As a kid you’re taught that you go to the doctor when you are sick and they will make you better. As I grew up I realized that rather than making me better, they were making me feel crazy. The horrible stomach aches, anxiety, severe aches and pains, exhaustion, the list goes on and on. It was all in my head and I thought I was actually losing my mind. As it turns out… I was a zebra. It started when I was about 3 years old. My parents went out and my brother was babysitting me. We were jumping on the couch and that’s when my elbow dislocated. It was the first time in a while that my mom had really gotten a night out to enjoy herself and here she gets a call that I need to go to the ER. They popped it back in and I got ice cream. Everything was fine. Little did I know, that was the start of everything. I had a pretty great childhood, my mom always went out of the way to make sure I was happy and doing what I loved. I was a baton twirler until about 6 or 7 and then I was a figure skater. I had a lot of great party tricks like doing the splits, contorting my body in every way imaginable, turning my hand completely around, dislocating my shoulders on purpose, and showing my “double jointed” hands off. I was a pretty healthy kid and the only thing I could really complain about was “growing pains”. I went to physical therapy for my knee a few times to help the pains. After a while figure skating became difficult and I started to complain about my hips. Around my pre-teen years, I got my diagnosis. It wasn’t official but after a handful of doctors misdiagnosing my hip pain and a failed exploratory hip surgery, a wonderful Rheumatologist brought up Marfan’s syndrome and Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. Basically he said I was hypermobile and that I could hyper-extend and bend in ways that normal people can’t. I didn’t look into it much. I finally found a great doctor who found multiple tears in and around both of my hips. I’m sure figure skating did a number on them. I ended up having two more very extensive hip surgeries before my sophomore year of high school. I completely forgot that I was even diagnosed with anything and went about Junior and Senior year and on to college. That’s when it hit me. I kept it to myself for a while but I began noticing that I would tire out more than the average student. Of course I lived in the freshman Hall on the fourth floor but I just seemed to struggle getting up to that floor more than anyone I knew. I wasn’t athletic but I was in decent shape so it shouldn’t have wiped me out that much. I had a lot of problems with my feet for a while and that soon moved to my hands, my back, my knees, and then my hips again. I got through my first year of college and onto my second and I started thinking that it had something more to do with thyroid than anything. I left the university and took online classes so that I could work full time (in the back of my mind I knew that walking across campus was getting too much for me to handle as well). This is when the chronic illness hit me hard. I remember going to the doctor for my thyroid and even though my thyroid antibody numbers were outrageous there was nothing she could do at the moment. She said those numbers say that I could have a thyroid issue in the future but I don’t have an issue right now. It’s like a warning sign. That day I got a speeding ticket on the way to my doctor’s appointment and when I got home I bawled my eyes out because I just didn’t feel good. At that point I was probably sleeping a total of 12 hours a day between sleeping and naps. I slept because I was exhausted and I slept to escape the pain. My mom being the saint she is, was on the phone with me during this meltdown and brought up that diagnosis from a long time ago. Ehlers Danlos. We hung up and I began to research online. I will never ever forget that night. As I sat on the couch watching videos of people with Ehlers-Danlos and reading articles… For the first time, I felt like I was understood. I wasn’t alone. I wasn’t a hypochondriac. These were real things and valid things that were happening to me. It was terrifying but for the first time, I had a community. That was almost two years ago and since then my condition has rapidly progressed. I’m trying new medications and after many doctors denying me treatment due to its rare and understudied nature…and saying my condition wasn’t real, I finally found a doctor that understands EDS. I am slowly making progress but I did just get another setback. I went to another doctor’s appointment but this time he referred me to a hip preservation specialist. I had no idea what to expect but her specialty is avoiding surgery and preserving as long as possible. After some X-rays and what felt like forever to get an appointment, she might with me and said that I will probably need surgery again. To those of you who don’t know, the pre-surgery hip tests are almost as traumatic as the surgery itself. I decided I’d get the test over with now and then let myself process the surgery and wait about a year. That’s where I’m at now. What