Great Spoonie Volgs

YouTube is an interesting place. Allowing for entertainment, vlogging, and education. I never used Youtube much until I went away to college and needed to force myself to rest. Of course,  finding tips for living with a chronic illness and encouragement was a plus.

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Kelly Patricia is one of my favorite YouTubers and a huge inspiration. Kelly has a gift for encouraging others. She also has amazing faith. Kelly has an interesting mix of chronic illnesses and is still partly undiagnosed. Her story is extremely relatable, especially with the struggle of finding decent doctors. Some of her illnesses include IBD, Endometriosis, and Arthritis.

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Lets Talk IBD

Maggie has a great channel featuring Inflammatory Bowel Disease. She has a J-pouch and information on doing feeding tubs as well as coping tips for life with a chronic illness.

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Inflamed and Untamed

Sarah also has IBD and is an excellent advocate. She is blunt. She has battled many surgeries, hospital visits, and flares. She has partnered with the Chrons and Colitis Foundation. She has been on multiple IBD discussion panels and has a lot of knowledge about IBD.

 

Spoonful of Spoonie Encouragment

Mornings for those with a chronic illness are a struggle beyond words. Waking up and willing our bodies to function is a fight. Here is a spoonful of encouragement for spoonie warriors. Happy Monday, brave friend!

You have victoriously made it out of bed this morning. The symptoms and pain are already overwhelming, but you’ve got this. You only need to take today one minute at a time. You have all the strength you need, even though it might not seem that way. Anxiety and depression attempt to dictate your day. Take a breath. Take a break.  Get some rest. Keep fighting to make today the best day possible.

You have been chosen to walk this path. It is one filled with heartbreak, disappointment, and setbacks. Walking the path of someone who is chronically ill is a challenge to say the very least. Being sick has most likely disrupted your flawless rhythm with life. It has stopped you dead in your tracks. Your illness has tried to toss your dreams out the window.

Though this path is difficult, I assure you there is a lot of beauty to be discovered. Sure life is not what it used to be, but the song you sing is just as beautiful. There is hope, joy, love, laughter, and life to be found on this path. You will be able to recreate your wonderful dreams. You are still you, despite your illness. You are an amazing and beautiful person with a flawless story and a huge purpose.

    There will be days that you become overwhelmed and feel completely alone. Your feelings are understandable, however, I promise you, you do not walk alone on this path. There are people who care about you, people who understand how difficult the journey is, and people who want to support you.

I am proud of all you have accomplished. I know you will thrive today. This week will be lovely simply because it is the only choice. While you don’t need to be positive all the time you need to take baby steps forward. You are doing amazing. Raise your coffee (or tea) to a great week warrior!

Debbie to the Rescue: Life with a Service Dog

Please give a warm welcome to Sammi who is an inspiration to everyone she encounters. A while back I posted on Chronically Hopeful asking if anyone with a service dog would share a little bit of their story. I am honored that Sammi said she would share because through those weeks I have had the honor of chatting with her which is something I cherish. I know her story will deeply touch you!
Every morning when I open my eyes I’m greeted by blurry vision, the inability to hear, and the dread of what’s going to hurt first today. In addition to all of those negative things, I also wake up to a little wet nose attached to a tiny yellow lab telling me mom it’s time to get up I’m hungry! I roll over and feel around for my glasses but because of that little ball of energy I have waking me up, I don’t need to reach for my hearing aids. That pup is my ears, my lifeline, my hearing dog that I truly don’t know how I lived with before I got her.

I was born with Stickler Syndrome, a primarily genetic collagen deficiency. I say primarily because I’m one of the lucky few to be the first generation with this syndrome in my family. Here is the short answer to those who don’t know what it is(which is 99% of the people I meet): Stickler Syndrome is a progressive connective tissue disorder that affects my hearing, vision, and joints.  To elaborate a bit more – I am severely nearsighted, at very high risk of retinal detachment(which I have thankfully avoided so far), I lack collagen in my joints which results in widespread, daily, chronic pain that I honestly don’t know what’s going to hurt day to day. Finally I have moderate/severe bilateral sensorineural hearing loss that can progress at any time.

