If you have a chronic pain condition, you probably know just how much work it is to exist. I read one of those internet memes the other day that had me thinking. It said something like,

“No, you’re wrong. I’m not faking being sick. I’m faking being well.”

It made me laugh for a second. If you have EDS and have ever parked in a handicapped parking space without needing a wheelchair, you have probably had at least one person tell you not to park there. I have been accused by multiple people of seeking attention or pretending things are worse than they really are.

After I laughed, though, I started crying. You see, my pain has been absolutely out of control lately. I started a new job just under two months ago and my doctors and I already decided I can’t physically handle it. I have pushed myself every single day to get to my office and do my work, smiling and greeting people through pain, all the while my medications getting less and less effective and my wheelchair becoming more and more necessary. I used to come home after work at night and be able to enjoy myself. Now, less than six months in to my marriage, I find myself coming home from work and wanting to do nothing but lay in bed and watch TV because my body hurts so much. I work primarily in an office. I sit primarily behind a desk. Most people who see my at my job would never even guess that I get home and often choke back tears asking my husband to work knots out of my muscles and then cry as he has to push on the really painful spots because that’s the only way to get rid of them.

I quit my job. It broke my heart. I am not someone who quits a job after two months, but I know I cannot do it and I need to accept that, but I am still overcome with guilt thinking of what inconvenience I have caused others. I am someone guilty of measuring my value by my productivity and I do not feel productive.

I was back home over this past weekend for a family funeral. We lost a wonderful man. It was absolutely devastating–and the first time my extended family really saw me in my wheelchair. It was the first time my parents saw what happens to me after a full day of activity now. It was the first time people close to me realized how truly exhausting it is just to exist in a body that doesn’t work right. Between the emotional and physical pain, I am still tired almost a week later.

Why am I writing this post that seems like me just whining about how hard it’s been to be me lately (even though I promise you I actually do like being me)?

Because it can be lonely here and it should not have to be.

I am making a conscious choice to share these massive struggles with you, because I’ve read the struggles of others lately and I do not want them to feel alone. I want to remind the world that just because someone has pretty makeup on and a cute outfit doesn’t mean they aren’t in incredible pain–in fact, that makeup and clothing might be their best effort to hide it. I want the others who are currently in pain that feels out of control to know there are others who are laying in bed wishing they could go do something and feeling guilty for holding others back.

I am 28 years old and I cried on my mother’s lap this weekend about wishing I had a normal body.

Kids with EDS feel that way, too. They need to know it’s okay to feel that way sometimes. They need to know not to live there. They need to know sadness and grief over their condition is natural, but isolation is dangerous. They need to cry to a parent or a friend instead of hiding their pain until they cannot bear it anymore. We lose chronic pain patients to suicide because their mental health becomes too great a burden as they wish and hope for a “normal body” and have no outlet for those emotions.

I have made many mistakes in the last few months. I have overlooked the struggles of others while enduring my own. We must all work to see pain in ourselves and pain in others. We must avoid the loneliness and isolation of chronic pain and chronic illness. We must allow our emotions to have an outlet before they take control. When you lose another thing in your life because of this crappy condition, you are allowed to be angry. You are allowed to be sad. Your life, though, it is still beautiful. You are still wonderful. I think you will find in recognizing others’ pain, you may find relief and comfort for yours.

I may not be able to do the jobs I hoped I could do. I had dreams I can no longer achieve due to my physical limitations, but I also have new dreams I wouldn’t have if I didn’t have EDS. I’m going to work on those for a while. I’m going to remind myself of all the beautiful people in the world who don’t care if I look pretty and say I hurt; they believe me anyway (and want to know the name of my eyeshadow palette so they can look pretty through the pain, too).

Remember: I am here. We are here. Stay here.

Hello, guys! It has been a very, VERY long time since I have written here. There are many reasons in my life why I haven’t been able to share with you for a while, including that my husband and I moved, got a new dog, and started new jobs. For those of you who know me personally, you probably are not surprised I have taken a break from blogging. For those of you who don’t, I’m sorry for the gap there has been in my writing. Please know I have missed being here, missed the chance to share with you, and missed what working with EDS Wisconsin means. Please know that my work here matters so much to me.

We grew by four paws this fall!

So, what brought me back to share four days before my favorite holiday? Pain. I want to write to you, for you, and truthfully almost WITH you because I am in pain. 

Most of us with EDS spent a long time being told nothing was wrong with us. We were given a laundry list of things that would make us “better.” For many of us, there was a phrase that sounded something like “it’s all in your head.” For me, it was 13 years from the first time my mom begged a doctor to explain what was happening to me until the day a doctor actually did. 

This creates a huge problem for us. We take offense then, later, when someone suggests we might need psychiatric treatment. It makes sense, right? You spent most of your life being told you’re crazy, someone finally tells you that you actually have something wrong with your body, and then they suggest you see a SHRINK? Why on earth would you need psychiatric help if your disease is real? Why would you need someone to “fix your head” if the problem is ACTUALLY in your body. 