is life like? Well…Flare-ups are happening more and more. Now that I got my hip test results back and found out that I tore both of my labrums again… it’s like my hips heard the diagnosis and decided to cause even more pain. It’s a never-ending cycle. My ribs dislocated a few times in the past year and my shoulder has dislocated twice within the last 60 days. When I go to the grocery store I get anxiety about having to park far away because I know my energy is going to be spent before I even get to the produce section. I used to love going shopping for clothes and now I know when I try on jeans or shirts something is going to pop. I love going out to eat but after work I’m exhausted and all I want to do is lay on the couch and fall asleep. On the inside my body is on fire and my joints are filled with boiling water. On the outside I am a working professional, meeting with clients and hiding behind a smile. That’s my EDS. When I go to bed at night, I try to focus on where the pain is and if it’s any different than during the day. I try to think if that pain point popped at any point during the day and if it may be subluxed or bruised. When I wake up in the morning I take a deep breath and from the toes up, do a quick assessment. Is anything dislocated or feeling out of place? Did I wake up with a flare up? How should I get out of bed to make this as painless as possible? Is my shoulder unstable…because if I push myself up on my shoulder then it’s going to try to dislocate. If I wake up feeling good I tend to overdo it. Because my condition has progressed quickly, I’m not able to predict when my flare-ups happen as well as I should be able to. I could be feeling fine and then all of a sudden I need to sit down because I’m dizzy and my body is on fire. I could be fine and then reach for a pen and then my shoulder dislocates. This condition makes you feel isolated because on the outside, you look like a completely normal functioning human being. It’s hard for people to understand that you can go from not being able to get out of bed one day and then being able to exercise and workout the next day. I am trying to be more vocal and open up about my condition. It’s not a death sentence… it’s just requiring some rearranging in my life. And most importantly I am still the same Katie… But soon you may (once in a while) see this Katie with a cane… Some days you may see her with a back brace…. Some days her hand will be wrapped up or her shoulder in a sling… But you will hopefully always see a smile.. Chronic pain is horrible but I’m not numb and I can still feel. I’m alive and I’m breathing and every day I am doing the best that I can.
I am a day late, but hopefully still worth the read. We have just wrapped the end of EDS Awareness Month and throughout it, so many wonderful things happened–especially as EDS Wisconsin launched #KnowEDS, an opportunity for us to educate our communities, the state, the country, and maybe even the world on the Ehlers-Danlos syndromes. I’m not here to write about the campaign, though, even though it is the most important thing we are doing right now. I am here to write about all of the thank you messages we should be sending after EDS Awareness Month. These are the people who have made and will continue to make living with EDS better and in particularly severe cases, POSSIBLE.
- To our parents: thank you for raising children fighting a battle you often did not even have a name for. Thank you for taking us to appointment after appointment and never giving up on a diagnosis. Thank you for staying up with us when we were crying from the pain our doctors told you were just growing pains even when we sobbed a lot more than you believed growing pains should cause. Thank you for never giving up on us. Thank you for believing we can do anything even with challenges and for showing up to all the events to raise awareness. Thank you for telling your friends about EDS and explaining to the family members who do not understand why your child or children is in constant pain, telling them it is real, making them believe us. We would not and could not be here without you.
- To those EDS patients we have lost: I have already written about your losses and what they mean to us, how they affect us all, but I want to reiterate what that means. You are so much of the reason so many of us are working as hard as we are. We will take your loss and use it for education. You are not truly lost, because your message is living on through all of us. We are carrying you in our hearts and through our words. You were brave and strong in life and your educational message makes other brave and strong in their lives.
- To the doctors who fight for us: Thank you for believing us. Thank you for learning about things if you do not already know when we present with symptoms. Thank you for talking to your colleagues and educating them about a condition that makes our lives incredibly challenging. Your fight for proper medication, proper treatment, and proper access to everything we need–that gives us hope–and for some of us, hope is all we have.
