Yoolie Anne

@yoolie-anne | contributor
I’m a Lyme disease and chronicle illness queen; mental illness warrior; and champion for all things women’s health who loves cats, Michael Corleone, and sunflower butter.
Community Voices

A Letter To My Depression

www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/major-depression.shtml#MentalHealth (NIMH), major #Depression is one of the most common mental disorders in the United States. Although the data is a bit outdated, the NIHM estimated that over www.healthline.com/health/depression/facts-statistics-infographic, which is roughly 6.9 percent of the population, had a depressive episode in 2012, and as always, we can expect that number to be higher since not everyone reports having a mental illness.

I am part of that 6.9 percent, and I recently went through a difficult depressive episode following a healing crisis brought on by a liver and gallbladder flush (that’s quite a mouthful, huh?). Although I have lived with depression since I was 12, it still affects me strongly from time to time. As I’ve gotten older, my depression is sometimes more severe because the ups and downs of adulthood can have more serious implications than what I went through as a teenager.

After over a decade of going through the same rigmarole of being depressed, wallowing in self-pity, wanting to disappear off the face of the planet, and then feeling extreme embarrassment and remorse once I bounced back, I thought I’d do it up a bit different this time. I took a little break from social media to collect my thoughts. I decided to be more patient with myself and give myself permission to be sad. I didn’t push myself to achieve everything on my checklist if it wasn’t necessary.

And now, I’d like to address my depression through letter format as a way to personalize and humanize it, which I know will be therapeutic for me, and I hope it will be helpful for you.

A Letter to My depression

Dear depression,

We have known each other a long time now – going on 16 years – and this is the first time I’ve addressed you directly, and publicly, no less. For years, you have told me that I’m not enough of this (e.g., smart, pretty, talented) or I’m too much of that (e.g., emotional, loud, opinionated), and for as long as I can remember, I’ve believed you.

I’ve taken your words (or thoughts, really), internalized them, and held them to be true. I’ve spent days, weeks, and months feeling apathetic and like a loser, stifling my voice and stomping out my inner light. In turn, I’ve looked to others as being the enemy or the ones who want to put me down, causing me to take out my frustrations on the ones I love and negatively affecting my relationships.

I recognize now that it’s been me, and you, all along getting in the way of my happiness and ability to move through life without feeling like a failure. As a result, I’ve struggled to figure out who my authentic self is, let alone present that version of me to the outside world, which is no way to live.

But I’m hoping that we can have a less harmful relationship moving forward.

I understand why you show up on my doorstep and make your way into my body, soul, and mind, albeit it’s taken me nearly two decades to get to this place. I get that I’m genetically predisposed to being depressed. As an empath and a highly sensitive person, I am pretty reactive to what directly affects me and the energy other people put out into the Universe. I struggle with sensory overload and over stimulation and sometimes have to shut down and hide. I’ve fully come to accept that as a person with chronic illnesses that the symptoms of said illnesses and major inflammation going on in my body and brain will lead to depression.

But what I can’t accept any longer is letting you drag me down to the darkest and hopeless of depths where my apathy becomes terrifying. I won’t accept negative self-talk that’s so ridiculous to the point that if I ever said the same thing about others I would feel ashamed and horrible for the rest of my days. I won’t accept being my own worst enemy because of what you bring out in me.

Yet, I do want to thank you for being a presence in my life. Sometimes, you help me realize that I need to take things slow and that I’m putting myself in harm’s way by going full-throttle toward every goal and health aspiration I have. Sometimes it takes me awhile to pick up on the cues, but they’re there, and they’re essential to my survival.

You’ve also provided me with the ability to be compassionate toward others who are also dealing with depression. Someday, I hope to work in a capacity where I can help people live more harmoniously with their depression, if not overcome it. I wouldn’t trade having empathy for others for the world, so again, I thank you.

Through my battles with you, even though you have kicked my ass in every direction imaginable for years on end, I have been forced to learn and do a lot in order to survive: mindfulness, gratitude, patience, self-love, meditation, yoga… the list goes on. I can’t picture myself seeking out these beneficial practices and techniques without your presence in my life, so thank you for forcing me to arm myself with tools that will serve me well for the rest of my life.

And moving forward, I want to switch things up:

I will try my best to pay attention to the warning signs you send before we reach the point where I’m laying on my floor staring into the abyss because I’ve pushed myself too far.
I will try to get to the bottom of the thoughts you push into my head instead of accepting them at face value (e.g., why do I think I’m not talented? where does that thought come from?).
I won’t be hard on myself when you do show up unannounced and I have to take some time off from being the hyperactive, happy go lucky, intense person I can sometimes be.
Lastly, I will try to be better about sharing my concerns with others when you pop back into my head, instead of isolating myself and feeling like it’s me against the world.

I hope you’ll hear me out. I know I’ve said I’m going to change before, but that was coming from a place of anger and shame. Now, I’m coming to you with open arms from a place of curiosity and self-love. So what say you, depression? I know, I know. As always, the ball is in my court.

