Mixing My Worlds!

IMG_0718A friend was saying just the just the other day that they follow a weather expert on Twitter and he is amazing. Except that he is also a budgie breeder and every now and then he posts about his cute little birds. My friend finds these budgie posts annoying. The point they were making is that people who love weather find him fascinating, but they follow him for his keen knowledge and insights. They don’t follow him for his stupid budgies, and if he keeps posting budgie pics, they will dump him and follow someone else who posts about the weather. They may not be quite as good as this man, but at least the followers wouldn’t have to put up with the stupid bird pictures.

The assumption also, is that if someone follows him for his budgie photos, they would no doubt get sick of his stupid weather updates and insights. Does this mean that the only people who will stick to following him are budgie-loving-weather-watchers? A very small group by any measure. Does sharing both of his passions in the one public space not double his audience, but reduce it enormously?

In my experience, the answer is sadly yes. I have found this to be the case in my own social media space. There are people who love my writing and my books and follow me as an author, but the moment I post something about my health issues, they unfollow me. Health issues and particularly chronic illness and disability or mobility issues appear to make many people a little uncomfortable. There is nothing cute about chronic illness, so if people can’t even stick around for budgies, why on earth would they stick around for something that they fear, or are uncomfortable with?

But I AM a chronic illness sufferer. This is in many ways the most significant part of who I am. I don’t want it to be, and I would never choose it, but it is my reality. I want my writing and my art to trump my disability, but at the same time, I refuse to deny it’s existence. Being an advocate for health, diagnosis, and encouragement in truly difficult situations is part of my passion and my reason for being. I don’t want to deny that part of me.

It isn’t fair, but it is the way it is. For the most part, the people who follow me are that small group of budgie-weather folk, (except they are the author-disability folk), and hopefully, there are more of them than the former group. It isn’t fair that in yet another regard, my health issues restrict my ability to make a mark on the world. I feel bad that I have to rely so heavily on fellow spoonies to support me and share my art and my writing, sometimes I just want to be “normal” in the big bad world.

But there are a few very small silver linings. The handful of fans who are not of my chronic world who still follow and support me are such treasures that I may never have had the opportunity to know had a whole world of healthy people out there supported me as well. So they have become very special to me!

And the other silver lining is that the chronic community support myself and each other in ways that I think one would never get out there in the healthy world. Of this I am sure. You are a gift!

I wouldn’t trade my weather-budgie crowd for anything! (even though I really still hope to make it as an author an artist in my own right!)

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Where you can find and follow Jennifer:

YouTube |Blog | The Mighty | Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest | Goodreads | Amazon

@JPeaSmith
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Which is the Odd One Out?

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Which is the lethal weapon? Which one has a head that undoes me?

Guess again. I can hold a hammer in my hand, and grip the thick, solid handle. I have always used a hammer well and in hindsight, I somehow must have learnt that using a hammer properly (using the weight of it to its best advantage and letting it do the work for me), was always good for me. It is one of the many ways in which I have instinctively known to care for my body in the decades before I knew exactly what was wrong.

The spray on the left is also safe for me. Again, it is a “whole hand” grip and a broad movement. I am sure I wouldn’t be able to use either of these things all day, but I don’t have problems using them in the small ways that I do these days.

On the other hand, the aerosol is my nightmare! I can perhaps do a 10 second spray if I have to, but that’s it. I hardly use aerosols anyway and I’ve never used hair spray or cooking spray, but on the odd occasion I need to use spray paint, and I tried again a few days ago. And nope, I will NEVER be trying that again! A single, small joint with high pressure, I lasted a few seconds and that was it, and my finger still hurts.

Why am I telling you this? People see me using a hammer to smash up a bit of tile or plate for mosaic and say “she can’t be that bad”. But they don’t see what I can’t do. The spray can, the tile cutters, the sanders that used to make my creative work so easy…

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Where you can find and follow Jennifer:

YouTube |Blog | The Mighty | Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest | Goodreads | Amazon

@JPeaSmith

Working With Mah Feet Up!

Following on from this post, a few people have asked me how I actually do what I do either in bed or with my feet up. I have become quite efficient at it really. I have a set up my bed with shelves beside it, holding all kinds of tools in easy reach, and I’ve made trays to work on which you can see as the backgrounds of most of my YouTube videos.

But I don’t just work in bed. I can work anywhere as long as my feet are up and my knees are bent. If my legs are straight then they slowly start bending back at the knees, which is not only extremely painful but if left longer than half an hour or so, they won’t bend back.

