Domestic Violence & Chronic Illness: 9 Things I Wish I Knew

When we hear about caregivers abusing patients it usually has to do with elderly abuse. There is a big part of this abuse we haven’t talked about. Caregiver-inflicted abuse can come from anyone, at any age, and can take many different forms.

The abuse inflicted by a caregiver can be incredibly difficult to notice. Frustrations are high when dealing with the illness and sometimes that can lead to excusing unacceptable behavior. Emotional abuse may be even more difficult to recognize. Often the chronically ill person feels like the caretaker is doing them such a huge favor that they could never complain about how they are treated. Why wouldn’t we? We are constantly told we are lucky  for having friends or partners in our lives.

Unfortunately, I speak from experience. I consider myself an intelligent person and I knew what red flags to look for. I thought I knew better; I would never find myself stuck in an abusive relationship. But anyone can fall into an abusive relationship, especially when they feel like they don’t bring much to the table (like many of us with chronic illnesses).

When I moved across the country a couple years ago it was really hard to function without support. I felt incredibly alone. At one point, I paid a cab driver to be my ride home after surgery. I was living in cheap hotels, in my car, or on couches; I was also really struggling with handling my health.

Then along he came. He didn’t treat me like a sick person. He treated me like an equal, at least in the beginning. It was wonderful to have someone else help to face the struggles of illness face on.

The abuse started gradually. Small threats, constantly getting mad at me, and insults became more and more common. He was constantly making me feel guilty for being sick and even claimed I was faking it. I had no one else and he was helping me some with day-to-day life so I just didn’t even recognize the warning signs. After all, I felt like a burden to all my loved ones anyway. He was just confirming what I already thought. In my mind, this messed up relationship was exactly what I deserved.

I finally began to see the problem when he had a problem with me trying to make friends and began to steal from me. Even then, it was hard to leave because I relied on his help so much. I made excuses. It is hard to date me, dealing with illness is hard, he isn’t bad all the time. I tried to break up with him a couple times, but he convinced me to go to couple’s counseling and scared me into staying with him.

Looking back there was an abundance of warning signs. He put his fist through a microwave because I didn’t feel well enough to clean it out. He broke the trash can because I couldn’t take out the trash. He refused to close the blinds when I had a migraine. He refused to let me keep the apartment cold so as to not faint. He threw me on the floor when I didn’t dry off in the shower to his liking. He left me stranded without a ride on multiple times, once over an hour away from home. I had to limp miles in the snow at more than one point. He locked me out of my apartment.

The warning signs may seem obvious, and they are now looking back on that time. However, it took me nearly having to die before I did finally recognize him as abusive. One night he drank too much, pushed me off the bed onto my head and gave me a concussion after trying to strangle/kill me. I was able to claw at him with my nails enough to get away, but still lost consciousness.

I’m sure he still has scars. It was one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever gone through and he was the only person I had in my life at the time. The concussion was so severe I had to withdraw from school. I could have died that night, and I truly wished I could have seen the big picture before getting hurt.

This is not an easy topic to write about, but I need to share with you what I wished I knew then:

  1. You are not a burden. You can enrich the lives around you, illness or not.
  2. You deserve supportive and loving relationships even if you are sick. Do not stick with anything less.
  3. Emotional abuse can be as damaging as physical abuse. It should never be ignored or excused away.
  4. You don’t deserve to be threatened, hurt, or mistreated by anyone just because you are sick.
  5. You don’t deserve to feel guilty over feeling sick when you’re unable to control it.
  6. If you are in an abusive relationship do not bother with couples counseling. Abusers won’t be honest or work on their problems. Everything will be turned on you as if it is your fault. Couples counseling made my partner more violent and convinced me further that I deserved to be a victim to his bad behavior.
  7. Ending up with an abuser is not your fault. It is difficult to not feel stupid for getting into the situation, but it can happen to anyone. It is more likely to happen to you if you have a disability. What you go through is your abuser’s fault, not yours. However, make sure you don’t allow yourself to remain a victim out of embarrassment when you finally do see the signs.
  8.  Don’t stay with an abuser because you are worried about being alone or taking care of yourself. Being alone is hard, especially with a chronic illness, but it is definitely better than getting hurt or nearly killed. You aren’t alone in your struggle. If there aren’t friends or family you can reach out to there are online and in- person support groups. There are also counselors who work with chronic illnesses and abuse that can help you recover. Shelters are an option if you have no one else to turn to. For more information or to speak to someone right away the domestic violence helpline should be able to help: thehotline.org or 1-800-799-SAFE. It isn’t easy to get away from an abusive relationship, but it will be so much better for you and your health.
  9. If you see the warning signs or red flags that your caregiver is abusive talk to someone you trust and get away from them as soon as possible!

