Update: I’m Dead Inside (Literally)

Some of you may have noticed I haven’t written anything in quite a while. This past year has been one of the worst of my life. Even more has been added to the list of things I cannot do and so I have been going through the stages of grief as a result (but had an extended stay on the depression part.)

A New Diagnosis

By September 2017, my ankle had been really really hurting for the past 3 years, but my doctors kept writing it off. “It’s just EDS pain,” they insisted, writing me off again and again. Yes, EDS led to my ankles usually being sore but not nearly as painful so I knew something was wrong. After insisting it was different than EDS pain and asking for my rheumatologist to look into it for three years straight I finally had an X-ray.

That X-Ray led to an MRI and that MRI led to a surgeon. In August I was diagnosed with Avascular Necrosis (AVN) in my ankle. AVN is essentially when the bone dies because it doesn’t get enough oxygen from the blood. In some cases the bone fully collapses, my ankle being one of those lucky cases. I had been walking around on a collapsed bone in my ankle for THREE YEARS.

As if that wasn’t enough to deal with, I was diagnosed with AVN in seven other joints (so far.) I have AVN in one shoulder, both hips, both knees, both ankles, and in my toes. My ankle AVN was by far the most severe as my talus (bone in ankle) had already collapsed. However, collapse in my hips is inevitable and I will likely need a few more joint replacements.

So I finally had an answer to why my pain had gotten so much worse over the past couple years, but it definitely wasn’t an answer I wanted. AVN is incredibly rare and there aren’t many treatment options. Many are very new or even experimental. When bones are in the early stages there are surgical options to put off joint replacements, but when it is very advanced joint replacement is the only treatment. Unfortunately, the only proven treatment for AVN is surgery.

Surgery

So in November 2017, I had my ankle replaced and fused. In addition, a procedure was done on my hip that was supposed to put off collapse. I think that hip procedure failed as my hip is far worse off now, but the ankle replacement is going well.

I’ll write its own piece on my ankle replacement as well as hip surgery. The science behind it is amazing and there’s a lot to say. Even though my ankle is recovering well, I’ve been really struggling with the grief and isolation that comes with a major surgery like this.

Limitations & Coping

I can no longer point or flex my foot and never will be able to. It’s hard to not think of the list of things I can’t do; it feels like it’s getting longer by the day. I haven’t been able to dance in a couple years, but I always thought of it as a possibility. Now I’m not sure it is. I can’t drive and will have to relearn to eventually once I’m healed. Hiking also seems unlikely. I’m actually okay with the never being able to wear heels again part.

I’ve coped with my EDS and POTS, but this is a whole different story. AVN has the potential to spread anywhere. Every joint pain I have worries me that I have AVN in another joint. Sometimes I can feel or even hear my joints crumbling or bone grinding on bone. I feel like I’m dying on the inside and it’s one of the most unnerving conditions I’ve had. It’s beyond depressing to know your body is degenerating and feeling it happen doesn’t help.

I’ve also had trouble coping with isolation. I rarely leave my house for something other than a doctors appointment due to pain. I moved to a place without stairs and that has helped. I also plan to dedicate a whole article to chronic pain and isolation in the future.

So there’s my very quick update. So many other things have happened that I will be writing about more in the future. For example, getting more diagnoses, finally getting IV hydration, PICC lines, a CBD product review, and more. Thanks for sticking around during my writing slump!

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4 Problems With The Pain Scale

My life has been filled with a lot of pain and many different types of pain. In the past 7 years, I have not had a single day without pain- not one. I have good days and bad days, but even the good days are filled with pain. Aside from the pain itself, the pain scale is one of the banes of my existence.

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1. It Doesn’t Work For Chronic Pain

Not only is it a pretty terrible scale for measuring pain in the average person, but it is even less effective for people with chronic pain.

