Which draws blood?

This is a follow-on from THIS story, where I tried to explain that it is not the obvious that breaks me. This is another really tangible way I can explain what it likes to have my particular Connective Tissue Disorder.

An Orange, or pair of scissors … which one draws blood?

I love scissors. I don’t know what it is, but cutting paper, fabric, anything really, brings out the creative best in me. A bad pair of scissors is a nightmare for anyone if they don’t cut well, dig into the skin etc, but with a good pair, one that fits my thumb and forefinger perfectly, I can spend hours cutting and I’m fine.

But I have never been able to peel an orange. There is so much about a connective tissue disorder that is very hard to measure, but orange peel is a great example of something that is measurable for me. When a healthy person digs their fingernail under the skin of an orange, even the most resistant peel will always give way before the fingernail gives way from the flesh of their finger right?

But for me, it is the other way round. Even the softest peel sticks stronger to the flesh of the orange than my fingernail sticks to my finger. It is always, and by always I truly mean always, the peel that wins and my fingernail that loses. It is extremely sore, especially as the acidic juice gets into the bloody wound…

So all my life I have either avoided oranges altogether (which I have become allergic to anyway, but that’s a story for another day), or used a knife and spoon to peel them.

You know how you physically cringe when you think of stubbing your toe badly or slamming your fingers in the car door? That’s how I feel at the mere thought of peeling an orange!

Invisible illnesses and conditions are very hard to measure; Pain impossible, along with his ugly cousin Fatigue.

 

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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:

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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:

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Meet Chrisjan, Guest post…

Today we have a guest post from Helene, who has so generously sent me her own story with EDS, and I decided that as she clearly written it from her heart and share’d so honestly, I will leave it in her own words and let her speak. For me, it is a huge reminder that life happens to all of us and that chronic illness gives no one a “get-out-of-jail-free” card from the rest of life’s challenges. In other words, you don’t get a chronic illness instead of other things, you get it as well.
Here she is will her gorgeous son Chrisjan:

Screen Shot 2017-05-30 at 5.10.49 PM“Good Afternoon, I am Helene and my son is Chrisjan and he is 13 and has been diagnosed with Hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome or hEDS.

I have two children, my daughter is 15 and a wonderful child. Straight A’s in school since grade one. Chrisjan has been a bit difficult. Both my children were prem babies, my daughter at 33 weeks and son at 36 weeks, due to an incompetent cervix and cervical cancer. In 2009 their father passed away from White Matter Disease (early onset Alzheimers).
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We moved to Durban so I could work and have my children taken care of. In early 2011 Chrisjan showed signs of ADHD and we had him assessed and it was confirmed. He is on medication for ADHD and depression as well as Sleep Disorder. In 2015 just after I remarried I had to stop working as Chrisjan struggled a lot with eating and muscle wastage. Due to not having medical aid, we turned to the government hospitals for help where they did all the tests you could think of, from MRI to EEG, ECG to numerous blood tests, and we found out November 2016 he has EDS.
He has been stopped from playing all sport in 2015 already and he loves his sport so much. In October 2016 my husband had a seizure and was paralysed on his left side. He lost his work due to it, at least he can walk now but He has a heart condition which is still under investigation and has been diagnosed with Functional Neurological Disorder. I have been looking for work but it has not been easy.
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Chrisjan also has a small heart (equivalent to a 7-year-old) and struggles some days in simple tasks. He has twice hurt himself where he needed stitches, once in his index finger (for this he had to undergo anaesthetic) and once he cut his left palm.
Amidst all that, my son is a happy and content child. We have now started investigating into why he is unable to eat properly and is severely underweight. He only weighs 30 kg. He walks around with a bit of difficulty, his left knee is aching a lot as they said the cushion is worn through.  His right ring finger is in a bent position, and he cannot straighten it which causes problems when he writes. His right shoulder blade in severely malformed and it is shorter than the left. I am at the point where I do not allow him to walk without a T-shirt as I cannot bear looking at him and counting all his protruding bones.
He is brave as he seldom asks for painkillers, only when he has a migraine. Puberty has not hit him yet which is what I am afraid of in the near future.
And that is our story on a short end. “
Thanks Helene so much for your story!

img_3636If you would like me to share your story with any chronic illness please email me on: JPeaSmith@KingsRoadChronicles.com

Where you can find and follow Jennifer: 

@JPeaSmith

Running on Empty!

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Facebook Live. I’m lovin’ it. I started a couple of days ago with the testing which was awkward and weird but I am finding my space there slowly, and really enjoying it. I asked for questions for the next few weeks of “shows” and as I been asked a lot of questions before, through my blog and Facebook stories, as well as my Mighty Stories, I suddenly have quite a long list to keep me going for a while.

I want to do this well, so I spent a few days mulling over the list of questions and today we realised that most of the questions fall under one of four categories which are not surprisingly, quite relevant to anyone, even those without a chronic illness at all. People who could benefit from these Q&A sessions will be those who are struggling (or who know someone struggling) with a difficult season in their lives. This will include those dealing with bad health, grief, loss, or any other life change such as divorce or moving far away.

Once every two weeks, I will be doing a Facebook Live under the heading of “RUNNING ON EMPTY”. Topics for discussion will cover general topics like managing medications, getting help from those around you, negotiating specialists, and understanding your life changes. But May just happens to be EDS Awareness Month so the sessions in May will include (but be limited to) things like “What is EDS?”, “A Day in My Life”, “An EDS First Aid Kit” and so on.

