Health, mental health

Battling Holiday Blues

Battling Holiday Blues
It’s that time of year again when everyone is filled with cheer and joy. Evenings are filled with holiday music, spiked eggnog and colorful lights glimmer throughout the streets and sparkling on homes. But the truth is, not everyone is filled with joy this time of year. For some, they may be missing a loved one or they are financially burdened. Many people live paycheck to paycheck and having to spend an entire month’s income on gifts that add up to the same price of your bills, is beyond stressful. Here are a few ways to lighten the load and help you win this year’s holiday battle of the blues:
  • Support Small Businesses
Amazon is so convenient and don’t we all love it? However, consider doing a portion of your shopping with local vendors or small businesses. Supporting a mom and pop shop can help that family to afford putting their child in dance class or braces on their son. You are supporting someone’s dream. You are also buying unique and thoughtful gifts. Small businesses don’t carry genetic watered down products. Their goods are full of love and dreams. There is more of a creative and personal feel to shopping small or local. Plus, you are supporting your community. 
  • Create Memories or Homemade Goods
  • If you are on a budget but still want to give gifts this year, surely you can afford memories or make something. You can prevent your bank account from causing you financial grief, which can allow you to relax and enjoy the season a little more. For example, gift your parents a homemade dinner and game night that you host. They can choose the date and come over and be spoiled. Or, gift your significant other a coupon book for massages, dinner, cleaning and some x-rated fun. Gift your friend or sister a night of babysitting. These are all thoughtful, free and memorable. Another option is making homemade gifts like candles, scrubs, art or even baked goods. 
  • Self Care 
  • During times of stress, we forget to take care of ourselves. Maybe skip a night out and listen to music or read a book instead. Decompress with a bath and wine. Hell, a bath in wine! Call old friends or family and catch up on the phone while you pamper yourself. Treat yourself to a massage. Mental health is just as important as physical health. Drinking plenty of fluids and making sure your nutrition is not suffering, is also important. Vitamin D and folate deficiencies can cause depression and anxiety. Pro tip: folic acid is a synthetic version of folate that many of us can not process; avoid it and take a bioactive or methylated version of folate. Just like the saying, “you can’t pour from an empty cup,” you have to take care of yourself. Herbal teas are a good way to maintain your stress levels. Kava, valerian root, lemon balm, and ashwagandha root are great relaxing teas. CBD oil is a natural option for managing stress, anxiety, and difficulty sleeping.
  • Volunteer 
  • If you still feel like you are in a funk, volunteering is an excellent way to bring you back to reality. Sometimes helping others in unfortunate situations can help change our perspective, humble us or make us more grateful. You can volunteer at a shelter and serve food to those in need or donate your time to a local organization. My favorite is the Humane Society. Walking dogs and petting cats is therapeutic and the animals are so grateful. It gives you a sense of purpose. 
  • Get a Hobby
  • I’ll admit that life can get stagnant sometimes, even if everything is great. Shake things up and challenge yourself to do something new like yoga, painting, jogging, martial arts, baking, blogging, flying paper airplanes… anything! Hobbies are outlets and we all need to do something other than work, poop, shower, eat, repeat. Find your passion and spark in life. Save up for a road trip. Plan fun adventures. Even if it is by yourself. You don’t need a copilot. Sometimes it is great to just let your mind wander and enjoy the journey. Waiting to live and have fun until you find someone to do these things with is a sad excuse that is holding you back. Learn to love yourself and your company. Make new friends and be open to possibilities. 
  • Don’t Be Afraid To Get Help
  • There is absolutely nothing wrong with seeing a therapist. Honestly, everyone should see a therapist. We live in a time where we are trained to smile and be positive. We are human. We feel things! It is okay to feel. Sometimes our friends are not always the best person to vent to. A professional can help you find the tools to cope and manage stress. It is literally their job and they aren’t waiting for their turn to speak. The suicide prevention lifeline number is 1-800-273-8255. You never know what is around the corner, no matter how dark this chapter seems. Your next chapter could be the best times of your life. Giving up hope robs you of that and spreads your pain to those who love you. 
Health, mental health

What Are You Thankful For?