I’ve had a lot of people when talking about pain, make the comment “but you’re used to it.” This isn’t exactly true. My pain is actually worse and more unbearable than it has ever been before. Pain doesn’t hurt any less because you are used to it. What you really get used to is living with it. You get used to pretending you don’t have pain, using coping methods such as distraction, and hiding the pain.

If I had the average response to dislocating a joint that the average person did I would be crying, distorting my face, and screaming far too often to navigate this world. So I’ve learned to breathe through it and even smile. Only people very close to me can even tell that something is happening- and often they can’t even tell. Developing this coping mechanism is so necessary for living with chronic pain and such a problem at the doctor’s office.

I have had at least a dozen kidney stones. The pain of a kidney stone is slightly worse than my average Ehler’s Danlos pain, but not enough that I can easily shed my coping mechanism of hiding my pain. One night I began to pee blood and couldn’t keep fluids down so I went to the ER. I told them I had a kidney stone- I know full well what they feel like by now. The nurse told me I couldn’t have a kidney stone, “Even giant footballer men roll into the fetal position from kidney stones.” They did a scan and, of course, I had a large kidney stone. I eventually got treatment, but first was told I wasn’t in enough pain. It was infuriating and it has happened more than once.

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It has gotten to the point where I almost feel like I have to try and visibly show the pain I feel inside, but it is still so difficult.

2. It Isn’t Standardized

Another problem is the scale means something different to everyone. I’ve been told 10/10 is the worst pain I’ve ever felt and also told that 10/10 is the worst pain I can imagine. These are far different measurements! For the same pain, I would rate it as a 8 on the first scale and a 3 on the second (I can imagine some horrific pain).

3. We Can Only Compare Pain- Not Imagine It

Generally, we can only rate our pain based on comparisons to other pain we have actually felt. That is the best way to understand someone’s pain. However, many people are at the extremes- they have either had a fairly pain free life or have experienced immense pain. Two people’s 7/10 may be wildly different. The scale does not work as a stand-alone tool without considering the pain patients have felt in the past.

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4. The Scale Is Used Against Patients

Another problem with the pain scale is that it is commonly used by nurses and doctors against the patient. If you answer too high on the pain scale and they can’t see the cause of your pain, they will assume you are lying to get drugs. If you answer an 8 and then check messages on your phone (even though distraction is one of the best solutions to pain) they will assume you are lying. If you answer too low they won’t take you seriously. Instead of using the scale to help treat patients it is often used to hurt patients.

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So if the pain scale is the problem what is the answer? Medical professionals need to listen to their patients when they describe their pain and take a look at their medical history. The pain scale needs to be taken with a grain of salt when used and needs to be standardized. Medical professionals need to make up their minds. What is a 10/10? Decide and then stick to it!

To The Park Ranger Who Questioned My Disability

I love camping. It one of my favorite things to do and I wasn’t about to let my stupid flesh prison keep me from doing it. So I organized a camping trip with 6 friends.

We went to Saddlehorn Campground, just a little bit out from Grandjunction, CO. I chose it because it had cemented paths and disability spots. It was absolutely beautiful as well.

We got there Friday late afternoon. Within 5 minutes getting there a man rode up on his bike.

“Why are you parked in a disability spot,” he accusatorily asked me (my official placard hanging in the window).

In immense pain from the 4-hour drive, I responded: “because I’m f**king disabled.”

He stood around and dumbly added, “but I’ve seen all y’all walking around.”

At this point I wasn’t alone in my anger, my friends chimed in. “Go away” “mind your own business” they yelled while I yelled, “just because I can walk tiny distances doesn’t mean I’m not disabled!”

He angrily, and obviously not convinced, jumped on his bike and rode off. I tried to not let it bother me, but it did. I was already gnawing at me when the park ranger came to our campsite.

“I need to see whatever proves you are disabled.” Obviously, my new friend had tattled on me. While she was saying this my disability placard hung visibly from the rearview mirror of the car.