Well, I have one, huge, giant newsflash for you:

Having an incurable, genetic condition that causes severe chronic pain and usually comes with other conditions with their own symptoms–that causes psychiatric symptoms in itself. You don’t need psychiatric help because you are imagining your pain. You need psychiatric help because you ARE NOT imagining your pain.

I work with a great psychiatrist. I started working with a new one recently because of some trauma I’ve experienced. I knew I needed more help than I was getting where I was going before, so I asked my doctor for a referral to psychiatry. I will never forget explaining EDS to him the first time I met him, though, and the experience I’d had in my childhood with my pain and the doctors and the whole “it’s in your head” thing.

Of course it’s in your head. That’s where we feel pain. That’s how we feel pain. Without your head, you couldn’t have pain at all.”

I have never, in my life, felt such validation. I think those words are burned in to my brain now. I wish I could go back and hug 13-year old Stephanie against my chest and tell her those words in her ear. I wish I could hug her as she begged her mom to find a doctor who would make the pain stop and not one who would just tell her she’s fat. 

There is no cure for EDS. That doesn’t mean you won’t get “better.” It does mean it will always be a part of your life. For some, like me, that means using a wheelchair when I’m only 27. For some, it means not being able to work outside the home. It may mean co-morbid conditions that making eating, drinking, and just existing in the outside world a challenge. For some, all those years of being told it wasn’t real can cause very, very real psychiatric conditions. That does not negate the very real physical part of the condition. It does mean you need help.

I was recently diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. I’m not going to write about the incident leading to that diagnosis. It’s not relevant to my blog and I’m still learning to cope with it. What I do want to tell you is this:

-My EDS pain is as well-managed as it can be, but for an EDS patient, it is poorly managed. Because of the nature of my pain, I have not responded well to many treatments and we’ve resorted to wheelchairs and other ways to reduce how much I use my body because there simply has been no other successful means of handling my pain.
-When my stress levels are worse, that pain gets EVEN WORSE than it already is. If I rejected the psychiatric help I need, I can’t even imagine what kind of pain I would be in.
-I also find a lot of value in just having someone to talk to who isn’t in my life every single day about the reality of living with EDS. A psychiatrist, psychologist, school counselor, or any mental health professional can let you talk about everything in your life that’s bothering you without it becoming a self-centered nightmare like it would if you spent an hour with a friend in the same way. 
-I highly recommend signing a disclosure agreement that lets your pain doctor work with your psychiatrist. My experience having these two work together has improved my quality of life. I’m not your doctor–but these people would be. Let them help you.

At the end of the day, my point is this: stop being offended at the suggestion of mental health care after an EDS diagnosis. Nobody is saying you are crazy.  I’ve written about the “mental whiplash” of thinking you are imagining it and then finding out you have EDS before; any person who has experienced that PROBABLY needs help from a mental health provider.

I reject the notion that it makes you weak to need mental health assistance. In fact, the day I called the clinic and said, “I really need help and I need it as soon as you can give it to me” took some of the greatest strength I possess. There is so much strength in acknowledging your weakness. 

Every EDS patient is amazingly strong. Don’t you dare let anyone tell you otherwise–but also, don’t let that strength scare you away from asking for help.

I’ve written in the blog a few times about my love of Taylor Swift, so if you caught the context of my title as a song lyric, props to you. In this case, you also hopefully caught that we’re playing with today’s holiday.

It’s Mother’s Day and that means we are celebrating all things mom. Here at EDS Wisconsin, many of us have shared and sought feedback about what our moms were like, what it means to be a mom to an EDS kid, and what Mother’s Day means to us. I asked my mom, Janell Armstrong, a few questions this morning and if I could write about her in my blog—mostly because I remember vividly what dealing with my health was like as a child and now that I’m 27, I wanted to hear what that was like from her perspective. So, I asked my mom the hardest part of raising a child who was clearly ill with SOMETHING but un-diagnosed.  Then, I asked my mom the hardest part about having a child get diagnosed with an incurable condition at 25—and changing all of those things that happened in my youth.

My diagnosis story is LONG and I’ve written about it a few times in this blog. The first time I dislocated a joint fully, I was only 12 years old. I had no idea what a dislocation was, but I did know that my kneecap was on the back of my leg—and I was thoroughly convinced it would stay there forever. I don’t know if I’ve ever

My Mom and Stepdad, Dave

, to this day, screamed the way I did that day or shed as many tears. It was an incredibly hot summer day and the knee immobilizer was AWFUL for a child, not to mention that even though I always thought crutches looked “fun,” they were actually really awful to use and I had no clue how to use them.  That really didn’t seem like a big deal, though. Kids get hurt. You all know this. If you have a kid who didn’t end up on crutches at least once in their childhood, consider yourself.


The problem is, it didn’t stop. It never stopped. The dislocations got more frequent in that knee as I got older.  I would hurt other joints, too and cry until my mom would take me to the emergency room—and I’m realizing now that I’m four paragraphs in that I failed to mention that my mother, superhero that she is, was raising four kids all by herself.  I begged my mother not to make me go to school. I begged her not to make me go to gym class. I would cry for actual hours while she put ice packs on various parts of my body.

