Handicapped? Really?

One thing every single young chronically ill person will tell you about is the incredibly frustrating battle that comes with having an invisible illness. We are constantly trying to regain normalcy in our lives, but also have to roll with the punches through the symptoms our illness brings along for the ride. For example, I can’t do many of my favorite activities anymore — let alone even just be outdoors in crazy heat — however, I don’t like being different and asking for help, even when I need it.

Today I went to my alma mater to run a quick errand. I wasn’t feeling particularly great, but I told myself that it would only take five minutes and to suck it up and get it over with. I mapped everything out in my head and went to my usual parking space. It’s one of two handicapped visitors spaces, both of which are always available. I sat for a minute to prepare for my walk up the hill and grumbled in my head about how I wasn’t up to my heart racing today so to just take it slow.

As I began my miniature hike, my heart began to thud swiftly and hard (for those of you who don’t know, when POTSies even just go from sitting to standing our heart literally beats as fast as someone running a marathon… No wonder I’m always so tired!). I walked slowly and carefully up the hill and focused on each step so I wouldn’t trip — that’s just because I’m Krista and a little bit clumsy — it has nothing to do with POTS.

I smiled at two young police officers when I looked up, and as I passed by them I heard one say to the other, “Handicapped? Really?” with a snicker.

My heart stopped — then went back to racing even faster than before. For a split second I was shocked, then brushed it off as my imagination. I always feel embarrassed when people can tell I’m different, and I hate having any sort of extra attention. This makes me feel like people are staring sometimes, even when they’re not really paying too much attention. I had a gut instinct, though, that I needed to turn around when I got to the top of the hill. I wanted to make sure my car was going to be OK in the visitor’s spot and that I didn’t need a university parking pass to be there. Despite having parked at that spot a hundred times, you can never be too careful at my alma mater.

Sure enough, they were smiling and looking at my bright blue sticker with a little black device.

Great, I thought to myself, now I have to trek back down the hill to see what’s going on. 

I wasn’t in the mood to deal with confrontation, but I know how crazy our school was about ticketing, so I wanted to make sure I wouldn’t have any trouble when I came back from my meeting. Deep down I knew it was because of the way I looked, though, that the officers rushed down to check my credentials. I quickly realized that I hadn’t been imagining things with the officer’s remark, and that if he was gutsy enough to say that while I was right next to him, he might be confrontational when I chatted with him about my disability.

“Excuse me, can I help you?” I asked.

“We’re just making sure your pass matches up with your car,” one of the officers replied with a grin. “We know people often take advantage of these spots.”

“I have my DMV card, hang on,” I replied shortly. I wished I had called him out on making a snide remark earlier, but I honestly didn’t think a trained police officer would have been that loud and unprofessional about being so snarky. At least if you’re thinking that about me, keep it to yourself and your partner, don’t bring me into your little joke.

I didn’t smile as I showed my pass. Not smiling at someone when I’m interacting with them is actually one of the hardest things for me to do, but I felt frustrated that I was having to deal with this when I already wasn’t feeling great.

“Okay, good,” he replied. “Thanks. We just didn’t want you to be using grandma’s parking pass to get a better parking spot,” he said. “You know — so we can protect people like you who really need it,” he corrected himself.

Honestly, this part of the interaction bugged me a little, but I don’t fault people for saying goofy things like that anymore. I understand that it isn’t normal to see a 26-year-old who is disabled but looks healthy, and a lot of people haven’t even really had to interact with someone like me before.

The thing that bothers me about the whole ordeal was the way they went about everything. I completely agree that they should check to make sure I’m actually handicapped. People who use the stickers but don’t need them should absolutely get in trouble. The way they went about it was wrong, though. I shouldn’t feel like I am doing something bad by using a handicapped parking space when I need one, and I should feel comfortable using the resources that help make my life a little more normal. I already feel embarrassed enough when I have to park in one of those spots at Trader Joe’s and make three trips back and forth to carry $20 worth of groceries to my car without hurting myself. I hate that people stare at me to try and figure out why I am in that blue space, and I hate going grocery shopping with my mom and having people think I am a jerk for making her carry everything to the car by herself. I don’t want to feel like the people who are supposed to be protecting me are also going to give me grief about being a weak twentysomething.

I realize that the police officers were just trying to do their job, but I also know enough people in that field to know that there is a lot of sensitivity training so that they can be professional while they are on the job. I would have had absolutely no issues with them checking my pass — even right after I left my car — however, making me feel uncomfortable by being snarky loudly enough for me to hear was completely uncalled for. In hindsight after talking to a few people about it, the officer more than likely wanted me to hear his comment, as he waited until I was 200 feet from my car and right next to him, and thought he was catching me in the act of something I shouldn’t be doing.

