Strong (adj.)

Today I would like to dissect what it means to be “strong.”

This has been a word used to describe me by so many people since I graduated college, got POTS, and went through a number of difficult trials, but it still feels kind of funny when I hear someone throw this adjective next to my name.

Dictionary.com defines strong as,

“Mentally powerful or vigorous,”

but it doesn’t offer any tips on how to be strong or what kind of trials make you strong.

I was made strong. I didn’t choose to be strong and I am in no way admirably resilient. Before getting sick I was used to a fairly comfortable life, and never in a million years thought of myself as tough or someone who would face trials well.

Almost 4 years later, though, and here I am. I had a choice to make when I got sick. I could take what the doctors said, admit defeat, and recognize that my life would never be the same, or I could fight for the best life I could possibly have. I quickly chose the latter. This involves keeping an open and optimistic mindset, being incredibly dilligent with my doctors appointments, physical therapy, and diet, and finally — learning how to rest.

When I first got my diagnoses I asked through tears whether I’d ever get better. The nurse laughed and told me I wouldn’t and my mind immediately went into a dark abyss, thinking about a long life of dizzy spells, fainting, and feeling miserable. I was incredibly lucky to have my incredibly encouraging mother with me, who followed me to the parking lot and said the nurse didn’t know what she was talking about. She said I needed to take each day as it came to me, and think positive thoughts. To this day I believe this is one reason I am slowly getting better and have been able to make peace with my new life.

I’ve had POTS for three-and-a-half years now and haven’t had a week off from going to visit some sort of doctor. I typically have 2 physical therapy appointments and either acupuncture or a massage to work on managing my chronic pain, as well as regular visits to my cardiologist, neurologist, and endocrinologist. I go to the gym 5 days a week — even when I am feeling awful — because the worst possible thing for a POTSie to do is get deconditioned. This involves a short 30 minute recumbent bike ride, as I could easily faint if I am in an upright position. I get B12 shots every other week since I am deficient in it and B12 seems to be a link to chronic pain. Then I have to take a lot of time to rest so that my body can settle down a bit. I get worn out incredibly easy, and a trip to the grocery store turns into a long ordeal because of the recovery time afterward.

Lots of POTS patient develop adult allergies, so I can’t eat many of my favorite foods anymore. I have given up nightshade vegetables (Potatoes are my favorite food and I miss French fries dearly!), gluten (Now I am the butt of so many jokes), and I really limit my dairy and sugar intake. I don’t drink coffee at all, partly because I can’t have caffeine, and partly because I just can’t have coffee, period, and I don’t drink alcohol at all anymore. The coffee is definitely a million times more difficult.

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Lastly, I have had to learn to listen to my body and rest. This is such a hard thing for me to do, as my mind is incredibly active. Anyone who knew me before I got sick knows I love to work and play, so sleeping and rest were never really a big part of my vocabulary. I joke to my friends that I’m just catching up on all the time I missed in my life before, but it really is a difficult thing for me to wrap my mind around. I always have a million and one things I want to do and write about, however my body isn’t very kind to me. Writing hurts after ten minutes, and the dictation software I have used is grueling. I can’t sit at a desk chair very long without having a lot of pain in my shoulders, and some days I can’t stand without feeling dizzy. Sometimes all I can do is rest, and I’ve learned that it’s okay to spend time listening to podcasts and watching HGTV when I really can’t do anything else. Yes, I would much rather be working and making a living for myself. I wish I could live in New York and write for a magazine, I wish I could have a paycheck to save for a new car or fun wardrobe, but that’s just not in the cards for me right now. Right now it’s my job to focus on getting better, keep taking care of myself, and trust that God will make something beautiful out of my struggle. 

The best advice I could possibly give anyone going through something tough is to take each day as it comes to you. Worrying about things in the future that you cannot control won’t help you change them, and looking back on the past won’t make your present any more satisfying. I know what it’s like to feel helpless and I know what it’s like to feel like life isn’t fair. The greatest feeling when your world is crumbling in on you is when you finally learn to give your problems to God and let Him take care of the things that are outside your control.

Today’s lesson: If I can be strong, you can too. I’ve always thought I am an incredibly average person in most regards, which should offer an incredible amount of encouragement to anyone reading this. If I can do, so can you.

My Shade Of Blue

I have a disability.

Growing up I never would have thought I would hear those words come from my lips. I was always an exceptionally healthy individual; I exercised very regularly, ate well, and excelled academically.

