Scary Statistics

My interest in blogging so much happened a year or two after I got sick with POTS. I’ve always loved to write and have had several different blogs or online journals throughout the years, but this is the first one that is really here to stay.

Despite today being Halloween, it is also the last day of Dysautonomia Awareness month, which is something I haven’t been able to touch on a ton since I was gone for much of October. Instead of writing about my own viewpoint, I am going to post some fun facts from the Dysautonomia International Facebook page — along with a few little comments about some of them. Also, Dysautonomia is an umbrella term for autonomic nervous system disorders, and POTS is my specific disorder.

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All photos credit of DysautonomiaInternational.org. Check it out!

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Brain fog is perhaps one of the most frustrating symptoms of Dysautonomia because not only do you feel like you’ve lost a working body, but your brain gets riled up and confused. I am able to manage this one pretty well these days, but can always think better when I am laying down on the couch and have a normal amount of blood pumping to my brain.

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It took me about a week and a half to get a proper POTS diagnosis, mainly because it just took time to get into the doctor who is now my cardiologist. The first doctor who saw me speculated I that had POTS since he could see the drastic changes in heart rate and blood pressure when I changed positions, but we did more extensive testing when I went to a second doctor who is an expert in Dysautonomia. Which leads me to this little fact:

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No wonder every single person I meet in this area goes to the same doctors office and knows about the little red leather chairs. It’s crazy to me that something as widespread as POTS still has so few people who are considered experts in it. I think this will be changing drastically in the next few years.

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My biggest issue these days is pain. It fluctuates greatly from day to day or month to month, but the coat hanger pain and arm pain is the worst. It is difficult to sit at a computer and just type as long as I want to because my arms, shoulders, and pecs have lots of trigger points. I am still going to physical therapy, and hope to work my way up to using a computer for a normal amount of time.

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This makes me FUME. Anyone who tells a person that their chronic illness is in their head clearly has no empathy and has likely been blessed with good health for their entire life. Like, come to any doctor with me and they’ll tell you something is off with my autonomic nervous system. Come to my cardiologist and he’ll tell you every single thing that is going on, and why my body behaves the way it does. I may not always understand why I am having certain symptoms, but there is a logical explanation behind each and every one of them. 

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POTS is not a rare illness, it’s just rarely diagnosed or talked about. I happen to have a more severe case of POTS, however I guarantee if you are friends with a couple hundred people on Facebook that at least a few of them have been effected by it in one way or another. Since the number guesstimating how many people have it is so high (about 1 in 100 people), I speculate many of these POTSies have infrequent fainting spells, some unexplained vertigo, or a little handful of symptoms they are able to tolerate enough that they don’t go searching for answers. As the graphic mentioned earlier, it is only about 25% of people with POTS who are disabled from it.

Whether or not this is something close to your heart (no pun intended!), please take a minute to check out the foundation and educate yourself a little more about Dysautonomia. It will definitely be something you will notice at some point in the future, whether it’s with a friend or an acquaintance. POTS is a very easy thing to test for, as long as a doctor knows what to look for — which can be the hardest part of any chronic illness. Hopefully we will have a cure soon!

Delicate

To say I’m not self-conscious about my chronic illness would be like saying I didn’t care what other people thought of me when I was in high school. Neither is true, but high school was a lot easier because at least everyone else felt the exact same way — and I knew it. Despite feeling self-conscious about the shape of my body or being worried about my future, I knew all of my classmates felt the same way I did. That brought a little glimmer of comfort even in all the confusion.

What’s frustrating about POTS now is that I feel so alone in it. I don’t have a close knit group of friends who are chronically ill, and frankly, that sounds exhausting. We would never be able to make plans with each other because one of us would always be feeling sick, and it would be a whole lot more difficult getting from point “A” to point “B” without having someone who could carry two water bottles or still think clearly even if it gets really hot outside. If I had known in college that one day I wouldn’t be able to carry a Smart Water bottle around for myself I would have been terrified for what my life was going to become.

I freaking hate having a chronic illness. I hate how it makes me feel, I hate that it’s so unpredictable, and perhaps most of all, I hate that I ever have to rely on other people to take care of me. I have always been super-independent, and despite being sick for almost five years now I am nowhere close to being used to all of this. Let that sink in. I have been sick for almost 1/5 of my life now, and I am still not even close to being used to it.

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Every morning I wake up and want to be able to do everything for myself. I want to cook, then clean up the mess in one sitting. I want to be able to drive to meet my friends for lunch without worrying about where they want to go geographically because my arms might hurt terribly from driving too far. I want to have enough energy and strength to go to work, think straight with no interruptions from dizziness or brain fog, and get through an entire day without hurting and becoming stiff — then do it all over again five days in a row. I don’t understand why all of these things that feel like very basic human rights have been taken away from me.

