Insurance Is A Freaking Pain

My pain has been really bad lately. I can tell I’m really not feeling well when my nails look like crap — I love having painted fingers and toes, and always do them myself — and I begin forgetting things. Yesterday I had to turn around and drive home because I could’t remember if I shut the door — not locked it, but shut it — I fed Jax a second breakfast, and I can’t remember the third thing I forgot… It will come to me by the time I finish this.

I have decided that our next election I am going to really, really pay attention to healthcare and making it a top priority in how I vote. I’ve changed around insurance plans and being without physical therapy for the rest of the year sucks. The thing that frustrates the hell out of me is that I am in pain and trying to fix the problem by doing something that is good for me. I haven’t gone on medication to manage my POTS (Though I do think some people can absolutely not do without it and need to do anything that helps them have any semblance of a normal life), and I work hard to try to be as pain-free as possible. There are a few things that frustrate me. First, insurance doesn’t cover as much PT as I need in a year. I really have to figure it all out way in advance and go without it for periods of time to make ends meet. At some point my pain is going to go from a managed 3-5 with physical therapy to an 8-9 range without it*. Working out and getting hands-on work done is a key part of having me feel better than I do now. I never feel normal, but my pain is at least being managed. Second, PT is harder to get than medication and that makes absolutely no freaking sense to me. If there is a way to actually manage things without taking six different prescriptions I want to do it. Part of the complication of having a chronic illness is looking at your own symptoms versus what side effects medications will have on you, then picking the lesser of the two evils. You also have to weigh the pros and cons of being on something long-term. It makes absolutely no sense to me why doctors are able to prescribe something that I have to consume that will only temporarily put a bandaid over the problem, rather than trying to chip away at all the issues I have with the natural way of physical therapy. I am very dependent on going in for my visits, as I get terribly stiff and have a lot of pain when I miss more than a session, but I feel like I am making progress in a few small ways at a time. When I can’t go I start deteriorating and taking several steps backwards, even with the programs I do on my bedroom floor and at the gym down the street. I hate being dependent on anything, but having a chronic illness has really been humbling.

I feel like I have more freedom when I am feeling better because I do. I can do more when I feel better, and even at my very best I’m not at a normal 28-year-old level. When I talk to all of my grandparents on the phone, I feel like we relate more than friends my own age when it comes to how we feel. We are all in pain in one way or another, and can’t do as much as we used to be able to. I am scared of getting older and having the normal wear and tear of aging, but maybe they’ll have a cure for POTS by then. I don’t think about that often because it doesn’t do me any good to worry about the future, and I continue to focus on making myself get stronger and managing my symptoms on a day-to-day basis. I figure I’ll just worry about problems as they come to me and try my best to be healthy and prevent anything from deteriorating further.

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Finally, I am frustrated because by asking to go to physical therapy I am not asking to do something excitingly fun. Sure my PT’s are all so incredibly nice and fun people I would totally be friends with outside the clinic (Shoutout to, Melissa, Hilary, and Jackie for being the absolute best!), but it’s work and it often hurts a lot when I have to get poked at while I am in pain. The benefits are feeling astronomically better, though, while I am going on a regular basis. So, my third and final annoyance is the fact that I can’t go to get help to have a shot at having even remotely close to a normal life. My quality of life when I am in pain is not goodI constantly feel like I need to throw up from the pain, but don’t. My usual level with treatment is a consistent “I just went on a long run” kind of pain, with a few sharp and gnawing pains here and there, but what I’ve been having lately is several times worse than that and blaring a lot louder. I often find myself having a hard time focusing on what people say to me because I can’t seem to get past thinking about the coat hanger pain that consumes me. I can never drive for more than about fifteen minutes at a time without feeling some sort of pain, but now driving makes me want to cry because of how much it hurts to be behind the wheel. I’m back to having a hard time figuring out how to be productive and what I can do every day because everything hurts.

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I still don’t remember what I forgot before, but maybe once I can get taken care of my brain can start focusing on normal little tasks instead of honing in on how much it hurts to do anything. Speaking of which, I can’t sit at this computer any longer or my shoulders won’t feel okay in time for Christmas. I’m going to go spend some quality time with my foam roller and hopefully be able to get some sleep tonight!


*I think this was obvious, but for anyone who doesn’t know, pain is often measured in a scale from 1-10 in the medical world because it’s a little easier to articulate how you are feeling that way.

You Up?

My arms are killing me right now. I am beyond exhausted, but I can’t seem to fall asleep. This can be a common problem for people with all sorts of chronic illnesses, or even just regular people with stress. My problem is that I am sometimes worn out from just living day to day life.

I don’t complain to people very much in person because complaining isn’t really my thing. I love being positive, and honestly feel like I am a lot happier when I can look at the bright side of things in life. Sometimes you just fake it till you make it, right? This can be a double-edged sword, though. It’s wonderful because I can keep my relationships light, and add more joy to both my own life and the lives of my loved ones. It’s hard, though, because I feel like the less I talk about my symptoms, the more they are just forgotten.

