Body and Beauty, Health, Unveiling Invisible Illnesses

Unveiling Invisible Illnesses – War Paint

I always try to smooth my hair and conceal my tired eyes. I always dust on a peachy pink blush and a fun lip color, regardless of how I feel. This is the mask of an invisible illness warrior. Occasionally, there are days that I struggle to even lift a limb to put on my war paint. On those days when I bare a naked face and join society, I get told over and over and over again, “You look tired.”

When someone looks exhausted or drained, instead try asking if they need anything or offer help, a compliment or anything positive. I wear makeup to hide when my face goes pale while my blood pressure drops and my body starts going numb, ringing in my ears or the sound of my pulse takes over while my vision starts to sparkle or fade. I wear lipstick to hide the loss of color while I brace myself against the wall or casually sit down and continue to smile and listen to your day.

Every day is a struggle, whether it is big or small. On the really bad days, it is a lonely world and it feels like no one understand. When you try to reach out, no one listens because they think you are young and healthy and perfectly fine. It feels dismissive and disheartening, quiet and empty as you hope for tomorrow to be a better day.

Health

Everything Is Going To Be Fine

Talking to certain friends can be very difficult or even stressful. I have learned that not all friends are cut out for every conversation. Some friends are fun and want to talk about who they have a crush on, silly poop jokes or their current laundry situation. That is always great to have but sometimes it isn’t enough.

I often have stressful news about my health and I used to get resentful and angry that when I would talk to my close friends, they would immediately change the topic and talk about something mundane or random, having nothing to do with what I just said. It made me feel completely dismissed. The following day, sometimes I would think that maybe they would check on me and see how I was doing, but they never did. It was like I never said anything.

Recently, I had a health scare and they all told me, “Everything is going to be fine.” I am a pretty positive person and I appreciate it when I have a positive conversation, but sometimes I just want to talk about real life. Sometimes, everything is not fine. Maybe it will be fine again, and damn… we are going to try, but life can be scary. I don’t think it is always okay to sugar coat, dismiss and repaint a picture. Let’s talk what is real, make a plan, support each other and bitch about the battle. Sometimes people just need to vent. The worst part is that the scare turned into reality and everything was not fine. Their response to that was pretty much the same. “It will be okay!”

I decided to not be upset with my close friends anymore, despite their inattentiveness. I realized they were not the friends I go to when shit hits the fan or if I need them for anything serious. I think I also realized that I am usually the one they go to when they need someone or maybe they just don’t want to believe there is anything wrong with me. That is what I like to tell myself anyway. What I did realize is that I did have some friends who also had health battles and that I could talk to them. I also see a therapist so she is more cut out for the job than those other friends and it helps me to depend on them less.

Joining support groups online or on Facebook has also been beneficial for learning more about your health issues and finding people who understand.

It is important to know that when you are a warrior and constantly battling your health, not everyone has been to war. Not everyone is a soldier and not everyone understands. Find your army, keep your chin up and don’t let those in the sidelines upset you for not knowing how to fight.

Health, Unveiling Invisible Illnesses

Unveiling Invisible Illnesses – Endometriosis

Laura Kay Halcom from Rockledge, Florida is 1 of 10 who struggle with endometriosis, a painful disorder in which the tissue that grows on the lining of your uterus spreads to other organs like the fallopian tubes and ovaries. With no way to exit the body like normal menstruation, the tissue becomes trapped and causes pain, scaring, adhesions and fertility problems.

Endometriosis is difficult to diagnose without an invasive procedure, a laparoscopy. Often times it will be misdiagnosed with IBS or deemed psychological. Symptoms can range based on severity but can cause nausea, low grade fevers, heavy bleeding, lower back pain, pelvic pain, painful intercourse, painful bowel movements and fatigue.

Treatment usually starts with birth control hormones to try to regulate your cycle but unfortunately, some women are very sensitive to the hormones and don’t always respond to that treatment. Another option is an endometrial ablation, but it is not always suggested if you plan to have children. A hysterectomy is a final option but there are studies that it still is no cure and it is a rough surgery. If your endometrial tissue grows onto other organs, removing the uterus is not going to help. There are studies that nutrition can play a big role. An anti-inflammatory diet can help minimize symptoms.