I miss my independence so much I want to scream. I push myself to limits that I know are going to hurt me because I don’t feel like asking for help with little tasks. In my mind, people are going to get annoyed if I keep asking for help with so many seemingly easy things, and it’s not worth losing all of my relationships to feel decent. My brain understands that the people who love me are happy to take care of me, but my heart feels heavy and tight with frustration. I often feel like a burden — not because anyone has told me that I’m one, but because I can’t take care of myself the way I used to. I want to be the one to take care of my parents and repay them for taking care of me for more than just the 18 years they expected to. I want to be able to support myself financially, and I want to feel like I can give acts of service to my loved ones more than I am able to. I want my friends to understand the way that I feel and to know what it’s like to lose every sense of normalcy your body has grown accustomed to — but only for a day so that they can know what my every day is like and why I’m often so tired. I want people be able to feel my frustration so they can really understand how much small things impact me in my day-to-day.

I could write a book on all the things I miss that are really normal. I miss being able to make chocolate chip cookies from scratch all by myself, and I miss doing my own laundry (Seriously!). I miss going shopping without eventually feeling nauseous and dizzy. I think what I miss most is going places by myself. Whether it’s being able to drive into the city to walk around and explore by myself, or taking a mini road trip to see a friend, I wish I could drive myself around without having to rely on loved ones to chauffeur me around. I am 27 years old and want nothing more than to be able to sit in traffic by myself to see my best friend just one a state away whenever I want. I either have to wait until someone can drive me, or have her make the hour-and-a-half trip by herself to come and see me. Both the little and big things about being sick bother me, and I honestly don’t know if I’ll ever fully be used to being different this way. I hate asking people for help, and haven’t gotten a lot better at it over the years. POTS has made me realize that it isn’t always a person who can break your heart. There are other things in life that can take a little piece of it away, too.

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Counting Spoons And Stars

My life hasn’t been normal for a twenty-something living in the suburbs of Washington, DC. Just 18 months after I could legally drink, I found myself stripped of all the independence I had spent time gathering while traveling across Europe for a summer program, working and taking care of myself at college, and moving to New York City even though I didn’t know anyone there. Instead of gathering more life experiences that would shape me into who I was becoming after school, I was thrown into learning the importance of appreciating even little moments in difficult days, and I was facing health issues that most people twice my age hadn’t even begun to deal with yet.


I know I’ve talked about The Spoon Theory some on here, but I saw an interesting graphic on the Dysautonomia International Facebook page, so I wanted to write a little blog post to go along with it.

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I would switch around a few of these. For example, I think taking a shower and shaving or washing my hair takes more than 2 spoons, but going shopping only takes 3, depending on the task (as long as I don’t have to push a cart or carry a lot). I have always been a really big fan of a nice, hot shower, but I honestly don’t even remember my pre-POTS showers. I don’t remember what it’s like turning the dial to the “H” without knowing that my heart is about to start racing like I’m running a marathon, and allotting some time to lie down after I’m done shampooing. I do remember the days I couldn’t wash my own hair, though. I remember first getting sick and not being able to stand in the shower because I would pass out. I remember sitting down in the bathtub in my pink paisley bikini so my mom could shampoo and condition my hair for me since the room was always spinning around me and I couldn’t stand by myself for more than a few minutes. In hindsight, the way my hair was washed is really similar to the way my dog, Macy, gets her hair washed now. We both just sat there and let someone else do a task we  are less than thrilled about, but need to have done. I was 22 years old, had just graduated from college, and could not take care of even my most basic needs.

Despite making slow improvements with POTS, I still always look fine, so people usually cannot tell if I’m having a “good day” or “bad day” just by looking at me. Nobody else can see the way my vision blacks out whenever I stand up too quickly, or when my pain is acting up. Whenever I see someone pop right out of bed when they wake up on television I laugh to myself and think, “That’s so unrealistic!” then I quickly realize that it’s actually most people’s reality. Most people can jump right up from laying down to a standing position and not feel repercussions from their body. I don’t remember ever being able to do that, but logically I know that five years ago I would have been able to. Actually, come to think of it, it probably would have really freaked me out if I couldn’t pop right out of bed all of a sudden!

There are many things that I don’t remember from my pre-POTS life. I don’t remember what it’s like living with a “0” on the pain scale, I don’t remember being able to be low maintenance when traveling or going out with friends, and I don’t remember what it’s like feeling like you’re in the same boat with all your peers. College is so great because even though you are all doing such different things, you are all working toward some sort of career goal. I get sick of explaining what POTS is over and over again, and I hate the look of pity in someone’s eyes after I get done telling them about how even though I am still young, I ended up with a life-changing health condition at the very beginning of my twenties.

There are a lot of things I do remember so well from my old life, though. I remember going outside and finding out it was a beautiful day, so going for a long run. I remember deciding on a whim to train for a half marathon, and bumping up my mileage with ease. My brain remembers going to work and sitting at a computer all day long and all of the projects that I did, but I don’t really remember how it felt. I think about it now and wonder how I was able to do all of that without feeling stiff as a board and paying for it for the rest of the week. I have no idea how I ever survived without a foam roller or physical therapy. Did my body really once not hurt? Why didn’t I take advantage of that more?