Now that there is a bit of a backstory to me more about my service dog, Debbie. I started research into obtaining a service dog 6-7 years ago when I was about 18 and took several years debating if it was a good idea for me. I worried if I was disabled enough to qualify, would one truly help me, could I care for a dog myself, so many things discouraged me from applying for several years. Finally, at 21 I really took a good look at my life and one thing that really struck me was I was truly scared to be alone. My hearing loss made being anywhere without someone with me something I dreaded. I may be able to hear fairly well with my hearing aids in but only if the person is looking at me and I’m not distracted. I have no sound directional awareness, I may hear someone call me, or a car beep or an emergency vehicle coming but where that noise comes from is what I can’t figure out and that can be dangerous. In my research, I found NEADS, based in Princeton, MA. Once I came across their site I knew I found who I was looking for and I hoped they could help me.

A hearing dog has the ability to quite literally be ears that actually work for the handler.  Debbie alerts me to everything a person with normal hearing may take for granted that they can hear. She tells me when someone is trying to get my attention when a car is coming up behind me, when the fire alarm goes off, when I drop my keys and don’t hear it, and many other ways.  Due to my chronic pain, Debbie was also continued with some basic assistance dog work as well as her hearing dog work. She is able to pick up my debit card/money or my cell phone if I drop it, or press the handicap door button if needed. There are not many things she can’t do!!

NEADS is truly an amazing organization from the second I submitted my application and still through today, 2 1/2 years after I brought Debbie home. What truly drew me to them was that they provide service dogs to veterans and victims of the Boston Marathon Bombing for no charge at all. Being from Boston the fact that they helped the victims of that atrocious crime really stuck with me and I knew that they were an organization I could and would love. They also use local prisons to help train the puppies that go through the program, and as part of team training on campus, we have the option to formally meet the inmate handler. This opportunity was truly amazing and I’m so proud to have a dog from this program, especially after seeing the pride and joy all of the inmates expressed when I met them.

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The process I went through:

  1. 12-15 page application submitted online, which detailed what my need was, medical documentation that I had the disability I claimed, and character letters from someone who knew me.
  2. After my application was accepted I had to go to the NEADS campus for an in-person interview that was several hours long. We went over my original application and what my needs truly were. I was officially accepted that day and the wait began.
  3. I received an email detailing who my dog would be and to set up what two weeks I could come to the campus to do team training.
  4. In person, team training was two weeks long. I lived on campus for that time with three other women who also were training with their new service dogs. We had group training every day and by midweek had the dogs full time. Having those other three women was truly amazing we are still all friends today and they are the reason I was able to get through my first year with Debbie as easily as I did.
  5. The final step in this process is graduation! NEADS holds a formal graduation for all successful teams 2 times a year. While Debbie was already working for me having graduation as an official way to say yes we can do this is priceless.

Having a service dog is not perfect, there are days that Debbie has an off day – she is a dog after all! People still do not understand that a young, seemingly healthy (to them) woman who is not blind may need a service dog for another reason. The laws have not caught up to the new craze to claim your pet is a working dog and there are stores that I am not comfortable going into alone just Debbie and me because fake service dogs are not told to leave. But despite all of these negatives making the choice to get Debbie has been the best one I’ve ever made. I can now confidently go out alone, be home alone and move out on my own and feel safe. I know that I will ALWAYS be told when someone is at the door when the fire alarm is going off when a car is coming up behind me if someone is trying to talk to me. Debbie truly is ears that actually work for me and I am beyond thankful for her and the life she has given me!

For When I Am Weak, I Am Powerful: Finding Peace With My Disease

I am honored to introduce to you a beautiful Lupus warrior. Aliccia is sharing an amazing post with us in honor of Lupus awareness month. Please share to help us raise awareness! Who better to tell you more about this courageous warrior than Aliccia herself. A huge thank you to Aliccia for sharing some of her story with us.