I also need to sit exactly straight (left to right that is, if one hip is higher than the other then I also get stuck or damaged), and must have support in my lower back.

So the bean-bag works short term when the weather is great for a fire, here I am glueing tiles onto displays ready for selling (more on that later), working on one of my smaller boards. My only problem here is a little someone who likes to join me! She always sits so close to me but at least on the couch or in bed there is a little room, but bean-bags get squashy!


Sometimes I leave out the tray altogether and just use my legs. Many years ago I found an old ottoman and recovered it. There were two actually and they are slightly higher than all my couches which is perfect for my legs. Here I am sitting in the dip on the couch (between the cushions) as it balances perfectly, with baskets on the ottoman and my legs as the table as I glaze clay tiles 🙂

So it is rather unconventional, but for the time being it allows me to keep being creative which is a game changer for me!

Where you can find and follow Jennifer:

YouTube |Blog | The Mighty | Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest | Goodreads | Amazon

@JPeaSmith

Frightened of Losing Your Diagnosis?

img_8897-1Before diagnosis, the decades in the wilderness where I did not even have the words or constructs to understand my pain and exhaustion, never mind anything to understand them, it was terribly, terribly lonely and very, very frightening. I stumbled around in the dark and had absolutely no idea where was I either going to or coming from. I am sure I did the old proverbial “walk around in circles” thing on many occasions without even knowing it.

Then came diagnosis. As I look back on the two years since then, the journey has been just as crazy. But it has been very different too. Diagnosis may be the end of one journey, but it is also the beginning of a new one. A way less lonely journey. Before diagnosis, there was just me. I had no tribe, and I belonged nowhere. Post-diagnosis, I have become a vital member of not only a tribe but an army. I am a Zebra, I belong to The Mighty, I am a team member of many groups, and I feel as though I contribute and make a difference in some small way. I have all the benefits of belonging to a tribe, and I no longer walk alone in this part of my life.

But that diagnosis keeps threatening to change. As each new specialist throws in their opinion (whether asked for or not), as criteria for diagnosis evolves and tightens, and as new discoveries are made, especially in genetics and science labs, the fear of being kicked out of my tribe is great. What would happen if I was told I no longer belong? What if was sent out into the wilderness again?

There are massive potential problems and complications for medical insurance and doctor options when losing the diagnosis, but in many ways, the scariest part is the fact that I would be back to where I was before. Out there in the desert again, a lonely leper.

But the reality is that the door to diagnosis wasn’t just about the specific diagnosis. It felt like it at the time, but in truth, it just led me to find a larger and more complicated tribe than simply the EDS Zebras. I belong to the Chronic Illness world which includes the undiagnosed! It turned out that I belonged to a whole tribe that I didn’t even know about, that I didn’t know that even existed, never mind how to find them!

When Fibromyalgia was added to my official diagnosis, I wasn’t stumped and lost like I was after the EDS diagnosis. Instead, I simply popped over to the other “department” of The Mighty, asked around my “Rare Diseases” community, popped the questions on MY Facebook page instead of having to search for new people, and had more answers than I could cope with within the hour. If I was to lose my EDS diagnosis tomorrow, I would not be all alone in the wilderness again, I would simply slightly adjust my position among my comrades.

There are over 200 Connective Tissue Disorders (CTD) and every doctor, no matter their other opinions, agrees that I, and my children, all have a CTD. They also agree it is genetic as we all have the same symptoms. Most of those CTDs fall into one of a small handful of categories, and we are very clearly (thankfully) ruled out of most of them because they do have specific tests. The closest fit and the only category left are the Ehlers Danlos Syndromes, so while we still don’t fit very neatly into one of them yet, the doctors tell me it doesn’t really matter which one because we can’t fix it anyway.

When I think about it with my heart I get fearful and anxious. I can’t help wanting to be more of a certainty. I am frightened of being a “token” member instead of a “real” one. The memories of the wilderness are all too near, and they haunt me in my weakest moments. Pleeeease don’t send me back out there to Leper Land! Pleeeease let me stay here in the safety of my tribe! I am a zebra, I always have been and I always will be.

But when I think with my head I know that for the most part, they are right. And no matter and change in diagnosis, I will always belong to the tribe.

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Where you can find and follow Jennifer:

YouTube |Blog | The Mighty | Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest | Goodreads | Amazon

@JPeaSmith

Monday!

img_8728No one ever sees me on a Monday. It’s really easy not to notice that you never see or speak to a certain person on any given regular day. No one sees me on a Thursday either. I’m not sure this is unusual.