Even in the very worst points of my illness I wasn’t able to comprehend that this word is attached to me now. I don’t have a normal life anymore, and I do need a lot of help with tasks that most people my age wouldn’t even think twice about because they are so mundane. I have to tell myself this over and over again to understand that asking a friend to carry a “heavy” water bottle will not make their arms hurt for days after or that having someone drive 30 minutes to see me isn’t going to bring them any sort of physical pain like driving more than 15 minutes down the road does for me. This is a difficult concept to grasp after living the way I have been for three years now.

When I first got POTS it came with an electric blue handicapped parking pass. This was to accompany me everywhere. I took it to my doctor appointments and to the gym — the only two places I could muster up enough energy to go to when I first fell ill. I was determined to get better, and although I wasn’t able to go out with friends, I would force myself to go on these necessary trips with the hope of having a normal life again one day.

My mother lovingly called my handicapped pass my “VIP pass,” but my brain couldn’t comprehend that this was something that was okay for me to use. I was so used to being able to do everything by myself and having an independent lifestyle that when my working body was torn away from me I didn’t know how to react. I felt guilty using the pass, but when I didn’t I would often feel too dizzy to walk to the back of the parking lot and someone would have to come pick me up. I had moments when I had to lie down in the middle of the parking lot so I wouldn’t pass out on the hard concrete and get sent to the hospital again because of a cracked head or something. I remember my heart freaking out on me so many times while I was merely trying to decide on something like whether I wanted to try vanilla or plain almond milk. I would lie down in the middle of the grocery aisle and put my feet on a low shelf to get the blood flowing back to my brain (Hence, the “postural” part of POTS). The girl who was literally passing out from just standing up felt like she couldn’t label herself as disabled.

A lot of this had to do with my chronic optimism and hopefulness that I would one day be better. The other half, though, had to do with the way I thought about disability. The handicapped pass says it all with the picture of a wheelchair as the symbol for the disabled. I do not look like someone who has a physical disability. I look like an average run of the mill girl you’d see on a college campus or studying at Starbucks. If anything I actually look like an athlete, as I am tall, thin, and wear my sneakers almost everywhere I go (They’re a lot easier on my knees than any of the cute boots or heels I loved wearing just a few years ago). I do not look sick. You absolutely cannot see my pain; even doctors have to feel different parts of my body or rely on complicated tests to see that I’m not just an average twentysomething.

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I’m always surprised when people tell me they’re “glad I’m feeling better” when they see pictures from photoshoots or nights out with my friends. A picture might be worth a thousand words, but without the context behind the photo it’s impossible to get an accurate story. The story behind this photo that my friend Audrey took would be about how blessed I felt to have a “good day.” It would include that I had a hard time turning my neck for some of the photos, and trying to overlook the sharp pain in my arms and shoulders so that I could have a fun day with my best friend. Despite some pain and difficulties, this is an overall happy photo for me to look back at.

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This photo tells a different story. It was taken two years ago by my cousin Kristin. A bunch of my relatives were visiting for Thanksgiving and since Kristin is a photographer, we decided to take a few family photos outside. I was freezing and wore a giant puffy coat until we got to the bridge across the street from my house. My head was spinning, so after a few shots I shivered all the way home where I promptly went to my room to take a nap in hopes of sleeping off some of my POTS symptoms. I didn’t get to help make the dessert — one of my favorite Thanksgiving activities — and I missed out on a lot of quality family time because I wasn’t feeling well enough to sit around and visit with everyone. I stayed in my room much of the visit, sleeping or watching Netflix, as there wasn’t a comfortable place for me to sit in the living room with my family. Even sitting up can be exhausting with POTS, as the blood rushes away from my brain and makes me dizzy.

I still don’t think of myself as being very different than anyone else. I have been sick for so long now part of me feels like my life has always been like this. I don’t really remember what it’s like being able to go to a store by myself without planning where I can get water with electrolytes, as I cannot carry my own water bottle for more than a few minutes at a time. Sometimes I feel like the rest of my life was a beautiful dream; I remember so many of the good parts of not being sick that I almost glorify regular life now. I think back to being able to go clubbing with friends and feeling carefree rushing around the streets of New York City. I remember how amazing running felt and miss the burning in my lungs from training out in the cold, crisp fall weather.