Yoolie Anne

How to Start Practicing Meditation for Beginners

According to mindworks.org, approximately anywhere between 200 and 500 million people meditate regularly, and for good reason. Meditation is said to reduce stress, improve concentration, benefit our cardiovascular and immune health, and better your mood, among a litany of other positive effects. It is especially helpful for individuals with anxiety, depression and other chronic illnesses like myself, as well as individuals who are under a lot of daily stress from work, family life or any other external stressors. While I have incorporated meditation into my life almost daily, it wasn’t always a pleasant or relaxing experience. After posting a meme on Instagram highlighting how meditation actually creates more space for anxiety-ridden thoughts to arise for some, I realized I wasn’t alone in initially feeling this way. As a result, I thought it would be a good idea to put together a blog post on how I overcame the barriers to making my meditation practice a regular, enjoyable and beneficial part of my life, so here goes! External Help: Therapy, Self-Help Books, Mindfulness Class For those of you whose minds are like mine at times (read: a pinball game of anxious thoughts, paranoia, self-deprecating thoughts, etc.), it can be scary to dedicate time to taming your mind. If you’ve never meditated before and never worked on getting to the root of the way your mind works, my first suggestion would be working with a therapist. I see my therapist about every other week, but when I started out I went weekly. As I got older, I focused more on where my thoughts were coming from, somewhat like an outsider observer. For me, knowing what triggered my anxiety and negative thoughts helped me feel less like a stranger in my own head, even though those thoughts still regularly surface. Once I felt more comfortable up in my head through therapy sessions, I was able to start reading self-help books about anxiety, depression, mood imbalances and so forth. I fully understand that not everyone has access to therapy, so self-help books can be found at the library, and many have workbooks built into them to practice everything from labeling emotions to writing out your fears and deciphering if they’re based in fact or fiction. Another option is practicing mindfulness, whether it’s in a class format, a podcast or YouTube video. Doing so will help you be more in sync with your thoughts and emotions instead of reacting to them after it’s too late. I used to pop off thanks to my lovely Sicilian temper, and then I’d look back at the destruction I left behind not knowing what caused my outburst. While I still get angry and experience all the emotions of the rainbow, I now know what causes them and when I need space to ground myself. Journal Journaling is a great way to process your emotions and thoughts as a precursor to meditation. Many of us had diaries as kids, so look at this as a way to talk to yourself and connect with your thoughts in written form instead of sitting down and meditating in the traditional sense. As you become more familiar with what sets you off or worries you, consider trying the following activities: writing a letter to your anxiety/depression/temper/etc., writing your biggest fears down and working through logical solutions to decrease or remove this fear, writing down your fears about meditating or why you think you’re struggling with it. Ultimately, the goals here are to get your thoughts out of your head and onto paper, to use writing to become more familiar with your inner voice, and to address your fears about meditating. Headspace App One of my biggest roadblocks was not knowing how to meditate on my own and finding that there are hundreds of resources to turn to from guided meditations on YouTube, to books, to apps. Currently, I use Headspace and it truly is a godsend. The free version provides you with three levels of 10 educational sessions, so 30 in all, to get you jump started with your practice. Andy, the creator and voice guiding your meditations, is very helpful, compassionate and understanding in his voiceovers. Plus, you won’t be met with complete silence as you’re meditating, unless if you prefer to meditate without any guidance – the app has that option as well. Even better, the app is easy to use, has really eye-catching graphics and educational videos, and tracks your progress and success. It’s like a motivational buddy and teacher all at once. I highly recommend! Build Up to Longer Sessions When I first opened myself up to meditating I was intimated by people who said they mediated 30 minutes to an hour. First, I felt like who the hell has the time for that amidst our busy, modern schedules? Second, I was truly scared to give my mind that much time to go haywire. So, let me present an analogy to you to better explain the point I’m trying to make. If you had never lifted weights before, you wouldn’t go into the gym and try to do 30 reps of squats with an astronomical weight on the bar, right? Or if you did try to do that, you’d realize you need to build up your strength first, whether through less reps and less weight, less reps, or less weight. That being said, try meditating for three to five minutes every few days when you’re starting out. Or maybe you do 10 minutes once a week – it’s whatever works best for you. In my mind, it’s totally up to you to determine your meditation practice, and don’t worry about other people and how many days/minutes they’re logging. If you’re taking the time to sit down and meditate, you’re all good in my book. Explore Different Types of Meditation I’m going to assume that when most people hear the word “meditation,” an image of someone sitting with their eyes closed and taking deep breaths comes to mind. This is a very popular way to meditate, but there are other ways to reap the benefits of meditation that involve movement and other actions. Here are some that I’ve tried before: Walking Meditation Find a location where you won’t be distracted – it can be inside or outside Start walking, and after taking 10-15 steps, take in a deep breath for however long you see fit Focus intently on the components of each of your steps (e.g., the speed, how it feels with each step, shifting of your weight, the remaining foot on the floor, etc.) Let your hands and arms do whatever feels natural to you Focus on your breath as you continue to walk Yoga Yoga is a great way to live in the moment and connect with your mind, body, and soul. I personally just pull up YouTube videos and do them in my room, but you can always attend a restorative yoga class at a studio or local gym. Yoga, in and of itself, gently forces you to focus on each move, your breath, and how you feel as you hold poses – these are all elements that better help you be present, which is also one of the goals of meditation. Plus, a lot of yoga classes/videos have a built-in meditation session at the very end when your mind may be calmer and more open to traditional meditation. Dancing Dancing is one of my favorite things to do. I love music because it gives me a way to express myself, connect to something I deem to be a higher power and live in the moment. If you don’t like to dance, completely ignore this suggestion, but if you enjoy dancing, consider throwing on some tunes and really observing your body move and the words, melodies and emotions that the song evokes. An added benefit is that you’re getting some quality exercise and practicing your sweet moves! Mindful Eating Whether it’s shoving food down our throats as we rush from one thing to the next or mindlessly snacking late at night while we watch TV, our relationship with food in the modern world is often an unhealthy one, unfortunately. But practicing mindful eating can benefit us in so many ways, and again, help us focus on the here and now. Here are some tips for incorporating this practice: Listen to your body and stop when you’re full Eat when your body tells you to eat Eat foods that are nutritionally healthy Before you put food in your mouth, take a look at your meal and observe its colors and smells When you eat, just eat and focus on each bite, the different flavors and textures, and chew your food completely Well, there ya have it: Yoolie’s crash course to making your current or future meditation practice less daunting and anxiety-ridden. What are your thoughts? Did you find this helpful? Do you have any added suggestions or tips? Let me know in the comments!