You can’t see when I’m dizzy or nauseous or in pain. I have said it a million times, and I’m sure I’ll keep chatting about it on here — you cannot see signs of invisible illness. If you look closely, you’ll notice the bags under my eyes have become darker and deeper the past several weeks. I look in the mirror when I take my makeup off and can tell there’s been more wear lately. You can’t see the way my arms feel ropey and knotted, or the fact that my thoracic spine is as stiff as a board, though. I went to a Nationals game a few weeks ago and thought I might faint a few times. I stood and talked candidly about my wedding plans and how I don’t know very much about baseball, but I felt the stadium spinning circles around me as I spoke. It felt like I had left my body and was being twirled around and around on an amusement park ride.

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When my POTS acts up it starts by slowly tightening everything in my chest and heating up my face, then moves to what feels like my body overheating and getting ready to shut down. In the same way that Robert’s gaming computer’s fans started whirring frantically when it was overheating, my body goes into panic mode to try to keep myself conscious by either getting into a horizontal position or rushing blood back up to my brain in any way it can. Sometimes that involves fainting to facilitate the blood flow, but luckily I have learned the signs of when I need to sit down.

Emotionally, I can feel drained with all of this. The more I write the more I expect people to understand. The less I feel understood, the more I want to scream. “I know I am the exact same person in your mind because I look normal, but how the heck would you feel if you woke up tomorrow and had to give up your job, your independence, your financial stability, and your working body?!” What frustrates me the most is how hard it is to wrap your mind around what life must be like as a young person who is sick. It kills me that I can’t go out with friends and family on long hikes, and that I don’t have the option to turn down camping just because it’s too hot out and I don’t feel like getting sweaty. I miss running, I miss going out dancing until the wee hours of the morning, and I miss competing. I absolutely hate not being able to compete in any kind of sport anymore, which is why I have opted for being a cutthroat board game player instead. It often doesn’t feel fair that other twenty-somethings take their bodies for granted or understand just how lucky they are to go to work every day and walk around pain-free.

I will keep writing because I want so badly for you to understand. I want you to love your own body fiercely for the things it can do, and I want you to realize that just because I am not playing volleyball or tagging along on your wilderness hikes doesn’t mean I don’t want to — it just means I either physically can’t, or it’s not worth how many days I know I will pay for the fun after the fact. I remember when I graduated from college and a friend began having severe chronic pain. I felt terrible for her, but I also didn’t get that her life would be changed forever with her new fibromyalgia diagnosis. It’s easy to move on with your day and forget about how other people are feeling when you don’t understand their journey, but it becomes a whole new ballgame when you meet someone who is struggling with something that you have already been through. Next week I am going to talk some about empathy versus sympathy. I have learned how to be empathetic to others the hard way, but I also think it is one of the most beautiful characteristics I own now. You don’t always have to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes for your heart to really understand what they are going through.

Marks In Time

A lot can change in a year.

Time is a funny thing because as intangible as it is, it sometimes feels very concrete. There are certain things that make time more significant. You know both college and high school are going to last 4 years, your birthday will be around again exactly 365 days from the last one, and the Christmas season is every 48 weeks or so. Having a chronic illness makes time a little fuzzy sometimes, though. I have had POTS since August of 2013 and can pinpoint different phases throughout my journey, but it feels weird that I’m coming up on five years now. I have been fighting for my health longer than the time I spent in college, which is super weird. When I think about going to Mason I have such different memories from each year I was there. When I was a freshman I was timid and shy. I didn’t feel like I had a place I belonged, and I left campus to stay with my family just about every other weekend. I liked my classes and had a couple of really close friends I would keep for the rest of my life, but I was still figuring everything out.

My sophomore year was a blast. I made so many new friends, and I had a group of people who felt like home. I made friends with the girls I would call my roommates the next year, and I was an editor for the school newspaper. I didn’t find as much confidence with writing until later in college, but I looked forward to every day I would spend in the Broadside office with all of the other aspiring writers. Sophomore year was spent finding myself, and learning what I wanted to do the rest of my time in college.

Junior year was probably my favorite. I loved feeling secure with some of the best friends I could ever dream of, and had a great balance of work and play. I turned 21 that year and will never forget that birthday. I waited to drink until I turned 21, so all of my friends crammed into our little apartment living room to celebrate with me. People brought six packs of different things to drink, but I stuck with a cherry Smirnoff Ice. I was surprised it didn’t taste very alcoholic, and took my time sipping on my new favorite drink. That year we spent long nights dancing at the bar down the street every Thursday, and still had the energy to go out and explore restaurants and museums on Friday and Saturday.

Senior year before moving to New York is a blur, but my last semester of college spent in the city was one of the best memories from those four years. I had my fair share of adventures, long hours working overtime in the office, and despite blocking it out most of the time, I had my share of lonely nights in that little shoebox apartment on the eighth floor. New York was definitely an enormous highlight of my college career, and I’m still so thankful for each and every memory I gathered from that time.