I remember how life was before I got sick and sometimes wish I could go back and fully enjoy the time I had. I wasted so much time worrying about the future and my plans that I didn’t even realize that whether or not I like it, I might not be in control of my own life — at least to an extent. I can’t work, and I act like going to doctor appointments as often as a full time job is a normal thing. All of my college dreams were shattered the day I got sick. I still do dream of being better one day and being able to write for a living. I want to be independent again one day, and I would love to be able to train for even just a 5K.

You can’t see my disability, but it’s there every minute of every day. Having POTS has been a great lesson to me that just because someone looks healthy or looks happy doesn’t mean that they are. Looks can be deceiving. You never really know a person until you hear their story.

This Love Is Ours

Today was one of the particularly hard days. Deployments aren’t fun for anyone, but I’ve really gained a new perspective to what people go through when their significant other goes away overseas.

I try to keep my composure as I drive to my favorite coffee shop to sit down and write. I flip through the radio stations until one sits well with me. The song finishes as I keep my eyes glued to the road; it’s the only thing I can do to not completely break down.

Taylor Swift’s “Ours” comes on and it’s words have a new meaning now than when it first came out. I want to change it, but my hands don’t seem to be cooperating with my brain. I notice the car in front of me has a tiny “Army Strong” sticker at the bottom left of the bumper. My eyes feel full.

When a Ford F-150 glides to a stop at the light next to me, I pull over, gripping the steering wheel with all the strength I have. I rest my head on it, and the tears feel like rain spilling into my lap.

I wonder why the world has to be so screwed up that innocent people need to try and fix all of the problems. I feel like the most selfish person in the world because my soldier has it a lot harder than I do and because I just want him home and suddenly don’t care about the rest of the world. My heart misses him, and I feel like I don’t remember what it’s like to have a hand to hold. This long distance has been the easiest I’ve done, in the sense that I don’t ever question where we stand with each other, but it’s also one of the most painful things in the world watching someone you love go somewhere you can’t keep him safe. Not knowing that everything will be okay is far worse than just missing him.

I sniffle, alone in my car, and realize I have to keep it together for myself and my significant other. I wipe my eyes and smudge the mascara further across my cheek. I shift the gear into “drive,” and muster up the courage to go into the warm, bright cafe after fixing my makeup again.

I force myself to smile when I finally order my coffee.

I’m tired of being strong; I never had the years of training that make someone “Army Strong,” and don’t feel like I fit in. Love is sometimes simple, but other times it’s feeling everything all at once.

Intentionally Intentional

“Wait, is this a date?”

As a girl, I have wondered this a few times in my life when a guy asks me to “hang out” somewhere. Depending on the situation, I usually err on the safe side and assume it isn’t if I’m unsure.

Dating can be awkward enough as it is, so why make things like simple communication difficult? I have been asked countless times by guys how to ask a girl on a proper date, and so many of my girl friends have called me confused with whether a male is interested in her or not. There is a very simple answer to all of our communication problems. Be clear in stating your intentions with someone!

You don’t have to be all weird about it, but by simply saying, “I would love to take you out to dinner,” you are making it very clear that you want to take the person you are asking on a date. First, if you already know them, I think dinner is a great option for date #1, as it’s a little nicer than just coffee or drinks. You can always change the wording around to do something else for a first date, however I would definitely make the activity one that is very clearly a date. Going on a run with someone is nice, but hardly leaves room for any sort of romance. Second, by using the words “take you out,” you are making it incredibly clear that this isn’t just an outing between friends.

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On the flip side, if someone asks you to “hang out,” I’d say it isn’t a serious date, so take things slow! I’ve had relationships grow from friendship, which can be a great foundation for something wonderful. Don’t put your life on hold for someone who isn’t ready to date you or isn’t interested, though. Keep doing your own thing whether that is dating around or accepting an invitation from someone else you are possibly interested in. The best lesson we all learned from He’s Just Not That Into You is that if someone wants to be with you they will eventually try. If they don’t ever get the guts to ask you out they care about their pride more than they care about being with you! You want someone who will fight for you, right?

Today’s lesson: It’s better to be overly clear and upfront with your intentions than to be ambiguous when you ask someone out. Getting turned down sucks, but it’s so much better to find out sooner rather than later that someone isn’t interested in dating you… That way you can move on to another person who will totally want to go on a date!

Featuring The Face Behind SITS

I thought it would be fun for my favorite guest to do a little interview with me. I had a few friends help me come up with questions to ask him, and the gentleman I am oh so fond of answered some questions about what it’s like dating me. Enjoy!