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Caregiver-inflicted abuse doesn’t have to come from a romantic partner. It may come from friends, parents, and even health care professionals as well. No one deserves this abuse and you should never stay in an unsafe environment because you feel like you deserve it.

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.

What Is A Poor Man’s Tilt Table Test?

7C11274/3A11275Tilt table tests (TTT) are uncomfortable, expensive, and time-consuming. It is agreed that TTT should be the standard for POTS diagnosis, but wouldn’t it be great if we had a way to look for POTS without going through the entire test? Well, we can. The poor man’s tilt table test as it is called is a check at your heart rate and blood pressure throughout laying, sitting, and standing.

The poor man’s tilt table test is not as reliable and should not be used by laypeople for diagnosis. However, it is a helpful tool to see if you should see a doctor about an official TTT or see a POTS specialist.

If you do not have a blood pressure cuff you can still record your pulse as that is helpful to know as well.

Materials

Heart Rate Monitor (can be on your smartphone)
Blood Pressure Cuff
Another Person

Steps

1. Find a clear space where you can lay, sit, and stand comfortably.
2. Lay down. You may have to lay for up to 10 minutes for your pulse to slow before measuring.
3. Check your heart rate and record. Repeat.
4. Check blood pressure and record. Repeat.
5. Sit up and wait a couple minutes
6. Check pulse and record
7. Check blood pressure and record. Repeat.
8. Stand
9. Check pulse and record (check multiple times over the time you can safely stand). Repeat.
10. Check blood pressure and record. Repeat.

Position Heart Rate Blood Pressure Symptoms & Notes
Laying 1
Laying 2
Sitting 1
Sitting 2
Standing 1
Standing 2

Shortcomings

Doing a formal TTT means that you have medical professionals around to help if something goes wrong. Doing this version means that you may faint and hurt yourself. If you are worried have someone to help keep you safe or wait for an official TTT.

TTT tilt you slowly in a way in which your leg muscles are not engaged. Leg manoeuvres can help with POTS symptoms and standing by yourself means that you may use these manoeuvres and skew the results. If you have POTS symptoms you may have adopted this technique without even realising.

9 Common POTS Myths

There are a lot of common misconceptions about POTS. There are ones I get from doctors, nurses, family, friends, and even other POTS patients. Remember that most of our POTS symptoms are different and that the same thing doesn’t work for everyone!

1. POTS Is NOT Anxiety
I don’t care how much POTS looks like anxiety- it isn’t. The increased heart rate, palpitations, and shortness of breath in POTS are caused by the autonomic nervous system. Medicines for anxiety and medicines for POTS do not work the same and do not necessarily alleviate POTS symptoms.

Anxiety can happen as a result of POTS or alongside POTS but I cannot stress enough that they are not the same thing. Strange scary symptoms can make patients nervous and the life change of living with a chronic illness is enough to make anyone anxious, but the underlying condition is not caused by anxiety.

2. POTS Symptoms Disappear When You Lay Down
I have had multiple doctors ask why I don’t just lay down to fix my symptoms. Let’s get this straight- POTS symptoms are exacerbated by standing but do not disappear when I lay down.

Many people with POTS feel terrible laying down as well. Unfortunately, POTS symptoms can reach you at any angle. Just last week my tachycardia was 130 bpm while laying down and relaxing for four hours. The chest pain and brain fog did not go away the entire time. So while standing makes things worse, lying is not a magic cure-all for our symptoms.

I have talked to very few people who feel 100% better once horizontal but it is not the average POTS patient.

3. Exercise Will Cure POTS
Some people with POTS have had this experience and I am thrilled for them. However, for many of us exercise is not a cure-all. I hear on support groups POTS patients who have been helped with exercise be judgemental and condescending towards those who have not been helped. Additionally, friends and family can claim you aren’t trying hard enough if exercise does not cure you. Please stop people!

Exercise helps POTS but for people like me it is not a cure. I have tried swimming, biking, rowing, and walking daily for months at a time. Exercise helped my symptoms but my POTS is still severe and unrelenting.