Work people often never see each other on Sundays and church friends often never see each other mid week. It’s part of the ebb and flow of lives and routines … but most people see someone, most days of their lives.

Unless you’re on rest and Mondays and Thursdays at a minimum you spend in bed. Most people I know forget this. They forget that I write, blog, YouTube, from bed, that my editing and uploading is ALL done from bed. That even when I’m bad and sneak a day up, I’m home and in bed again by 4 or 5 pm. I eat dinner almost every night in bed.

So as humans, we forget, and we slot people into our own filters and templates…. and we scold people like me for making out we are sick when in fact we are SOOOO busy! Yes I’m busy! I’m also constantly exhausted, often desperately lonely, and all those things that I do, they require the effort of an army, the patience of a saint, and a purposeful summoning of all my resources!

So why do I do it? What’s the alternative? Do nothing! Do what I did yesterday from 2pm till midnight and do nothing but curl up in bed and watch mindless rubbish on Netflix and wallow?

There is no middle ground! There is no such thing as a “normal” day. I went out for a few hours on Saturday and again on Sunday. I loved on other people and connected with the world.

And I was bullied, and ignored, and pitied … not by everyone, but by some people, the kind of people who are self absorbed and do that to everyone. But I’m a target and usually one that can’t get away… and I lack the resources to fend them like you can.

I’m trying my butt off to make something of my life, to encourage, to make a difference, to be positive … and more often than not it confuses people!

I’m sore, always, and right now I have a huge mouth ulcer which means it even hurts to talk. I feel behind and overwhelmed by everything I want or need to do, and I HATE achieving nothing! I hate that if I walk for an hour on the walking machine my legs will hurt less in the night tonight but the energy needed will likely cost me a day of healing for my mouth. I hate that I can’t do both, that there aren’t enough spoons to go around and that I can’t boost my soul, my energy, my mood or my body by going for a real walk or a run or something other people can do.

I hate that if I can’t muster the energy to write, or edit, or achieve something else today, then I’ll feel even worse and even more behind! But if I do then the world will assume I’m “up and busy”!

But because I’m so low and my immune system is on its reserves, I have to be even more careful than usual… and anything I do with my day today could be costly!

So just a wee reminder: every day I climb a mountain. Most days it’s worth it, far too many it isn’t, and it costs me more than I have to give. Every day is painful… extremely painful physically and often emotionally! So to the lady yesterday who responded to someone else who was questioning me by interrupting with “you’re in pain, you can just say it you know, you don’t have to be brave!” THANK YOU!! And to the people who bullied me, thanks a lot! And to the people who judged me for being so busy and not getting enough rest …. well, what did our grandmothers say about “if you can’t say anything nice ….?” So I’ll leave it at that…

It’s Monday. I haven’t left bed since 2pm Sunday and I probably won’t get out until Wednesday at this rate… But I sure hope to be productive one way or another!!! Even if that looks “busy” to the world! See you on YouTube!

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To book a talk with me and discuss my schedule you can contact me on JPeaSmith@KingsRoadChronicles.com

Where you can find and follow Jennifer:

YouTube |Blog | The Mighty | Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest | Goodreads | Amazon

@JPeaSmith

Cross Roads!

img_9244-1It’s been too long. I had no idea how long in fact, that I’ve been away from this beloved blog, this voice that helps me get through so much of my life, and I apologize for my absence. Thanks to all of you who have stayed and not unfollowed in the meantime. It has been about 6 weeks, and I feel like I have been on a massive journey that I am still on in many ways. But I see some light at the end of the tunnel (and pray it isn’t a train!). I don’t want this to be too long and boring, so I’ll keep it short then hopefully go into more detail as and when needed, over the next few months.