My mom did a lot of things for me most parents don’t have to do—and sometimes she took heat for it. I had a predetermined number of days off school I could take off every month because sometimes I just couldn’t handle school. There were times I sprained my wrist so badly I couldn’t write my own homework even though I came up with all the answers myself—and when I asked the teacher if that was okay, she told me, in front of the entire class, that she would have found a way to write the homework herself, so she was going to take a few points off. I have a feeling she and my mom talked about those points because I never lost them. I was a straight-A student and I wanted teachers to like me, so when they didn’t because I couldn’t do something, it hurt even more than my body did.

Then, there were the doctors. The first time a doctor told me I only hurt because I was fat, I was six years old. The same doctor told my sister blue eye shadow was “slutty” when she was 10, so I’m not quite sure where she went to medical school…but anyway now I’m WAY off topic…hopefully you’re laughing.  By the time the dislocations were happening every day, multiple times a day, I was tumbling down stairs—a LOT. My mom told me this morning that what she felt more than anything with doctors when I was a kid was helplessness. She felt helpless to get answers, helpless to fix me, and helpless to make her child better. She wrote, “You SO want to believe that the next doctor will be able to fix it. I had a tendency to believe them because they are supposed to know more than you! And if this, this, and this happens, it will all be over and your child will be all fixed. It’s a little better now with online resources, but honestly, when you were going through all of it, I didn’t really know where to go besides the doctor to get answers.”

I never heard my mom say until today that she thought the same things I did. “This, this, and this and your child will be all fixed” is neither scientific nor eloquent—but it is what moms of an un-diagnosed child desperately want. It’s what those children want even more. I felt guilt over making my mom take me to the doctor over and over again only to be told they didn’t know or I was fine or this surgery would fix it all—and then it never did.

Here’s how I remember it, though, when the doctors didn’t help me enough, my mom didn’t stop. She never, ever stopped. That lesson stuck with me. I didn’t stop either. When I was 23, I saw another doctor who didn’t help me enough, so I didn’t go back. It happened again when I was 24. Then, when I was 25, a doctor FINALLY told me why I was in so much pain, why I was so sick, why I was the way I was—and suddenly every single trip to every single doctor all those hours away was worth it, because we never gave up.

My mom’s response to my diagnosis question hit me harder than I thought it would, because I wish she didn’t have to feel how she did or does. She explained that it killed her a bit when she found out. She wrote that she questioned every decision she ever made regarding my care. She wrote about guilt for not doing a better job and not pushing doctors. She wrote about the worse guilt about those moments when she doubted her own child’s pain.

So, this is for my own mom—and for any other mom who couldn’t get their child diagnosed until adulthood. These words are my words for you, my thoughts for you, my love letter to the “mama” who made me strong enough to live through EDS:

  • You are not a doctor. You are taught to trust doctors with your lives. A doctor brought me into this world and you trusted them to help you care for me every step of my life. You pushed. You kept pushing—and you gave me the tools to keep pushing once I left the nest. I am my own greatest advocate because I learned from watching you.
  • I doubted my own pain more than you ever could or ever will. I thought for sure it was all in my head. There was no way doctors could possibly go thirteen years and find nothing if I was actually ill, right? You don’t have to carry guilt for wondering about something I couldn’t help but wonder myself.
  • You didn’t make me sick. You made me strong. You gave me all of the wonderful and beautiful things about myself and without EDS, I probably wouldn’t have been able to make these traits what they are today. I will work harder to remind you of that for the rest of my days with you.
  • Watching your child in pain and not being able to help is probably worse than being in pain yourself. You’ve told me so many times that you wish you could just take my pain. I know you mean that. I know you would ACTUALLY do that for me. I know that you would give up walking yourself if it meant I could keep walking. That’s how much you love me. That’s how much you have always loved me. (And some days, I’m selfish enough to let you.)

My mom’s point about not having resources to help her is exactly the reason I do what I do. She is the reason I speak publicly when I can. She is the reason I write this blog and share my story on social media, because I promise you there is a mother out there somewhere with a daughter crying from her pain and the mother does not know what to do—and if I can help one more mother not have to question the decisions she made because she read OUR story (mine AND my mom’s), I will keep doing it for as long as I can.

To all of the mothers raising children with chronic illnesses or who have chronic illnesses themselves, you are strong and brave and wonderful and even though you deserve recognition every day, you especially deserve it today. Happy Mother’s Day.

 Love you, Mom.

Wisconsin Integrative Pain Specialists Logo

As many of you know, EDS Wisconsin will be hosting a one-mile walk for EDS Awareness and Suicide Prevention on May 5, 2018. This walk is a milestone for the organization as it represents all of the work we have done to strengthen connections throughout the State of Wisconsin and bring about real changes for EDS patients.