Throughout my life, I have struggled with depression. Actually, I am lying. I am underplaying it; I have struggled deeply my entire life with depression. I never felt like I was enough. I never felt worthy. I was born with serious health issues and minimal care due to negligent doctors and lack of insurance. I chose the wrong people to enter relationships with because I had no self worth so my standards were nonexistent. I sabotaged relationships as well because I felt like I was doing them a favor. I let friends take advantage of me because I was happy just to have friends. Twice, I had to get expired food out of a pantry and I mastered making meals out of what was left in the cupboard. I cursed the universe because life was not fair. I have bottled childhood trauma up and carried it with me throughout my life.

I am grateful that one day I decided to wake up and appreciate what was good in my life instead of numbing my pain and feeling like a failure. I cut out toxic people in my life and raised my standards on what I expected out of a relationship. I stopped letting negativity consume me and tried being positive for once. I took my health into my own hands and advocated for myself and educated myself. I stopped eating like shit and corrected imbalances and deficiencies and taking care of myself and my body. (Also, huge props to correcting my MTHFR mutation which really was a significant part of depression for me).

I am now in the most loving, abundant and stable relationship I have ever been in and my heart is full of love and happiness. I don’t feel worthless and I know I am a good mother and if anyone tries to change how I feel about myself, they will fail miserably. I am strong, determined and passionate. I am thankful that I never gave up. I almost did, many times. I am grateful that I pulled myself out of the dark and loved myself. I never would have known this beautiful life I have now. I don’t know who needed to read this but I felt a strong urge to share this. Never give up! You never know what is around the corner for you. You are worth the love you give everyone else and everything is going to be okay.

