowed to ask for help. You are more than you think you are. You are a fighter. You are strong. You are enough. And I will continue to say these things to myself until their truth sinks in. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Thinkstock photo by andrej_k

Ilana Kruger

How 'Offspring' Captures My Experience With Anxiety So Well

I usually write about my experiences with chronic illness, but I also struggle with anxiety in my daily life. I often have trouble explaining what my constant anxiety feels like, but I discovered a television series, of all things, that lets viewers inside the mind of its anxious protagonist. The series is called “Offspring” and follows the misadventures of OB-GYN Nina Proudman and her eccentric family. You probably have not seen the show, since it is Australian. The first five seasons are on Netflix, though, which is how I discovered it. The sixth season aired this year and should be on site soon, and the seventh is slated to air in Australia in 2017. The show uses storytelling devices including a heavy dose of magical realism. For the most part, we only see what Nina sees, and we hear her thoughts as narration. We also see her dreams, fantasies, and worries play out on screen. When I first started watching, it actually made me feel uncomfortable. I realized Nina, like me, envisions every possible scenario. She plans, she worries, she talks to herself. She tries her best to keep everything together while dealing with intense emotions. We see Nina go through everything from personal loss to work drama to family issues, all through the lens of a highly anxious person. We hear the voice in her head as she second guesses herself and worries about things that are often beyond her control. To a viewer who does not experience high levels of anxiety, Nina’s worrying may seem over-the-top. The fantasy sequences in which we see the worst-case scenario in Nina’s head played out on screen are obviously dramatized, sometimes for comedic effect. The show is a comedy, and I do find myself laughing at some of Nina’s more ridiculous fears, but more often I relate to what she is feeling. Even though I may not have experienced the exact dilemma she is facing in a given episode, I see my own anxieties and insecurities mirrored in her response to her stressful life. What really cements the show as one of my favorites, though, is not the fact that Nina is anxious. It is that she is, at the same time, fearless. It may seem like a contradiction, but the show runners have a created a character able to overcome her anxieties and live a full life. She takes risks (even if she overthinks them first), she puts herself out there. She is fully present in her life and in the world, even when her anxiety might cause her to want to hide inside instead. Nina is not presented as a “basket case.” She is a strong woman, balancing a successful career, complicated love life, and dramatic family, along with her anxiety. This is not always the case with anxious characters in TV shows. Nina is fully functional despite her anxiety, rather than debilitated by it. By allowing her anxiety to be seen and heard on the show, it normalizes generalized anxiety disorder in a way rarely seen on-screen. As someone dealing with anxiety along with all the usual facets of life, it is refreshing to watch “Offspring” and see Nina in a similar struggle. Even though she is fictional and all the way in Australia, watching a character like her stay afloat despite her personal struggles is inspiring. I can’t wait to see the seventh season. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Photo via Offspring on Ten Facebook

Ilana Kruger

What Fitness Instructors Should Know About Those With Surgery, Illness

As I’ve written about before, despite my chronic illness and several surgeries, I try to keep a regular fitness routine. I don’t always feel up to it, but when I do have enough energy to work out, I try to pick classes that I’ll have fun with, such as dance. Now that I am living in New York City, that means I can try different kinds of classes and studios. When trying new classes, it’s always a hit or miss whether I will be able to keep up or if my physical limitations will hinder my ability to do the workout. It also depends on the instructor, and the overall environment of the class. If it’s a more fun, loose atmosphere, then the other people in the class and the instructor are encouraging, even when I can’t do every move. I recently decided to try a trampoline aerobics class, which was basically mini aerobics routines broken down into intervals, all done on little individual trampolines. Before the class started, the instructor did not ask if anyone in the class had any injuries or other physical issues that she should know about. Most, if not all, of the fitness instructors I have taken classes with have started class by asking this, so I was surprised. This meant that once we started doing abdominal exercises, I had to try to modify the moves myself. I recently had surgery on my esophagus and stomach, and am still careful when working out because of that. When the instructor saw that I was not doing the moves she essentially tried to force my body to bend a certain way – which it certainly could not. I told her that I had had surgery, and she backed off without showing me a modification. In another section of the workout, I encountered a leg move that I was unable to do, due to an older (unrelated) surgery on my foot. This time, she tried showing me a different move, but at the end of class she basically told me that this probably wasn’t the class for me. I was shocked. While I couldn’t do every single move, there were some that I was able to do “better” than some of the other participants. I still felt that I had worked out and broken a sweat. If I’m able to do aerial fabrics, which is a lot “harder” and more technical, why couldn’t I try this class? Are instructors really not used to having people in their classes who have dealt with illness, injury, or surgery? The fitness world does not only include completely healthy people. Many people with health challenges can still work out in some respect. While everyone should be aware of their personal limitations, I hope that others who are chronically ill are not discouraged by instructors like this. I have, of course, encountered instructors who are the complete opposite and have been incredibly encouraging. It is those instructors who make me want to come back to a class, not whether or not I was able to do every single move or not. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Lead photo by Thinkstock Images