Yoolie Anne

4 Ways Lyme Disease Has Affected My Life and Self-Esteem

What comes to mind when you hear the words “Lyme disease?” For most people, they conjure up an image of a tick or a tick bite, and if they’re somewhat informed on the topic, they may think about the tell-tale symptoms of Lyme – chronic pain, flu-like symptoms, and a stiff neck. While any accurate coverage of Lyme is a step in the right direction, considering the disease is still widely ignored by the medical profession in the United States and is misunderstood by the general public, I’d like to address another facet of Lyme that is often left out of the conversation – the social implications and side effects of the disease that affect our self-image. Because Lyme can wreak havoc on everything from what you can eat and your ability to process alcohol to negatively affecting energy levels and creating a war zone in your head by way of anxiety and depression, people with chronic Lyme typically struggle to maintain any semblance of a social life, let alone a robust one. Even if the person is recovering and is no longer in isolation from being bed or house ridden, it’s still difficult to fit in with other people on social outings amidst the specific dietary requests, having to make special accommodations for chronic pain, or dipping out early from an event thanks to fatigue. Considering I’ve experienced both sides of the spectrum, I can safely say that I struggled and still struggle to define and understand who I was once I became sick. Here’s a list of what I’ve experienced over the years: 1. Change of Interests and Hobbies When I was an undergrad in college, I played rugby, chugged beers, scarfed down on any cafeteria food that was grilled, and was a pretty bombastic person. I lifted heavy weights, boxed, took mixed martial arts classes, and loved anything high-intensity. I scoffed at yoga and meditation, clean eating, and being healthy. All that changed once I got sick. What we might not foresee is that once you get sick and make the choice to get better by way of dietary and lifestyle changes, that means the people you roll with might not be along for the ride, at least at this stage in the journey. I quickly realized that a lot of my friendships were held up by the weight of drinking and partying, which is not meant to be taken negatively or as an insult, it’s just a fact. I also realized that people were quick to make fun of my new dietary changes and desire to do more light exercise because those decisions weren’t in tandem with who I was to those people, or even to myself. So after over a decade of being the masculine athletic girl who could kick ass and take names, an identity I wore proudly and loudly, I lost that part of myself and was left thinking, “Who am I?” And I wondered if I I could no longer drink and dance the night away, would I still be considered fun and the life of the party? These things were especially important to me back then, but I’m happy to report I couldn’t care less now. 2. Body Dysmorphia and Beauty Standards Even if you don’t have body image distortion issues, Lyme is going to mess with your perception of your outward image. I’ve written this list so many times, but it bears repeating…here is how Lyme has affected my outsides: hair loss, cystic acne, chipping of teeth, muscle atrophy, weight gain, weight loss, inflammation, discoloration of skin, and just all around looking lifeless. And none of these things are necessarily predictable or linear, so each day, you may take a look in the mirror and not have any idea of who’s looking back at you, which is pretty jarring and scary. I used to be muscular to the point where I was called a man for a large portion of my life. My skin was perfect, my teeth were straight and white, and while my hair started falling out from birth control in 2010, before that I was able to make do with what I had. When my health bottomed out, so did my self-image, which is especially tough on women who are expected to uphold ridiculous beauty standards. I lost another part of myself and questioned who I was if I couldn’t fit into all of my old clothes, if I couldn’t wear my hair down without it looking like I was balding, if my skin started to erupt in painful cysts. I’m the first to admit that I was vain, but the seemingly overnight changes to my outward appearance really shocked me to my core and left me wanting to hide in my room. 3. My Healing Isn’t Linear, So Who Am I Today? To be honest, this facet of Lyme is probably one of the most difficult aspects for me to accept. There are some days or weeks where I can exercise it up and start to feel like the “athletic” me again. Sometimes I can go out dancing all night and take a few tequila shots here and there. Or my mind is on fire and I can get through everything on my checklist. During these moments, my brain starts to go down the slippery slope of thinking I’m fully healed and can get back to the “old” me, whatever that means. I get overly confident, my extroverted side comes out in full force, and I start shifting it into high gear until I wake up and the “sick” me is now in control. What does sick me look like you ask? Instead of exercising I’m in chronic pain from head to toe and hopefully taking an epsom salt bath. Instead of being out on the town in my snazziest outfit dancing, I’m in my room in sweats with Netflix on queue until the foreseeable future. Instead of getting through everything on my checklist, I’m lucky to get anything done on my outside-of-work checklist. Sometimes I don’t even have the energy to make food for myself or shower or take care of even the most rudimentary of tasks. Naturally, this juxtaposition of being healthy and then not takes some getting used to. It used to be a slap in the face every time I had a flare or a set back. I would cry and get frustrated. I couldn’t figure out if I should label myself as “healthy” or “sick.” I didn’t know what to tell people when they asked if I was getting better. But I learned to just accept that this is how things are right now, and I don’t need to slap labels on myself. I’m just me, as cheesy as that may sound. 4. My Head Is A War Zone That Can’t Be Won ​ One of the most troubling symptoms of Lyme are the mental disturbances that come with it: anxiety, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, suicidal ideation, post traumatic stress disorder, panic and anxiety attacks, hearing things, etc. You name it, I’ve most likely experienced it. And when you couple all of the aforementioned issues with not being able to have a high-functioning brain from time to time, it really takes a toll on you and how you see yourself. How can I have an intense anxiety yet be an adventurous go-getter? How can I be depressed yet so full of life? Should I listen to what my brain tells me when I’m anxious and depressed? Are all the horrible things it’s saying true? No, they can’t be true. Wait, yes, I think they are true. Who am I? This is a tiny snippet of what goes on during my head most days. Sometimes, it gets to the point where it all is too overwhelming and painful to deal with so I dissociate – that’s my last-ditch effort at protecting myself from my worst enemy, Lyme brain, as I like to call it. But coming back from hours or a day or two of going through the motions and disconnecting yourself from the world around you can be jarring and difficult. It’s kind of like when you don’t start your car for a really long time and have to jump it to get it going – it takes awhile to get it running like it was before you left it in the garage to collect dust. I could really write a whole book on this topic, which is why this post is longer than my others, but I think it’s important to shine a light on how people with Lyme can lose their identities and sense of self. Not knowing who you are in this world can make you feel scared and alone, when most of us with Lyme already feel that way to begin with, especially on our worst days. Do you feel like Lyme has made you lose your sense of self? Feel free to reach out if you need someone to talk to! I’m always here to listen. Getty Image by golubovy