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Hi! I’m Aliccia and I’m 24 years old. I love tea, Japanese cars, Netflix, good books and cold weather. I’m a Californian currently living in Texas with one fur baby named Takata. I like smiling, and I am proudly one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. I’m obsessed with galaxies and I like to write on occasion.

 

For When I Am Weak, I Am Powerful: Finding Peace With My Disease

By: Aliccia Rico

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My quest started in late 2015, on a cold November morning. I couldn’t take the pain and discomfort of being in my own body anymore. Selena Gomez had been all over the media talking about how she had a disease called Lupus, and I’d been battling some sort of illness that oddly sounded just like the one she’d been interviewed about. It seemed as though I’d been dropped off in the wilderness and told to make the best of the situation… Even though the joint pain and my hair falling out drove me crazy, almost to the point of a nervous breakdown. I’d joke about being a pro napper, but fourteen-hour stretches wouldn’t even aid the fatigue I felt on a daily basis… Let alone be normal hours of sleep. This wilderness I was in felt isolated from everything I thought I knew about myself, and those around me. Who could I trust with telling about this thing that has been plaguing me? Am I crazy?

I had been seeing a rheumatologist that never took my symptoms seriously. He had me on a Remicade infusion therapy that made me worse than I was before. It took me three infusion sessions and hundreds of dollars out of my own pocket to leave this office… He even laughed in my face when I was diagnosed with pleurisy at an urgent care. I’d fallen into a depression, even when I started seeing my current rheumatologist who diagnosed me as having “Lupus-Like Syndrome”, she doesn’t want to diagnose me with Lupus officially yet. The light at the end of the wilderness I was in got dimmer and dimmer. It felt as though the life was being slowly drained out of me, and I started giving up all hope that I had.

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I found myself months later standing in my restroom, my face wet with tears and red from inflammation. The frustration finally hit its peak the moment I got out of bed. My hands couldn’t open all the way, my hair lay in the sink in chunks. I couldn’t recognize who was staring back at me, the breath gone from my lungs. How did this happen? Why did this happen? I threw all the items on the counter onto the floor, screaming at the top of my lungs. I fell to the floor and started sobbing, trembling from confusion, sadness, and anger. I was angry at my body, angry at how much more my hands and arms hurt from my moment of insanity. All I wanted was for all of this to be over. I looked up to the ceiling, my breath catching in my throat as I try to clear my head. My phone had been ringing for the past five minutes, and I didn’t care.

 

Finally, I grabbed my phone as best as I could, seeing a familiar name across the screen. I unlock the phone, my breathing slowly getting back to a normal pattern. I fixated on the words on the screen, making me cry even more.

I don’t know how it feels,
but we’re in this together.
You’re not alone… I love you.

 

I closed my eyes and started praying. The light at the end of this wilderness had been in front of me all along! Years of frustration, agony, and depression began pouring out of me. I thanked my God, Jehovah, for giving me such an amazing person to help me through this hardship, and for never abandoning me. The more and more I poured my heart out, the more I felt the strength building in my bones. The thing about faith is that it’s based on trust, and trust is what I had to give to my God to endure the obstacles put in front of me. That day, my whole outlook on my disease changed in various ways. I put away the makeup that I would use to hide my skin, I chose to smile and not dwell on the pain or weaknesses that I had now become accustomed to.

 

I refused to stay complacent, depressed and have a “woe is me” attitude. I’d read stories online for support with this disease, but none of them were even remotely positive. The whole goal with living with any type of autoimmune disease is to find positive support and know that you’re not alone. I didn’t and don’t want special treatment, nor do I want to be a walking billboard of the typical “but I don’t look sick” movement. I want people to see me for who I am, not the unfortunate disease I have. Facing each day with a prayer, relying on the support of my spiritual family and friends and telling myself I could face the day helped me personally so much.

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In one of my favorite scriptures in the Bible, the Apostle Paul wrote, “So I take pleasure in weaknesses, in insults, in times of need, in persecutions and difficulties, for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am powerful.” (2 Corinthians 12:10) I take those words to heart because in my weaknesses, I have been the most powerful. While in a flare up, getting out of bed is an accomplishment, making tea is a milestone, getting dressed is a feat. My faith is stronger than my weaknesses and my illness, stronger than the anxiety and depression that I face, my faith gives me the strength to walk when I am so physically tired that I want to collapse, it gets me through each day.