I didn’t write about this to shame the police officer or have a pity party for myself. This is just such a perfect example that you never really know what someone is going through unless they tell you. I look fine, and if you stuck me next to a dozen other twentysomethings you would never guess that I was the sick one. I hope this story helps people be more gentle towards other human beings, as you never know what someone else is dealing with.

Screen Shot 2017-09-13 at 12.14.48 PM.png

Another reason I wanted to write about this to raise awareness about invisible illnesses is because not everyone with a chronic illness is as bold and open about their problems as I am. A few years ago when I first got POTS, my mom had to be my advocate because I couldn’t even stand without getting incredibly sick. People who are going through things like that should not have any extra obstacles that could easily be avoided, so I think it’s important for me to speak up about my experiences in hopes to better the lives of others who are chronically ill and don’t have someone to advocate for them. A good lesson from all of this is to be kind to everyone you meet, and never make assumptions based on the way someone looks. I am going to be writing a letter to the police department so that they can hopefully be better equipped to deal with others who are like me on campus.

Shifted Dreams

It’s funny how dreams in life change with the circumstances.

Ever since I was teeny tiny I’ve wanted to be a journalist. As a kid I made my own little newspapers, magazines, and short stories. I was homeschooled for a few years, and I always begged my mom to let me get ahead on my English homework. We had these little editor workbooks where I got to find and correct grammatical errors, and I would take them to my room to play with when I was done with my schoolwork.

When I finally went to college it was really easy picking my major. My school didn’t have a journalism program, but we did have communication with a concentration in journalism, so I declared my major the very first semester of school. In my free time I still enjoyed writing, and kept several different blogs throughout my college career. I took writing classes as my electives, and I worked for the school newspaper — both as a reporter and as an editor. I went back and forth from wanting to do television or print journalism, and held internships in both fields. My first was with FOX News’ national network, and my second was with Seventeen magazine. I was never very interested in politics, but these internships made me realize how in love with writing I was. I had a fire in my heart to help teenage girls feel less lost and alone in the world, and I worked extra shifts at Seventeen just so I could make a greater impact during my time there.

seventeen.jpg
Living in NYC was such a dream to me. I am someone who absolutely loves the energy it gives off, and every day felt like an adventure.

Little did I know, the internship that segued into a job would be very short-lived, because I got sick just a few weeks before moving back to the city.

After the initial shock of getting sick quieted down a little bit I realized my life had just changed forever. Four years later I know my dream of moving to New York isn’t going to come true, but I’m really grateful for the months I did have there. New York will always have a tiny piece of my heart, but the rest of it goes to my loved ones… Which brings me to today.

My dreams today are so much more simple than they’ve been in the past. I don’t want to be on television or be famous, and I don’t care deeply about whether or not I get to live in New York again how often I get to travel. My heart is with my family and loved ones, and I have accepted that my career path has drastically changed. I don’t have the strength or stamina to be a journalist — or even work a “normal” job — so I’ve improvised. I’ve actually been really happy working as a consultant for Rodan + Fields. it still fulfills my dream of building other women up and helping build their confidence, and I love that I’m making new friends in the process. I joke to my friends and family that my dream now is to be a stay at home dog mom, and it’s kind of incredible that this dream is quickly becoming a reality.

Screen Shot 2017-07-30 at 11.51.00 AM.png

What I’m doing with my life isn’t as wild and crazy, but it’s actually turning into a bigger blessing than I could have ever created for myself. If I hadn’t gotten sick I wouldn’t have met Robert. I wouldn’t have found an opportunity to be my own boss and have time to spend with him during the week. If I hadn’t gotten sick I wouldn’t have thought outside the box and found a job working from home with the two sweetest puppies on earth. None of what makes my heart so joyful today would have materialized, so in a very strange way I feel blessed that my own dreams didn’t end up working out. God truly does have a greater plan for me than I ever did for myself, and I can’t wait to see what He has in store for me next.

Screen Shot 2017-07-30 at 11.57.31 AM.png Screen Shot 2017-07-30 at 11.58.02 AM.png

Asking For Help

Part of me feels strange when I tell people I have a chronic illness — it doesn’t feel real that I am very different in a big, foreign way — but the other part can’t really remember what it’s like to be normal. It almost seems like the rest of my life was a dream, and it’s mind-blowing that I used to be able to jump out of bed quickly without blacking out or that I could carry my own backpack from class to class. I can remember what it’s like to run, but I can’t recall the feeling of independence that should have gone along with this privilege. Needless to say, I have had to swallow my pride a lot the past four years, and ask people for help.