We are beyond excited to announce that we have received a Hope Level Sponsor, donating $1000.00 to our event, Dr. Linda Bluestein and her clinic, Wisconsin Integrative Pain Specialists.

Dr. Linda Bluestein

Dr. Linda Bluestein’s decision to be a “Hope” Sponsor for our EDS Awareness and Suicide Prevention Walk is perhaps among the most fitting of sponsorship levels. Aside from her financial support of this specific event, Dr. Bluestein has been an avid and critical supporter of EDS Wisconsin. Her support began even before the organization was officially created and is rooted deeply in her passion for providing for those who have Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome and its related conditions. Perhaps even greater than the specific medical care Dr. Bluestein has provided for her patients, the work she does with and for them provides hope for our community—hope we will be understood, hope we can live with managed pain, and hope EDS patients can receive the care and empathy they truly need from medical providers. We are grateful for Dr. Bluestein’s financial support and just as grateful for the moral support she has provided for so many of our members and for the organization itself. She is a “Hope” level sponsor and a hope-giving medical provider, without whom EDS Wisconsin likely would not be where it is today. Thank you, Dr. Linda Bluestein, for this sponsorship and for everything you have done for us.

Dr. Bluestein’s clinic is an incredible resource for patients and we couldn’t be more thrilled to have her and the clinic as part of this special day. Please visit her website by clicking the image above or RIGHT HERE!

I had some glamour shots taken while getting my infusions done–enjoy!

I still remember my first hospital stay after my first surgery. I was 15 and afraid. I woke up from surgery, though, and everything seemed totally fine. All I wanted was Taco Bell. I would have traded anything for Taco Bell. I begged my mother to go get me Taco Bell–and she did, because I was her child, I had just been through a challenging endeavor, and it was a simple request. As far as we both knew I was fine. As soon as she left, my pain levels rose, I began violently throwing up all over my bed and myself, the swelling inside my cast on my leg became too much–and I pushed that call button next to my hospital through terror and tears.

I’ll never forget the nurse who came through the door and moved the curtain around my bed. I was embarrassed. I was “grown up” and I didn’t want to need my mom or help, but I was covered in my own vomit and I couldn’t move at all because it hurt too much. She didn’t even think a thing of it. She didn’t just do her job, though, she held my hand with her other one, which made cleaning me up much more difficult. She stayed by the side of my bed and held that hand, releasing only once so I could remove my arm from my hospital gown. She let me cry about things I was too embarrassed to say before she held my hand–I told her that I had a catheter in and I had my menstrual period and I felt dirty. I told her I was so nauseous I didn’t know what to do. After she finished cleaning me up, she stayed by my bedside until my mother got back, holding that ugly pink tote while I continued to throw up all the red Jell-O I thought I needed after surgery. I know I threw up on her that day. I still remember her pretty pink scrubs and her name being Jennifer. I remember she was pregnant and there is no way the smell of my vomit didn’t bother her. But she stayed there while I threw up and she stayed there and let me cry–and she made me feel comfortable enough to tell her how mortified I was.

I should have seen that as the start of a lifetime full of nurses being the warriors on the battlefield that is my chronic illness. I don’t know that I often have a chance to acknowledge all of the work all of the nurses have done for me in all of my years seeking treatment. It was another ten years of seeing doctors after that first surgery before I got my EDS diagnosis and there were nurses at every doctor’s office and dozens of visits trying to understand what was happening, all of whom played a role in me finally figuring out my life and my body. They were just as much a key component of my diagnosis as any doctor, because I’m not sure without them I would have been strong enough to keep seeing doctors.

Too often, when things are just too bad and I need help, it is an amazing nurse who has to take my phone call. I have tremendous doctors, but that means they see a lot of patients. My nurses have taken many phone calls from me crying that I need help with something. Those same nurses have hunted down my very busy doctors to get prescriptions filled, appointments squeezed into calendars and referrals made for me–none of which would have happened without their loud, booming voices speaking for the patients they represent.

Part of what I’ve sought to do through my work in real life and in the words on this blog is to advocate and speak for the patients who face a lifetime of incurable, chronic illness; what I’m telling you right now is that nurses do this one hundred times better than I do every single day–and often while being vomited on, yelled at, and not getting enough sleep.

This morning, I had my first round of an infusion therapy we are experimenting with for my pain. It is administered entirely by nurses. The first nurse attempted to get the IV in twice. I have wonderful veins for IV placement, but my EDS skin makes it so challenging. After she didn’t get it the second time, I was crying and she apologized so quickly, wanting to find a second nurse. She asked me if I was in pain from the needle pokes. As I choked back the tears and told her it wasn’t her and it wasn’t the needle pokes, but just that I’m so scared and I’m so tired of trying everything and nothing working so this just felt like another failed attempt already, she got another nurse to do the IV, but only so she could hold my other hand while she did it and tell me it was going to be okay. She sat there next to me and let me know that she was going to be there every second I was there making sure I was okay. She is a highly trained medical professional and she still fetched me a soda for comfort, carried my purse because it’s hard on my crutches, and asked me questions about the work I do in the city I live in. She couldn’t cure what’s wrong with me, but she did distract me for moment. When she held my hand as the other nursed inserted the IV into my other arm, I flashed back to being 15 and covered in my own vomit as a nurse took twice as long cleaning me up with one arm so she could make sure I felt safe and secure while she did it.

