Rachel Meeks

@rachel-meeks | contributor
Rachel Meeks

3 Ways I Manage the Gut Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder

In college, I sought out a gastroenterologist for my lifelong tummy troubles that seemed to be getting worse. We did a billion tests and didn’t find anything wrong, and at the end of the day my doctor gave me a prescription for antidepressants. If you’re reading this article, you’re probably the type of person who sees an antidepressant prescription as a huge red flag. And it is (good job) but in this case, my doctor wasn’t writing off my very real symptoms. My stomach problems were all in my head. And my head problems were all in my stomach. Well, not all. But you get the play on words. In the midst of this global pandemic, civil unrest and general horror that is 2020, it seems like a good time to talk about this. All of us are feeling the stress. All of us are experiencing some level of trauma. And I’m sure I’m not the only one who has started spending a lot more time in the bathroom (and, unfortunately, using a lot more toilet paper). Did you know that serotonin, a natural chemical that contributes to feelings of happiness and well-being, is primarily located in your gut? About 90% of it, anyway. When people talk about “chemical imbalance” and mental health, you may picture these chemicals as being in your actual brain, when in reality these chemicals that contribute to mood and emotions are coursing throughout your entire body. It’s unfortunate that most people view mental health as separate from bodily health. The point is that it’s important to take a holistic view of your health. The answer to your problems may not be where you think. In my case, I was experiencing undiagnosed bipolar disorder at the time. The biggest, most disruptive symptom at that time was stomach problems. Sometimes my appetite would just vanish. Other times I would feel hungry at normal times, then full after only a couple of bites. And worst of all, bowel issues. Sometimes it was constipation. Other times, the opposite. But I would be in the bathroom for upward of 30 minutes at a time, which is a real problem when you’re at work. And yes, the depression, anxiety and manic episodes were there too, but I can honestly say that stuff seemed mild in comparison. My journey to that bipolar disorder diagnosis was eight years long, a story too long to tell here. Antidepressants didn’t fix the problem, but they were the start. The most important thing to come from that experience with that gastroenterologist was learning the connection between my mind and my gut. Now I know that when every food on this earth sounds unappealing, I should take an inventory of my emotional health. Yes, eating healthier foods and taking vitamins help some, but usually the digestive issues don’t go away until my mental state becomes balanced. Sometimes that means a change of medication. Other times it means giving myself a break, taking a day or two off. That extra self-care. Like I mentioned, we’re currently all living under higher than usual stress levels. Maybe you’re not having toilet trouble, but you have noticed your mood is down. Maybe you feel unmotivated. Maybe you’re really struggling with the loneliness of quarantine life. Maybe you feel constantly on edge or restless. Maybe your sleep schedule is all over the place. I’ve experienced all of these things. Now it’s time for the disclaimer: I’m not a health professional in any capacity. Anything written here should not be construed as medical advice. And mental health is serious and should be taken seriously. None of what I’m about to say is a replacement for therapy or medication. These are just some things I do that help my overall mood and sense of well-being, in addition to working with a professional to stay healthy in mind and body. 1. Eat Healthy Knowing that 90% of serotonin lives in the gut, there is a lot I can do a lot to treat my symptoms of depression and anxiety. The first that helps me is probably the most obvious and least helpful: eat healthy. When I have no appetite, this can be very hard. And taking a daily vitamin supplement is a great way to make sure I get some nutrients if I’m having trouble eating enough. 2. Focus on Fiber I know talking about bowels probably does nothing for an already skittish appetite, but this is important! You probably know that you need to be eating fiber, but did you know there are two kinds of fiber? When I’m having diarrhea or loose, watery bowel movements, I’m going to want soluble fiber — that means fiber that absorbs water. Think oatmeal. This really helps me clear everything out. If I’m constipated or feel heavy and full, I want insoluble fiber. This means roughage: salad and fruits. This is going to help things get moving. 3. Probiotics We have bacteria growing in our guts. And that’s a good thing! That bacteria helps keep me healthy and happy. And if the bacteria in my gut is flourishing, it’s better at converting thoseamino acids into sweet, sweet serotonin. And do you know what makes for a flourishing bacteria community in the gut? Probiotics! I actually do eat Activia yogurt and it’s a great way for just getting daily probiotics. But when I need some probiotics STAT, I just buy a supplement. I can find them at any grocery store and they aren’t very expensive. My favorite are the Pearls. They’re tiny and easy to take. (By the way, this blog post is not sponsored by Pearls or Jamie Lee Curtis which is frankly, a huge bummer. But I do actually use these products.) Eating healthy, focusing on fiber and taking probiotics helps me to take care of both my digestive and mental health. And during this time of high stress, it’s really important to do all I can for my emotional well-being.