I remember feeling incredibly uncomfortable when my Master’s class went to the university library and we were told to bring our bags because we wouldn’t be going back to that classroom. I panicked a little on the inside, as my dad always walked me to class early and picked me up late so that I could be discreet about getting help carrying my stuff, but I knew I would be in pain for a week if I didn’t ask someone to take my bag for me.

My face got warm as I approached one of the only guys in the class. “This is going to sound really weird,” I started, “but would you mind carrying my backpack to the library for me?”

I could feel my body turning the bright shade of red it seems to love so much when I am uncomfortable. I tried to think of something else — anything else — that would make my autonomic nervous system cooperate, but I ended up just coming to terms with the fact that I looked like I suddenly got a terribly bad sunburn under the florescent lights.

“Sure, no problem,” he interrupted before I could go into my spiel about why I need help taking a fairly light bag from one part of campus to another. I explained my situation quickly as he picked my bag off the floor, and was relieved when we shifted topics to chatting about English-related topics instead of my personal problems.

Screen Shot 2017-06-28 at 9.56.46 AM.png

Since that day I’ve gotten [a little] better at asking for help. I still have trouble vocalizing when something hurts unless it’s an unbearable pain, and I try to be as independent as possible, which sometimes results in injuring my muscles and joints further. I try to remember that everyone has something they need help with, even if it’s not the same thing I am struggling with.

Many of my friends have even become so great at automatically helping without me even having to ask; this blog has been an amazing platform for raising awareness for twentysomethings with chronic pain, and I think people understand a lot more than they would without reading about the experiences I have on here. Thank you to each and every one of you for reading and caring about the stories I have to tell. It means the world to me to have support from friends, both in person and for this little space on the internet.

Today’s Lesson: I always joke to my friends to “channel Krista” when they want to avoid a guy making a move on them on a first date since I was kind of a pro at that back in the day. Today, I want to encourage you to pull a Krista and ask for help when you need it, even if you’re afraid to. Whether you have a broken heart and need a friend to talk to or need assistance with a physical task, people are always a lot more willing to pitch in and help out than you initially expect. We all have different things to offer the world and ways we love to serve, and I’ve often found that when people can help another human being it makes them feel good as well.

Someone For Everyone

I strongly believe there is someone for everyone in the world. No, that doesn’t mean I think that everyone should — or will — be in a relationship or get married, but I do believe if you want to have a romantic partner there is someone out there who will be a good fit for you.

There are so many amazing examples I’ve seen of people who thought they would never find true love because they were too quirky, too sick, too old, too tall, too short — the list goes on. I would like to argue, though, that the only thing that would ever really hinder someone from finding true love is being too picky. None of the other “too’s” are going to deter every single person in the world from dating you.

Something to remember in the world of online dating and infinite choices is that nobody is perfect. You will never have a partner who has every single quality checked off on your “list,” or who doesn’t sometimes get on your nerves, but that’s normal. The most important thing to remember is that if your relationship is overall a really big asset to your life, the little annoyances you sometimes have are so tiny in the grand scheme of things.

shoes.jpg

Luckily we aren’t all attracted to the same kind of person. That would make life pretty boring, and the journey to find love way too competitive — kind of like an ongoing episode of The Bachelor. People have different “types” that they’re into, and just because you are rejected by one person doesn’t mean the next one who comes around won’t like you.

I don’t know why it takes some people longer than others to find a partner when their heart is ready. Sometimes I think it really is because dating is a numbers game. The more dates you go on, the more people you meet, and the more likely you are to find someone you really click with. Other times, I think people get in their own heads about dating and can take things too seriously too quickly. I know how hard it is to want the beautiful, loving relationship that you picture in your head, but remember that love and trust take time to build and you can’t force things.

Writing people off without getting to know them is another thing that can really hurt your dating life. Whether it’s because you don’t think you’re good enough for someone or because you don’t think they’re the right fit for you, sometimes it can be really beneficial to give people who have the important things in common with you a chance. When I first became single my motto quickly became “It’s just a date.” By having this attitude I was able to chat with guys, get to know them, and give them a chance. If you really dig deeper into my own life, did it make sense that I went on a date with a soldier who was getting ready to leave for a long deployment? It doesn’t seem like an ideal situation — especially for someone who isn’t keen on doing long distance — but going on that first date with Robert and giving him a chance was one of the best decisions the best decision I have ever made. Seriously, I could not have known two Octobers ago that going out to a little Italian restaurant with someone I met online was going to be a life-changing moment for me, but it was, and despite all the hard times we had during the deployment he was worth every single one of them. Giving this cute, funny stranger a chance gave me one of the most important things I have in my life — us.

