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.
“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.
A feeling grows over you, nuzzling into the pit of your stomach that buzzes out to your limbs. It’s like you are standing at the edge of cliff but there is no beautiful view, just a worry so strong that it consumes you. Your blood feels thick as it boils through your veins, dragging it’s gloom to the surface of your skin, begging to get out. This is the feeling that takes over your brain, your gut and your heart. It’s the aftershock of a traumatic event that creeps up on you, tapping you on the shoulder and pouring itself into your bones.
Post Traumatic Health Disorder is a name I thought of to put a title on a common feeling that many people with health issues can relate to. Health anxiety and depression from chronic illness are frequent concerns for many people.
Common struggles for people with chronic illness:
- Missing your previous, healthier life and adjusting to a change due to health issues
- Having to cancel on friends and family often or change plans because of health
- Feeling secluded and like no one understands you
- Financial issues due to lack of work or missing work from illness
- Feeling exhausted and having a hard time keeping up with minor tasks
- Not talking about how you feel or your feelings because you feel like a burden or too like you are being too negative
- Insurance issues, scheduling conflicts and other general concerns
I often wonder why doctors don’t ask their patients how they are coping with their health issues. For some, they hide their anxiety or depression out of fear that their health issues will be dismissed and with anxiety. Why can’t therapy or counseling be offered or suggested after a life changing surgery or health event?
For me personally, my traumatic health memories sometimes even follow me to bed and enter my dreams. Having a small health scare, like a few palpitations in a row, can trigger PTHD and put a damper on the rest of my day. Like a dark cloud following me around all day, I can’t help but think of moments when my heart almost gave up for good. My lips turned dusky as everything around me faded out. My heart was struggling and chaotic as if each beat could be the last. My limbs lie cold on the ground as I struggle to take tiny drops of air into my lungs. My life did not flash before my eyes but a sinking feeling of worry about my kids growing up without a mother and how could I just meet the love of my life and be taken from this world from my family that I love so much.
It’s not fair.
I am not ready yet.
Every palpitation I get is a flashback of these moments. Some days are so beautiful and the sun shines, blanketing everything in gold. The air is perfect and you have everything the be grateful for but still sometimes those moments tickle your neck because you are so scared to lose everything.
You are not alone.
Finding local or online support groups are helpful for finding answers and a tribe of others who understand what you have gone through or what you may be going through. Seeking therapy is also a beneficial way to learn how to cope and work though stress. You are not alone. Burying your feelings or sweeping them under the rug is not a way to get by. Dealing with your trauma is nothing to be ashamed of or ignore.
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
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.
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.
Anyone can try CBD oil. Even kids and pets! CBD oil is safe and has been used medicinally for decades. CBD provides the medical benefits of the marijuana plant without the psychoactive effects and high produced by THC.
Here is an example of a case study of a young girl with PTSD from sexual abuse: Pediatric Anxiety And Insomnia
CBD can be used for PTSD, insomnia, anxiety, menstrual pain, migraines, nausea, inflammation, IBS, Chron’s, autoimmune disease, arthritis, fibromyalgia, and much more. It is my go to for all of my ailments.
Cannabidiol, also known as CBD, is a cannabinoid in cannabis. CBD makes up 40% of the plant extract. It is the second most medically beneficial cannabinoid, after THC. CBD can actually counteract the psychoactive effects of THC.
What I love about CBD is that I feel like I am in control of my symptoms instead of my symptoms controlling me. Most medication are taken every 6-8 hours, have side effects, can be addictive, cause withdrawals or long term effects such as damage to your liver. With CBD I can take it whenever and as needed. For example, the other day was very rough for me. I had a splitting headache, intense nausea, felt like I had just fallen from a three story building and increased heart rate. I felt aweful. I had doses every few hours or so and made it theough the day. Some doses even back to back. You could NEVER do that with pain medication or most medications. Then, I have days that are not so bad and might just skip doses all day and have one dose in the evening.
CBD is legal in all 50 states as long as it meets the requirement of containing no more than 0.3% THC.
Follow Blu Dream Health Collective on Facebook for more information or subscribe to this blog for updates and how to purchase CBD oil.
There is a High Times article on 10 Little-Known Uses For CBD states that CBD can curb nicotine addiction and also help with acne. CBD is a huge anti inflammatory! Washington Post has plenty of doctors stating the anti-cancer properties and powerful positive effects for epileptic patients. Cannabis can suppress a hyperactive immune system and lower inflammation, which are two important concerns in Autoimmune Diseases.
CBD is safer than aspirin. There are overwhelming studies that prove just that. Medical cannabis has never killed a single patient.
CBD can be vaped, ingested transdermally, sublingual or in edibles. There are capsules, creams, salves and so on. I strongly suggest that you do your research and get the best product available. I only use Fountain of Health CBD because it is Colorado grown, non-GMO, vegetarian, alcohol-free and coconut oil base. Many companies do not even list their ingredients. This is also the highest strength for the best price available on the market. I carry the 1/2oz size in my shop and online store [link available soon] and it is 1,000mgs. You only need 2-5 small droplets under your tongue (sublingual) and it takes effect within minutes.