Rachel Meeks

How Human Connection Affects Our Perception of Chronic Pain

We all know that friendship is the surest way to overcome any evil, but did you know it can also affect the way you experience pain? There have been a lot of studies done on this topic, with fascinating results. Now, I’m not saying any of you doubt that friendship is magic, but in case any non-believers happen upon this post, here are three studies that show the effects of social companions on the experience of pain.   Hands… Touching Hands… In 2017, researchers at the University of Colorado, Boulder conducted a study with 22 heterosexual couples. Each couple had been together for at least one year, and fell between the ages of 23 and 32. During the experiment, both partners had their brain waves monitored using an electroencephalograph, or EEG. You know, similar to how they monitored Eleven in “Stranger Things.” Some of the couples sat together in the same room without touching, some were asked to hold hands, and some were in separate rooms. The women were all subjected to mild heat-induced pain on their arms (because patriarchy, of course).The study found that the women who held their partner’s hand experienced the lowest pain levels, but even just being in the same room was enough to lower the intensity of the pain experience. The study also tested the partners’ levels of empathy through a simple questionnaire and found that the male partners with higher empathy scores had even more of an impact on the female partners’ pain experience. Since this was a small study, I’m also going to include a quick blurb on another study from 2006. It was a similar premise, with heterosexual couples and the women experiencing small electric shocks (again, we obviously can’t hurt men for science when there’s the option to hurt women!). Some held their spouse’s hand, some held a stranger’s hand, and some were alone. The women who held their spouse’s hand found the pain less unpleasant than the other groups. I’ll Be There for You A newer study from 2019 took a more equal-opportunity look at the relationship between empathy and pain. This one comes from a collaboration between researchers from Austria and Spain. Once again, the study focused on heterosexual pairs. This group had an average age of about 25, and the partners had been together for an average of about three years. Participants filled out questionnaires to give them each an empathy rating. And I know it’s a bummer that this study is only on heterosexual couples, but at least this time both genders were studied equally. Progress? In this scenario, each participant was exposed to “pressure pain” under two different conditions: once in the presence of their partner, and once alone. Observing partners were asked to remain entirely passive, and not touch or speak to their partner during the experiment. This time, the results were measured using a pressure algometer. They found that both men and women were more resilient to pain when they were in the company of their romantic partner. And, of course, the members with the highest empathy rating provided the most pain relief, even when they were being totally passive. This set up specifically shows that romantic bonding alleviates pain, not just nursing behaviors like talking and hand-holding. The bond’s mere existence is enough to affect the physical sensation. Of Mice and Morphine I saved the oldest study for last because, unfortunately, I do need to put a disclaimer/trigger warning on it: This study is controversial because… let’s just say it was not the most humane experiment ever conducted. Scientists inflicted pain on animals and that is morally upsetting. This study is from 1998, the mice aren’t around anymore (I assume), and it’s in the past. We can’t undo what was done. But we can look at the results of the testing and learn from it, and maybe in that way this mousey injustice won’t have been in vain. This study comes out of Italy, specifically, the Instituto di Psicobiologia e Psicofarmacologia del CNR. In this experiment, mice that were experiencing pain were treated with varying levels of morphine. Some were given a normal amount, others were given less than was expected to be effective in treating their pain. Some mice were isolated, some were placed with other random mice, and some were placed with their own brother and sister mice. There were a few interesting results from this experiment. First, the anesthesia was more effective in the mice that got to hang out with family, even in mice that had been under-dosed with morphine. But that wasn’t the only benefit the group allowed to socialize with their kin experienced. Adverse side-effects of morphine, such as respiratory distress, occurred much less frequently, and symptoms associated with withdrawal/addiction were also rarer. This reminds me of the study on addiction that was done on mice that showed that mice that had strong social groups wouldn’t get addicted to heroin, even if it was freely available to them. Conversely, mice in isolation would overdose and die. The Takeaway There is an undeniable connection between our social bonds and our physical health. That’s why babies only want their mommies when they get a bump or a bruise. That’s why someone is always supposed to hold hands with a woman in labor (my husband, sister and mom took shifts for me). And it’s why just sitting with someone who’s having a hard time is actually helpful. Human connection is potent — or, as some very vibrant ponies put it: Friendship is magic. So the next time you’re having a painful procedure done, or some unpleasant dental work, or even just donating blood, bring along your favorite person. You’re not being needy, you’re doing science!