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That day I had my breakdown, I was at my lowest point in the wilderness called Lupus. My faith brought me out of the wilderness to a brighter, clear road that showed me that yes, I do have an autoimmune disease, but I can get through these challenges I face (even as simple as opening a jar) no matter how hard they are. Everyone’s autoimmune disease quest is different, everyone copes with things differently and fights their battles in their own way. I admire those who are enduring chemotherapy, those who are mothers and fathers while having a form of autoimmune disease, those ones who need canes and wheelchairs. Your strength is admirable, and in no way could I ever make light of what others go through. We’re in this together, and we will get through it… Day by day.

 

Remember, when you are weak, you are powerful.

 

Undercover Zebra

I am so excited to have an amazing EDS warrior guest post today, Hana. Please share to help us raise awareness for this rare disease.
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Ever hear of Undercover Boss? Well, this is Undercover Zebra: Where chronic illness warriors go undercover as healthy individuals to chase their dreams in the real world. On this episode, we have Hana Belanger, an 18-year-old girl with the main diagnosis of  Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome Hypermobility Type (hEDS) who dreams of being a cinematographer in the music industry. As an adolescent, she must figure out her own identity, chase her dreams, and not let a rare disease define her. If you think this to be a challenging feat, then you are right. She is…an undercover zebra.
I start every morning the same way, not wanting to get out of bed. Whether it be my 5:45 school alarm to Bowling For Soup’s “High School Never Ends” or sleeping in past noon on the weekends, the act of waking up is just another arduous chore no likes to endure. So far, just like any other teenager in the world, or really, any non-morning person in society.
Once I finally persuade myself it is worth getting up, I “oil” my joints with either Icy Hot or Arctic Ice analgesic gel. Whichever I just happen to have on my bedside table at the moment. Hypermobility is a symptom of EDS, however, in the morning I find that my joints much rather be stiff with pain, like the Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz. I also tend to take this time to pop back in any joints that may have popped out of place while sleeping the night before. Got to love all those constant dislocations and subluxations. More symptoms due to the faulty collagen my body produces. Mornings with a connective tissue are never boring.
Next step is getting dressed. My favorite comfortable get up has to be pajamas, especially my zebra print ones. Sadly, school dress code does not allow for pj’s. Next best outfit of choice? a baggy band t-shirt and a pair of leggings. Don’t forget to accessorize with wristbands, a mood stone choker, and a plethora of braces and KT tape to keep all those joints in place. Pretty sure my joints like to go out more than I do. I always am found wearing my knee braces, but my collection expands to wrist braces, ankle braces, a back brace, and even a neck brace. I also have a cane I decorated in zebra print duct tape because when you need some extra support you have to make sure its cripple swag awesome.
My morning concludes with the breakfast of champions: AKA medication and vitamins. Then, on school days, I rush off to spend 6 long hours so I may be educated enough to graduate. After 12 years of this grueling routine, it does become tedious. I also have a work study internship with my local cable access station, a slam poet, and freelance videographer. The last three are the most fun I believe and give me a huge platform to be myself. When I am on stage or behind a camera I do not feel like the sick kid. I feel like a poet. I feel like a professional videographer. I feel…human.
Many days it is hard to hide the pain I am going through. EDS likes to throw curve balls more than Alton Brown on his show “Cutthroat Kitchen.” Often I wake up with migraines and nausea, which takes hours and even sometimes all day, despite medication. I have injured myself in school walking to lunch and working a one-hour film shoot. It’s as if EDS does not want me to live my dream.
But I will not cave into this awful disorder. That wouldn’t be very punk rock of me to give in. I know my limits and I go as close to the line without crossing over. I make sacrifices when it is safe to do so to enjoy myself. I have been to music festivals and concerts, filmed all day events, went to my Junior Prom, etc. EDS does not have to rule how I live. I just have to adapt to my circumstances in order to survive.
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A Mother’s Perspective: Chronic Illness