The nurse today kept her word. Katie checked on me several times throughout the process. She brought me extra pillows and dimmed the lights when it made me tired. She took notes on my side effects and fetched the emergency nausea prescription I have to carry in my purse when the side effects got to be too much. She made sure to offer to slow down my drip when I was uncomfortable.

Katie was a wonderful nurse. I hope she gets the recognition she deserves–but what strikes me is that she isn’t even all that unique. I have encountered dozens, maybe hundreds, of nurses with this level of dedication to their patients. If doctors are the generals on our battlefields, they are our foot soldiers–and I will salute them every single time.

What do you want me to write about next? Thoughts?

I was 26 the first time someone explained to me what FOMO was. I assumed it was a curse word. It turns out, though, it was the “fear of missing out,” this concept that you always worry that any time you aren’t “doing something,” you are missing out on “doing THE thing.” For a person with chronic illness, and especially a young person with chronic illness, FOMO almost seems like an acronym that should make our list of diagnoses…

  • Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome
  • Chronic Pain Syndrome
  • Myofascial Pain Syndrome
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Mast Cell Activation Disorder
  • Fear of Missing Out

I have always been the person who wanted to do everything. I saw my life as an opportunity to achieve everything. I made a to-do list of accomplishments and started checking them off. When I was 25, my health started declining. I got my EDS diagnosis and things started making sense. I thought I would suddenly be better. These last two years, though, my body has paid the price for years of not understanding what was “wrong.” I’ve paid the ultimate price for years of running on knees and ankles that dislocated. I’ve paid for the pain my gym teachers told me was “normal” and to “quit whining.”

Now, I’m 27 and my body is in pain a lot of the time. I see doctors frequently looking for a solution. BUT, I haven’t learned that sometimes it’s necessary to rest. I’m not always good at saying no. I’m not always good at staying home when I want to be out doing something else. If I had a dollar for every time I pushed my body harder than made sense, I’d probably never have to worry about bills for the rest of my days.

Here are the ways I’ve tried to cope with those days when FOMO isn’t just a fear, but a reality:

  • I made friends who understood. I used the internet and found support groups. I reached out through EDS spaces and realized I’m not the only young person feeling this way. I attended the EDS conference in September. There, I made a friend who lives in New York. BUT, she still sends me a text after every time she has  a doctor’s appointment. I still message her to check in. When I’m crying on the couch because I want to be out doing something with friends, I message her and realize she understands completely and without judgments. I’m so thankful for the friends in my life who don’t deal with chronic illness, but these connections who get it, they are absolutely CRITICAL on these days.
  • Acknowledge the frustration but DO NOT live there. If you pretend it doesn’t bother you, that usually makes it worse. Admitting you’re hurting over the unfairness of it is okay, but then, move on.
  • Find something fun and safe to do at home. We enjoy board games and video games as a family as well as play time with our puppy. Individually, I love coloring and painting artwork on my fingernails. Just because you’re at home doesn’t mean you can’t have fun.

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  • Find ways to enjoy the safe time. I remember looking sadly at a trampoline park with friends. I desperately wanted to jump on those springs more than I wanted anything in the world. I realized quickly, though, that it would take two seconds for me to get hurt there with my friends. Instead, my friends and I find things to do that are completely safe for me. When they want to do things I can’t do, I cope with that reality by finding things I enjoy in that off-time. My fiance and I spend time together and then I can meet up with them for a meal later. You don’t have to miss everything just because you have to miss some things.
  • Don’t push yourself for the sake of others. This is just not worth it. If you want to talk about this, I’ve got about 457 stories to tell you. But, it’s pretty self-explanatory. Take care of yourself. It’s worth it. I promise.
  • Find a good mental health specialist. I can’t tell you enough the value of therapy. It doesn’t make you crazy. Any person who pretends they could deal with endless chronic pain and a condition with no cure like EDS without feeling like they need someone to talk, frankly, is full of it (and you know what it is). I have had so many wonderful therapists help me face my realities. They are absolutely invaluable when it comes to facing this reality. You don’t have to be alone in this.

The FOMO is real. When you have a condition like EDS, sometimes missing out is for your own good. How you face that reality is up to you. You just don’t have to do it alone.

Remember, we aren’t a substitute for your doctors or mental health specialists. ALWAYS talk to them if you are struggling, please.

There are fun, safe things to do at home–like nail art!

I went in to see my doctor this week when he got me in at the last minute because of some major concerns he’s had about ongoing pain issues in my back, legs, and frankly, my backside. I have a wonderful pain management doctor and I’m so thankful to have the opportunity to work with him, but part of why I wanted to write here was to be able to share some of the raw truth I’ve otherwise written on my own social media posts in an effort to gain a wider audience for what I would consider my bold, unfiltered message of the side effects of this condition. This is the post I shared tonight on my own page. I hope it speaks to some of you. I hope it serves a greater purpose.