My partner stood up and ushered her to look at the placard- literally right beside her. She walked away huffily as well. No apology for her hugely inappropriate behavior. Nothing.

I chose Saddlehorn for its disability friendly campsites and was harassed instead of finally easily able to enjoy camping. However, apparently, you have to be visibly disabled to not be harassed by other campers and staff.

Newsflash Saddlehorn: not all disabilities are visible. Not everyone who needs those spaces uses a wheelchair 100% of the time. Disability placards exist and aren’t easy to get without an actual condition that you need it for!

Lessons In Resentment

Accepting help is a hard skill to master. In my life, that skill has been made less attainable by a certain type of person. They always volunteer to help me- I do not ask. But then they get in over their heads and instead of talking to me about it, they start to resent me. That resentment grows and grows to the point where they become abusive, suddenly kick me out of their lives, or turn me into a villain in their heads.

Recently, I was offered a place to live rent-free by two friends until I could receive disability or be able to work again. They offered. I did not ask in any way, shape, or form. I asked over and over again if it was still okay and over and over again was told that it was. I worried about being a burden and communicated this. I worried they wouldn’t talk to me if there was a problem.

However, over time they became less kind. Eventually, when I asked to be treated with kindness, everything blew up. I was called names, told I was using them, told they were actually trying to make me cry, and promised I would be kicked out if I kept acting how I was acting (asking to be treated with kindness). I was thoroughly confused until I heard, months after I moved out- from other people, that they were upset about money.

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All they needed to do is say something. But when things go unsaid? Resentment poisons relationships. It grows and grows until everyone has been hurt. Communication and honesty are the antidotes, but it is so hard to find people who realize this. All I had ever done was try to communicate when things were bothering me- if they had done the same it wouldn’t have ended in such an ugly way.

Instead of treating me like a human being and talking to me they got in over their heads and then hurt me. In the end, their “help” hurt me more. I would have rather struggled to pay rent than to be treated that way. I would have rather never had them in my life at all.

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I don’t share this story because it is a fun thing to reminisce. I share it because there is a clear lesson here I hope others can learn from.

Caretakers & Helpers

For those who volunteer to help someone- if you get in over your head SAY SO. Know your limits of what you can give. You aren’t being brave or saintly for pushing past these. All that exceeding those limits does is lead to resentment, and like I’ve said, resentment hurts everyone involved. If you take care of yourself you can better help others better as well.

People With Chronic Illness

For those being helped, hesitate taking help from people you don’t trust to communicate with you even if it is a difficult conversation. Even if you are receiving help, you deserve to be treated kindly. Don’t fall into the trap in thinking that you owe it to people who are helping you to be purposefully hurt, abused, degraded, humiliated, or mistreated in any form.

You are not a burden or responsibility to be put up with, but a human who should be treated as such. Anyone who loses sight of this doesn’t deserve to be in your life.

Playing Pokemon Go as Someone With a Physical Disability

Pokemon Go is a new game that came out this past week and has already become a sensation with 15 million downloads already. The game encourages players to get out, get up, and get moving. The more a player walks around, the more gear they get, Pokemon they catch, the faster they level up, and the faster their “eggs” (containing rarer Pokemon and gear) hatch.

 

I didn’t play Pokemon as a kid, but I downloaded the game when my friends started raving about it. I quickly realized there would be problems once I began to play: it was designed for people without physical disabilities.

The first night I played the game I limped to the park with my friends to catch Pokemon. Due to postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS), one of the conditions I have, I had trouble catching Pokemon. At least for a beginner, the game required standing still in place to catch Pokèmon. I can’t stand still for long or else I faint, but sitting down and standing up over and over again wasn’t an option either. I quickly began feeling badly as my friends bounced around easily succeeding at the game.

The second day I played Pokemon Go I ran into another problem: the game requires a lot of walking. I have Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (EDS), so walking a lot often means popping out or dislocating joints or walking on recently dislocated joints. The game is fun for sure, but little is worth that level of pain. I began to play a lot less while my friends went on multiple walks a day and left me behind in the game.