I am so excited for today’s post. We have a courageous mother of a daughter with several chronic illnesses. It has been an honor for me to speak with her briefly and to read a bit of their inspiring story. I hope you are encouraged. ~ Victoria

I am Kimberly, a full-time single mother, but more importantly mother of a teenager with chronic illnesses. EDS, POTS, MCAS.
Receiving a diagnosis is not a destination, but more so a journey.
Here is  a brief account of our journey to date:
It seems like yesterday on one hand and a lifetime on another. Three years ago during a rheumatology visit, unexpectedly during examination, the physician began piecing random dislocations, atrophic scars, fatigue, velvet skin, and overall illness into EDS. As he was identifying pieces, he stated this appears like Ehlers Danlos syndrome. I have worked in the medical field as therapist for 20 years and this was new to me. So like most, I instantly googled everything I could sitting there. I recall immediately being referred for blood work, Physical therapy, and cardiology that same day. Upon leaving his office I don’t think I will ever forget the look on his face. It was one of concern, sadness, and unknowing to me an awareness of a journey that was heading our way. As my daughter and I sat in cardiology she jokingly ask “so what do I have”? We proceed to laugh as she said EDS meaning explosive diarrhea syndrome. We laughed and I knew whatever it was we were going to conquer it.
As time progressed with additional falls and dislocations therapy ensued. It suddenly appeared dizziness and nausea were occurring. New referral and now POTS (Postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome) diagnosis added.

Ok, but now what about these strange rashes. Well, that lead to MCAS(Mast cell activation syndrome). A few other diagnosis came along being eosinophilic colitis and pineal brain cyst through testing. Most recently TMJ and cervical compression issues also noted.  If you have been through the diagnosis process you know it’s not so easy as picking up the phone and immediately obtaining a physician appointment. Some list were 3-6 months long with genetics 1 year. Then you add follow-up visits for a wide range of disciplines. It’s overwhelming and difficult to manage a ‘normal life’ whatever that even was.

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In gaining awareness of these disorders and living it daily I have found a new appreciation for anyone experiencing these. I have seen the suffering from physical pain, fatigue, and mental components from anxiety/depression that a teenager should not have to deal with it. Being a teen is hard enough, let alone adding a chronic illness. Yes, it’s a struggle. Do I still feel we  will conquer this….. no. We have accepted at this time there is no cure. We manage symptoms. Do I feel deflated…. yes. As a mother, I like most want to fix my children’s problem. I have found that being supportive and her biggest fan is the best I can do right now. I have listened to her requests to give her more control when she declines testing. I get it when she says “why should I it doesn’t change or fix anything”.
I want others to know it’s challenging as a parent, but it will be ok. You have to be prepared for sudden ER trips that will change your family plans, hoping that loud sound wasn’t a fall or passing out again, keeping a watchful eye for strange rashes, preparing for school IEP meetings, and wow what about that mediset. Goodness, the medications seriously is this all? Expecting a teenager to recall all these and learning to fill set herself…. What happened to driving, boyfriend, and social issues teenage parents have? They are still there, but different. Friends change, the real ones stay, but it does change. No one prepares you for this.
With all the losses you feel, I promise that if you embrace the journey and take the good with the bad it makes life better. I don’t know what the future holds, but I am hoping through advocacy and research more treatment options become available. I know joining a support group locally was one of the best things I did. Talking to people that have been where I am and offered supportive listening. I am forever grateful to them and blessed to have a wonderful family that help. Are there days when I’m mad… yes! I’m angry and scared. What happened to college based on interest, not physically accessible and near physicians in the area!
You as I have learned, having a chronic illness, is life alternating for everyone. I surely wish my daughter didn’t have it. However, she does and I intend to ride this journey with her and advocate to the best of my ability for her and others like her so that there is dignity, respect, and research to aid in hopes of a cure one day. This is my journey and hope for a final destination.
Chronically Hopefully,
Kimberly