Yoolie Anne

Pursuing Passions When You Have A Chronic Illness

Passion. It’s defined as a strong and barely controllable emotion. Plenty of public figures have weighed in about finding, chasing and making sure your passions are at the center of your life. Oprah Winfrey has said that “passion is energy. Feel the power that comes from focusing on what excites you.” There are self-help books, podcasts, blogs and other forms of media that center on discovering what ignites you and incorporating these passions into your everyday life. Generally, thinking about and pursuing our passions is filled with excitement and good vibes. It can be enthralling to daydream about our dream job, achieving a long-term goal, or simply carving out time to do something that makes us smile. But what happens when your health isn’t in tip-top shape and you’re struggling to keep your head above water? Speaking from personal experience as a person with chronic illnesses (read: Lyme disease and co-infections, Hashimoto’s, anxiety, depression, among others), having impaired health can create obstacles in pursuing passions. For instance, my illnesses cause the following symptoms: lack of energy, unstable moods, chronic pain, reduced cognitive abilities and a general sense of not feeling well, to list a few. All of these symptoms can make it difficult to pursue goals and passions in a timely fashion, as much of my time is spent taking care of myself or maintaining my health. Additionally, having chronic illnesses can be costly, so money that could be spent on sessions with life coaches, workshops, equipment or anything else spent on my passions goes toward organic food, supplements, doctor’s appointments, etc. This begs the following question: Is it still possible to have your passions be the driving force of your everyday life when you have chronic illnesses? My answer: Yes, but it may look different. Adjust your mentality/manage your expectations. I’m the first to admit that being more flexible with expectations of myself hasn’t been easy. I am a 100% Italian from New York. I was raised by go-getters. I am Type A. I am a perfectionist. All things that played a role in my health issues, to be honest. But there is no way I can progress through life like I did pre-illnesses and have these qualities take the steering wheel. I can’t pull all-nighters, I can’t juggle three jobs at once, and trying to be perfect at every facet of my life does nothing but hurt me. As a result, I’ve changed aspects of my life. I am more of a burst worker. When I have a string of good days I throw myself into projects and tasks. Conversely, when I have a string of bad days, I try to be patient and accept that I need to slow down. If I try to force myself past my limits, this prolongs my healing period. Mentality also plays a huge role here. I have to accept I am a different person than I once was. I don’t have to love that fact every single day, but if I am constantly working against myself and trying to force myself to be someone I’m not, then I won’t even have time to pursue any of my passions; I’ll just be at war with myself in my head. Find new passions and rediscover old ones. My main interests used to be eating and cooking unhealthy food, drinking and staying out late and high-intensity sports and workouts. After I got sick, most of these passions had to fall by the wayside, but this made room for so many others that were healthier and more productive. Now, my passions are health and wellness and helping others heal. I care about the environment and humankind. I’ve found my way back to being a true empath and connecting with others on a deeper level. As I continue to heal, I’ve created time to fall back in love with playing music, exploring the outdoors, and consuming information any way I can (read: books, documentaries, podcasts, etc.). If I never got sick I wouldn’t have a passion for health and wellness as strongly as I do. I wouldn’t have started an Instagram account and blog to use my voice to help others, and I wouldn’t have become such an advocate for patient empowerment and alternative medicine. In fact, I thank my illnesses for making this possible. Do I think positively about my situation every day? No. But does it help to take the “lemons” I’ve been handed and make the most of my situation? You bet. Break tasks down into “digestible” tasks. I think this suggestion would help anyone chasing their passions, but it’s especially helpful for those with chronic illnesses. For example, trying to write a book if writing is your passion is a lofty goal, but if you reframe it as write five pages every day or a chapter a week, it won’t seem as overwhelming. This way, you can still feel a sense of accomplishment while taking smaller steps toward your goal one day at a time. Sure, it might take you longer to say you finally reached the top of the “mountain,” but you’ll probably better maintain your health and sanity this way, so what do you have to lose? Ask for help when you need it. Last but not least, create a support system that can help you during your times of need. For instance, when I’m feeling overwhelmed my parents will help cook food for me so I can focus my time on finishing up a blog post or going to a volunteer event. It’s okay to lean on others when we not capable of doing something ourselves, especially if it will free up space to do things that make us happy and charged up. So what do you think? Has having a chronic illness changed how you pursue your passions?