This week. What to even say about it?

I usually like to wrap up my doctor visits on social media because I’ve found that it’s helpful for both me and to aid other patients to understand what’s happening, but yesterday I didn’t. Why? Because I crossed the line from being sad about my situation into angry. When I crossed that line, I didn’t know how to tell you about it.

I spent my morning figuring out how to put on winged eyeliner hoping it would convince me not to cry in the exam room, but it didn’t work. Until you’ve had a doctor look at you and tell you he needs to “do some brainstorming,” you just don’t know what it’s like to go to the doctor hoping for an answer and feel just as helpless once you’re there. When he brought in a second specialist to start trying a new technique, I tried to be as open-minded as I could, but the last year and a half of getting worse finally was too much.

I choked out my tears and I told my doctor it was easier when I didn’t know what was wrong with me. I told him I wasn’t sad anymore; I was just angry about how unfair it all was to do everything right and follow all their stupid new rules and still end up in that room begging for help, asking for an answer. I told him I don’t want to do it anymore and I watched as that eyeliner turned into gray liquid and ran onto the plastic top of an exam table.

He’s a good doctor, a great one even. He told me what I needed to hear in that moment when I was completely and totally broken. But he can’t give me back the life I used to have—and that’s what I wanted yesterday, so I was, for lack of a better word, and as he said “scientifically speaking” pissed off.

So, here’s the truth. I try my best to be a role model of the chronically ill with severe chronic pain. I try to keep it together. But sometimes I get pissed off at my body and no matter how cute my outfit is and how great my makeup is, I would trade all of it for DNA that actually works.

But then I came back to town and I saw the people who build me up. I realized my mother-in-law drove all the way to Madison so I didn’t have to go alone. I talked to an old friend who doesn’t see me as any different than before all of this happened. And no matter how “pissed off” I get sometimes, I’m still going to be the girl with too many pictures on social media posting more words than you want to read.

Maybe someday they’ll cure EDS because I annoyed doctors so much they just wanted me to shut up.

Me, deciding to keep going even when that seems too hard. Notice the tattoo on my side. The EDS awareness ribbon surrounding the State of Wisconsin. I had them put a heart around my community–because the love around me is what keeps me going. Hopefully my words keep someone else going.

It’s 10pm or so on a Monday night. I probably shouldn’t be writing this post right now, but when I agreed to write this blog, part of what I wanted to do was be as real and as raw with you as possible, because I can’t be your doctor and I can’t make the medical “stuff” any better. What I can do is be brutally honest with you about the rest of it. What I can do is sit down at my computer when I don’t want to and write what’s actually on my mind. What I can do is post the blunt truth about the reality of this condition and what medical professionals generally don’t understand–and that’s the constant ebb and flow of the acceptance of your reality.

When I was diagnosed, it was this immediately rush of excitement. I finally understood all of the things that had happened to me all my life. I was 25. I had accomplished many things I had set out to do, but still, every day my body ached with a pain I couldn’t explain. Still, I had injuries that didn’t make sense for someone my age with my activity level. Still, I saw doctor after doctor and had test after test–result always coming up “normal” even though I often cried myself to sleep at night because the pain was sometimes so bad I just couldn’t handle it.

And on that day, on that “Diagnosis Day” as I’ve grown to call it, everything stopped. For just a second, my entire world stopped moving. I was alone in a room with a resident and I told him through laughter “don’t tell me I have EDS” because a close friend had told me two years before she knew what it was. He didn’t smile, though. He didn’t laugh. He turned his eyes to those 12×12 inch tiles on the floor and went out into the hallway to find his supervising doctor. He was excited when he got out there. He’d found his rarity. He’d found someone unique. He’d figured out a mystery of a patient who’d had test after test come up normal. He could put words on a chart that would make sense. He would get an A. I would get an incurable diagnosis–and a life that would never again be the same.

I wish I knew his name. I wish I could find him now and explain to him how different it is to be here now, at 10pm writing in my kitchen about this condition that changes everything I do. I wish I could explain to him that while he sees me as a breakthrough, I saw it as explanation and then as a curse. You see, I actually don’t ever see doctors as my enemies–not even the doctors who didn’t diagnose me throughout my life. I see them as the ones who pushed me a little bit harder. I see them as the reason I’m here writing this for you, you who might be reading this for a child who doesn’t yet have a diagnosis but who desperately needs one. I wish I could tell him that I didn’t need him to look at the tiles that day, that I needed him to look me in the eye and tell me that I wouldn’t have a cure, because until a doctor says those words you do, you never see your limits, you keep pushing your body too hard–and when you have EDS, that might mean paying for pushing those limits in pain and injuries. You won’t ever understand what it is to have a condition you’ve never heard of until the day it’s actually in print on your chart, even when the doctors say the words to you, even when you say the words to those you love, even when you write them down the first time–none of them mean anything until an MD etches it down in the permanent record of your life. That’s when it changes. That rush of excitement you have when you finally understand what is different about your body lasts for a period, but then you realize there is no medication to “fix” this, no antibiotic to take for seven days to rid you of this infection. Your DNA is not like a “normal” body and you will have this every day for the rest of your life. That’s when the excitement can become terror, anxiety, or depression. For me, it become all three. At once. It was super fun.