- To our non-EDS friends: Thank you for being there even when you don’t understand. Thank you for trying to understand. Thank you for showing up. Thank you for understanding when we cancel plans or relocating those plans so we can stay on the couch. We need you so much. Thank you for not being upset when we are sometimes envious you don’t have EDS. Thank for knowing that doesn’t mean we don’t love you or need you. It just means we are human and sometimes we wish we had a different life without the stresses we have and you love us enough not to hate us for that–and that makes you incredible.
- To our EDS activists: Thank you for beginning this revolution before some of us even knew we had EDS. You have changed medicine. You have changed lives. You have inspired us to write and speak and lead and educate.
- To the children with EDS: Thank you for being brave. You are so strong. You cannot possibly know how strong you are. We all do, because we were you and now when we look back, we realize what it took to survive our childhood. It affected our mental health to be in pain all the time. It affected us not to be able to do what our friends did. Please know that you are very fortunate to have a diagnosis and it will change your entire life versus what happened to us. It won’t cure you. You will still struggle and that is still scary, but your monster has a name and your parents are educated allies we wish we could have had. When you need us, any of us, any time, we are here. We will listen. You are not alone. Not ever.
- To our therapists: Thank you for reminding us that even though our pain is real, it affects our mental health. Mental health is as important as physical health. Thank you for helping us know that. I will never forget when I told my therapist I worried my pain was all in my head and he said “Of course it is. That’s where you feel pain. That doesn’t make it fake.” You are a critical part of our care team. We need you as much as we need any other physician.
- To our spouses and partners: Thank you for never seeing us as a list of conditions. Thank you for loving who we are as human beings. We need you to help us fight this battle. Most of us didn’t know if we would ever find someone who could handle what was happening to our bodies. When we did, it was life-changing. You are sometimes in more pain than us because you love us so much, our pain makes you hurt. We know you hurt. We know you wish you could move our pain to you and that means a lot more than you know. Thank you for wishing that. Thank you for being that. You are the strength we need on the days we do not have it.
- To every EDS patient: Thank you for being you and being strong. Remember how many people love and support you. Remember there is hope. Remember you are not alone. Remember so many of us are fighting this battle by your side and we will be there to get you help when or if you need it. Thank you for opening yourself enough to share your struggles. That alone makes you far stronger than you can even imagine. Thank you for being a warrior. We are proud of you.
I am sure there are so many more people I could thank here, but for now, these are the folks I think most important to acknowledge. Please know what it means for you to be in our lives. We love and appreciate you all.
It’s funny whenever I find myself taking a break from writing, it’s usually because I’m doing the same thing to blog readers as I do to those in my own life–pretending everything is going so well I don’t have anything to say. If any of you know me in real life, the idea of me having nothing to say is, in itself, hilarious. Yet, here I sit, at my desk, in my wheelchair, a dog on my lap, a TENS machine at its highest power attached to my back and I’m still not really sure how to write this blog post.
In the world of chronic illness and chronic pain, we all learn to tell healthy and able-bodied people we’re doing “fine” pretty much all the time. We do this for a variety of reasons, including, but not limited to:
- Our medical conditions are complicated and explaining what is going on would take longer than anyone wants to spend on hearing how we’re doing
- People generally don’t want to hear when things are getting worse
- Pity isn’t something we thrive on and we know at some point, it runs out
- Many people just simply aren’t sure how to react to hearing how we’re doing
I’ve been telling even myself I’m “fine” for the better part of the last several months, even as I fought off a severe infection that required multiple emergency room visits in which physicians did not understand my condition and in which I was time and time again not given the necessary antibiotics to fight the infection. I woke up one morning with a fever of 104 degrees, feeling like I was naked on an iceberg, and shaking so hard I couldn’t even type out a message on my phone. That day was our second trip to the emergency room. Even then, I didn’t get IV antibiotics.