Yoolie Anne

Why I Was Glued to the Screen When Lady Gaga Talked About Chronic Pain

When most people think of Lady Gaga, images of outlandish and fashion-forward outfits, flashy performances, and high heel shoes that could kill a man probably come to mind. But when I think of Lady Gaga I view her as much more. To me, she is my Italian goddess role model, an empath with a bleeding heart, and as revealed in her 2017 documentary, “Gaga: Five Foot Two,” someone who struggles with chronic pain and fibromyalgia. Over the past few years, Lady Gaga has adopted a no-holds-barred attitude toward being her most authentic self in all realms of life. In my opinion, “Gaga: Five Foot Two” is a perfect example of letting people in to see what her life is truly like, which includes the struggles of living with and managing chronic pain. Naturally, I anxiously anticipated the release of Gaga’s documentary – I have loved and listened to her music over the years and connect with her love for family and Italian heritage. As I watched the documentary, I found myself resonating with nearly everything that was in it, but I was especially glued to the screen when chronic pain was the subject. I found these moments raw, honest, moving, and sometimes painful, as I unfortunately know life with chronic pain all too well. Earlier on in “Gaga: Five Foot Two,” Gaga is laying down on a couch as a flare-up starts. She asks for a washcloth and says the following, “It’s the whole right side of my body. It’s in a…I don’t know, a spasm. It feels like there’s a rope pulling from my, like, first toe all up my leg into my (she gestures around her hip)…and then around my first rib into my shoulder and then my neck, and head, jaw. My fucking face hurts. This describes exactly what it feels like when I am going through a flare-up: It’s on my entire right side, I can’t necessarily put the feeling into words, and everything hurts. It hurts to move any part of my body, it hurts to sit still, and ultimately, it hurts to exist in those moments. As the scene progresses, Gaga talks about how her privilege and wealth play a role, something that’s far too often ignored by the able-bodied community when thinking about effective and consistent treatment for chronic pain, “I just think about other people that, like, have maybe something like this, that are struggling to figure out what it is, and they don’t have the quick money to have somebody help them. Like I don’t know what I’d fucking do if I didn’t have everybody here to help me. What the hell would I do?” And while I’m certainly nowhere near as wealthy as Lady Gaga, I am able to work full-time, I do have great health insurance, and I am able to afford treatment for some of my conditions. Yet, I wonder how much better I would feel if I could afford to do all the things I know will help, such as acupuncture, going to the chiropractor, getting regular massages, and seeking out other holistic treatments. What typically happens with many of us spoonies during or after a flare subsides is the feeling of embarrassment, remorse, or shame for looking and feeling weak. Lady Gaga ends up vocalizing this mindset during the aforementioned scene, “Do I look pathetic? I’m so embarrassed. And I don’t even know, like, what a childbirth will be like. Or if I can. I know I think I can get pregnant. I just don’t know, like, what are my hips going to do? I don’t fucking know.” The last part of her statement also highlights how debilitating chronic pain can be as she questions whether her body will betray her during childbirth. For me, I question whether my body is going to let me go for a long bike ride without “punishing” me for a few days afterward or if I’ll be able to bust all the moves on the dance floor during a night out and feel OK the next day. I’ve had to abandon a lot of my former hobbies (boxing, weightlifting, mixed martial arts classes) due to my chronic pain. While I’ve found different ways to move my body and exercise, the void is still there and I too sometimes feel pathetic and embarrassed for not being able to use my body like I used to. Later on, we see Lady Gaga in a doctor’s appointment, which for many of us are some of our most private and vulnerable moments. The doctor goes over her medical history and Lady Gaga shares that she’s been “chasing this pain for five years” and it affects her every day. She even talks about what mental strength it takes to overcome the physical pain to be herself and do her job, “And the fury in all of this is that I’m fucking strong and I can still be me…But it doesn’t mean I’m not in pain.” Her doctor notes that in order to perform, Gaga has had to shut down physically and emotionally and let adrenaline take over, which can only sustain a person for so long. For many of us with chronic pain, this might sound all too familiar – I know it rings true for me. I started experiencing compartment syndrome-esque symptoms during my sophomore year of college and could barely run a couple of laps around the rugby field without feeling like my throbbing legs were going to explode. I was in excruciating pain, but being the sports gal I was, I continued to push through. I also had chronic injuries all the time that never seemed to heal. But it wasn’t until physical activity was basically fully stripped from me following a horrible Lyme herx that the mental effects of fear and anxiety took place surrounding my body. If Lady Gaga had never come out and shared her experience with fibromyalgia, I never would have thought she struggled with chronic pain. (I mean, have you seen her performances? She is kick-ass and a warrior.) But watching someone I admire with all of my heart cry and writhe from chronic pain and feel pathetic shows that chronic pain doesn’t discriminate. Sometimes it doesn’t matter if you ate all the right things, took the right supplements, or threw thousands of dollars into treatment to try to keep it at bay – chronic pain will barge through your doors uninvited. Yet, hearing about and seeing Lady Gaga’s experience with chronic pain helps me feel less alone, embarrassed, and pathetic inside of my body, which I resented for so long. Knowing that one of my role models is also going through these trials and tribulations gives me the motivation to strengthen my relationship with my body and not give up on it during those difficult times. All in all, this documentary provided much more than a window into one of my favorite artist’s life. It helped me realize that despite living with chronic pain, I can still live an empowering and successful life no matter what obstacles are thrown my way. Photo courtesy of Lady Gaga’s Facebook page