Rachel Meeks

Why We Should Stop Using Chronic Illnesses as Hyperbole

Every day we’re becoming more socially aware and sensitive about how we use language. I love this. As a writer, I love seeing language grow and change. Some people will call it being “politically correct,” but it’s not that. It’s about becoming more aware of the people around you, and more empathetic toward their differences from yourself. As a teen, my very diverse friend group and I used “the R-word” and gay all the time. I remember feeling slightly attacked when society began to frown on the negative usage of those words. Not because I hated people with mental disabilities or people with different sexual preferences than my own, but because we thought they were funny punchlines in our day to day conversation. We were accustomed to using them that way, and we didn’t mean anything by it. But over time, it’s become more and more obvious that using those words in that way is actually incredibly hurtful to those communities that already face so many challenges. It became obvious that using those words frivolously came from a place of privilege. Privilege to be born neurotypical. And even though some of my friends that used gay in a playfully derogatory way actually were gay themselves, they were privileged to be born into a world where those before fought to make non-heterosexuality visible. And they were privileged to be born in a time, place and skin color where much of the oppression either missed them or hadn’t hit them yet. So I can understand why some people get angry at so-called “PC culture.” It’s because they feel hurt. Because they didn’t mean to be “bad,” and now they feel accused of some kind of crime. But if I (as a moody teenager who was apt to cry “no one understands me”) could shift from feeling oppressed, by having to change my vocabulary to learning about experiences different from my own, respecting those differences and empathizing with those differences, anyone can. It’s OK to feel bad when you’re called on to change. But it’s not OK to hang on to that small hurt and place it above other people’s long-term pain. But I’m not saying I’m perfect. In fact, I’m about to point out a lot of words I use in an offensive way. But I’m working on it. Change takes practice. So without further soapboxing, here are some real chronic illnesses that people need to stop using as hyperbole to describe their own quirks or things others do that annoy them. I’m going to post the Urban Dictionary definition of each, Lord help me. 1. OCD. “OCD stands for obsessive-compulsive disorder. This is a mental disorder in which the person thinks about something repeatedly (obsesses) or does behaviors repeatedly or carefully, out of his control (a ), such as checking over and over whether the oven is turned off, washing hands more than once, or counting swallows of water when drinking. This is used as a verb to indicate acting like one has OCD, or behaving like a person with OCD. Whenever I get any important new medications from the pharmacy , I OCD and count all the pills, to be sure the pharmacist gave me the right number! After my roommate talks to her boyfriend, she OCD’s all evening about whether she might have hurt his feelings in any way. I hate parties because I OCD about my acne!” OK . This is the one I’m most guilty of. My psychiatrist has pointed out that I actually have very obsessive tendencies, which is a good word to use instead of OCD . I do some weird shit because I do have anxiety , but I do not have OCD. And people who do really struggle a lot more than just counting pills to make sure the pharmacy didn’t short-change them. Also, just the English major in me needs to point out that this actually makes no sense because OCD is not even a verb, it’s a noun. So you can’t say, “I obsessive-compulsive disorder about my acne!” That’s just a jumble of random words. 2. Bipolar. “It’s when your teacher/parent/authority figure is all nice one day and then the next they are flipping out .” “ Did anyone see Mrs. Kennedy yell at me today? What’s up with her? She’s so bipolar!” You can tell this one was definitely written by someone very mature. First, the obvious: anyone can have bipolar disorder , not just parents and teachers. Second, it’s a real thing. Not just having mood swings. It can be very extreme. Even more extreme than a nice teacher like Mrs. Kennedy having to deal with rotten teenagers all day. Some words to use instead are “mood swings,” “emotional,” or something like “my emotions are all over the place,” or, “Mrs. Kennedy is so unpredictable, maybe I should behave and word hard on a really consistent basis to avoid feeling so ambushed.” 3. “Schizo,” or Schizophrenia. “Someone with wildly diverse personality traits that manifests themselves in a less than sane manner.” That bitch is a “schizo.” One minute she’s a Sunday school girl, the next minute she’s a crack whore that would make a sailor blush .” Wow this post has a lot more cursing that I really intended, but when you’re dealing with Urban Dictionary… Anyway, people are multifaceted, complex beings. Dichotomy resides in us all. But, perhaps more importantly is that schizophrenia is just plain not the word you’re looking for here. There’s a very clear cut set of diagnostic requirements to get the diagnosis that you can read all about online. But a girlfriend behaving erratically probably has more to do with you than her brain. Sudden extreme changes in expressed sexuality are a symptom of Bipolar Disorder, but you shouldn’t use that word here either. Try, “I just can’t figure out that bitch,” or maybe, “That bitch is wild and I do not understand her.” Did you notice anything about these examples? They’re all derogatory uses of mental illnesses. I actually can’t think of a time someone would use physical illness as hyperbole. But I would love examples and would totally do a follow-up post on that. One example that I didn’t include above was depressed. I feel like “depressed” and “ depression ” are becoming more and more understood, and people know the nuances of usage. But maybe that’s still problematic. What do you guys think? Leave a comment, let me know. Another grey area to me is the word “crazy.” I don’t think “crazy” refers so much to actual mental illness as it does to incomprehensible actions, and can be used both positively and negatively. Like, “You went skydiving? You’re crazy!” That could be praise. “Those shoes with that dress?” You’re crazy!” That’s probably an insult. If we call a mass shooter “crazy” that could describe an actual mental illness or just unfathomable hatred. “Did you see these prices? They’re crazy!” Again, can go either way. I feel like the word “crazy” is so broad that it’s probably OK, but let me know in the comments if you disagree. Thanks for evolving, world! I’m glad to see people trying harder to understand each other, and I’m willing to give up a funny hyperbole or two to facilitate that.