Regardless of how dating has been for you, the only way you can find what you’re looking for is by putting yourself out there and trying again. I hate heartbreak so much, but the great thing about loving and losing the wrong person is that you are another step closer to finding the person who is right for you. Hearts are fragile, but they’re resilient and can heal, even when it feels like they are smashed into a million different pieces. Hang in there, and be gentle with yourself.

My May

Sigh, my arms have been pretty terrible lately. It kills me to do anything, so I have to make this short. 😦

I wanted to do a quick update on my life, so I’ll bullet a little today and write more hopefully later this week!

Robert and I picked out a chocolate lab puppy. We named him Jax, and we are picking him up Memorial weekend! I’ll tell you about picking him out another day.

Screen Shot 2017-05-20 at 9.43.40 AM.png

Screen Shot 2017-05-20 at 9.43.49 AM
Jax is on the right!

I found a place that makes gluten-free and tomato free pizza! It’s my new favorite food.

Screen Shot 2017-05-20 at 9.46.20 AM.png

I celebrated Mother’s Day with Robert and my family. 4 of my favorite people in the entire world! I actually have a lot of “mom-related stories” I’ll be telling this next week. One in particular is going to be my most important post to date.

Screen Shot 2017-05-20 at 9.48.05 AM.png

Speaking of mom, I finally decided to join her Rodan + Fields team! My mom is a rockstar and was the first person to launch in Virginia. I’m excited to learn from her, and I can’t wait to write about why I decided to do this now and how excited I am to build a team of my own.

rf

Anyway, this is all I can handle for today, but I should have a fun Saturday still. My best friend and I are going to get some of that pizza and then watch a million episodes of Catfish and talk about dating. Have a great weekend!

Mapping Out My Life

Woody Allen once said,

“If you want to make God laugh, tell Him about your plans.”

Whoo boy have I learned my lesson from planning out so many aspects of my own life. I can literally give you hundreds of examples where I’ve planned something out “perfectly” and my dreams get completely wrecked.

One of my favorite things to write about is dating — big surprise — so we’ll go with one of those first. As soon as my ex and I broke up I was excited at the realization that I would eventually find someone to date who wasn’t thousands of miles away… But only after I had been single for at least a year or two and had my fair share of dating around!

That’s when life decided to concoct a perfect plan to completely ruin my plan.

“Ha!! Joke’s on you, Krista; not only are you going to meet someone great far too soon, but he’s going to move away twice as far as your last boyfriend and we’ll spice things up and make the distance be in your way for 10 months — effectively lasting more than twice as long as you and your SO ever did before.”

Life, you are one cruel mofo and not nearly as funny as you think. I believe you’re the only one laughing at your terrible jokes.

Anyway, the great thing about life not going your way is that you often still have options. I had a choice to make: Either break things off with someone I felt was a great fit for me, keep dating around and see whether or not we’d pick back up again when he got back, or be in an exclusive long distance relationship again. I quickly realized I really wanted to see how things would work out with this gentleman, as I’ve never felt the way about anyone the way I did him. I still don’t know how our story is going to end — or whether or not it will — but this is a risk I completely want to take.

Possibly an even crazier example is getting sick with POTS. I would have never in a million years thought something like that would happen to me, but it did and I’ve been able to handle it and still find reasons to be joyful. Something I think about sometimes, too, is that if I had never gotten sick I don’t know if my ex and I would have ever broken up. That’s a terrifying thought, as we were not suited for one another and would have had a really tough future together. He and I had completely different priorities and life goals; dating someone who is more similar to you in this regard is so much easier. Feeling like I’m with someone who will absolutely drop anything to take care of me — both emotionally and physically with my illness — is absolutely priceless.

Screen Shot 2016-10-23 at 6.30.26 PM.png

Today’s lesson: Life may not always go the way you hope it does. You may never get your dream job, meet the person you’re supposed to spend the rest of your life with when you want to, and the people you think are going to be in your future might not stick around. People are made to adapt, though, and through God all things are possible (Philippians 4:13). Hang in there and realize that although things might be down for you one day, a blessing is likely right around the corner.