Just because you are able to exercise does not mean you get to judge people who can’t (or are not having the same results. Associated conditions that happen together with POTS such as Ehler’s Danlos and neuropathy can make exercise extremely painful and difficult.

 

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Trying to work out with EDS is a lot like this.

 

4. Most People Grows Out Of POTS
I was diagnosed with POTS at 18 and being between a teen and adult made things complicated. Pediatricians claim that many people who get POTS in their teens outgrow POTS; that doesn’t happen as often in adults.

Every doctor I saw that first year after my diagnosis told me I would grow out of POTS. It is 7 years later and my POTS is worse than ever. I understand doctors wanting to give their patients hope but that hope kept me from coping with a major life change. Instead of coming to terms with having a chronic illness I only thought of POTS as temporary.

This negative experience is not unique to me. A lot of people who are diagnosed with POTS in their teens will never grow out of it. A lot of this has to do with associated conditions; for example, people with Ehler’s Danlos rarely grow out of POTS. Telling all teens POTS is temporary, when many cases are not, is not helping them cope with their illness.

5. POTS Is No Big Deal
POTS can be an annoyance or it can be severely debilitating. This variance is part of why POTS is so hard to understand. Often people who have heard of POTS have a friend mildly affected and cannot understand more severe cases.

“Claire never cancelled this much on me and she has POTS too. You obviously are just making excuses again.”

 

Don’t be confused by people with less severe cases; POTS is often far more than an inconvenience. Experts are clear. POTS can be serious and hugely lower patient’s quality of life.

flake
Somehow being too sick to go out makes me a flake and is grounds to yell at me. I did not choose this.

Comparisons in the diminished quality of life in POTS have been described as equal to congestive heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and end stage kidney failure patients on dialysis. Some people with POTS are absolutely bedridden and unable to care for themselves. About two-thirds of POTS patients cannot work full-time and 98% of POTS patients cannot socialize as much as they would like.

POTS can be a big deal.

6. POTS Has Nothing To Do With Pain
POTS is not commonly associated with pain, but often causes a lot of patients pain. Chest pain is exceptionally common with POTS and is sometimes severe (I have had POTS chest pain hurt as much as a pulmonary embolism). POTS is also associated with migraines, neuropathic pain, and joint pain.

Many conditions associated with POTS cause pain as well. Ehler’s Danlos causes an extraordinary amount of pain and autoimmune conditions may cause pain as well.

7. Lifestyle Changes Can Cure Everyone
There are some naive people who believe that no POTS is so severe that it needs medication. I recognize why lifestyle changes should be considered first. For many POTS cases more salt, water, and exercise are all that is needed to control symptoms. However, there are some people who still cannot function with these changes.

No matter how much I exercise, drink water, wear compression, tilt my bed, and eat salt I still faint without a beta blocker. I still do all those things but lifestyle changes alone aren’t always enough in so many cases.

8. Blood Pressure Changes Have To Be Involved For Diagnoses
The diagnostic criteria for POTS are about pulse, not blood pressure. While some changes in blood pressure may occur during a tilt table test or upon standing POTS is not the same as orthostatic hypotension. Hyperadrenergic POTS can affect blood pressure as well, but does not have to be present for diagnosis.

9. POTS is Not Rare
1-3 million Americans have POTS and about 1% of teens have POTS. It is more common than both ALS and Parkinson’s Disease, but awareness is a huge problem. As a result, it doesn’t seem like there are that many of us or that POTS is worth researching. Awareness will help fix this.

For how common POTS is there is some exceptionally bad information out there. As a result, people are getting the wrong ideas about POTS. Dealing with misconceptions constantly becomes frustrating. What misconception are you sick of correcting?

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.

Dating With A Chronic Illness: The 7 People You Will Meet

Dating with a chronic illness can complicate things. Here are the 7 types of people I’ve run into:

1. The One Who Ignores Your Illness

A lot of people have no idea how to interact with someone with a disability. While some people may attack the issues you face head on, these people avoid the topic at all costs. They rarely ask you how you are feeling, avoid topics of doctor’s appointments, and generally clam up when the topic turns to anything health related.

In my experience, these people do actually care if you are okay, but really don’t know how to go about talking about it. Unfortunately, not discussing a huge struggle in your life with your partner just doesn’t work. Education leads to understanding. If someone isn’t willing to talk about your illness it will be more difficult for them to understand problems that pop up. They lack the knowledge to understand why their sick partner had to cancel at the last minute, why they can’t eat the chocolates they gave them, or why those surprise concert tickets pose a problem.