Rachel Meeks

Food Allergies Are Not a Joke

I was on a shoot at a college once in the kinesiology department, which is the study of body movement. These students are learning about the human body and I would think they’d know a bit more about health and wellness than the average bear. Which is why it surprised me to hear them having a conversation about “kid allergies” and how “every kid is allergic to something now. Back in my day…” I get it up to a point. I have two toddlers, and I hate that I can’t send uncrustables in their lunches. They don’t like other kinds of sandwiches and it means I have to get creative and spend more time doing the domestic labor of lunch-packing. But if I pack peanuts, I could kill a child , so I don’t complain about it, I just follow the rules. I also hear a lot of complaining about the airplane situation. In super rare circumstances, people have nuts confiscated because someone on the plane is so allergic to nuts that even particles in the air could kill them. Again, I guess saving someone’s life is a big inconvenience to some people. Gluten has become an easy target because a lot of people aren’t allergic, they’re just on a diet trying to better themselves. But people with celiac can get extremely sick if they eat gluten, and gluten is literally everywhere. People often think it’s OK to make fun of avoiding gluten without considering they might be mocking someone who could be hospitalized for consuming just a tiny amount. At another production company, I worked with a guy who had a peanut allergy. Let’s call him Mike. He was really good friends with most of the people there. One day, someone came back from vacation with some fancy cookies from a famous bakery somewhere. The office was delighted, as offices with cookies often are. But Mike didn’t take one, because the box didn’t say if it was prepared in a nut-free facility and we couldn’t find info online. Do you know what all his buddies said?  “Aww, it’s probably fine! You should eat one and see!” They pestered him all day — it was suddenly very personal to everyone that Mike eat this maybe-toxic-to-him cookie. And eventually Mike said, “You’re right, I’m just being cautious, but I could probably eat one and be fine.” Now I didn’t actually like Mike. I actively disliked him — but not enough to watch him have to stab himself with an epi-pen or possibly die. So I jumped in and said, “Mike, don’t eat the cookie. Like seriously. Don’t do it,” while giving some serious stink eye to his buddies. They eventually sort of let it go, but not before making several comments like “but we have Benadryl! And Mike has an epi-pen!” Just for the record, you look like an asshole when you make light of allergies, because they are life or death and they are common. And if you say allergies are only for kids, you look worse because at that point you’re making fun of children with a life-threatening condition. I’m sick of it. Could we just not?

Rachel Meeks

What to Say to Someone With a New Chronic Illness Diagnosis

When someone tells you they have a chronic illness, the usual responses of “get well soon!” or “I hope you feel better!” aren’t really appropriate. Here are some tips on how to respond with thought and care, without being awkward or Hallmark-y about it. 1. Do ask questions, but don’t get too personal. Whether you’ve heard of their illness or not, asking questions is a great way to show interest and to reassure your friend they’re not being burdensome or sharing too much with you. Opening up about something as personal and intimate about one’s body (and mind) takes a lot of courage, so you want to be responsive to them. When I say “don’t get too personal” what I really mean is to let the sharer set the pace of how personal they want to get. Asking questions and responding supportively may lead them to feel comfortable getting into the nitty gritty of the workings of their bowels or whatever it is, or they may stick to broader topics like pain or diet. But it’s important to let them lead the way. Some examples of good questions to ask: “How long have you been dealing with this?” “How does this affect you day-to-day?” “How can I be more mindful of this and help you?” “Do you have a doctor you like?” “How are you feeling right now?” And of course, if you’re not sure what to ask, you can always go with: “Tell me more about it!” 2. Be careful making jokes. I’m the kind of person who defaults to humor, especially to diffuse tension. You may feel awkward when someone tells you about their illness, especially if it has something to do with lady parts, like endometriosis or PCOS. The person confiding in you probably feels more tension than you do. But jokes have to hit just right, or else you risk making the person feel invalidated or hurt. A good rule of thumb is that if the person sharing makes a joke, you can make similar jokes to theirs. Never joke at the sharer’s expense, and if there’s a way to joke at your own expense that’s usually much safer. Another target? The system. Jokes about healthcare or doctors might be a welcome sign of understanding. 3. Share your experiences. Sometimes you may feel like sharing your own story or stories about friends and loved ones with similar struggles may feel like you’re making the conversation all about yourself but I promise it’s not. Showing knowledge and experience can put your friend more at ease, and make them feel more open to sharing more with you. You should, however, be especially attentive if they point out that what they are experiencing is different than what your great aunt experienced, or that those two diseases are really not very similar. Affirm this, and show a genuine interest in the explanation. Never try to explain their own illness to them. 4. Do not try to fix them. Your friend lives in the same world you do. They’ve heard of yoga and essential oils and the Paleo diet. Now is not the time to convince them Big Pharma is a scam. They have a diagnosis, they are seeing a medical professional and odds are they have tried many, many things. Chronic illnesses are usually not curable. They are not telling you this to get medical advice. They want understanding, empathy and to know you love them anyway. If you have shared that you know someone with the same illness, do not share their miracle homeopathic experience. If your friend asks what your step-grandmother did about her illness, you can share. But don’t preach. If you personally have the exact same illness, you can share advice. If you personally have a different chronic illness, tell them, and again, if they ask what you do, you can share. Just don’t try to fix them. 5. State the obvious. It may seem like “duh” to say things like, “That must be really hard,” or, “I’m sorry you have to deal with that,” or even just, “That really blows, man, I’m so sorry,” but these are things that are extremely affirming and validating to a person with an illness. Believe me. You don’t know how often we hear, “That doesn’t sound so bad.” We need to hear that our struggle is real. So go ahead and say, “That sucks.” Because it does, and we’re glad you understand. What are some of your ideas for things to say when a friend shares their illness with you? Fellow spoonies, what are some of the best responses you’ve gotten when you talked to someone about your illness? I leave you with one last bonus one, which can be a kind way to follow up or end messages with your friend: Be AWAP (Be As Well As Possible).