I have been blessed, though. The crazy thing about POTS is there isn’t a lot of treatment that helps you get better, other than hard work in the gym (Which is done on the recumbent bike and with tiny hand weights), a good diet, and a great deal of luck. Getting sick has made me learn that there is no doubt in my mind that God does exist, and He has so much power and love to give. I still can’t believe how much more clearly I can think without all of the dizziness and brain fog, and I feel blessed to have good days mixed in with the bad. I actually think that most of the time I am probably on the higher end of the “happy scale” than a lot of twenty-somethings because I have learned to find the joy in the little things in life. I feel happy when I get to meet a new dog, I love being able to go outside for long and leisurely walks, and I really feel at peace every night when I look up at the stars. It’s really amazing to realize that even with so many planets and heavenly bodies so far away, my Creator still loves and cares about me. I always feel small when I think about how far away the stars are and how many other people there are in the world, but it really is amazing that God has a plan for each and every one of our intricately detailed lives.

I still don’t know why I got POTS or what my life is going to look like with it moving forward, but I am going to continue to share my journey and what I’ve learned with people, and I am going to keep working toward a more normal life. I’ve used a few spoons writing this and am getting dizzy because I really need a salty lunch, but I will be writing about The Spoon Theory again on my blog in the next week or so. I want you all to know what I use my spoons on, and how stealing a spoon from another day can be great because I am able to enjoy outings with friends, but it makes playing catch-up difficult the very next day. I, as well as all my other spoonie friends, just want to feel like everyone in life just gets it. That won’t happen unless we begin speaking out about our chronic illnesses, though, so I am going to continue being vocal about what life looks like on the inside for someone with a chronic illness.

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Please take a minute to read this article by Christine Miserando about how she created The Spoon Theory. It is explained so darn well here, and I — along with every other person with a chronic illness — would give anything for people in my life to actually understand what it means to use spoons throughout the day.

Midweek Mystery: Allergic To Girlfriend?

I have the strangest story, but I also think it’s kind of hilarious and worth a small blog post.

Lately whenever I go over to Robert’s place we have a nice time for awhile, but then he starts to complain about being incredibly itchy. At first I thought it was a little funny — Robert is one of those people who kind of jokes around when he complains about stuff, so his complaints don’t always feel as real right off the bat. Anyway, he started joking that he was allergic to me because he only noticed the itchiness when I was around. After a few times, though, I started feeling a little annoyed. Why was it that he only noticed the itchiness when I was around? What if he really was allergic to me? After all, Robert had shared a story with me recently about a woman who is allergic to her husband. Maybe this was a sign that I’m setting him off and need to find a solution… Fast!

I always say I’m not superstitious, but I actually think I am in some ways. I sometimes feel like I “jinx” myself and I do think things can come up in your life for a reason. The older I am getting, though, the more I am realizing there are just a lot of coincidences in life that seem to be signs, but are just more notable than other mundane things.

Anyway, I started thinking about new products I’ve been using, because obviously he didn’t become allergic to me overnight. I get a few different makeup boxes with samples, so am always using something new. I felt really fed up when I started noticing that I was kind of itchy too. I realized that the chronic pain I have had been masking it, but I was definitely a little itchy too. I still couldn’t think of anything I was using that would make someone itchy, though. Especially someone else…

Until I took a shower and prepped my hair for my mom to blowdry it.* As I was running my fingers through my wet hair to put some product in it, I stopped and looked at the sample size container of the heat protection I had just put on my hands. Could it be?! 

I flipped the product around to read the back of the bottle and I kid you not, I had a real life Slumdog-Millionaire-style flashback when I saw the word “Rose Hips” on the description.

Holy crap, this is it! I knew without a doubt that this once-amazing, now-stupid hair product was the culprit. Rose hips, after all, are used in ITCHING POWDER. I knew this because back when I was a young prankster one of my friends and I used itching powder** on her brother (Yes, some of my teenage pranks are my biggest regrets, haha). 13-year-old me was curious about what caused the itching, though, and to this day I have remembered that “rose hips” were the main ingredient in itching powder.

Why the heck would a company use something that could potentially be so itchy in their product?! My fingers moved swiftly over my phone screen as I Googled two simple words,

“Itching powder”

The top result you could click on was “Rose Hips.” I smiled, smugly. Look at you, Sherlock, I thought to myself. You’ve done it again.

I couldn’t change the fact that I had already put the product in my hair, but I threw it in a drawer and locked it away so I wouldn’t go on autopilot and use it again. Ever since I’ve given up this product neither of us have been itchy. It’s official: I, like the Olsen twins, can solve any crime by dinnertime.

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Credit: Dualstar Productions

*My mom often dries my hair for me, as I have chronic pain in my arms and can’t hold a hairdryer up too long without hurting myself. She is such an angel!

**As an adult I realize this is incredibly immature and mean, but as a young teen it seemed like a hilarious, harmless prank. In all honesty I don’t know whether or not it worked, as it was one of the pranks you could buy from “Five Below,” but I still encourage you to think about others before planning out a prank. Yes, pranks are hilarious (With the right people who think it’s funny too), but only if nobody gets hurt — physically or emotionally — and everyone involved will enjoy what’s going on. Robert and I both love pranks, so I don’t usually mind when he plays a joke on me, and he is always up for a funny joke at his expense too.