Ilana Kruger

New Year’s Resolutions Are a Different Story for the Chronically Ill

Well, we’re less than a week away from New Year’s Eve. For many, this means that it’s time to finalize those New Year’s resolutions. You know, things that we want to do or not do in 2017. I don’t usually officially declare my resolutions, but I’ve made them, practical or otherwise. I’ve realized recently that resolutions are a different story entirely when you’re chronically ill. Many people resolve to eat healthier, lose weight or exercise more in the new year. I personally have tried these as New Year’s resolutions, but it’s hard to stick to something when your health and your body’s reaction to food are totally out of your control. Because a lot of my medical issues are gastrointestinal, my diet changes a lot. This means that my weight fluctuates, as does my stamina and ability to exercise. While I would love to say that in 2017 I will commit to a regular fitness program and eat a certain way, right now all I can hope for is some exercise and a normal diet. Right now, as I’m recovering from surgery on my esophagus, I’m still eating small amounts and getting used to the foods that I used to not be able to eat. Last year, I made the most ridiculous resolution of all: I said that 2016 would be my year without hospital stays or ER visits. Of course, I can’t control that at all, and I ended spending quite a bit of time in the hospital anyway. Sure enough, I had to go to the ER in the beginning of January, and last week I had another ER trip, with more visits, procedures and a major surgery in the middle. So instead of being hospital-free this year, I started and ended the year in my least favorite place. But you know what? I’ve learned I really can’t control any of that. But one resolution I can make is to be OK with the things I can control. I also want to resolve to focus more on self-care. It may seem unnecessary when you’re spending so much time worrying about and tending to your body due to illness. But I mean self-care beyond keeping up with medications and doctor’s visits. I mean taking time to nap, paint my nails, have tea, watch Netflix in bed and not feel guilty about any of it. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images

Ilana Kruger

Challenges of Holiday Shopping When You're Sick

Whether you’re shopping for holiday gifts, need new clothes for parties or are exchanging unwanted presents, the holidays can mean a lot of shopping. While this can be a fun activity for many, for those of us who are chronically ill, holiday shopping can bring new meaning to the phrase “shop till you drop.” It might not seem like it, especially to a healthy person who loves shopping, but going to the mall or shopping center can actually be very energy-consuming. It usually involves a lot of walking around and carrying things, which can be difficult if you are ill. I personally get tired very easily and have to keep my shopping excursions brief, especially if I am going after a full day at work. The holidays mean added crowds, which can be even more overwhelming. Something as simple as waiting in line to return or purchase something can be physically taxing. When you are ill, even the act of just standing around can be very tiring. These are foreign concepts to some of my friends, who don’t see how I can be too tired for a shopping trip. If I’m really not feeling up to it, I tell them to emphasize the word “trip.” I have learned after years of dealing with illness not to push myself and to recognize when going to the mall will be too much for me. I used to dislike online shopping but lately I have been utilizing it more, if only for the convenience. Browsing from the comfort of my bed with no lines or crowded aisles? Yes, please. I am now internet coupon-savvy as well and tend to save more when I shop online, which is important when dealing with medical expenses. I’m not saying to never attempt to shop at brick-and-mortar stores. I am just acknowledging that this everyday activity can actually be pretty difficult for those of us who are not 100 percent healthy. There are ways that stores can make it easier for those of us with chronic illnesses or disabilities. These include having a water fountain and bathroom available, as well as seats. A five-minute sit-down break can go a long way. This holiday season I have chosen to minimize my in-person shopping as much as possible.  This allows me to save my easily-spent energy for the more meaningful aspect of the holiday season: spending time with loved ones. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here. Image via Thinkstock.