Health, mental health, Unveiling Invisible Illnesses

The Invisible Battle of Chronic Illness

Ehlers Danlos Syndrome is an umbrella of many ailments that fall beneath it. This genetic disorder manifests in many ways; various joints and organs are affected and there is a large range of severity on each spectrum. None of us EDSers are the same. We call ourselves zebras because most doctors think of horses when they hear hooves, but rarely it can be a zebra. We are the zebras in the medical world. There is no cure for EDS but each symptom can be managed separately. It is tricky because we sometimes have several specialists to manage each symptom, or comorbidity, which can resemble having a full time job. Juggling this health conditions not only takes a toll on our energy but it also takes up most of our time. 
On a regular basis, I see several specialists: cardiologist, electrophysiologist, pulmonologist, cardiothoracic surgeon, rheumatologist, neurologist, otolaryngologist (ENT), endocrinologist, gynecologist, gastroenterologist, and of course my general physician. I also sometimes see a chiropractor for traction and the use of some machines to help build strength in my lower back. I don’t have access, but need to see a geneticist, nephrologist, ophthalmologist and orthopedic specialist. That is about 12-16 specialists every 3-6 months. If I see fourteen doctors four times per year, just as a guess, that is fifty six doctors appointments in a year! I also end up in the ER, on average, about six times per year and usually have one or two hospital admissions… on a good year. This year, I had a few surgeries already and last year I had a pacemaker put in. Last year I probably had close to fifty emergency room visits so we won’t count that year. 
An average day for me is waking up around 2am-4am with lower back pain, thirst and several bathroom breaks. I never truly sleep through the night. I have a dysfunctional nervous system (dysautonomia) and suffer from Neurocardiogenic Syncope, Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome, sleep apnea and issues with my body temperature, blood pressure, heart rate and more. My pain level has NEVER been under a five on the 1-10 scale. Not even for a moment. I usually have to be out of bed by 7-8am because my body is so sore when lying down for a long time. Even if I am sick, I have to get out of bed or the pain is so severe that I can not breathe. This means that I can not sleep for over six hours without a break, or the pain is unbearable. 
I take most of my medications and supplements in the morning. I usually start my day off with a headache, nausea, low blood pressure and a general feeling of being hungover but without the fun tequila shots. As I make it to midday, my entire body aches. Every cell in my body hurts. I feel so fatigued and exhausted, even if I didn’t do much. My head hurts and if I am around strong perfumes, chemicals or exposed to any chemicals in my food, I will have a runny nose, body aches and migraine with aura (visual disturbances). My lips and left hand go numb, simultaneously, about five times a day. No one knows why. My symptoms often mimic a stroke so I fear that one day if I have a stroke, I wouldn’t know the difference. I have chemical sensitivities that are hard to avoid. Wearing a mask and watching what I eat helps. Usually by 5-6pm, I am ready to collapse. Sometimes I make it through, with a smile on my face, because I try to live my life to the fullest. Despite how I feel, I push it to the limit to be the best mother, wife, friend, student and so on. I refuse to give up no matter how hard it gets.
By evening, I have made it through the day and usually my body temperature is low and I am freezing but somehow feel like I am burning up and running a fever. My temperature usually will read 96-97 degrees. It is incredibly uncomfortable to feel hot and cold at the same time. My chest feels heavy at night and if I lie on my back I start to feel fluid in my lungs. On a tough day, I will breathe so shallow while I fall asleep that I jump up gasping for air, with low oxygen and a racing heart. Other nights, I can’t sleep because memories flash back from the past when I was in the back of an ambulance or in the ER with chaotic arrhythmias. I close my eyes and hope to get to the next morning. It all starts over again in the morning. 
Depression can be a struggle for those who suffer with daily pain or frequent traumatic hospital visits. I recently came up with the term “Post Traumatic Health Disorder.” Depression can also be a factor because we feel like we have lost the person we once were and are prisoners to a body that doesn’t feel like it belongs to us. Our friends drop like flies the more we cancel on them, relationships are strained and many physicians don’t take us seriously because oftentimes these symptoms don’t show anything in blood work and we are passed off as a mental case. Many doctors are not familiar with rare, genetic disorders so they typically label us with anxiety or a catch-all diagnosis and send us on our way. We feel alone and like no one understands. It is scary, disheartening and frustrating. Seeing a therapist is important, as well as finding a support group.
Having an invisible illness is a battle and we all think of ourselves as warriors. We are warriors. We battle and fight every damn day. Tears are shed on the battlefield often and we watch our tribe through ups and downs on our online support groups. We have lost some and watched others give up. We keep fighting and supporting each other and raising awareness while we struggle to make it out of bed.
Always be kind to others, as you have no idea what they are battling under all that makeup and forced smile. And to those who are my fellow warriors, I believe you.
mental health, Unveiling Invisible Illnesses

Unveiling Invisible Illnesses – Depression and PTSD with Emily

You never really understand something unless you have lived it. Many of us don’t know how to respond when we know someone is deeply hurt and struggling. Saying something like, “be positive” or “everything will be fine” is not a bandage to anyone who struggles with mental health. It doesn’t make them a negative person. As a society, we are never told that it is okay to feel. We all are trained to suck it up with a smile on our face, making mental health a truly invisible illness. Take Robin Williams for example. He was charismatic, funny, talented and all around a great guy but yet he took his life.

Emily shares her story in hopes of raising awareness, letting people know they aren’t alone, and teaching others how to be a friend to those who struggle with mental illness.

What is your official diagnosis and when were you diagnosed?

I have depression and PTSD. I was diagnosed by my therapist this year around March. However, I have been diagnosed with manic depression since I was 14-15 years old.

Looking back, how long where you having symptoms before you got diagnosed?

My depression started when I was really young, I would say about 8 or 9. When you’re younger, not a lot of people take mental health seriously. It wasn’t until I was 15 or 16 that I saw a therapist for the first time.

