Vulnerability and Authenticity with Chronic Illness

What makes you vulnerable makes you beautiful…there’s a word for it: authentic

Vulnerability is a scary thing. We don’t want to look weak. We don’t want people to pity us or judge us. We know we can’t be perfect, but we don’t want to seem too imperfect. So often, we think our imperfections are our flaws. However, we shouldn’t confuse the two or make them interchangeable. Because our imperfections are what make us unique.

When you have a chronic illness, you experience a whole lot of vulnerability. Your parents become your at home nurses, your friends have to run errands for you because you can’t physically get out of bed, your partner sees you cry out of pain and frustration or curled up in the fetal position because any other position is too painful. These are all vulnerabilities that we can hide from the outside world, though.

It’s one thing to be vulnerable with the people who care about you and love you – it’s a totally new ballgame when you show your vulnerability to strangers!

But, spoiler alert – you are human. Every single person you pass on the street is self-conscious about something. Every single person has an imperfection (or lets be real, imperfections). But not everybody shares theirs  and because of that, someone else who may have a similar imperfection feels alone or isolated because they think they’re the only ones like them. They may end up confusing imperfections with flaws and look upon their own imperfections with a negative mindset.

I know it’s hard to share our stories and our vulnerabilities because we think whoever we’re sharing them with may judge us. As humans, we sometimes judge another person or their situation simply because we are unfamiliar with or can’t relate to them or their situation. But, that’s not fair, is it?

I can raise my hand and say that I am still working on sharing my story and my health journey with not only strangers, but sometimes friends, because I’m worried they’ll look at me funny, or think I’m strange or think I’m over exaggerating my pain & symptoms. So, most of the time, I turn to writing because it’s personal and I don’t have to show it to anyone else.

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But recently, I’ve been trying to really open up to my own vulnerabilities and show all aspects of my journey without hesitation or reservations. And I urge you to do the same.

Share your journey with others. Give the world a window into the unique person you are. No one else shares your story, but I promise you that someone else can relate to your story. By being vulnerable and showing that vulnerability to the outside world, you could be helping someone else just like you. And, honestly, you’ll end up helping yourself most of all.

FDA Approves First Migraine Prevention Drug!

Just last week, the FDA approved the first drug designed to prevent migraines! It’s been all people are talking about in the headache/migraine community, because it’s a pretty big deal!

Living with migraines is tougher than most people can imagine. What can be even tougher, is finding the right doctor, the right treatment and finding both without going broke.

Check out a few links that I found to be helpful in reading about this new FDA approved migraine prevention drug and how it can be accessed:

 

When Sleep Disorders Go Unnoticed

An estimated 50 to 70 million Americans chronically suffer from a sleep or circadian-related condition (Project-Sleep). And it turns out I am one of those people. However many sleep disorders go undiagnosed or unnoticed simply because people don’t realize they have them. I was one of those people for so many years of my life. I wasn’t diagnosed with narcolepsy (without cataplexy)until the winter of 2015. But I was having symptoms, that I can remember, for several years prior to that.

Growing up, I was that teenager that slept until noon and had to have my parents force me to wake up, get out of bed and do something productive with my day. Yes, many teenagers sleep until noon. I mean why wouldn’t they? They have no responsibilities.

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And yes, sometimes I would go to bed much later than socially acceptable at that age, leading me to sleep until noon. But, sometimes I would go to bed at 10 pm and still was able to snooze and snooze until also much later than socially acceptable. I never thought anything of it, though. But I had created a reputation for myself in my family as the girl who sleeps the day away. I tried hard not to carry that reputation over into school, but alas, it happened. In my senior year government class, for example, there was one time where I fell asleep (in the front row, mind you) and hadn’t realized I fell asleep until my sleep talking woke me up. I sat in the middle of two girls who looked at me and kindly said while pretending they weren’t extremely confused, “Are you ok? Were you sleeping?” See, it wasn’t normal to sleep that much during school. It really wasn’t the cool thing to do.

When I went off to college, I realized that I could nap whenever I wanted and wouldn’t have my parents waking me up every 5 minutes telling me to get up and sweep the kitchen or some cliche chore that they made you do just so you were doing something. So when I went to college I was like…wait I can nap in freedom? Whenever? That’s the American dream! And as a true patriot, I lived out that dream. But, I never realized that I napped a lot more than some of my other friends did. I napped through some evening classes and didn’t care because my body was so tired.