Single In The Suburbs:
Tell us, what is it really like dating Krista?

Robert:
Dating Krista has been an awesome experience. Krista is somebody that is so positive about everything. She genuinely cares about others around her much more than she does herself, and she proves that in everything she writes about on this blog. I knew she is an amazing person from the beginning, but this was solidified the night before my flight from Virginia to Texas to begin my deployment when she gave me a book of letters she collected and laminated from my friends and family. She had reached out to them because she wanted to give me something nice from everybody before I left, and I was amazed with how many of my friends and family participated. Amazing.

SITS:
In a sentence, what is the best thing about dating her?

Robert:
This will be tough to do in just one sentence, but let’s try… The best thing about dating Krista is that she truly is a good person; that she is beautiful, inside and out; that she is an amazingly talented writer and I’ve enjoyed reading all her work, plus she sends me a lot of letters and cards (to include a letter for each week of my deployment); that she is extremely intelligent; that she loves playing Mario games, and is ok with me beating her; that she has sent me a million care packages while I’ve been deployed; that she trusts me, and it’s very easy for me to trust her; that she is open about everything; that we enjoy everything we do together. OK, I think that’s one good sentence.

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This is a photo Robert took of me in our first few months together. I always think it’s cute when guys take pictures of their girlfriends, but I’ve never had someone sneak attack take photos of me like Robert does!

SITS:
In a sentence, what is the worst thing about dating her? (Be honest!)

Robert:
Krista enjoys making cookies — and I enjoy eating them.


SITS:

Have you noticed any interesting or annoying habits she has?

Robert:
I haven’t noticed any annoying habits, but there are a couple interesting/funny ones. My favorite is probably when we’re playing super smash brothers (yes, we’re nerds). She does two things while playing this that crack me up. If she sees something funny happen in the game, she will start laughing hysterically, which in turn makes me, and anybody else playing with us laugh as well. Also when she sees an item that she wants she’ll say out loud, “HEY! I want that!” I think it’s really cute… But I still usually don’t allow her to get it.


SITS:
How do you feel about Single In The Suburbs?

Robert:
This is a tough one. I met Krista about a year ago and I knew what I was getting into with her dating blog. I understood where she was in her life, and that she needs this blog because it really is a part of her, who she is, and what she does. It obviously isn’t easy to read about when she goes on a date that isn’t me; however, almost everything I’ve read on her blog that was about a specific date was me… So I’m OK with that. My attempts at getting her to change her blog from “Single in The Suburbs” to “dating a really, really, ridiculously awesome guy who also went to George Mason and is especially cool because he’s a Patriots fan who is converting me to a Patriots fan as well” has thus far been unsuccessful. Maybe when I get back and can think of an even better blog title than that, we can make it happen.

SITS:
On a related note, how do you feel being written about so often? You are clearly “Boston” and “Army.”

Robert:
I am very glad to know that I am “Boston” and “Army”. I had some suspicions but I’m happy it is confirmed! In all seriousness, I enjoy reading all her posts. I love the posts about me because she finds ways to make me sound positive most of the time… but I particularly the ones that aren’t about me because I know about myself. I like to learn about new things about her.


SITS:
Tell us one of her deepest, darkest secrets. (Editor’s note: I will kill you if you say too much)

Robert:
This one will get me into trouble… Krista has told me a lot of secrets! I guess the one I’ll mention here is the fact that she NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE.*

SITS:
What is the most embarrassed you’ve been on a date with Krista?

Robert:
I’ll name two… Number 1, when we were walking around Arlington on a date looking at Christmas lights, she got down on one knee and pretended to propose to me. That was pretty embarrassing because there were a lot of people around. Number 2, she threw me a surprise birthday at a hibachi place… In November… 4 months before my birthday. She had stopped by the place earlier to drop off birthday balloons and cupcakes so that they could present me with these gifts in front of the entire restaurant when I brought her back later.


SITS:

How did you feel going into the first date? What about after it?

Robert:
OK, this question requires some background knowledge for your readers… Our first date almost never happened. In fact, our original first date got canceled. In late September last year, I found out that I was going to be placed on active duty orders out in Staunton, Virginia in preparation for the deployment I am currently on in the Middle East. The day I found out about that was the day of our first date. When I learned that Krista was planning on with meeting up with her friends after our date, I thought that was her way of telling me that she didn’t want to be out with me very long that night, and since I would very soon be moving to Staunton, I decided maybe we should just cancel it.