What do you do to keep your symptoms managed?

I go to therapy. I’ve tried almost every depression and anxiety medication but they don’t work well with me. CBD tends to be the only medication that helps manage the symptoms. But I have to see my therapist once a week, we also do coping skills, like grounding, to help through panic attacks or flashbacks.

For my PTSD, I avoid obvious triggers, block certian things on social media, and I make sure people around me know my main triggers. I have to make sure any movies or places I go won’t have those triggers involved, so there is a lot of work to do before just going somewhere.

What advice could you offer to someone who is currently struggling with the same illness?

That the fight isn’t over, but you have an army beside you even if you think you don’t. Treatment is expensive but there are orginizations to reach out to help. I know it’s really mentally taxing to always have to think about your mental illness. You have to stay on top of it because one slip can spiral you. Life is so worth it though. The next week will never be the same as this one.

What is the scariest moment you have experienced because of your illness?

When your life is in your own hands, and you don’t want to be alive. When you are in a really bad low in your depression, your PTSD isn’t managed. It’s really scary being on that edge of giving up and letting yourself fade away. When I wouldn’t eat, or even move was my scariest experience. It lasted for a few months until my support system got me to a doctor.

How do people react when they discover you have an invisible illness and how does that make you feel?

As soon as someone hears about my illness, their face changes. They get this look in their eyes of pity, like I just turned into a glass rose in front of them. They never talk about it and pretend it’s not there after a while. It’s not everyone, but it’s the majority of the time. It makes me furious, mostly because I want to talk about it. I want people to know it’s not just me and there are other people that need you to talk about it too.

What way can others show support to someone with an invisible illness?

By being around and a voice for people with depression and PTSD that can’t reach out. With my illness, sometimes I can’t reach out, it stops me from getting help. Be educated in knowing how to read the signs of your friend or partners mental illness. Also know it’s not something that you can “fix” or help someone get better from. It’s a life-long illness that doesn’t always have a magic pill to fix it. So the best way to support someone, is to just be there. Talk about mental illness, keep talking about it because that’s what supports the idea therapy and help should be more mainstream and accessable.

I know you lost someone close to you who has also battled with depression. How has that affected you?

Losing Nate was one of the biggest eye openers of my life. Not only with him leaving like he did through suicide, but everything after. I learned about the responsibilities loved ones have after someone passes. Seeing everything I had to go through with his death made me realize how much my loved ones would have to go through if I died the same way. It’s unbearable. I joined a support group of people that lost someone to suicide almost immideately because it felt like I either wanted to join him or wanted to live to give that to him. The extremes in your grief are insane and almost impossible to understand because everyone feels them at different times.

Is there anything you wish you could say to him?

Oh, there is so much I would say to him. A good summary would be that I forgive you, and I am working on forgiving myself even though you told me it wasn’t my fault.

What are your triggers and do you feel comfortable explaining how you developed PTSD?

I developed my PTSD when Nathanial died. I did have previous PTSD that I didn’t know about yet, but this was the big set off. My triggers include suicide, blood, abandonment and certian trigger words like promises.

What type of advice would you have for anyone in the same boat?

You have to keep going. Even when you think you were doing really well, but have a panic attack for 6 hours crying one day before work. You still go. You remember that attack will not last forever; you will be okay. You get your “war paint” on, as I call makeup, and go to work. We push through but never forget to work through it too. Learn from every emotion you feel, learn what will make you happy and to start weening out the things that set you back into the dark. Because your light is so bright and it deserves to be out in the world for everyone to see.

Biggest inspiration? It can be music, anything…

Honestly, the people I am closest to are my inspiration. My friends and support group do things like invisible illness blogs, that help others who think they are alone, get connected. Nothing is more inspiring to me then helping people live their best life. My personal inspiration, having something to look forward to is Live Action Role Play (LARP). Making costumes, characters, relationships, meeting new people, being in the woods for a weekend fighting with boffer weapons. It’s absolutly an inspiring experience that helps as a coping teqnique too in a lot of ways.