I didn’t get them until the doctor who generally treats the pain caused by my EDS saw me for a regular appointment and realized how incredibly sick I still was even after 9 days on antibiotics. I was tachycardic. I had a fever. My kidneys were so infected the pain in my back was far more severe than even on a normal day. As he looked me over, he called the emergency room down the street and instructed them on my condition, telling them exactly how serious this was.
He also looked at all the blood work from all my previous ER trips…and then from all my trips to all the doctors over the last six years, which is when he noticed a commonality. I had alarmingly low levels of a necessary enzyme in my blood consistently for six years. These levels had been flagged in my blood work every time it had been drawn for all these years and are indicative of a condition found in 1 in 100,000-300,000 people. It is a metabolic bone disorder that cause almost all of the things he and I had been trying to figure out for years. You see, I have incredibly curved long bones in my legs. I developed scoliosis in adulthood. I lost my baby teeth before preschool. My pain responds to almost nothing. These are all MAJOR indicators of Hypophosphotasia, marked by these clinical symptoms, and below normal levels of alkaline phosphotase in the blood. He was the first doctor to notice this. Normally, in his words, because it is even less known than EDS, they look only for extremely high levels of ALP, a marker for kidney failure.
He immediately consulted genetics as I was sent to the emergency room for treatment for the infection, which is now finally gone. I received a message the following Sunday night from him (seriously, he is THAT dedicated a physician) letting me know genetics agreed with him that it is extremely likely I have this condition and would be contacting me. Genetics says it is either this condition or another metabolic bone disorder, but by some stroke of luck, a company offers free testing for this condition, so currently, my spit is at a lab after my husband mailed it for me, because I was just too anxious.
How have I handled all of this? Well, I stopped using my mobility aids and have been acting like I’m a completely healthy and able-bodied person through incredible amounts of pain. I have tried to convince myself it’s not possible I have another condition doctors missed for years, especially one that was IN MY BLOODWORK by acting healthy and “fine.” That caught up to me today, in the middle of a grocery store aisle when I dropped something on the ground and realized I couldn’t bend far enough to pick it up. By the time I got home, I could barely leave the couch and had to use my wheelchair the rest of the day, mostly through tears and anger.
I’ve resolved to accept my reality no matter what it is. In fact, it could be good news to know exactly what is going on with my body and why I have had these struggles that do not necessarily line up specifically with EDS. I’ve also resolved to stop saying I’m fine when I’m not. I’ve resolved to stop trying to convince myself I’m fine when I’m not.
It’s a REALLY good idea to work on your mindset. You can work towards a positive attitude. You cannot trick your body in to having different DNA than it does. Sometimes, like I have written before, accepting your limits is okay. Sometimes, when someone asks how you are doing, it’s okay to say, “I’m in a lot of pain today, but my husband and I had a great dinner date last night” or “Thank you so much for asking; I’ve been having a really hard time with my health lately and I need someone to talk to.”
So, I’m not fine, but by accepting that, I think I will be much sooner.
I couldn’t have said that any better, thank you so much Mary and Cam, and thank you also Johanna for all you do!
Registration and Event information can be found here.
This morning, just after midnight, we lost a member of our EDS Wisconsin dazzle. If you’re new to reading the blog or unfamiliar with groups of EDS patients, we call ourselves a dazzle, because a group of zebras is called a dazzle and we are called zebras.
Since I got this message on my drive to the office this morning, I haven’t known exactly what to say except that we needed to say something. As the writer of the group, I’m often asked what we should say when something like this happens. I’ve been told since I was a little kid my power over words was impressive, it could help people, it could change things.