MRW my friend tells me he proposed to the girl he's been dating for three weeks... - Imgur

2. The One Who Pities You

I love it when a partner rubs my head when I have a migraine, or is sympathetic to my venting. This sympathy can cross over to pity which gets old fast. Having a chronic illness is definitely a struggle but I don’t want to be constantly reminded “how strong I am” or asked “how I don’t give up.”  I want to be an equal in my relationships, and being constantly babied takes away from that.

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3. The Overly Helpful One

Yes, someone can be overly helpful. These partners go above and beyond when trying to help you manage your illness. They even help you with things you don’t ask for, and for a while everything is much easier. The problem with the overly helpful partner is that they almost always burn out. They put helping you with your illness over their own needs. And when they burn out you are the one who gets burned. Not addressing their personal needs leads to them resenting the person they are trying to help.

These breakups are often very abrupt and sudden. One day they are driving you to the hospital and sitting up with you all night and the next day they leave you alone in the hospital to go to a party saying it is all too hard. All of a sudden all the things they did for you (that you never asked for) are all your fault and you aren’t thankful enough for everything they do. Finding someone who can be honest about their needs and not stretching themselves too thin is extremely important.

When i realize the girl I started dating has low self-esteem.  - Imgur

4. The Expert

Calling this partner the expert is wholly inaccurate and really just my way of ridiculing them. People with chronic illnesses will run into “experts” on their condition all the time. They suggest ridiculous things you have already been checked for or try to tell you about an illness you have had for years and understand very well. I’ve even dated people who get upset with me for not following their suggestions, “have you been checked for gluten sensitivity again yet?” They think the only reason you aren’t cured is because you haven’t had their ideas yet. These people also see not following their ridiculous suggestions as not trying hard enough.

MRW my parents start asking too many questions about what I'm doing these days... - Imgur

5. The One Who Can’t Stop Asking If You Are Better Yet

Sometimes you can explain your illness a hundred times, define chronic repeatedly, and do your best to educate your partner and they will just never get it.  They will say things like “oh, you’re still sick” or “wow you still aren’t feeling better” or “when you are healthy we can go out.” I have a chronic illness! Chronic means long term; I am always sick!  They just don’t get it no matter what you do.

MRW my teacher yells at me for calling a girl dude because it's condescending towards my whole gender - Imgur

6. The One Who Can’t Handle It

This is the most common person I run into while dating and I must say it has left me frustrated. Sometimes my chronic illness comes up naturally in conversation, and other times I have to modify plans and it will come up. It is perfectly common to never hear from them again after this. For a while I thought I was paranoid and that it has nothing to do with my illness or that people just thought I was being flaky. However, I have had a few people outright tell me they aren’t okay with dating someone with a chronic illness.

For example, on one online date, within fifteen minutes, I had my date say “But she had Crohn’s disease and I am sure as hell not going to put up with that bullshit.” I walked away. What an insensitive jerk.

Trying to find a boyfriend before Valentine's Day - Imgur

7. The One Who Supports You

I’ve found finding people who support you through your illness to be incredibly rare and even more so in dating. The best partners treat the chronic illness as something you are fighting together, not a negative personality trait that is your fault. Remember that you always deserve someone who supports you!

MRW I find a profile on a dating website that mentions imgur - Imgur

FOMO: 8 Ways to Stay Social with POTS

The decline in quality of life we experience with POTS is comparable to someone with congestive heart failure. So it isn’t surprising that our social lives, frankly, suck. Finding friends that understand when you have to cancel is incredibly difficult. Finding friends who understand to the point where they don’t insist on activities that include standing, alcohol, or being out in the heat seems to be impossible.

Last Monday I tried to go out with friends and ended up puking in the bathroom and sleeping in the car. Then at a small party this weekend I was feeling terrible and had to keep going outside so as to not throw up. I fainted in the hallway, was in a ton of pain, and just all around felt awful. When I came back my partner made a comment on how I was missing out on everything. Well that comment hit me really hard. It really does feel that way.

I try and go out with friends and about a third of the time I feel too terrible to enjoy myself. Almost every single time I am around people I feel isolated by the pain I’m in. I do miss out on things with my friends, and most of my friends have left me behind altogether. The worst part is that I am not alone, and that most of us with POTS feel this way. In fact, 98% of us felt like POTS gets in the way of a social life.

Does POTS prevent you from socializing as much as you’d like?