Avoiding gluten, red meat, sugar, caffeine and alcohol can help alleviate symptoms and inflammation. Having a well-balanced diet full of nutrients, antioxidants, fatty acids and iron rich foods is important. Turmeric is a natural anti-inflammatory compound that you can take as capsules or sprinkle on your food. Having plenty of rest, staying hydrated and support will be your best friend for this diagnosis.

Meet Laura

What is your invisible illness?

Endometriosis, Depression, Anxiety

When and how were you diagnosed?

Endo: June 2017 by laparoscopic surgery. It took 12 years and dozens of tests for me to be diagnosed. I have had anxiety & depression since I was 16.

What were your struggles and fear after diagnosis?

There is no known cause, and no cure. Now, the treatments of birth control and antidepressants are just making things worse. I also fear infertility.

What advice do you have for anyone going through a new diagnosis?

Be patient with yourself. Keep records of everything. Find your community of people struggling with what you are fighting. Talk about it. Educate yourself so that you can educate others.

What are your goals and dreams in life?

My goal is to finish my business degree. I want to be an educator and an entertainer. I dream of my own business, where I can express myself through art, music, and nature. I dream of adventure in far away places.

Three things you cannot live without: Sunshine, hugs, and my heating pad!

Favorite Quote:

“What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?”

Endo Warrior Shirt

Health, Unveiling Invisible Illnesses

How To Be There For Someone With A Chronic Illness

Imagine you have two people who are not on the same page, let alone the same book. One struggles with chronic illness and the other is averagely healthy and maybe even deals with a common ailment here and there, but how can they relate when it comes to health? It may not come easy to some when they have never had their health jeopardized. It is important to build a bridge to have a connection with your family or friend.

Invisible Illnesses

Perhaps your friend or loved one has an invisible illness. This means that they look healthy on the outside but on the inside they struggle with an illness like diabetes, lupus, PTSD, POTS, Thyroid diseases, Cardiac and Neurological diseases, to name a few.

We all have our own battles.

It can be tough to look at someone who looks fully capable of living life the way you do but we are all different. Understand that just because you may be healthy and can juggle so many tasks, does not mean it comes easy for others.

It is important to recognize that with all things, there is a spectrum. With chronic illnesses, that spectrum can vary day to day. One morning, we may have so much energy that we can clean the house and go out to get lunch but the next morning we may be bedridden.

Personally, putting on makeup every day is my way of putting on war paint. I hide my dark circles from waking up every hour. I conceal the redness in my face or sometimes add blush to my pale skin. When I look well, I don’t get asked if I am sick or told I look tired. I feel normal and ready to take on the day.

Just because you friend or loved one looks put together and seems young and healthy, doesn’t mean she wasn’t up at 4am with severe back spasms and again at 5am feeling dehydrated and again at 6am in more pain and a numb arm until it is finally time to get up for the day. She probably got dizzy a few different times while her blood pressure dropped, causing nausea and tachycardia. Be grateful she answered the phone or showed up for lunch and she we be grateful for you.

The Spoon Theory

The Spoon Theory is a metaphor to explain the limited energy that someone with an invisible or chronic illness struggles with. Say you get 12 spoons each day and each task costs a spoon or two. Sometimes a shower can cost 2 spoons on a rough day. Going to work can cost a lot of spoons as well. Cleaning the kitchen? That will be 3 spoons! Sometimes if you push yourself too hard, it costs spoons from the next day which will leave you in bed with limited spoons.

We call people “Spoonies” who fit in to the Spoon Theory.

How to be there for a Spoonie:

  • Understanding – The fact that you have read this so far is already a huge deal for your Spoonie. Trying to understand what life is like for your friend or loved one shows a lot of compassion and empathy. This is your biggest step and the most important. For some, we are constantly judged, assumed we are lazy, told it is in our head, called a hypochondriac or just straight up dismissed. Certain medical conditions sometimes take up to a decade or longer to get diagnosed. Often times there are several misdiagnosis’s and even people get left in a grey area where no one knows what to do. We feel alone and lost.
  • Keep Your Ideals To Yourself – We appreciate your concerns, absolutely. I can vouch for myself that I have done plenty of research, am fully aware of my body and what is normal for me, have a strict diet with optimal nutrition and supplements, non drinker, non smoker and always staying positive as well as seeing a therapist. My health is a full time job. You can’t even pronounce what illnesses I have so please don’t try to cure me. Of course, we appreciate advice but keep it simple and keep it at that. Do not try to push your ideals on someone or tell them if they exercise more they will feel better or that they can meditate to a cure. All we want is a shoulder to cry on, a listening ear, positive vibes and understanding.
  • If You Are Sick, Stay Away! – Seriously, some of us have compromised immune systems and if you have a cold or flu and bring your germs to anyone, even a healthy person, it is just simply rude. If you bring your germs to someone who is already ill, it is cruel. We don’t fight infections and other illnesses very well and most of the time it makes our other issues worse and for some, it could mean a trip to the hospital.
  • Social Gatherings – There is a good chance we might not make it to your event or night out. I can assure you that we wish we were there but more often than not, our health makes us flakey friends. Please don’t stop inviting us! We will always try, even if the chances are slim. Also, please don’t get upset with us if we don’t make it. We would rather be out having fun with you than stuck in bed.
  • Know That We Are Fighting A Battle – If we seem a little off, let us be a little off. There are countless times when I was hanging out with someone while my vision blurred and I start seeing stars, getting light headed and heart palpitations but I push through because this is my normal life. Something that has always bothered me was when strangers, coworkers or peers say “Smile! It can’t be that bad!” Well, maybe I am struggling with an ocular migraine that day, low blood pressure or didn’t sleep well, so if I have a case of resting bitch face then let it be. I know it could always be worse but I am here, smile or not!
  • My Illness Does Not Define Me – I am a strong warrior. I love art, music, travel, culture, anything vintage, food, nature, giving back and being creative. I can be sensitive but I persevere and I keep my chin up. I have not given up and I won’t. I have bad days but I climb above it and stay positive, even it it is a full time job. I am not my illness. However, it is part of my life, whether big or small. It may affect me but it is not who I am.

Health

Day 5 Postoperative Pacemaker Update 

The past couple of days have been rough.  I have had sugar the last two days when I felt worse so I am hoping eliminating sugar again will help. I usually don’t have sugar in my diet but caved and had some dairy free Ben & Jerry’s almond ice cream. Basically, I have been having PACs, which feel like extra heart beats and bouts of Inappropriate Sinus Tachycardia. I have had these issues prior to the pacemaker that I just got on June 8th (2017) but was unable to take medication due to chronic Bradycardia, a slow heart rate. Now that I have the pacemaker as a safety net, I am able to take medication to help with the other issues. At this point, I have to wait 6 weeks to let the pacemaker fully heal and the meds to kick in and then we can re-evaluate the situation and discuss a possible Cardiac Ablation, which would be my 5th. I would then be 100% paced. I am trying to be positive and hope that avoiding sugar will help calm things down and that my heart is just angry and still needs to heal and adjust. In these last two days I have had PACs every single minute, sometimes more, sometimes less and about 5-10 episodes of Inappropriate Sinus Tachycardia (IST) each day. The IST will kick in randomly, often when I lie down from sitting up. My heart rate goes from 60s to 140s in seconds and my chest feels tight and constricted while my lips get cold and tingle or go numb. It is VERY uncomfortable and annoying, to say the least. The PACs sometimes will feel so strong that they jolt me out of bed. 

 I saw the doctor today and am still paced in the 80 percentile and they were surprised to see how often it kicked in. When my heart rate was higher from walking or with activity, it would have dropped and I could have passed out had the pace maker not been there. That is called Neurocardiogenic Syncope, which was confirmed in a Tilt Table Test I had a few weeks back. I am suffering from Dysautonomia but have not found the right doctor to determine why. I am currently trying to find a good rheumatologist to look into a proper diagnosis. Most signs point to Lupus (SLE) but nothing is set in stone. I definitely can tell how beneficial this pacemaker is and a life changer at that, I just really need to get the the bottom of what is causing my body to suffer. 

I guess I just get worried because I also have had open heart surgery in 2011 for severe Aortic Insufficiency. I had my valve repaired and currently all 4 valves have mild insufficiency. I also have thickening on my aortic valve and a thickened heart muscle with slight left ventricular enlargement. With all of this and an undiagnosed auto immune disease, I sometimes have a hard time keeping my chin up. I also have recently discovered that I have multiple complex cysts on my thyroid, which will need to be biopsied for cancer. 