Rachel Meeks

When Chronic Pain Makes You Seem 'Uninterested'

Editor’s note: name has been changed to protect identity. This was back just after I graduated from college. I was working at a production company at my school, and I was one of two student employees. Jane, the girl I worked with, graduated at the same time as me. She already had her sights set on a studio in Dallas, and was going down to tour it. Our boss had an “in” with someone there, so I got to go too. It was a chance for us to see a real studio, a far cry from our three-person operation at a state university. (Read: no budget.) It was a big exciting day. And about halfway through the car ride there, chronic pain struck hard and fast. As we pulled into the parking lot, I was shaking, and I snuck a painkiller after saving up enough spit in my mouth to hopefully get it down. Jane and our boss walked ahead of me. The facilities were amazing. They had a room with no corners, the walls curving gently to the floor, to get that endless white look. That was my favorite part. I was surprised to see a bar in the office — years later, I have yet to work at a production company that didn’t have a bar. But at the time, it was wild to me. But I didn’t vocalize any of this. My delighted reactions were deep inside a trembling, quiet girl shuffling along behind and sitting down whenever possible. Jane already knew I struggled with chronic pain, and she herself had chronic stomach problems and was very understanding. I’m good friends with our boss, too, but he was never understanding about my health issues. When we got back to the office, he was a little miffed with me. “What did you think?” “It was really cool!” “Really? You seemed… uninterested.” “Dude, I was on the brink of death, I swear.” “Alright. It just didn’t make a good impression.” “I know…” Jane got the job. I got a job at another studio, also in Dallas. In the grand scheme of things, that day didn’t matter all that much. I drive by that studio a lot – Jane’s moved on. I’m not at my studio anymore either. But I think about this day all the time. These days, my pain is much more under control. I don’t even use prescription painkillers anymore, but I do still have extremely high social anxiety, and now it’s anxiety attacks that cause me to retreat within and seem “uninterested.” It really sucks to feel unable to communicate the things you think and feel. Especially when you want to be friendly and excited, but instead you’re quiet and withdrawn. I’m not uninterested. I’m here. I’m in here somewhere.

Community Voices

A Spoonie Movie Review of FernGully

Hey guys, today we’re doing a little throwback Tuesday and looking at

one of the quintessential 90’s movies: FernGully. FernGully has some

obvious applications to illnesses like #MultipleChemicalSensitivity,

but let’s dive in and take a deep look at all this classic has to offer.

In the opening narration we discover that fairies and humans used to

live in harmony until a force of destruction, called Hexxus, “rained

poison” over the land, killing many things. The fairies don’t think that

humans survived this rift in the balance of nature. The fairies were

able to trap Hexxus in a tree and stop the spread of his poison, thereby

putting a stop to further loss of life. And so we’re all set up for a

classic tale of man vs. nature, with the villain literally being a

noxious cloud of toxins and poisons. So anyone with MCS or a silimar

illness is going to immediately see their own daily struggle being waged

on screen here as well. We can’t actually remove poison from the world,

but it can be contained and controlled… for now.

Well our protag, Crysta, is not super interested in her lessons from

the local old sage woman warning that if young fairies like Crysta don’t

care a lot, it’s not going to get better, it’s not.

Wrong 90’s kid material.

Anyway, Crysta sees a black cloud rising above the canopy. Could it be…?

Well it sure looks like it, ’cause right after that a Robin Williams

bat shows up, performs a very white rap, and proclaims that, yes, MAN IS

IN THE FORREST.

But pretty much everyone writes him off as crazy because humans all died in the poison. Also, he’s acting… really really crazy.

And how did Batty get this way? Why it was COSMETIC TESTING! Which

everyone with MCS knows it a truly toxic regimen. And I don’t want to

come off like I’m saying this lightly, because I really mean it: makeup

and fragrances are one of the most common ways people systematically

poison themselves in daily doses. It is BAD for you. REAL BAD. But when I

say things like that, I sound as crazy as Batty, no?

But Batty’s right, y’all. Man’s coming, and they have poisons galore. And you know who likes poisons?

THIS GUY

But it’s ok ’cause he’s stuck in a tree.

BUT WAIT OH NO–

You know who loves cutting down trees??!

So yeah, one thing leads to another and soon Hexxus is not only out

of his tree, but sucking down poison and getting super strong off MAN’s

polluting, tree-destroying hellbeast of evil.