Wanting to play and frustrated by falling behind, I tried using my wheelchair. I thought surely it will fix both my problems (standing and walking). However, playing in a wheelchair offered its own struggles. I couldn’t wheel and catch Pokemon or go to PokeStops the way my friends who could walk did so. I also couldn’t get to all the things I needed to in grassy areas or up steps. My friends offered to take my phone to these areas, but I wanted to play, not watch them play for me.

It makes sense why they released the game in the summer, but it has raised another problem for people like me. I cannot play most of the hours others can. Even in a wheelchair, I cannot go outside in the summer heat without fainting or severe symptoms, so I have to wait until dark when it cools off to play. When everyone around me is playing, at least during their lunch break, it just leaves me even farther behind.

I haven’t stopped playing Pokèmon Go and will probably continue to play. It is an enjoyable game and is doing great things for the average person who needs more exercise. However, the game definitely feels like it was made without people with physical disabilities in mind. Being left behind by my friends in the game is frustrating and will continue being so because the playing field is not even close to level. No matter how great I am at catching Pokemon, I can never catch up. It is so frustrating to always be behind for reasons I can’t control.

One of the worst parts is the able-bodied people attempting to tell me I should be able to play with no problems. Many convince themselves the game is fair and that a wheelchair or physical disability should not change game-play.

People with physical disabilities are telling a different story. People are feeling left behind, no matter the extent of their limitations. I hope the developers of the game listen to those of us who are actually affected and make changes so the game is fairer and more accessible to us all.

Also found on The Mighty.

The Big Problem With Overdose We Are Forgetting

 

Everyone is freaking out about opiate overdose- what about the major problem no one is talking about?

Prescription overdose has been in the spotlight lately, which makes sense. Drug overdoses have now surpassed automobile overdoses as the leading cause of accidental death. What doesn’t make sense is that because of this spotlight chronic pain patients are running into a harder time getting the help they need. Instead of addressing drug abuse and overdoses in a productive manner people are punishing chronic pain patients who need help by making it harder to get their medication.

This study reveals that chronic pain patients aren’t the ones who are having problems with abuse; Only 2% of chronic pain patients end up having problems with abuse. However, if people make conclusions based on the media, all chronic pain patients are addicts destined to accidentally overdose.

Overdose is heavily talked about, but there is one extremely important aspect to this that everyone is missing- suicide. Dealing with pain every second of every day can, unsurprisingly, be incredibly depressing. In fact, 19-28% of people with chronic pain are suicidal on some level, whether through suicide ideation or with actual plans to carry out their death. And the most common tool for suicide in these cases? You may have guessed it- medication overdose.

We need to change how we perceive health and chronic pain for this problem to go away. Two major risk factors in chronic pain patients who commit suicide are patients feeling like a burden and not feeling like they belong. This comes as no surprise to me. Our society absolutely treats people who are disabled like burdens and outsiders.

We praise the people who are friends with/ dating/ supporting chronic pain patients because we see chronic pain patients as burdens instead of people.

We abuse chronic illness patients at a rate that is 1.5 times the usual or 4 times as much if the chronic illness is mental, only to act like they are lucky to have anyone in their lives.

We do the bare minimum to make things accessible (only because it is the law) and act like we are doing disabled a favor.

We treat people with chronic pain first as criminal drug-seekers and consider their pain and quality of life second.

We talk about how terrible opiates are and how they are never justified. There is no understanding that for many of us the choice is between this unfortunate drug and killing ourselves because the pain is too much to live with every day.

We often go out of our way to avoid the disabled. We look away or make an excuse.

Overdose is a huge issue and it should be taken seriously. However, going after people who are already hurting is only going to worsen this issue and cause an increase of overdoses. Researchers already don’t feel like they can properly tell which opiate overdoses are accidental or suicide. Statistics suggest that we should at least consider that suicide is a big issue in the discussion on overdose.