The problem is, there aren’t words that make this any better. I cannot write anything in this blog that will take any of the sting away from losing a beautiful young woman at only 30 years old. Nobody wants to admit their selfishness when someone else’s life is gone, but in the moment, the immediate moment I heard she’d passed, all I could think was, “that’s only two years older than me” and I cried to myself in my car as I drove the rest of the way to the office. I cried for her, imagining the pain she had in those final days. I cried more for her family and friends, because at least in my belief system, she is at peace now–something she struggled to find due to the complications. Finally, in the most horrifically selfish admission, I cried for myself. I cried thinking about my absolute terror at the idea something related to having EDS could mean I only get two more years with my husband and my dogs–I cried more later when I read her obituary and about how much she adored her dog, because it was another trait we share. I cried because some days I am just so tired of people I know and love hurting and feeling like nothing I ever do is going to be enough.
I don’t want to write this blog as though she and I are close personal friends. It would be a disservice to her memory. We interacted online as so many do in the EDS community. I remember finding her faith comforting because I share that faith. I remember wondering if I could help and how. I wonder that to myself all the time, usually when I’m feeling like I’m not doing enough, because we lose EDS patients in the world every single day.
I think when you exist in a chronic illness community the way so many of us do, we find a way to connect to people. We feel like they are part of our families no matter how little time we spend with them, because in some cases, their DNA is more similar than the people we are actually related to us. They share our experiences. They share our struggles. They understand our emotional and physical pain and sometimes, they are the best sounding board for us. So, when we lose a member of our chronic illness family, we grieve them, because grief is human and we might be chronically ill, but we are human.
There aren’t words to adequately express grief. Grief is too complicated to be put in to words, but pretending we don’t feel grief is not healthy. Pretending losing a young, beautiful woman with EDS doesn’t also terrify us is not healthy. Accepting the truth about this grieving process means we don’t delay too long what is truly important–fighting for the people we have lost–and I believe at the end of the day, every single EDS patient we’ve lost would want that from us. They would want us to brainstorm ways to help their doctors be more informed. They would want us to get together and remember fond memories about them while also discussing how to teach patients who share their condition to advocate for themselves because in their passing we found a passion for even more advocacy. They would want to help patients with their passing, I truly believe that.
I hate the saying “she lost her fight with [fill in the blank disease]” because it is absolute nonsense. No human being has ever lost a battle against a disease. Instead, they found peace from it. Whether it’s EDS, Cancer, Parkinson’s, or any other condition, I refuse to ever treat another human being as having been too weak to win. Living with these conditions for any length of time is victory. Impacting the world is victory. When peace comes to our victorious friends, we will take the torch and we will keep fighting, because we will never let someone pass in vain. We will continue our work and we will continue our fight and we will remember that we cannot lose, either.
And then we will cry, because we lost a member of our family today and it’s normal to cry when you lose someone in your family.
Thank you for reading my words while you were here, Lisa. Thank you for loving dogs like I do. Thank you for fighting this battle alongside me. Thank you for allowing us to continue your fight. We will not stop. I’ll give my dogs an extra squeeze for you tonight. You won.
What are mast cells and how do they affect pain, brain fog, fatigue, allergies, anaphylaxis and even autism?
Today is the International Day of the Zebra. If you have EDS or follow those who have EDS closely, you probably know we identify with the zebra. This stems from the major issue we have getting diagnosed due to our symptoms mimicking SO MANY other, more common, less serious conditions and an old adage taught in medical school:
“When you hear hoof beats, think horses–NOT zebras.”
The problem is zebras exist, they have hoof beats, and they need to be seen. They need to be diagnosed. BUT, that’s not the point of my blog today. If you are reading this blog or follow this website, you already know that. What I’m writing in this blog is more about the issue that stems from this condition and the way it presents.
Here is a short, not complete list of the symptoms of EDS (Source: ehlers-danlos.com/The Ehlers-Danlos Society):
Joint hypermobility; loose/unstable joints which are prone to frequent dislocations and/or subluxations; joint pain; hyperextensible joints (they move beyond the joint’s normal range); early onset of osteoarthritis
Soft velvety-like skin; variable skin hyper-extensibility; fragile skin that tears or bruises easily (bruising may be severe); severe scarring; slow and poor wound healing; development of molluscoid pseudo tumors (fleshy lesions associated with scars over pressure areas).