And he’s also TIM CURRY!

Truly, the most formidable of all foes.

But meanwhile, there’s a romance subplot between a fairy and a human

because IT WAS THE 90s. And having an interspecies couple was pretty

cutting edge.

I’m willing to forgive the cliche here for… obvious reasons.

I have a thing for shaggy blondes who need repeated and thorough

education on why we need to take better care of the environment.

Anyway, Crysta is trying to cast a helpful spell on this human but

instead shrinks him so that shenanigans can ensue. This shaggy blonde

who needs to learn to love nature is named Zak. Zak Mc90’s probably.

Well Zak quickly falls in love with Crysta and Fern Gully and thinks

that his part in chopping down the rainforest was totally uncool, man.

So now he’s on the fairies’ side. But he’s got a lot to learn. FOR

INSTANCE: he does the most totally romantic thing he can think of: carve

Crysta’s name into a tree. But then she’s horrified as fairies can

literally feel the pain trees feel, so… oops.

I like this scene though, honestly. Because the pain of that tree is

so real to Crysta. And Zak clearly doesn’t feel it the way she does. But

he believes her, and respects her enough to change his behavior so as

not to cause any more pain.

And as someone who lives with #ChronicPain and who has a thing for these dumb scruffy blondes, it means a lot.

So Zak brings human music to the fairies in the form of “Land of 1000

Dances,” he and Crysta go on a magical cave tour where they definitely

canoodle.

5 minutes in to the cave tour and she gives you this look…
Post canoodling, Crysta wants to go tell her grandma all about her

new boy toy (as any young girl would) and while she’s gone, Zak

discovers… OIL IN THE WATER?!

Aw man! See he thought they were just gonna chop down some loser

trees and not come to FernGully, but no, MAN IS TOTALLY COMING TO

FERNGULLY.

And Hexxus is at the helm, more powerful than ever before. MAN has

brought so many toxins and noxious fumes and poisons that he was able to

grow big and strong, like some kinda poison Popeye.

Meanwhile, Magi (the wise old lady of the village) has found the

stump of a tree cut clean away by man’s technologies. This is

destruction beyond her healing.

The fairies prepare to run. Really REALLY cute animals cry and run

with their babies away from MAN and all his evil and poison. And can I

just say I really love the way “pain” is visualized in this movie?

And now, with Hexxus and Man closing in on FernGully, it’s time for

some inspiring quotes that also happen to be profoundly applicable to

fighting #ChronicIllness.
“Look for the hero inside yourself, Crysta. Look to the

good and loving heart in you and all others. For just as every seed

holds the power and magic of creation, so, too, do you…”

“We all have a power, and it grows when it is shared.”

And of course, Hexxus is reimprisoned, and FernGully can never be harmed again.

Well… except by humans. That’s why Zak decides to return to his life

as a human, and leave his fairy girlfriend behind. We see Zak reunite

with his fellow men and say a very promising “things have gotta change”

before he leaves Crysta’s life forever.

Honestly I gotta respect a kids movie setting the romance aside for

the greater message of people need to stop being so poisonous and

destructive. What is Zak gonna do exactly? As a young dude with little

to no education or influence? Well… let’s just go with it’s a message

that even one person can make a difference. Remember: even one tiny seed

holds all the power of creation inside it. That means Zak does too.

AND SO DO YOU, my chronic illness warriors!

Ok so FernGully is far from a perfect movie. But it still gives me

the feels. And it’s still got some good moments in there for people

struggling with chronic illness and environmental illness. Were there

any I missed? Leave ’em in the comments below and stay tuned for more

spoonie movie reviews right here on doilooksick.com.