Part of the solution is to change the way we think about and treat chronic pain patients. 

Another part of the solution is to change the way we think about and treat chronic pain patients. The other is to make naloxone, a medicine that can save people from  an overdose, easily available to people who do overdose accidentally.

Decriminalising these drugs would also help drug abusers get the help they need without fear of being charged with a crime. 

When we talk about overdoses we often leave out discussions of the people who are using these drugs the most. We also need to make the increase in suicide, abuse, depression, anxiety, and PTSD in chronic pain patients part of the conversation on increased overdose. 

 

8 Things Healthy People Need To Stop Saying

Dear Healthy People,

There are a lot of articles out there about what you should stop saying to sick people. Here are some things healthy people need to think about before they say because they are hurtful. Please stop saying and doing the following. You are being insensitive and ignorant.

I try so hard to be empathetic and tactful, but I am so sick of these people not even attempting to be tactful or empathetic to me in any way so, this time, the gloves are coming off. I’m sick of your crap and am calling you out.

1. Sorry But I ___________________

  • Was in pain
  • Was sick
  • Hadn’t slept well

Using pain, illness, or lack of sleep as an excuse for bad behavior is incredibly irritating.

I recently had someone go off on me in anger and blamed it on not sleeping well… for two nights. At the time, I had slept an average of 1 hour a night for the last 30 days. It was insulting for someone to treat me poorly and use not sleeping well for two nights as an excuse for their behavior when even after a month without sleep I was still nice to her.

When you have a chronic illness you don’t get to use pain, illness, or lack of sleep as an excuse to be rude to people. If you did you would lose every person in your life within a week. I realize that being sick or sleep deprived for many people is an uncommon and terrible thing to deal with. But it feels so terrible that healthy people get to use it as an excuse when I strive to be a good, nice person despite dealing with dislocated joints, not sleeping for weeks at a time, and all the crap that comes along with having a chronic illness.

2. I Know How You Feel
When healthy people say this to me I seriously want to scream. First of all, being sick for a long time is nothing like having an injury, being acutely sick, or not sleeping well a few nights. Pretending it is the same minimizes the biggest struggle of my life, a struggle that is hard to clear my mind of for a single minute because my pain is there to remind me constantly. Unless you have had to grieve for the loss of your old life when you were healthy you should not say this to someone with a chronic illness.

Secondly, comparing someone’s illness to your situation is messed up. Why do you have to make the comparisons? Why can’t you empathize instead of minimizing my problems? Plus, let’s be honest. If you want to play the comparison game you will lose. You haven’t slept well for a few days? Try months. Your shoulder is sore? Try dislocating multiple joints a week. You have had an ear infection for a week? Try having a sinus infection for 6 months or a debilitating illness for almost 8 years.

I can feel sympathetic to your pain and illness, but if you compare it to mine or minimize my illness my ability to empathize with you will go out the window.

Parents, you not sleeping because you have a child is not the same thing as dealing with a chronic illness. You chose to have children. I didn’t choose this. Being tired is not the same as feeling the crushing fatigue of a chronic illness. So no, you can know tired and not have an infant. Stop minimizing everyone else’s experiences because you have a kid.

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3. I Have Been Sick For SO Long
Being sick sucks. Being sick for a while really sucks. I get it; I really do. This is not an “other people have it worse thing,” you are allowed to have a hard time. I can support you through that. It is a problem when you say these things to me or other chronically ill people without considering how I feel. Hearing you say that having a cold for a couple weeks as “so long” feels like you are ignoring the fact that that happened to me once, but the difference is my illness never went away.

I have been sick for 7 years, 8 months, and 6 days. I have not gone more than 3 or 4 hours (awake) that entire time without my body reminding me that I am sick, that I am not normal. When you forget that, when you ignore that, it is a slap in the face.