Never take your health for granted. It is really tough being patient and waiting AND WAITING for answers. In the mean time, I am home in bed and away from my salon. I would love to be back to work and travel and run around and feel free again. I am currently trying to get disability so that I can ensure medical coverage (since there will likely be billions of dollars in cuts for Medicaid) and qualify to go to the Mayo Clinic so that I can get the proper care and treatment that I have needed for a decade or so.

I think that is all for now. Rubix cube still being solved. To be continued….

Health

What is normal?

Throughout my entire life, I have been living with chronic ailments. I remember being in  grade school screaming in pain from stomach issues. 


I remember when I was 7 years old, running around and my heart felt like it a hummingbird and I would get dizzy. The adults said that it was normal to have your heart rate increase when you run around. My softball coach in 4th grade would tell me to keep going. What they did not know is that my heart was in the 250 beats per minute range. When I was 15, the school nurse finally caught on. Supraventricular Tachycardia. They said I would outgrow it but it got worse and more frequent. It would happen 20 times a day. It was exhausting. But, this was my normal. 


I have always suffered from migraines, chronic pain, depression and fatigue. Every day I had a complaint and after years of being told I was just a hypochondriac, I stopped bitching about it. This was my normal. Normal was insomnia. Normal was waking up at 4am every morning in pain. Normal hurts. I’m normal. Suck it up, Misti! 

I discovered CBD Oil after a recent two month long streak in and out of ambulance rides, ERs and hospital admissions. “Everything is fine”, they said. “This is anxiety”, they laughed. I never felt worse and I thought my life was coming to an end. I went back to the hospitals I had been to, down to the the medical records department and got copies of every single record from the last two months. No, I was not having anxiety attacks. My neutrophils were dangerously low, lymphocytes high, my bun/creatinine was very elevated… to name a few. My 30 day heart rhythm monitor was a scary mess. The nurses and doctor mocked me out the door, dismissing my concerns. “Everything is normal.” Needless to say, my third electrophysiologist is the one. Third one is a charm, I guess. Everything was not normal. My body was giving up on me. I was withering away and living in fear of each day being my last day on Earth. I have three amazing children and the love of my life by my side to fight for. 


*Photo by Arlene Jacobs

After countless hours of research and second and third opinions, I demanded to get my ANA tested, which determines if you have an autoimmune disease. Though, they thought it was excessive and unnecessary, they placed the lab orders anyway. It was positive. 


Had I known this 15 years ago, before 4 cardiac ablations, one open heart surgery, preterm pregnancies, endometrial ablation, hysterectomy consults, years of self medicating with marijuana and wine, chronic episodes of depression, decades of minimal sleep to the point where I had sleep paralysis, endless pain and so on…. I could have gotten the right treatment and care and changed my diet and learned how to manage my health conditions. 



I should not be here. If I listened to my doctors and did not put up a fight, I could be dead. If I did not take aspirin each time I began heart attack symptoms, I may have not made it. I was having vasospasms, spasms of the arteries and vascular system, which was constricting blood flow to my heart and extremities. I was going into circulatory shock from sinus node dysfunction. And to think, they suggested Xanax and sent me out the door!

I have not been back to the ER in a month, since my last hospital admission, which lasted 5 days of no answers. I imagine it is a number of reasons: new heart medications, CBD oil, bedside essential oil diffuser, removing sugar and preservatives from my diet, finding  out my allergies and triggers. CBD is a huge anti-inflammatory and helps with pain, nauseous, spasms, and sleep disorders, which are a few of my medical issues. I sleep so much better! I can keep my heart rate down and blood pressure lowered and stay calm and relaxed. My menstrual cycle is no big deal now. Leg cramps and pain throughout my body is now managed and I am in much better spirits! CBD oil is such an important alternative to the slew of pharmaceutical drugs that have been pushed my way. 

Every day is a new day. I take each day at a time, treat my body right and eat healthy. I still have a lot of pain and now need a pacemaker but at least I am getting answer. I even got genetic testing for Elhers Danlos Syndrome which is also something I pushed during my endless research since I fit the criteria very well. 

Doctors look and me and say I look great. I look healthy. I look fine. 

I cannot stress enough how important it is to be your own advocate and educate yourself. Put up a fight! Take care of your body.