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Rachel Meeks

How Doing the 'Little Things' Makes Me a Health Activist

There are all kinds of things wrong with the world, and everyone has some issue that they get fired up about. Recently, the Women’s March made waves around the world, and lots of women were out there marching for a lot of different issues. Pro-choice, pro-life, women demanding equal pay, women demanding a safer world, women standing with Standing Rock and women who won’t tolerate being talked about they way certain presidents talk… almost any issue you can think of. This was a march for everything. It seemed like every issue that people get fired up about was represented, as both sides of the arguments showed up. Pro-lifers were marching right along with pro-choicers. Yet there were still some who just couldn’t find an issue to cheer for, so they protested protesting. But all of these people all over the world with all these views have something in common. They all went through a series of universally human steps: They felt a fire in their belly about something. They made up their mind to take action towards real change. They took whatever action they could think of. Take me, for instance. I was diagnosed with endometriosis as a high school senior, but it wasn’t until my senior year of college that I started feeling the fire in my belly for health activism. (At the time, I didn’t know a word for it, but it was health activism.) I saw the discrimination of myself and others who don’t “look” sick, and were written off as liars, party girls, drug addicts, or attention-seekers. Once the fire in my belly got hot enough, I reached step two. I needed to do something. I cannot accept the way things are. I know that people can learn. I want to teach them. I want them to learn the science of these illnesses and health in general! Health education is so, so lacking in America. I can tell you exactly how a plant uses water and sunlight to create energy and grow and what makes a plant healthy or unhealthy, but I graduated without even knowing what all my lady parts are even for and how diet can drastically affect how your body functions. As Trump would say, “Sad!” But here’s the kicker. Everyone everywhere has gone through steps one and two, but so many people give up before step three. Why? It’s not because the fire has gone out. It’s because any action we can think to take often seems too small. I’m just one person. I’m not a politician, I can’t control laws. I’m not an educator, I can’t change what people learn in school. I’m not a doctor, I can’t cure people. I’m just one sick person. There’s nothing I can do. Either that, or we reject the ideas we do have. I could start a fundraiser, but it would annoy my friends and family. I could protest, but what if I’m alone? I could donate money, but where does it go and what does it do? I could write things on the internet, but literally everyone does that and it would be a drop in the ocean. I decided to go for it. What could I think to do? Well, I was a creative writing major. I could write something – what? A blog. Because it’s free and (in theory) the whole world could read it. Could. Probably wouldn’t, but it was possible. And what about my school? The discrimination that put a fire in my belly all happened at my  university. I needed those students, specifically, to read what I had to say. How? I decided to make posters. Just black and white, 8 1/2 by 11, self-printed posters. I posted these all over campus, occasionally getting scolded, and feeling quite sure no one would ever read them or my blog. But, like I said, I had to do something. I got an email from an anonymous person thanking me for bringing this issue forward, but it was one out of the dozen or so emails I got telling me to please stop. But then the unexpected happened. A girl stopped me on campus and said, “I recognize you… you’re on those posters!” We ended up having a seat on a bench and talking for upwards of thirty minutes. She had a bone marrow disease and had struggled so much with faculty and other students not believing how sick she was. She was vibrant and full of life and of course, didn’t look sick. She told me that seeing the posters made her feel less alone. And she thanked me. This one little thing that I was sure would make no difference…made a difference. This  thing that was the only thing I could think to do actually did something. What I thought would be too small to notice was noticed. I did what I could and it made a small difference. I did what I could and it was worth doing. Nowadays, I’m still pretty sure everything I do for this fire in my belly is too small. Womens’ healthcare costs remain high and we have some lawmakers now making things harder. People still post hateful notes on cars parked in the accessible spot if they’re driven by a healthy-looking individual. Most days, writing like this feels too small to be worth doing. But occasionally I get someone thanking me and telling me how much it’s meant. And I have to think that for every person who says something, there must be more people who don’t speak up, but who glean something from this. And hey, I even had the head of the university’s disability office call me to chat and make sure they were doing all they could for their students. Just know that even if it seems too small, do it. Do it for the fire in your belly, do it for yourself, and do it for the world. Think of how much better a place the world would be if everyone did what they could! We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Thinkstock image by DeanDrobot

Rachel Meeks

How Chronic Illness Can Lead to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Whenever I have to schedule a doctor appointment, I cry. When you have chronic illness, you rarely call to schedule a check-up. Most of the time, something is wrong. And most of the time, you’re at the doctor so often that any check-up duties happen right on schedule because you’re there anyway. I used to think that I was afraid of some new diagnosis, or that I’d need another unexpected surgery. I used to think maybe it had something to do with my fear of needles. But in my own mind, those were pretty weak excuses. They were very real issues, but they didn’t instill fear in me to think about. Not like phoning the doctor did. Whenever I call, it’s because something has gotten worse, or I have a new symptom. After the call, I tend to get worse and worse leading up to the appointment. Again, I pinned all this on some kind of phobia I must have and just don’t realize. It wasn’t until the other day when I read a tweet about chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that my reaction began to make sense to me. I’ve heard a lot about PTSD but never considered I might have it. I thought people who see war or abuse get PTSD, and my happy little existence didn’t seem to be in the same ranks. The only horrible thing that ever happened to me was getting sick. Illness, pain, hospitals, and surgery are daily parts of my life. They seem so…. common. Not traumatic, and everyday things can’t be traumatic. Can they? But my PTSD from chronic pain is very real, and actually makes a lot of sense. Why does calling a doctor put me in the throes of depression? Why have all my break-down-into-uncontrollable-crying episodes happened in hospitals? Perhaps my brain is perceiving doctors and hospitals as threats. If I was a wild animal human, these are the kind of instincts that would tell me to run from a volcano or fight off a bear. Hospitals are not volcanoes, though, and doctors are not bears. The result? My “fight or flight” reactions in my brain are causing stress. I don’t run from hospitals or fight doctors (usually) so I think my brain keeps releasing the chemicals that say run! Or fight! And eventually the imbalance causes a breakdown. And that’s just the emotional side. Endometriosis, like so many chronic pain conditions, is very volatile in reaction to stress. Stress can cause my muscles to tense up and irritate lesions, but can also release hormones that, guess what? Make endo grow. And of course, there’s irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). As my gastrointestinal specialist said, IBS is short for “one of many intestinal tract disorders we haven’t yet discovered, named, or learned how to treat.” IBS is a huge blanket diagnosis that covers a lot of things. My unique brand of IBS is related to an anxiety disorder — now, this was diagnosed by a gastrointestinal specialist, not a psychologist, so we don’t know fancy terms for it, but it’s stress that makes me nauseated, barfy, and sick to my stomach. And not typical stress, undue stress. Stress I can’t control. I know what sets me off, but that only helps so much. It’s more than just doctor visits, it’s everyday life. The only “cure” would be a completely stress-free life. So I started antidepressants, which really helped with the undue stress — stress caused by social interactions, perfectionism, and other every day triggers. But they really didn’t help much with things like going to the hospital. There seems to be another class of triggers that I still can’t react well to. I can go to the doctor and seem fine on a really good day. Maybe I won’t break down crying until I’m in the car. But a lot of times there are tears in the office, or some poor nurse who gets a claw-swipe from me while we take blood. I felt better the more I learned about PTSD. All my actions fit the description. I’m hoping the knowledge that there’s a reason for my reactions will give me the balance I need mentally to try and control the fight/flight impulses. So when I’m in a flare of chronic pain, I take a moment and think “Am I in danger? Is what I am doing dangerous?” Take my doctor phone call, for instance. If I’m calling the doctor, it’s because my pain is getting bad, so I’m likely in pain. It’s not the phone call that causes pain. But it makes me nervous and causes physical signs of stress, which can exacerbate pain. So I’m about to dial and also feeling faint. I take a moment and think the words “Am I in danger?” No. Calling some one is not dangerous. But it scares me. “Ah, wait!” says myself to myself, “It scares you, but is it dangerous?” No, but I don’t like it. “But is it dangerous?” No. This admittedly silly conversation works for me. Am I still hurting? Yeah. Do I still need to make the call? Yes. But my palms stop sweating, my muscles relax, my breathing slows, and all of that can do nothing but help my endo.