I will support you for the entire time you are sick but please do not forget the hard things I am dealing with. Don’t minimize what I am going through because you are having a hard time and I will not do the same.

4. You Are Lucky
You are lucky you get to take “fun drugs.”
I have excruciating pain nearly every minute of every day. The medicines I take are not to get high or have fun. They hardly take the edge off. I would never take them again if I could survive the pain. Being in so much pain you have to take medicine is absolutely not lucky.

You are lucky you don’t have to work/ go to school.
I was on track to go to medical school when I got sick. I am not lazy or avoiding work. I would give anything to be able to go to school and work. I hate feeling trapped into doing less. It isn’t luck; this isn’t a vacation.

You are lucky you can sleep in.
If I don’t sleep more I can function even less than usual. I am not sleeping in because I feel like it, am lazy, or am a bit tired. I sleep in because I cannot stand if I sleep less than 9 hours. My pain is unimaginable if I don’t get enough sleep. I sleep out of necessity, not pleasure.

The list goes on and on. How inconsiderate are you that you can’t see that having a chronic illness is not in any way lucky?

5. I Couldn’t Do It, I Hate _______

  • Taking medicine
  • Shots
  • Going to the doctor
  • Hospitals

I hate them all too, but when you have a severe chronic illness you no longer have a choice. When people say this I am not sure how to respond. Are you implying I do like these things? Do you think these things are optional? I have to do things I hate all the time to survive.

If you were chronically ill you would have to do all those things too. You do what you have to to survive. What you want, what you enjoy no longer matters when you are fighting every day to survive.

6. You Can Do Anything! Mind Over Matter!
I know you are trying to be inspirational but this is really insulting to disabled people. No matter what I do I will never be able to climb a mountain, become a surgeon, or run a marathon. Being literally unconscious puts a damper on accomplishing all your dreams. And that is what happens when I try “mind over matter”- I faint.

So no, don’t spew that crap to me. I am limited by my condition. Just because you are able bodied do not tell us we all of are able to accomplish anything we put our mind to.

7. I Never Get Sick
People say this with pride to me all the time. The only reason I am sick and you aren’t is chance alone. You are not better than me because you happen to be healthy.

When you say this with pride you make it obvious you think you are better than me because you are healthy. It makes it obvious you think I have control over the fact that I am sick.

8. At Least You Are Used To It
Discounting what I am going through because I go through it constantly is also insulting. My condition causes a different pain every day. It doesn’t get less shitty because I have had it for so long. In fact, it gets harder. It is exhausting and soul crushing to deal with pain and illness this long. So don’t dismiss me because I have had these problems for a while. It still hurts and it is still hard no matter how long it has been.

Defining Yourself By Your Disability and Seeing Yourself As Sick

Defining Yourself As Your Disability

 This article makes a really good point I have  been thinking of lately. People should not demand someone with a disability to look at themselves in whatever way you see fit. Don’t complain that they talk about their illness too much. My disability does not define me, but it has shaped who I am. I have to deal with it every single day; it is a part of my life and I will talk about it if I want to.

Firstly, telling people to not “define themselves by their disability” is insulting because it implies that is how they do define themselves. For me and for most people this isn’t true.

Secondly, telling someone to not define themselves by their disability or to talk about their disability less is just ignorant. The people you see every day, the job you go to every single day- those things shape who you are. So who are you to say that a something I deal with every minute of every day should not influence my life or how I see myself?  When you hate your job you are probably going to talk about it a lot. In no way does that mean you are defined by that feeling, your crappy job, or how you deal with it. Talking about something that affects you so profoundly absolutely does not mean you are “defined” by it.