Yoolie Anne

The Struggles of Being a Female Patient

In case you weren’t already aware, March is Women’s History Month, which was first instated in 1987. As such, I thought it would be relevant to discuss how I believe that my sex and gender have affected my interactions with doctors and the types of treatments I’ve been prescribed over the years. Before that though, I would like to offer up the following disclaimer: I am aware that men can be mistreated in appointments too, especially when it comes to mental health and any matters that aren’t physical. I hear your struggles and your pain and I empathize, truly. Yet, this post is meant to focus on women, as it’s Women’s History Month and I’m a woman. Therefore, this critique will focus on the intersection of my *individual and unique* experiences in the healthcare system. Historically speaking, women have been mistreated when it comes to medical appointments. Whether it’s through body shaming, disbelieving claims about chronic pain or the outdated practice of diagnosing women with hysteria from back in the day, being taken seriously as a female patient wasn’t – and still isn’t – always a guarantee. Thankfully, much of the discrimination and mistreatment of women has fallen by the wayside, but we have a lot of room to improve as a health care system. While I have done a lot of work to educate myself before entering appointments, do research when it comes to finding a doctor and refuse to be mistreated by anyone in the medical community, there was a time where I didn’t know any better and I truly believe that my being female allowed certain doctors to take advantage of my time and be dismissive of the major health crisis I was going through. Breakdowns in Doctor-Patient Communication In May of 2012, I had a copper intrauterine device put in called the Paragard. A month or so later, I was suffering from a very severe case of copper toxicity, unbeknownst to me at the time. My mental and physical health completely deteriorated in that short span of time to the point where every bodily function was compromised and I felt like my life was over at the young age of 22. It was so bad that I had to give up my dream of pursuing my master’s degree in California because I couldn’t function. Naturally, I decided to go back to the doctor’s office who recommended and performed the insertion of the Paragard. I had been seeing this OB/GYN for years and I thought that we had a good working relationship, but like many conventional doctors, they were clueless about how to really help me. I recall sitting on the examination table and talking about all of the symptoms I was experiencing, including the loss of my monthly period (that couldn’t be good, right?). The suggestion that I received in return still shocks me to this day. She said it was probably because I was “depressed” because I had just graduated from college and was “sad” that that chapter of my life was over. I couldn’t believe my ears. All of my other complaints were chalked up to me getting used to the device or simply dismissed. Now, I have struggled with depression since my preteen years and I knew deep down in my heart and soul that whatever I was going through was far different than a run-of-the-mill depressive episode. Moreover, to suggest that my health was completely falling apart because I was “sad” seems very negligent to me, especially considering how horrible my mental state was at the time. Over the past few years, I wondered if a male patient would have been treated this way. I wondered why women have to go through so many side effects and symptoms just to practice safe sex by way of birth control (yes, I am aware that abstinence is an option, but it’s not a realistic option for me). I wondered why I wasn’t being listened to and was being called emotional (read: sad). I was especially baffled about how it was hard for the doctors to believe that a device made from copper could cause me to have copper toxicity, especially because I was displaying nearly every symptom. The Struggle to Be Heard Continues Thankfully, a former professor of mine suggested I seek out treatment from another doctor. After one appointment, he said that I needed to get the IUD out in order to feel better. I called my OB/GYN’s office and asked if I could have the device removed, as I was experiencing a number of adverse effects and didn’t feel comfortable having it in anymore. Unfortunately, I was met with pushback and almost deference, as I had only got the device in five or six months ago and it could be left in for five to 10 years. They did not want to remove the device and continued to not listen to my complaints. Again, I wondered if this would happen to a male patient – would his claims and his assertions be taken seriously? But being the determined lady I am, and knowing that I had to get this thing out in order to feel better, I decided to check myself into the ER. I asked to have the device removed, and again, I was met with hesitation. In order to be taken seriously, I had to embellish how much pain I was in and that only the pain was disrupting my daily life. I didn’t even bother to bring up the mental anguish I was in for fear of being sent to a different doctor or being dismissed as “sad,” like at my OB/GYN’s office. Ultimately, the device was taken out and that day in October 2012 began my healing journey. No Matter How Empowered You Are, You Can’t Control What Doctors Say Since that day in October, I have learned a lot when it comes to being a patient: I take responsibility for my health and if I don’t like how I’m being treated I find a different doctor/practice. Yet, no matter how much responsibility I claim or how empowered I feel, you can’t control what others say. For instance, one doctor recently said to me that it must be difficult for a man to take me out on a date because I can’t eat out at restaurants or drink and about difficulties surrounding childbirth (which by the way, I never plan on having children anyway). While I’m sure the doctor was trying to show some form of sympathy and had his heart in the right place, the comments didn’t sit well with me because I’m already well aware of how my illnesses and restrictions cause dating issues, not to mention him assuming my sexuality and that I must want to have kids. All in all, both men and women have negative experiences within the healthcare system – some stem from gender/sex and others are just from the nature of health care or the individual practitioner’s inability to communicate and listen. But I’d like to hear your thoughts – do you think gender/sex affects how patients are treated (feel free to get intersectional with this – in my opinion, it’s the only way to address issues properly)? Have you been mistreated based on your sex/gender in a medical setting? Hopefully, continuing the dialogue on this subject can lead to improvements in the healthcare exchange for all people involved.