Chronic, early onset, debilitating musculoskeletal pain (usually associated with the Hypermobility Type); arterial/intestinal/uterine fragility or rupture (usually associated with the Vascular Type); scoliosis at birth and scleral fragility (associated with the Kyphoscoliosis Type); poor muscle tone (associated with the Arthrochalasia Type); mitral valve prolapse; and gum disease.
In addition to having EDS, many EDS patients have additional conditions called comorbid conditions. Here are just a few you might encounter:
Mast Cell Activation Disorder
Postural Orthostatic Tachycardic Syndrome (POTS)
So, if you’ve recently been diagnosed with EDS, you have a LOT to look forward to (I need to get a sarcasm font, because I use sarcasm A LOT and it’s hard to tell, but in this case, this is obvious sarcasm). My sister was diagnosed this past summer. We were very expectant of this diagnosis shortly after my diagnosis, but very similarly to me, about her mid-20’s, she has had an onset of symptom after symptom. Just like most EDS patients, she is now navigating a sea of doctors–some of whom know A LOT about EDS and some of whom know very little about EDS.
Like most EDS patients, she will have to see many doctors yet to determine which of the other conditions she has. She lives all the way on the East Coast, so I can’t help her find doctors or be as much of a resource as I’d like.I don’t like to think about it, actually. I wanted to be the only one of my siblings with it–not because I wanted to spotlight, but because I know how truly challenging this condition can be.
AND STILL, my own sister, who has the SAME connective tissue condition I do, looks nothing like me when you see us side-by-side medically. While we both have chronic pain, it is in different areas and in different severity for each of us. She has major issues with her hands and fingers that make it challenging for her to work with a computer; I am fortunate to still have lesser damage in this area. I use a wheelchair more of the time than I am ambulatory; she is not yet using any mobility device. We share some symptoms like chronic migraines and anxiety, but still, at the end of the day, aside from the things that lead to a diagnosis, we do NOT look exactly the same in our EDS battle.
The Ehlers-Danlos Society released a video today. You can find it <a href=”http://”>HERE.
While the video itself is great, there was one quote that stuck out to me.
“No two zebras have identical stripes.”
I have noticed a tendency among those with this condition to worry too much about where they fall in terms of their severity and whether or not they “count” when it comes to our community. Working together to understand the symptoms we share and the resources available is helpful. Determining whether or not someone else’s pain is valid based on a scale of your own symptoms benefits nobody. If you feel you are less severe than another patient, you are valid. If you feel you are more severe than another patient, THEY are still valid. Most importantly, remember that we are all more than patients; we are human beings–and that matters more than any of the rest of it.
Since my diagnosis, some of my symptoms have improved thanks to intervention. I understand what POTS is and in general, I can keep it in check well enough it does not affect my daily life as much as it is before I even knew it was a real condition. Other parts of my condition have gotten dramatically worse. My spine is more curved than ever and I now use a wheelchair much of the time due to the irreversible damage to my spine and legs. I now have to park in handicap spaces and worry about judgment from others when I don’t use my chair. If you are a child newly diagnosed whose symptoms are much less mild than mine due to your age and early intervention, don’t feel less valid–feel grateful that people are beginning to listen and understand and diagnose. Early intervention is absolutely the key to staying on top of how much EDS damages our joints.
Let’s all love each other regardless of what our stripes look like. Let’s help each other no matter what symptoms we see or know or share. Let’s understand that EDS is a condition that exists on a wide spectrum and affects people differently, but what we know without question is that coping with the reality that there is currently no cure is MUCH easier when we have others in our life who understand that same need to accept reality.
Love a zebra today. Love a zebra every day, really. We could use it.
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.
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.
Want to join me in supporting a good cause? This #GivingTuesday I’m raising money for EDS Wisconsin through our fiscal sponsor Chronic Pain Partners. On Giving Tuesday, Nov 27 Facebook and PayPal will match a total of $7 Million in donations.
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