  1. I’ve been away. It is winter here in the southern hemisphere, so we are all hunched down in front of fire places and heaters rather than galavanting around the countryside, but July is also one of three birthday chunks in our family, and a big meeting time for my other half. So I have only spent 6 nights in my own bed since the middle of June but I have been far and wide, caught up with special people, and celebrated birthdays in London, Oxfordshire, Perth (Australia) and Gosford (also in Australia). So it’s been hotels, couches, and 7 different beds… no wonder I am behind on so many things!
  2. I’ve pushed myself a bit hard and so my pain levels have been a little worse than usual, although winter is usually worse than summer anyway. So I have been very sore and wallowing a little …
  3. I’ve been reevaluating my writing and my online presence and while I’m not quite there yet, I am making some progress with finding a space that is less taxing but more permanent. I am reminded how much I love writing and blogging and I must be careful not to lose this …
  4. I’ve seen a new specialist and have a new diagnosis on top of the old one. Fibromyalgia seems to be part of the problem, and while I’m not 100% convinced yet, I suspect that I am in denial and don’t want another diagnosis.
  5. I turned fifty! It hasn’t really changed anything but I have felt loved and I think for anyone, the half way mark is a time of reflection and re-evaluation so here I am!
  6. I think I’m stressed because I am behind on almost everything, including newsletters and writing, so hopefully August is going to be a time of refreshing and catch up!
  7. I have given in to pressure and am about to start my own Youtube channel, which will mean back into the Facebook Live events as well …

Thanks as always and I look forward to unpacking those a little over the next few weeks 🙂

The Crucial Crutch!

img_2713As many of you know, I travel a lot (with work) and spend most of it in bed writing. It’s a blessed and interesting life which I am deeply thankful for despite the pain. I learn soooo much walking this strange middle ground behind doors with fascinating insights into unusual things. The back doors of planes when there is no ramp to roll the wheelchair up, hotel rooms when everyone else is off at their meetings, strangers who help or stare at me, or whatever.

This morning is day 6 of this trip and I realised by day 4 that most of the guests have eaten breakfast before I arrive in the restaurant at 9am, so I have it pretty much to myself. It is also only a few doors down from my hotel room and I meet almost no one on the way there or back.

I never go anywhere without my crutch but at home where there are wide doorways, no unnecessary furniture, almost no other people and I know my way around perfectly, I don’t need my crutch. So on days like today, it is tempting to go to breakfast without it. I knew there would be no one to bump me, plenty of room, and such a short walk.  It feels soooo good to spend that short walk, all of 2 minutes, looking like a “normal” person. It feels like a great gift! So I periodically I give in to this temptation to leave the crutch behind just this once.

Zebra Crutch!But on the whole, human beings want the best for each other and wish strangers well. So as I arrived at breakfast the waiters who I had spent the last 4 days getting to know, chatting to them like the real people they are, and trying to be the best customer I can be, were all THRILLED that my leg was suddenly better! They had never asked what was wrong with me, but we all make assumptions and seeing me with a crutch meant for them that I must have a sore leg right? So today when I hobbled in without it, one by one they all came over to say how thrilled they were that it is better!

Um…. no. In a few days time I will go home and likely never see them again, so it just wasn’t worth it to explain the whole thing, especially so many times. So I just thanked them for their kindness and didn’t pop their bubble that I am healed. YAY! I shared their happiness for me. But I was reminded, yet again, why I need to be consistent and never, ever, ever go without the crutch.

In a similar story a few months ago, my husband took my crutch out the car because he was collecting work people from the airport. He forgot to put it back in and the next day I drove to pick him up from the office so that we could join the overseas guests at a restaurant for dinner. We only realised the mistake when we arrived and there was no crutch on the back seat. We parked only a few spaces from the restaurant door and as he was with me I just latched onto his arm tightly.

We had the same response from all the colleagues as I did a few days ago here at the hotel; all were thrilled that I was suddenly healed. We then spent the next 10 minutes explaining the situation.

Screen Shot 2017-05-25 at 1.22.00 PMSo you see, it isn’t about whether they are right or wrong or the false hope, or the explanations. People are so used to my crutches and mobility issues and my wheelchair now, that they just see it all as part of me. Some have leaned in and been great, others have run a mile, but wherever they are in the whole scheme of things, we have found our new normal with each of them. And when I arrive at breakfast, or dinner, or at the airport or the office, or anywhere else, they talk to me the same way they talk to “normal” people. They ask about my week or my trip and share their own news. My mobility aids are no more a part of the discussion than a coat or a scarf or a handbag would be. But when I go without it people get excited and we land up talking about my health and my crutches and whether or not I am cured and it opens the door to a whole conversation that I am sick of talking about.

It’s not their fault and they aren’t rude. But the reality is, I do wish that I could leave it at home, or in the room or in the car sometimes, but I can’t…

Walks without crutches are short as anyway, but they are now only for home, family and a very small group of friends that I see a lot of … sadly 😦

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To book a talk with me and discuss my schedule you can contact me on JPeaSmith@KingsRoadChronicles.com

Where you can find and follow Jennifer: 

@JPeaSmith