The Army isn’t the best at handling money. So, I was in Staunton the last week of September, but because the government’s fiscal year ends on September 30th, there weren’t enough funds to keep me out there until they were able to pass a budget. So I moved back to Arlington for a couple weeks while they sorted that out, and reconnected with Krista.

For whatever reason, Krista decided to see me after that previous cancellation, and with the knowledge that I would be living in Staunton and deploying to the Middle East in March. To get to the actual question now –- I was very excited going into the first date with her. We talked a lot leading up to the date, so I was pretty comfortable with the whole thing. The date went very well,even through some awkward secrets and stories that we shared. When I left, I felt pretty happy about the way it went, but as most people do, I probably over-thought about some of the things I said or did. It turns out the date went pretty well and we had a great connection, so we saw each other again soon after. I was also able to be back in Northern Virginia Friday – Monday nights and was able to take a lot of leave as well. The only reason I made that commute several times a week was because of her.

SITS:
What is your favorite memory together?

Robert:
I have so many great memories with Krista that it doesn’t seem right to only pick one. However, I will say that if I HAVE to pick one, it would be the last time I saw her. My unit of 26 Soldiers flew out of Fort Hood and Dallas in April. Because of weather, flights were getting delayed across the country and they had to put us all on different planes. A group of us ended up in Baltimore, and were stuck there for 2 days until we could pick up a flight overseas. Krista came to visit me in Baltimore. Krista, do that thing where you put a link in to your previous story about this experience so everyone can read about our 2 day date in Baltimore…

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This was the most grateful I’ve ever been to have a tearful goodbye.

 

SITS:
Tell us the most interesting “Krista story” you have heard since meeting her.

Robert:
The most interesting story to me is the story about how her life changed after she was diagnosed with POTS. Krista doesn’t realize it sometimes, but she’s one of the strongest people I know. She always says things like “I wish you knew me before I got POTS”, but I can’t imagine a stronger, more beautiful girl than the girl I know right now.

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This is a fun photo my best friend Audrey took of me!


SITS:
Would you change anything about Krista? If so, what?

Robert:
Ha. I’m not falling for this trap!


*Some things are secrets for a reason. This is something only my best friend and Robert know, and we’re going to keep it that way.


If you are in need of a photographer in the DMV area please shoot me a message and I’ll connect you to my beautiful friend Audrey!

Boston

I sat in the passenger of his Ford F-150 as he passed behind the truck to the driver’s side. He never let me open my own door, and I loved that. Yet again it was just another bonus to dating him. I was beginning to find every little thing he did was just a bonus to how wonderful I thought this human was.

He slid effortlessly into the driver’s seat and leaned over to kiss me. I beamed. I felt like the most special girl in the world and we hadn’t even gone on our date yet. He took my hand and held it close to my body as we pulled onto the highway. I smiled as I gazed at his pretty brown eyes. I don’t think anything about men is supposed to be considered pretty, but there isn’t a strong enough word for a male that I can use — I have never been so mesmerized by a guy before. This isn’t a feeling I hear many girls describe about their boyfriends, and I noted the warmth fill my heart.

I blushed as he looked over and caught me staring. He smiled, and I melted a little more.

We parked the car and he didn’t let go of my hand until he hopped out of the car and ran around to my side to open my door again. How long had I been a Princess? It felt like a lifetime, but we’ve only known each other seven months.

I took his hand, made the leap of faith from the tall truck, and realized I had fallen in love as fast as the trip my feet took from the carpeted mats in his Ford to the gravel pavement beneath my sneakers. He closed the door with one hand and took mine in the other. He made a joke, I laughed, and fell just a little deeper.

This was a relationship unlike any that I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. The smallest trips to the grocery store became another page of our story. They weren’t errands — they were just spending time together.

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Some things in life you don’t think have an end in sight. It’s frightening when that thing is a romance. One of many dictionary definitions for the word is,

“A strong, sometimes short-lived attachment, fascination, or enthusiasm for something.”

I close my eyes and pray that it won’t be short-lived; the thought of that brings a sharp pain to my heart. A heart can be broken more than once, and there aren’t any promises things will work out. We’ve only been in each other’s lives for a short while, but one day a short romance is going to blossom into a lifelong love. I don’t have any way of knowing whether or not I’ll be caught or end up shattered on the ground, but right now I am closing my eyes, inhaling deeply, and taking the plunge.