Here is the schedule for the next few months ( I will update it regularly with new links and updated information as we go!) :

  • Monday, May 1st – I will be focusing on EDS because May is EDS Awareness Month and what a better way to start than that!  | New York: 2pm | London: 7pm | Johannesburg: 8pm |Sydney 4am |

 

  • Thursday, May 18th – “A Day in My Life”| New York: 5am | London: 10am | Johannesburg: 11am |Sydney 7pm |

 

  • Monday, May 29th – | New York: 3pm | London: 8pm | Johannesburg: 9pm |Sydney 4am |

 

  • Thursday, June 15th – | New York: 5am | London: 10am | Johannesburg: 11am |Sydney 7pm |

 

  • Monday, June 26th – | New York: 3pm | London: 8pm | Johannesburg: 9pm |Sydney 4am |

 

  • Thursday, July 13th – | New York: 5am | London: 10am | Johannesburg: 11am |Sydney 7pm |

 

  • Monday, July 24th – | New York: 3pm | London: 8pm | Johannesburg: 9pm |Sydney 4am |

 

  • Thursday, August 10th – | New York: 5am | London: 10am | Johannesburg: 11am |Sydney 7pm |

 

  • Monday, August 21st – | New York: 3pm | London: 8pm | Johannesburg: 9pm |Sydney 4am |

 

So pop those in your diaries or go HERE to watch this short introductory Facebook Live. At the very end, it will give you the opportunity to turn on notifications for my future Facebook Lives. You can also simply “Like” and Follow my Facebook Page and the following places to get updates and changes. Please remember to share any of my Posts across my social media platforms.

@JPeaSmith
 
“Here she comes, running, out of prison and off the pedestal: chains off, crown off, halo off, just a live woman.”  ― Charlotte Perkins Gilman

How to Be Nice?

After all this time, I still don’t know how to be firm enough and nice enough at the same time, when people give me advice about my condition that is factually incorrect. Someone once said to me that I should just nod and listen but then just let it brush off me.

But they don’t get that if I did that, there are a number of problems. The first is that it happens to me ALL.THE.TIME. I spend very limited hours a week with people and so to encounter one of these almost every single time is not only tedious and boring but it is a terrible waste of my precious energy.

Secondly, and this is even more important is that people are kind and loving and they want to help me. So they follow up. They want to know if it worked.. what I thought.. and often they simply want affirmation that their idea is so wonderful. Their motives are sooo good, that they invest in the outcome.

So what do I do then … lie? Nope! Pretend? Nope? But when I tell them the truth they don’t listen. When I tell them that I’ve already tried it or the theory behind it does not apply to what I have or that I am already trialing other things and can’t interfere with the process, they brush me aside.

If I had a broken leg, drinking a cocktail made from broken legs will NOT fix it.

What a stupid analogy they say. But my collagen (each and every collagen cell in my body) is broken (has a piece missing) so drinking collagen will not change that! And I don’t have the heart to tell them that their suggestion is no less silly than that.

My body is not fighting itself, it isn’t riddled with disease, it isn’t toxic or imbalanced or too acidic or alkaline. It’s just missing a little bit. Lots of little bits. Lots and lots and lots of very little bits.

And neither teas nor powders nor pills nor potions can replace them. But how do I tell people that?

Where Jennifer hangs out: Blog | The Mighty | Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest | Goodreads | Amazon

@JPeaSmith
“Here she comes, running, out of prison and off the pedestal: chains off, crown off, halo off, just a live woman.”  ― Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Diagnosis Envy

img_8779-1This is very similar to Illness Envy and I think that it may actually be behind some people’s issues who suffer from Illness Envy. But it is important to recognize the difference because unlike Illness Envy which has no upside, Diagnosis Envy is hugely valid…

Envy is a really tricky word. We hear it all the time in the negative context and in most instances, I think that it is negative. But it is also a very real part of life and also somewhat justified: if a child hasn’t eaten in three days then they would be crazy not to have some envy towards the kid on the bench eating a massive hot dog. In the same way, I own that I envy people who are free of constant pain.

The problem only arises when we don’t recognize it and the outcome is that we hurt others, “steal” their empathy or their moment of comfort and try to make it our own. When we trash others or belittle them in the hope that we will be “seen” or “heard” instead, and that our own pain will be validated.

Last week I was in the doctor’s office, moving slowly with my crutch. I leaned up against the counter with the receptionist behind. She couldn’t see my crutch (though often she can see it) but I think that she had forgotten what I have and that I am in a lot of pain. A man popped his head in the door briefly and asked her a question then left again. The receptionist conspiratorily whispered to me: you won’t believe how much pain that man is in every day! He has this illness that means he is always in pain. Honestly, if that was me I don’t know what I would do… blah blah blah blah blah and on she went…

Um…. I didn’t say anything. It was insensitive and dismissive of my situation. But I didn’t envy her sympathy, I only felt sorry for the man. But I did feel very uncomfortable and dismissed. But it was easy for me because I have a diagnosis, I have my pain validated one way or another almost every day without having to say anything to anyone, and so it is easy to be without envy. But I know what it is like to

I didn’t say anything. Her words, her attitude, and her little gossip were insensitive and dismissive of my situation. But I didn’t envy him her sympathy, I only felt sorry for the man. I also felt a bit uncomfortable and dismissed. But it was easy for me because I have a diagnosis, I have my pain validated one way or another almost every day without having to say anything to anyone, and so it is easy to be without envy. But I know what it is like to not have a diagnosis and be envious of people like me on this side of the fence who do have one. I spent 3o years on that side and it is frustrating and hurtful emotionally as well as physically.

Diagnosis Envy is extremely valid in and of itself, we just need to make sure that we are sensitive with how we express it to others and the way we treat those on the other side of the fence.

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@JPeaSmith
“We are all broken, that’s how the lights gets in”  –  Ernest Hemingway