Seeing Yourself As Sick

While at the Dysautonomia International Conference a Dr. Paola Sandroni, a neurologist and expert in POTS, claimed that IV fluids should not be given to patients because it makes them think of themselves as sick*. Well, my question to Dr. Sandroni: how is wanting IV fluids to feel less sick going to make me suddenly see myself as more sick?! IV fluids make me feel less sick and more normal. Do you want to know what does make me think of myself as sick? Fainting. Pain. Brain fog. Dizziness. Nausea. Severe tachycardia. Vomiting. Chest pain. Our symptoms make us feel sick and think of ourselves as sick; treatments make us feel better and more normal. Stop demonizing our attempts to feel better.

I have also heard “friends,” family, and medical professionals go even as far as saying that you would feel better if you didn’t focus so much on being sick. Just stop talking about it and it will go away. In some cases, I am sure this is true, especially with patients who have both anxiety and POTS. Most of us do not. Just as many others, I don’t see myself as weak and sick. That is not why I talk about my illness. In fact, I see myself as strong, and a fighter for what I go through every day and keep on going. I recognize how hard it was to ask my friends and family for support. I recognize that I am doing everything I can to raise awareness to hopefully limit both the suffering of others and myself. If I need support to deal with this really tough thing then you can bet I will talk about it, and I’m stronger for that fact. You can’t silence me by demonizing the way I get support and deal with my illness.

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*All the other doctors at the Dysautonomia International Conference were wonderful and much more understanding of patient’s struggles. This was just one negative experience of an overall wonderful weekend.

7 Things TV and Movies Get Wrong About Chronic Illness

Chronic illness is not regularly represented in movies and TV shows. Only recently have movies and TV shows about chronic illness been made popular. For example, The Fault in Our Stars, a love story about two teenagers with cancer was wildly popular with nearly $125,000 in box office revenue. Any representation of chronic illness is a step in the right direction, as an estimated half of all people have a chronic illness. The current representation of chronic illness often perpetuates common misconceptions about dealing with chronic illness.

Seven Things the Movies Get Wrong About Chronic Illness
Hard Work Can Cure Everything
We often see people who are paralyzed and injured struggling at physical therapy appointments. These struggles are intense and common in chronic illness, but one aspect commonly depicted of this struggle is not. Many of the chronically ill characters are cured simply by this hard work. There are a few scenes of them struggling and suddenly are cured of all symptoms. Many illnesses, like Type I Diabetes, won’t be cured with hard work. Symptoms may be kept at bay through activity, but rarely are their illnesses entirely cured.

Diagnosis is Fast
In movies or TV shows, we often see someone get obviously and visibly ill. The character suddenly faints or has a seizure then in the very next scene their illness is explained. In House, MD the most complicated cases the writers can think up are often solved within the time of a week on the show. In the real world, a lot of people do not immediately receive a diagnosis, especially those with rare or newly recognized illnesses. In rare illnesses, it may take decades to be correctly diagnosed. The process is exhausting and representing this problem in diagnosis is crucial to the understanding of what the chronically ill go through.

All Illness is Visible
The chronically ill protagonist is always obviously sick. They are in a wheelchair, on oxygen, or have lost all their hair from chemotherapy. Outside the movies, not everyone who looks healthy is actually healthy. This assumption is problematic to those of us with chronic illness. People assume you aren’t actually sick because every representation of chronic illness they have seen has been obvious and visible. In many illnesses, such as Fibromyalgia and Dysautonomia, patients may look healthy to outsiders.

Chronic Illness is Temporary
Occasionally movies and TV shows claim a character has a chronic illness, but the illness is not actually depicted as chronic. Characters are all either cured or die. The doctors, tests, pain, and medication is all shown as temporary. Audiences don’t see the daily permanent struggle that is faced by sufferers of chronic illness.

It Is All Cancer and Injury
There are so many chronic illnesses that people deal with, but usually only cancer and illness caused by injury are represented. Cancer and injury are easy fall-backs because they are easily understood, but there is no excuse for this lack of creativity and underrepresentation. There are plenty of chronic illnesses that make for compelling characters and stories.