Rachel Meeks

Why Sick People Have More Fun

Move over, blondes! Yes, it’s true: Sick people have more fun. OK, so we also have a lot more… “opposite of fun.” But I really believe that being chronically ill just makes some celebrations more fun! And it’s not just illness. I think my favorite Christmases or New Years have always come after times of particular stress or depression. I’ve had my share of holidays that have totally sucked because of stress or depression, too. But this Halloween, for instance, happened to fall during a time when we couldn’t get approved for a mortgage loan and I felt like nothing in my life was working out or going right. Then all of a sudden it was Halloween, and there was candy and movies and friends, and it was like a cool, crisp breath of fresh air after being in the smoking section of a monkey house. So around the time I started blogging, my chronic pain was being overshadowed (for once) by some serious dental problems. I missed my chronic pain. That’s how bad the tooth pain was. I didn’t want to eat or move, and I lost a ton of weight in a bad way. My eyes were sunken in and the side of my face was swelling to about the size of an orange. Thanks to an insatiable sweet tooth, a teenhood of shoddy dental care and apathy, and all the Vicodin I later had to take for chronic pain, my teeth were a mess. I had so much work done that year. My dentist was in Dallas and I was about an hour away, which is how this reached emergency levels. Eventually, the swelling threatened to close up my throat, and I was brought in for emergency surgery. My surgeon said that even waiting a few hours would have probably put me in a hospital. The surgery was a success, but I had a drain in my face for a few days. Of course, we didn’t know I’d need that going in to it. While I was coming off the anesthesia, I got to rediscover the horror of a friggen tube sticking out of my face about 10 times. It was like being a GIF. Just repeating the reaction over and over and over until the meds wore off and my brain could brain again. Anyway, after that my teeth felt better but the gaping whole in my face was now causing pain and making me still not want to eat. I bet you’re thinking this all still sounds like the opposite of fun. I told you, there’s a lot more “opposite of fun” before you start having more fun than average. So I got my face tube taken out and was on the mend just in time for my birthday. I was still in college, so my friends were still scattered across the globe. That means I wasn’t planning on having a party or anything. We just kept it simple. First, we went to the mall and went to the Disney Store. I got to buy and trade Vinylmation. Then we went out to dinner with my family at a fondue place I’d wanted to go to for a long time. I found that now that my face didn’t hurt, I was actually really, really hungry all the time. This was a good place to put some meat on my bones. The food was amazing and bite-sized — which was good because I felt better but not 100 percent better. The cheese, meat and chocolate were like mana from heaven. Everyone was really happy and seemed to just have a good time. They brought me out a special chocolate-dipped strawberry with a candle in it. This all sounds pretty simple, right? Not really life-changing. But for some reason, it put me over the moon. After being in pain for so long and staying in bed and not eating or talking to anyone, this family dinner and mall outing felt like coming back from the dead. This will sound cheesy, but it’s actually how I felt: When I went to blow out the candle, I was so happy that I couldn’t think of a thing to wish for. So I just wished that next year, I’d feel as loved and happy on my birthday as I did that day. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that simple, perfect birthday. I don’t have any big plans for tonight, but maybe it will have that same simple perfection.