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My mom took this picture of me my first month being a New Yorker. I felt so at home rushing around the city in my little dresses and tights, and fit in with all the editors at Seventeen by living on coffee, books, and cupcakes.

Do you see how easy it was for me to create four years of my life?

It hasn’t really been like that again until recently. The first few years of getting sick really blur together. I have a little bit of a timeline I can create, but it isn’t the same concrete, certain one I have from every other year of my life.

I got sick and went to a million different doctors. I had my heart hooked up to echocardiograms, holter monitors, and got tested for diseases I had never heard of. I watched The Food Network, then I watched The Office, then even later I started a new series called Pretty Little Liars. I went to the local shopping center with friends and found myself lying on the lobby floor of the movie theater to keep from fainting. I went home and cried, and wondered why I was the person God allowed to get sick. I remember nights of lying on the couch and having conversations with friends about the outside world I no longer felt a part of, and wondering aloud if I would ever be able to have a normal twenty-something life again. I remember getting my first job while I was home sick, then having chronic, debilitating pain from using my arms too much. I was diagnosed with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, and had to stop doing the one thing that made me feel kind of normal and independent.

I remember moments, but I have no idea when they happened.

I also don’t know when I started getting better, as it’s been super-slow, but there are a few things that offer great markers of healing. One year ago my mom hosted a Bunco party at our home. She always takes the month of February, and I often get invited to come play with her group when it’s held at our house. Bunco is essentially a game of rolling dice and giving an opportunity to catch up with friends. Last year I remember finishing the game and going upstairs and feeling heartbroken at all the pain I was in — just from rolling dice for an hour. My pectoral muscles were sore and ropey, and my shoulders and arms burned with sharp, constant pain. I regretted taxing myself so much for a game, but I also wondered how something so simple could cause so much of an issue. It wasn’t normal, and I hated having to choose between living my life and feeling good. 

She hosted this same party again last night and I got to attend. I am sore and by the end of the night I was glad to be done with the rolling motions, but today isn’t an 8 or 9 on the pain scale like it was last year. My physical therapy sessions are so beneficial for my health, but I will be able to make it until my Friday appointment without trying to hold it together while I’m reeling in pain. I’m more sore than I am on an average day, but I don’t feel like I’m going to have a complete breakdown from being in pain. I can easily handle a little bit of soreness and as long as I take it a little easier today I will make up for everything with my stretching and workouts. This is proof that despite relying heavily on physical therapy and rest, I am making progress.

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Today’s lesson: Even if you feel frustrated because something isn’t changing, taking a look at the really big picture and having little mile markers is so helpful for keeping spirits high. I still may have a long way to go in being normal again (And maybe I’ll never quite get there), but any kind of baby steps I can take is still progress. I’ve already learned so much through my journey, and I trust God to be with me every step of the way. Staying positive and remembering blessings throughout every step helps me have a thankful heart. My path has helped me become more empathetic, kind, and understanding, and it has led me to my new forever family member, which is absolutely priceless.

I’m At An 8

This month I’ve had a very rude awakening about just how much physical therapy helps me. As someone with POTS and EDS, I have lots of chronic pain, particularly in my upper body and limbs. Whenever you go to the doctor or physical therapist, they ask if you can rate your pain scale from 1-10, 10 being completely unbearable. I’ve had very wide ranges, but the more I am able to go into the office and have hands-on work done, as well as doing my monitored strength and mobility exercises, the better I typically feel.

This article about exercising and living with EDS is well written and super-relatable. My insured PT visits ran out this month and I’ve only been a little over a week without care, but my pain levels have quickly shot up to an 8. I can’t focus on anything entirely because of how much everything hurts, and I can’t do the activities I’ve worked up to because of how much it hurts my shoulders and arms. Sleep is the only thing that relieves my pain right now, and I need to get back to my therapy sessions as soon as possible so that I don’t lose the progress I’ve worked so hard to get. It’s so frustrating living in a body that depends so heavily on doctors and working out the right way, but the thing that is the most difficult isn’t the time or effort put into all of this; rather, it’s the expense and toll this unwanted illness takes on myself and my family. I’ve always tried to remain positive and focus on the good in my life without allowing myself to dwell on the fact that it’s not fair for a young twentysomething to be sick, however it’s a lot more difficult when I feel like everything in the healthcare world is working against me. I don’t want to debate politics on this blog — ever — but one thing I do want to touch on is that I very strongly believe that people with disabilities should be cared for and given as much help as necessary to have as much of a chance at normalcy as possible. “Normal” hasn’t been attainable to me yet, but I feel blessed enough to not constantly have sharp, intense pain that I am grateful for the help I do get through physical therapy.

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In the meantime, I’m going to continue to do the best I can by doing my gentle stretches, mobility exercises, and managing the pain the best I can until January comes when I can get back in a normal routine. I have a pretty big doctor’s appointment today, and am hoping to get some relief from my pain tomorrow, so if you could say a little prayer for me that would be amazing. I’ll be back on this little corner of the Internet soon, but wanted to write a quick update about what’s been going on lately since I haven’t been great at keeping y’all updated. Love and hugs to you all.