Yes 98%
No 2%

Source

So what is there to be done? Humans are social creatures and not being able to socialize is a huge detractor from quality of life. Unfortunately, there is no magic solution, but there are things that may help:

1. Educate your friends

Unfortunately this only works if you have really awesome friends. A lot of time my attempts to educate fall on deaf ears. Some of the resources I have found most helpful are the spoon theory or this condensed and easy to understand information from Dysautonomia International. Being clear about activities you can and can’t do is essential. People aren’t going to make the connection that if you are heat intolerant you can’t go to an amusement park in the summer (even though it seems obvious to us), or that if over-stimulation messes with your POTS a 3D movie is really going to make your symptom worse. Being clear about what you can and can’t do helps a lot with understanding.

2. Push yourself, but not too hard

About two thirds of the time when I push myself to do something social it ends up being fantastic and I don’t regret my choice. I may not feel well, but being around friends keeps my mind off of it and finally getting to feel slightly normal. It really makes a world of difference in my mood and ability to deal with my illness. That is why I say push yourself, but not too much. We all know what happens when you use too many spoons.

Every single time I want to go out it involves “pushing myself.” Even getting dressed and ready is a huge accomplishment. I don’t think people around me realize that, but i wish they did. You are the only one who can gauge what you are up to doing.

3. Join online support groups

These have been so helpful to me and lots of other chronically ill people. Just go to Facebook and search for your condition. Be aware that some groups may not be private and you may want to make an alternative account.

4. Join in-person support groups

There are a few of these scattered throughout the world. It definitely helps if you live in a big city. If you live in Denver or Colorado message me on Facebook and I will add you to our group. Finding just one other person to chat with occasionally can be really helpful!

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5. Try Meetup to find people who get it

Meetup is great for finding general chronic illness groups. People in the group may not have POTS, but they know what it is like to live with similar problems.

6. Suggest Activities that Work for you

The default with my friends is to go out to bars when we want to hang out, but sometimes that is too difficult. Standing, driving, drinking, and (for some reason) bar-stools are not things I do well with all the time. A lot of times your friends may be completely happy to binge watch Netflix or have a movie night in and all you have to do is ask. Suggesting things you can still do instead of cancelling is a great way to stay social. Sometimes it is hard to ask because it feels like you are expecting others to accommodate you, but if you have good friends they will be happy to spend time with you no matter what you are doing.

7. Don’t Worry About Being “the sick person”

This is a difficult one and I really need to work on taking my own advice. You may have read my post about being temporarily paralyzed after an injection. Well that weekend I had a social event that I really wanted to make, but couldn’t walk. I bit the bullet and went out in a wheelchair. Using a wheelchair when you only need it is so confusing to people for some reason, but I recommend it wholeheartedly. Using a wheelchair makes going out so much easier because it takes away from the standing and walking usually involved. I got a lot of questions, but I don’t mind those from friends. People were surprisingly eager to help. I didn’t feel like the “sick girl” either. My friends and acquaintances seemed to talk to me as a person, and not talk down to me as someone in a wheelchair which I was worried about. Plus I got to wear heels without falling on my face- added bonus.

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Fear of fainting is another barrier to going out. Fainting in public is not fun. People assume you are drunk, freak out and call and ambulance, give you terrible and unnecessary CPR (and sometimes break bones), or literally step over your unconscious body. So it is understandable that 44% of have a fear of fainting in public that prevents us from going out. My recommendation is to carry these cards, wear a medical bracelet, make sure any friends around you know what to do, and not to go on first dates or hang out with complete strangers unless you feel great. Always remember you can turn down an ambulance ride; they will try to convince you to go because they won’t understand POTS. That is why it is helpful to have a friend who knows about your condition and will stand strong in not letting them take you to the hospital.

POTS-related barriers to socializing

Low energy 87%
Brain fog 60%
Unable to stand 56%
Physical pain 54%
Fear of fainting in public 44%
Unable to drive 38%
Fear of needing bathroom too often 26%
Unable to shower or groom properly 25%
Unable to drink alcohol 14%

Source

8. Be Honest About your Needs

I should not have stayed at the party this weekend. It ended up with me feeling ever worse and I wish I hadn’t been stubborn. If you feel awful, rest. The fear of missing out (FOMO) can be a hard thing to deal with, but it is better than making all your symptoms flair. My friends joke that everything crazy happens right after I fall asleep, missing out sucks, but what else can I do but laugh at it?

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