I’m here to tell you that the idea of acceptance, at least for me, comes and goes. Some days, I’m at terms with my reality and I accept that my body has limitations other people my age don’t face. I accept that because of how much EDS affected my lower extremities as a child, I now need a handicap parking permit and I will face the stares and whispers of strangers in a parking lot on a cold, icy winter day when there is zero chance I could safely navigate the entire length of a parking lot. Then there are the days when I refuse to believe it. On those days, I push my body past its limits. I decide that collagen is my enemy and I will conquer it. I decide that every extraordinary person said that limits did not exist and I exceed them instead of recognizing that I can accomplish amazing things well within the safety of what my body can handle. On those days, I cry. I cry over my laptop at night, because I think about how different my body feels. I cry when I think about the naive young girl who thought she could run a half marathon. I cry over the girl who thought the worst challenge in her life would be two leg surgeries in high school. I cry over the future and the things I don’t even understand yet.

But then, I decide life is just too much worth living to stay there. I have always believed those moments are okay. I have always believed that you are allowed to visit those moments of self-pity, as long as you don’t move-in or make it an extended vacation.

Tonight, I’m sitting in my kitchen, wiping up a few tears over my laptop because tomorrow I’m getting up at 5am to go to physical therapy at a hospital again instead of having coffee and relaxing before work. I decided to make those tears mean more than just self-pity, though. I wanted them to mean something for all of you. So, here I am, writing down the raw truth about accepting an incurable condition.

Some days, I do. Some days, I don’t.

But, every day, I live.

My staff had a whole day last EDS Awareness Month to recognize what I deal with. It meant the world.

This is probably the blog I’ve been most interested in writing since I agreed to write here, in this medium, for all of you. I’ve needed to write this here for two reasons:

  1. For those of you who understand and need someone who feels it, too
  2. For those of you who DO NOT understand and needs someone to break it down for you

If I had to list the most frustrating things about having Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, the first one would be that there is no cure/easy fix. The VERY CLOSE second thing would be that you cannot see at all that I am dealing with this very harsh reality. Unless I have literally dislocated a joint in front of you, you have no idea that I deal with this condition or what I am handling on a daily basis.

A Typical 20-Something Selfie

So, here is me. If you know me personally, you’ve probably seen a few photos like this. I enjoy doing my hair and makeup. I love picking out clothes and finding jewelry to match. I even paint fingernail art, because it calms my anxiety and it’s actually something I taught myself how to do during my many major leg surgeries in high school.

The problem is, that people who don’t know me, also see this person daily. The problem is, when I park in a handicap parking space because I wear braces on both of my legs under my clothes and regularly dislocate the joints that connect my legs to my back, people see a blonde, well-dressed, make-up 20-something–and let me tell, they are NOT quiet about their thoughts on it. I regularly hear from people that I don’t look ill. I regularly hear that I don’t look like “anything is wrong with me.” I read a meme once that said “When you say I don’t look sick, I’m not sure if you’re insulting me or asking what concealer I use.” It made me smile, because for a second it took away the hurt of realizing people are judging me every day without understanding what is happening with my body, without understanding the sort of pain that can come with my multiple chronic conditions.

People with EDS also struggle because we don’t always have consistency in our reliance on mobility aids or our need for assistance. If I had a dime for every time someone made a crack about me “faking it” because I was no longer using a cane or crutches after working my butt off in physical therapy and having a “good day,” I would be a retired 27-year old. Some days, I have visible braces on multiple parts of my body. Some days, I need my crutches. Some days, I use a cane. Some days, I can’t really walk at all and I need to stay home. If you think the inconsistency is become I’m faking it and not because my body is inconsistent, I will happily trade you!

I think the problem is two-fold because sometimes, when I explain the condition, I’m told that if I’m dealing with that, I couldn’t really look nice or put the effort into my appearance. I’m told I couldn’t be working or doing what I’m doing with my life. It becomes a situation where it is impossible to win, because I’m seeking attention if I don’t make the effort to conceal how poor I feel and I don’t feel poorly if I do conceal it.

I enjoy putting together outfits and wearing makeup. For me, when I look better, I feel better–if only psychologically. When my body feels like it is absolutely falling apart and nothing is in my control, I see no harm in still feeling good about how I look.

There is no uniform for the chronically ill. You are NOT required to conform to someone’s expectations of what a “sick” person should look like. You do not need to justify to yourself or anyone that you do not “look sick” enough so therefore, your struggles are not as real or not as valid as those more visible. There is nothing fair about this situation–it is particularly unfair that it regularly includes providing context for who you are and how your body is simply because its outward appearance doesn’t match its internal composition.