The Single Best Dating Tip For Girls

Keep your friends close.

I bet y’all never saw that one coming. I know, I know — it doesn’t seem like it has anything to do with dating, but let me elaborate.

Time and time again people get a new significant other and go into the vicious cycle of getting starry eyes that are only for their SO, set into reality, realize they do, in fact, need friends, and trying in a half ditch effort to have fun with other girls again.

There are a few solid reasons I strongly believe in staying close in your friendships, rather than dropping them only to pick up again when it becomes convenient.

First, trust is a key component in any relationship, even with friends. By remaining close when you get a new boyfriend you are showing her that you’ll be there for her through thick and thin — and in turn, she’ll be there for you when you need someone as well!

Screen Shot 2016-10-06 at 11.18.35 AM.png

Second, if you think about it realistically I hate to burst your bubble, but many relationships in your teens or early twenties don’t work out for the long run. I know, I know, there are plenty of high school sweethearts. When you look at the numbers, though, more people go through breakups than marry their first love, so the odds are not ever in your favor. They could be with a friend, though! There isn’t a limit to the number of friends you are allowed to have, even if there is a cap at “1” for a boyfriend. Don’t throw away something beautiful like a forever friend for a boyfriend who may or may not be there for you in the long run.

Third, girl time is sacred! There are certain things you just can’t have as much fun doing with your boyfriend… Some of those include shopping for the perfect cocktail dress, getting mani pedis, helping your girl swipe through her Bumble account, and gushing about how cute your boyfriend is. Let’s be real, we love our guys, but they can only take so many compliments before getting a big head about it! 😛

I can think of a hundred reasons I need my girl friends no matter what season of life I am in. The friendships I have mean the world to me, and I would never give up any of them just to get a guy. An added bonus to this is that your guy will love that you are independent and have your own things going on. It’s so healthy to stay balanced and have some activities separate from your man… After all, your crazy adventures apart will make for some great date conversations.

Today’s lesson: When my ex of 5 years and I broke up I was SO relieved that I hadn’t given up my friends for a romantic relationship. From day one of us dating I made the decision to have a great relationship in addition to the other relationships in my life, rather than in place of my friendships. Although many of my friends thought my ex and I were going to last, we didn’t — but my friendships did, and I was so thankful for every single girl who helped me get through my first bad breakup. It would have been so much harder being by myself and having to rebuild my relationships again… Plus in those 5 years I was still able to cherish so many great memories with friends that my ex was not involved in! Instead of only remembering him when I look back on my college years I have a million other wonderful memories too — many of which are shared with some of my current best friends.

Our Sad Spot Was Macy’s.

I think everyone has places you associate with an ex.

Mine were my alma matter, — particularly where we carved our initials in the sidewalk and our running route — Dunkin Donuts, Georgetown, and he would never know this, but our saddest spot is Macy’s.

Macy’s was the place I was when we had our first big argument over the phone. It was the first place it began to sink in that he may not care about me as much as he did his work, and the place I realized it was the beginning of the end.

Macy’s was the place he casually shopped for new clothes right after we talked about potentially breaking up for the first time. I held back tears as he felt the blue leather jacket on the sale rack. I didn’t like the jacket, but I didn’t care about it — I just cared about him. I wanted to keep him, even if he did have a new off-putting jacket.

During the several months we took to break up I drove the long way to get to classes. I stayed on the highway a little longer just to avoid the spot with our names. I wished they weren’t carved in the pavement.

Later, I found out that although our names were set in stone, our relationship wasn’t.

We broke up.

It took time to go back to all of “our” places, but it slowly didn’t bother me as much. Time went by and suddenly I was more shocked when I actually did think of him, since those thoughts were scarce.

I began thinking of Elizabeth and Megan when I saw Dunkin Donuts (It’s always been their place as well), and then met another special man who happens to be from Boston and obsessed with the place. I think of my time in New York City when a group of my girl friends came to visit and Thanh spilled her Dunkin hot chocolate all over the subway. I think of donuts — I don’t just think of him.

Screen Shot 2016-05-01 at 1.16.12 PM

Georgetown became a place I traveled to with friends to go shopping or grab a cupcake, and my school became just that — my school — including so many memories with and without him. I am able to look back on our time there fondly and separate that part of him from the part he became when he grew up.

Macy’s was a hard place to tackle — until it wasn’t. The heart has a way of healing itself, and you learn to let go. I’m so glad I did, too, because one of my fondest memories now lies there — picking out my new guy’s dress suits together for his trips to the embassy while he is overseas.