Yoolie Anne

7 Ways My Chronic Illnesses Changed My Relationship With Food

My health started to plummet in 2012, and even though I didn’t have any formal diagnoses until a year or so later (Hashimoto’s, and then Lyme disease in 2016), the doctor that I first started working with noted that I had to change my diet to improve. We came up with a game plan to remove gluten from my diet to see if I would feel better – and I did. But, little did I know, gluten would be one of many things that would be taken off the table (literally) over the next few years. Thankfully, I continued to work with intelligent and forward-thinking doctors who recognize that for many individuals with chronic illnesses and gut issues like myself, we have to clean up our diet to heal. For me, so many food items either cause inflammation, which further exacerbates autoimmune responses in my body – or I cannot properly digest food, which in turn causes discomfort and pain. While it might sound simple enough to just remove a certain food from one’s diet, it was challenging. I remember sitting in front of the TV at night with a bowl of ice cream and pounding a sleeve of Oreos. I especially struggled to stop eating comfort foods during times of stress. Long story short, it wasn’t easy for me to get to where I am today with my diet, but I learned a lot along the way. Although I could sit here today with my very limited diet of select vegetables and a handful of other food and throw a pity party for myself every day because I can no longer eat my dad’s meatballs and sauce or chocolate peanut butter ice cream, I realized that my relationship with food has changed throughout this healing process. And for the better.​So, for all my other spoonies out there who are sad over having to give up their favorite foods just like I was, this list is for you. And even if you don’t have a chronic illness, this list might inspire you to change your relationship with food – you never know! 1. Becoming One With Cooking and Preparing Food Over time, and as I’ve removed more and more things from my diet, fast food and even eating out at healthier restaurants is a big no-no for me because of my bubble girl ways. As such, I prepare and cook all of my food. While I knew how to cook before, I’ve learned a lot more about cooking and preparing food that I might not have otherwise. From bacon-wrapped dates to chicken chile avocado cups, I’ve experimented with some pretty cool recipes that have taught me a lot about cooking. Watch out, “Master Chef” – I’m coming for ya! 2. Grocery Store Discoveries I know that nowadays people advise to focus on snagging food items on the borders and outside of the grocery store where the produce is located, and I couldn’t agree more! When I first started this journey, I had no idea where most of the food I was supposed to buy were located, as I used to mostly eat gluten, processed and packaged foods, and frozen meals. Now, I feel like I’m a grocery store pro. 3. Trying New Foods One of the diets that I tried for a while was the autoimmune paleo diet. There are so many amazing recipes out there, and I couldn’t wait to try as many as I could. Naturally, trying new recipes brought about trying new foods. For instance, if you had told me five years ago that I would be eating acorn squash on the regular, I would have thought you were talking about squirrel food. I’ve tried tons of different produce items and cool ways to rework traditional recipes (like using frozen bananas to make ice cream!), and aside from the nastiness that is raw rhubarb, I’ve loved it all! 4. No Choice but to Eat Healthier I think this one speaks for itself, but considering I was given the choice of either be inflamed, bloated, gassy, in pain, and have cystic acne all over my face, or eat a more balanced and better diet – I chose the latter. Most people ask me how I do it and applaud me for being more conscious about what I put on my plate, but when it comes down to it, I really didn’t have a choice if I wanted to be feel better. 5. Overcoming Emotional Eating When you can only eat vegetables and a handful of other food items, the temptation to use food as a coping mechanism in times of stress, happiness or whatever other emotion you’re feeling, is less likely. While I still can pound a whole lot of sunflower butter when things are really rough and I need to “reward” myself, I have a much better control on emotional eating than I used to. In return, my relationship with food has changed for the better. 6. Eating to Sustain Speaking of my relationship with food, I mainly view it as a way to fuel and nourish my body each and every day. Instead of using it as a reward or a punishment, I mainly view food as a way to keep my body alive and thriving. This is not to say that I hate the food on my plate, but I don’t have an addiction to certain foods anymore and I recognize that as a country, we have a very gluttonous and unhealthy relationship with food. Do I miss wolfing down an entire order of mozzarella sticks and chicken wings? Sure. But I can tell you I don’t miss the hold food used to have on me. 7. I Literally Wouldn’t Be Healthy Otherwise I understand that everyone’s dietary situation is different, nor are everyone’s conditions as serious as mine are. But for me, I would not be functioning if I didn’t remove things from my diet and change my relationship with food. As frustrating as it used to be to not be able to eat the office birthday cake or pay a visit to my long, lost love Taco Bell, it would never, ever be worth the residual effects to me. While I have a ways to go with adding things like fruits and other vegetables back into my diet, what I’m eating now resonates with me and doesn’t cause my body to go into attack mode every time I eat. For that, I am extremely thankful.​Have you struggled with changing up your diet or removing your favorite foods out of your arsenal? Has your illness changed your relationship with food? I’d love to hear your thoughts! Getty image by Foxys_forest_manufacture