Skip the Coping
Coping with a chronic illness is a huge struggle. Many patients grieve for their old lives and have to learn how to enjoy life in new ways. Coming to terms and learning to be happy with an illness is a rough and inspiring battle. By skipping this struggle and only showing illness as temporary, producers miss an opportunity to share these inspirational stories.

How Do We Fix This?
The more that chronically ill people share their experiences, the better the representation in the media will be. People have trouble understanding the issues chronically ill face and representation of chronic illness in the media is a step in the right direction. An accurate representation of this struggle in the media, TV shows, and movies would do wonders for awareness and understanding.

The Privilege of Independence

When my parents dropped me off for my first day of camp when I was five they expected it to be tough. It was tough, but just for them. I was ready to leave and meet new people and to be on my own. When my dad came to visit me at lunch I even gave him the cold shoulder; I was busy with my new friends! I have always been extremely independent even that young. I do not like having to rely on others and prefer to trust myself to take care of me.

We expect to need others to rely on both early and late in life. Children are unable to care for themselves and the elderly often experience the same fate. In our society this dependence is both accepted and expected. However, as adults, young and old, often we are expected to take care of ourselves and maintain 100% independence. This is not always the case. What happens when we get cannot rely on ourselves alone?

Independence and being able to rely on ourselves alone is a privilege. It isn’t one you would know you have unless you have lost it. For those of us with severe physical or mental illness we no longer have that privilege. If we do not rely on others (or are not lucky enough to have these people in our lives) we end up homeless, dead, or injured.

A few years ago I experienced 3-4 blood clots that sent my health into a downward spiral. I went from a fiercely independent high-achieving pre-med student, an avid volunteer, a distance runner, and a dancer to becoming bed-ridden. I also have Dysautonomia; in my case means that I faint anywhere from once a week to once every 15 minutes. I also discovered I have Ehler’s Danlos, leading my joints to dislocate or pop out of place and cause frequent excruciating pain. Occasionally, I can live normally and near independently, but often I have to rely on others. Sometimes I cannot get food myself, make enough money for rent, or even walk to the bathroom without a shoulder to lean on.

It has been an incredibly difficult journey, and I have had to learn to rely on other people and let go of independence. I loathe it; I abhor having to depend on others. I really do. Learning to rely on others without feeling like a burden has been one of the hardest thing I have had to face and likely will continue to face for the rest of my life. Because it is so difficult, I absolutely hate when people who are judgemental about my “lack of” independence.

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Friends, family, and infuriating strangers frequently make comments about how important maintaining independence is. They are often incredibly judgemental in doing so, and they are not entirely wrong. Many forms of independence are important and healthy. For example, I am all for healthy attachment in relationships. Individuals should stay an “I” instead of morphing into a “we” without lives of their own when they enter relationships, friendship or others. However, asking for help from your loved ones when you need it can be absolutely healthy and necessary. That is not an unhealthy loss of independence and should not be treated as such. Independence should be valued, but independence does not mean doing everything on your own. You can retain a healthy independence and depend on the help of others.

It has taken me some time to realize that asking for help when you need is not admitting weakness, but I have become a better person and have a better life as a result. I can’t live alone, but have learned to better appreciate my wonderful roommates. Learning to get help from others has helped me be a better friend too. Learning how to ask what you need from people helps them better ask you when they are in a tough spot. Realizing the strength it can take to ask for help makes it easier to help loved ones with that in mind. Additionally, I know the people who surround me are real friends and that we can lean on each other when we need to.  

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I have my own hobbies, friends, and job. I am independent in all the healthy ways that matter. However, I do have to rely on others and let go of independence because of my illness and that really is okay. Independence is absolutely important, but people need to stop equating needing the help of others with an unhealthy dependence on others. If you are healthy and have the privilege of not having to depend on anyone else- good for you. You also need to realize that is not the case for all of us. Many of us have to rely on others to survive and that does not make us any lesser than those who do not.