You owe neither an apology nor an explanation for that.

“But You Don’t Look Sick” Oh Well.

Hello Readers:

I was reminded this week about the importance of the phrase “how are you.” More importantly, I was reminded about how important it is to want and expect a truthful answer. Too often, I think all of us are expecting everyone we ask to answer “fine” or “good.” We don’t want to hear about the stress and anxiety weighing them down. We don’t want to know about what is making them worry about getting through the day.

For someone with a chronic pain problem, this is especially challenging. We learn how to say “I’m good” every time someone asks, even if we are hurting more than we can handle.

For the last few months, my pain has gotten much worse than it ever has been. My doctors have really been struggling to find solutions for me. While I know some in this community have a penchant for complaints about doctors, my pain management team is honestly a wonderful team of healthcare providers and I can’t imagine a better group of people to manage my life. Despite that, though, my body is putting up a fight. It isn’t handling everything I’m throwing at it. I’m having to limit activity more than I’d like and say “no” when all I want to do is say “yes.”

I’m not here to offer you medical advice, because you all have doctors for that. What I’m here to do is offer you some advice for facing the reality of that situation. I had a procedure last week that didn’t work. Since then, I’ve been in what I would consider the worst pain of my life–at least a 9 every minute of the day. Today, after 7 hours at work, I couldn’t even move it hurt so badly. Because I have always been a hard worker who never likes to admit I need a break, I waited until the pain got THAT BAD before I came home. I’ve also been steadily working on my graduate degree part-time for about two years while working full-time and serving on the city council in my community. This semester, with all the pain, I didn’t think I could handle attending school.

In both cases, I have needed people around me to reassure me I’m not a failure for needing the breaks. As I’m writing these words to you, I’m on my couch in immense pain watching another documentary on Netflix while I choke back tears–and I want you know right now, on those bad pain days, when you need those breaks, you are not a failure. If you need someone to tell you that, I hope you bookmark this post and read it over and over again. You are not the summation of the days your body needed a break. You are a summation of the days that your body needed a break but you are still LIVING.

So, here are my bits of non-medical advice for bad pain days:

  • Coloring books: I never tire of coloring. We keep a ton of them in our apartment to make the hardest days better. We keep a binder of my completed artwork just like a proud kid. It relaxes me and distracts me from the pain. It’s also productive and helpful.
  • Comfortable clothes: On a bad pain day, I’m always in comfortable clothes. I could probably live in yoga pants if I wouldn’t look so silly at a city council meeting in them. I also like to wear clothes that bring me joy. I try not to underestimate how much joy helps on these days. One example is–I’m a huge Taylor Swift fan so on a bad pain day, I’ll wear a Taylor Swift t-shirt that makes me smile.
  • Binge Watching: I’m only half-joking when I use the word “binge” here. We all know activity is good, but on a day when the pain is too bad, rest is good, too. When you’re having a rest day, never underestimate the value of a good streaming service–even for some bad television. I am personally endlessly fascinated by documentaries. I have seen documentaries on so many topics, I couldn’t even begin to tell you. I love learning and it helps me feel comfort to be learning while I’m resting. But…I also like binge watching reality television. Both are equally valid.
  • Fur Babies: My dog, Essex, is a prescribed emotional support animal and she gives the best cuddles in the world. If you have a pet, you shouldn’t undervalue their presence when you don’t feel well. Essex isn’t quite a year old, so she’s still pretty naughty, but when I’m in a lot of pain, she seems to know and she will cuddle up with me and try to make me better. I just adore the time I get with her.

    Just One of my Pain Day Recommendations–Fur Baby Cuddles (Essex, 11 Month Old Papillon) 

  • Writing: Even if you aren’t like me and don’t want to share with the world, journaling is a great way to release how you’re feeling. You may not be able to make your pain go away, but releasing how your feel emotionally about that pain is always a good idea. I regularly journal and doodle my thoughts about what I’m going through. I recommend getting a pretty journal that you enjoy and just writing down what you’re thinking somewhere you don’t feel any judgment.
  • FIND SOMEONE TO TALK TO: This is probably the most important thing. No matter who you are, we all need people sometimes. You don’t need to feel bad for needing someone to talk to. If you’re reading this and you need someone to talk to, I’m happy to be that person for you. Find a friend, family, someone in a support group–really anyone–you can turn to without hesitation. I can’t even tell you how often I turn to the people in my life. I made a dear friend in Whitewater, Lisa, and even though she doesn’t have EDS, she has such tremendous compassion for my experiences. On the days when it’s the worst, I know I can turn to her when I just want to cry and release how I’m feeling. I never feel like I’m whining and I never worry that she’s going to judge me. We all deserve that level of person in our life.

If and when you have this kind of day, I’m sorry. Today is that kind of day for me. Someone asked me “how are you” today and I told the truth. She told me to go home from work. I listened.

It was for my own good.

You need to do what’s best for you, too.

Gentle zebra hugs always,



Together we are stronger!