Yoolie Anne

If You're Dating While Chronically Ill

Whether you have an autoimmune disease or not, being single and navigating the dating world can be challenging. Trying to find someone who vibes with your interests and values, who will be there to support you through the ups and downs of life, and who will love you even on your worsts days isn’t always easy. Unfortunately, many of the difficulties of finding the right match are magnified when you have a chronic illness, especially when your partner is living that blessed non-chronic illness life. Lucky for you, my love life, albeit a ghost town at the moment, is anything but boring – and I have had enough experiences dating with chronic illnesses to hopefully shed some light on this topic. Disclaimer: Admittedly, I don’t always date the best people, or at least the best people for me. Even before I got sick, I didn’t know how to pick ’em, and that’s something that I’m working on. As such, I don’t want to paint all non-chronic illness partners as demons or garbage cans, because I see plenty of people who have chronic illnesses in happy, committed, and supportive relationships, and that gives me hope. 1. When do you tell them you have a chronic illness? Well, if you’re me, you’ll tell them up front because I don’t hide who I am or what my health situation is for anyone anymore. Granted, I don’t divulge every single facet and symptom of all of my illnesses until I feel like I’ve earned the person’s trust, otherwise I believe they’d be running for the hills. Ultimately, it’s up to you to figure out when you think it’s the right time to tell your love interest about your illnesses and how much you want to divulge. And I completely understand the fear behind sharing this personal information with someone. Before opening up, I’ve asked myself: “What if they’ll think I’m a freak?” “What if they won’t love me anymore?” “What if they leave me on the spot?” But after someone bounced on me mostly for health-related issues, a lot of people helped me check myself before I wrecked myself. Look at it this way, if someone isn’t going to accept you for you, meaning everything that comes with you, including your illnesses, and love every facet of you – then that person isn’t worth your time. If they look at your illnesses as a burden or have little to no compassion for your well-being, then do you really want to be with that person? The answer should hopefully be a loud and roaring “NO!” but please know that as I give this advice, I’m also trying to follow it myself. It isn’t easy. 2. Where do you go on a date when you have a restrictive diet? One challenge, at least at the beginning of a relationship, is picking a place to go on a date. I cannot eat out anywhere, and while I do drink tea and tequila, I prefer to not drink a lot of either on a regular basis. So, finding a place to go on a date can be hard when someone is hard-wired into thinking you must go out to get drinks and food on dates. Thankfully, I am able-bodied enough to do different things and I have a lot of interests. Here’s a list of date ideas that don’t revolve around the same chicken entree and bottle of wine for the 700th time: 1. Do something outside, weather permitting. Go for a walk in the park or on a waterfront, a bike ride, hiking, star gazing, or other outdoor seasonal activities. 2. Appreciate the arts together by going to a live music show, a local art exhibit, a museum, a documentary screening, a musical or play, or a stand up show. 3. Go see a movie and bring your own snacks with you. Of course, be stealthy about sneaking in your plantain chips and dehydrated apple slices. 4. Organize a picnic and bring all of your own food and drinks. 5. Revert back to childhood and go play some video games or laser tag. Keep it light and fun! 3. How to recognize your partner isn’t worth your time. Point blank: Some people just aren’t equipped to handle someone else’s health crisis, or even a health blip. Either they lack the empathy and don’t have a nurturing bone in their body, or perhaps they feel like this isn’t what they signed up for. I’ve been with people who channeled both of these attitudes, and it wasn’t easy.​Here are some red flags related to my illnesses that I wish I would have caught earlier: 1. They make insensitive or rude comments about your diet. 2. They use words like “crazy” or “difficult” to describe you when you’re experiencing a health crisis. 3. Their lifestyle completely contradicts yours. 4. You’ve had the same conversation with them about your illnesses and how they can help 100s of times and nothing has changed. 5. As you start to get better, they try to hold you back out of fear or jealousy. For people who are worth your time and energy, I recommend explaining what your bad days look like when you’re having a good day and aren’t feeling vulnerable. Obviously, it’s impossible for the other person to fully understand what you’re going through, but even if they understand somewhat, it should make for a better and more supportive relationship. For example, I’ve explained what depression and panic attacks look like for me, why I can’t eat certain foods, and why it’s difficult for me to sleep over at someone’s place because of my sleep issues. I’ve had to explain why sometimes I seem completely “normal” one day and then the next day my health has bottomed out, or why I get burnt out in high-sensory environments. The list goes on. But, you might also want to ask your partner how they best receive information (some people prefer verbal to text and vice versa), whether they have any questions, or how they’re feeling. It’s a partnership, remember? To close on a positive note, I think that all of my chronically ill brothers and sisters are worthy of all the love the world has to offer, romantic or not. That being said, you can find me turning my love inward for the time being until I find someone who is able to handle everything I bring to the table: sweet potatoes, sunflower butter, and a whole lot of beets. Follow this journey on Chronicles of Yoolie. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Getty image by anyaberkut