Favorite quote:

“Everything’s gonna get lighter, even if it never gets better.” -Mates of State.

Three things you can’t live without:

My best friends, Spotify, LARP

What are your goals? Where do you see yourself in five years?

It’s crazy to want to do something so far away as 5 years with my illness. Recently, I see myself getting ready to open and own a bookstore/venue with my best friend. A goal is to finish becoming a licenced sign language interpreter. Mostly, in 5 years, I want to have lived so much, but still say that I have so much more living to do.

1-800-273-8255

Health, mental health

Sunday Unplugged – A Day Without Social Media

It is so habitual to see then number in the red bubble grow and to get rid of it. Or, we simply can’t just be in thought; we have to see what everyone else is up to or what we may be missing out on as opposed to actually letting our imagination wander. How dare we sit at home while others are checking in and posting their exciting life. This make us thirst for constant activity and new experiences rather than realizing that life is also intertwined with down time.

It becomes burned into our subconscious, to click the icons we constantly open on autopilot. We are addicted to superficial, instantly gratifying encounters behind a screen, rather than engaging on a personal and intimate level. When is the last time you made direct eye contact with someone and held a conversation? We so easily pour out from our fingertips but walk by with our heads down in person.

I started boycotting social media on Sundays and as my first day in, I already accidentally clicked the icon three times by 1pm. It’s not even that I must check it but that it has become so habitual to stay caught up. While working on my assignments, I picked up my phone a few times to distract myself. What urges us to pick up our phone to indulge in something rather that the task we are currently doing occupied with? We constantly need to disassociate our presence with life around us, to travel in a virtual wormhole into other’s polished and edited moments.

In the long run, it creates the need and urgency to produce experiences for our feeds to show and tell, pausing to capture it all in real time. Instead, we should share our memories after the fact. These habits can also be dangerous as to expose so much information from where our kids go to school to when we aren’t home, and so on. Many will struggle with insecurities from comparing their low times to everyone’s highlights. We often forget that our friend’s lives are also filled with low times as well, only they just aren’t published.

It’s time to start setting restrictions on ourselves, not just our kids. Setting times to check our phones or milestones throughout the day to allow us to indulge in social media and our online world is a great way to start. For example, checking social media on our lunch break and before dinner rather than all day. Would you be embarrassed if you knew the number of minutes per day or per week that you spend on social media? I know I sure would. Make it a point to engage with others in person or contact someone via text, call or email to see how they have been. How often do you communicate to those who do not have social media? Another way to help get the reigns on your addiction is to start by giving up a day per week to focus on yourself and your family. Creating these healthy habits will allow us to live in the moment and view the world in front of us rather than through a screen. So, the next time you are at a concert or wedding, put down your phone and enjoy the experience. Take it all in because the view is much better without a device in the way.

From my day without social media, I have discovered that even just by lunchtime, I got through my school assignments faster, I was inspired to write a lot and without distractions; my day was much more productive. I feel as though I gained many hours of my life.

Health, mental health, Unveiling Invisible Illnesses

Health PTSD – Warrior Status

There are some evenings when I can’t help but think about the nights when my heart would struggle to beat. By the end of the day, my blood volume would be so low because I was never educated on my health conditions or how to manage my health and had no idea what was going on. I would go all day without drinking water. I avoided salt because I assumed that’s just what you do, especially with heart issues.

Here is a quick run down about my health history:

Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome was just a small fraction of what I had going on. Last January (2017) I was still very in the dark about my health. Even though I already had four cardiac ablations for Supraventricular Tachycardia, caused by being born with an extra electrical pathway in my heart that caused rapid heart rates and extra beats, I still never had a real team of doctors who had my back.

Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome made it very difficult to have a fully successful ablations due to the extra pathways in very difficult and rare spots of my heart. My electrophysiologist often noticed two P Waves on my EKGs. The P Waves are the little squiggly line that shows where the heart beat originates.

After four cardiac ablations, I needed an aortic valve repair. This is done with open heart surgery and cracking open my sternum. My aorta valve was regurgitating blood flow backwards. This caused shortness of breath and other issues.

Having the ablations did not fix my rapid heart rates. It reduced them but I still got them and often. I needed medication to slow down my heart rate but I also had bradycardia (slow heart rate) so I was unable to take medication for about a decade. I would bounce from 45 beats per minute and jump up to 150, all day. I was diagnosed with Neurocardiogenic Syncope and Sick Sinus Syndrome. This means that my heart would randomly plummet, while doing simple tasks, causing me to blackout or set my heart into a scary arrhythmia. I developed a dysfunctional sinus node. The sinus node produces your heart beat, like a natural pacemaker.

Back to 2017… As if nothing mentioned above wasn’t scary enough, including my brief encounter with cancer, January 5th, 2017 was the scariest day of my life. Unbeknownst to me, my blood volume was dangerously low and I was dehydrated and creeping up to pre-diabetic status due to a careless diet and love for sugar. I wasn’t taking care of myself the way my body desperately needed me to. My heart went tachycardia, which wasn’t anything I wasn’t used to, but then the rhythm changed to chaotic. I was going into a potential fatal arrhythmia.

We called 911 and my husband (boyfriend at the time) held me in his arms as my limbs fell to the side, with no blood flow. I was going into circulatory shock. I told him I loved him and to tell my kids I loved them and the blurry lights in the distance arrived closer. Suddenly I felt my heart convert back to a normal (but fast) rhythm and I could breathe again and move my arms. This happened again and again, several times a week, for months.

I was continuously dismissed, labeled with anxiety and even prescribed acid reflux medication for heartburn. I did not have heartburn, I was having chest tightness and pressure but this was just a small example of being disregarded and carelessly misdiagnosed. Eventually, I had a 30 heart monitor on to capture every episode. The monitor was hidden under my shirt and robe. My body would shut down before the doctor’s eyes as he mocked me and stated it was just anxiety and an EKG or heart monitor wasn’t necessary. Despite my history and the fact that I was the happiest I had ever been, I was always sent home or they couldn’t catch an episode.

Six months later, I finally found an electrophysiologist who set me up with a pacemaker that I needed ten years ago. My neurologist also looked at the tests and confirmed that what they thought looked like an anxiety attack was my body going into circulatory shock. I can also finally take heart medication to keep the fast rates at bay, now that I have a pacemaker.

Like a thick gloom, blanketing you and swallowing your body, the memories take over. There were times that I literally begged for my life. I could barely breathe and my arms and legs lost color and I couldn’t move. My body would start shaking vigorously as I took small rapid breaths. “Please help” was all I could pathetically mutter to the unconcerned nurses who assumed I was a drug seeker.

Those six months still haunt me, especially at night. No doctor EVER thought to ask, “Why does this young woman have such a unique health history?” No one thought to do genetic testing or to ask questions. They all let me slide through the cracks.

I’m here and I am still fighting. I will always fight, until I can’t anymore. I am here to stand up for others like me. I am here to inspire others to advocate for themselves and to not give up. I am still here.

Even though my story isn’t over, I still continue with sleep apnea and my aortic valve has hypertrophied. I will need open heart surgery once again, with a pig valve and possibly in the near future. I will need a new pacemaker years to come. I don’t have insurance so my sleep apnea is not being treated. I don’t know what to expect in the future but I do know that I will love every moment that I am given.

  • Educate yourself on your health conditions.
  • Get every medical record and keep a file
  • Print information on your rare diseases or disorders to give to your medical professionals
  • Find a support group or therapist
  • Eat healthy and stay hydrated