There are many stories from my college years that I realize now were not normal….Yes, sometimes students fall asleep in class (late nights doing absolutely nothing with your friends or alcohol often caused this), but not as often as I did, it seemed. The looks I would get from my roommates and friends when I either slept in past my class or when I told them how I kept falling asleep in class, that look is definitely a judgmental one even when they act like they aren’t judging you. It ain’t a good face.

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One time during my freshman year econ class, I apparently fell asleep. I say apparently because I didn’t realize it until I jerked awake suddenly (are you noticing a pattern here?) I looked at my two friends sitting next to me and said “why didn’t you wake me up?” And they said “because you were snoring, but like a cute snore. We didn’t want to wake you.”

I also specifically remember my senior year, trying so hard to force myself to stay awake during my Communications Law class. And this wasn’t because the thrilling content of comm law didn’t have me on the edge of my seat and it wasn’t because of a lack of effort to pay attention on my part. I remember after a few classes of dozing off in the back of the room, that I made an effort to move to the front row. I told myself if I sit in the front, there’s no way I can’t pay attention therefore I would stay awake. Sit in front + pay attention = stay awake. Basic math, right? Well I was never good at math. I had to force my eyes to stay open. It was painful, honestly. Like, physically painful because my eyes would be so incredibly heavy and I had to actively out effort into making sure they didn’t close right in front of my professor. And the thing is, this class was my first class of the day, and it was at 2 pm. So it’s not like I was waking up at 6 am for an early class. I was easily getting 9-10 hours of sleep each night, if not sometimes more than that. So I was getting enough sleep, I was making full effort to pay attention in class, yet I still struggled to stay awake.

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After graduation and convincing myself that the college life was the cause of my exhaustion, I got my first full time job. It was during training one day where I was literally dozing off while a colleague was training me that I realized this was a problem. But yet, I didn’t realize it was a problem that could be diagnosed. And I wasn’t sure how to solve my problem. I also had other health issues to focus on so my sleepiness took a backseat.

Actually, the only reason I got the diagnosis for narcolepsy was due that other health issue I had: my chronic daily headaches. The PA I had been seeing for a couple of years who had been with me through each treatment that I had tried and that had failed me, suggested I do a sleep study to see if I had sleep apnea (since I consistently wake up with headaches, she thought maybe I wasn’t getting enough oxygen during the night.) After the sleep study, my PA pointed out to me that I didn’t have sleep apnea, but surprisingly enough, I had narcolepsy w/o cataplexy. She explained that even though this was not expected, it was actually good to see test results that didn’t show as “normal” because i finally had some answers. I finally had reasons for all of the above scenarios. I had a reason for falling asleep during classes, for sleeping in until noon and for dozing off during a full time job. I finally understood why.

It’s extremely frustrating to feel symptoms and have no idea why they’re happening and have nothing to connect them back to. And to be honest, I was completely ignorant to sleep disorders in general and it never even crossed my mind that I might have been living with one. If it weren’t for my PA suggesting that sleep study, I’m not sure when I would have found out I had narcolepsy. Perhaps I still wouldn’t know today.


The message here is that it’s so important to learn the signs of sleep disorders, because sleep disorders are invisible and difficult to detect. Sleep health is much more important and impacts our overall health more than most people realize.

Take a look at this website, Project Sleep, to learn more about sleep conditions/disorders, how to detect symptoms, and what to do if you think you may have a sleep condition/disorder!

 

Disclaimer: The Headache Heroine website and blog does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
Content from this website and blog is not intended to be used for medical diagnosis or treatment.  The information provided on this website is intended for general consumer understanding and entertainment only.  The information provided is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Please consult a medical professional for professional and medical advice.

Do Only What You Can Do Today to Create The Reality You Want for Yourself Tomorrow.

 

I have a very hard time accepting my own reality. I’m sure many people experience that every once in awhile. Like when you were younger and you were grounded but you really wanted to go to that party, so you convinced yourself that you weren’t grounded and you went anyways, only to get into more trouble. It probably would’ve been better to just stay home, accept your punishment and wait for the next party. Or like when you know you have a million things on your to-do list, but you still go out and grab drinks with your friends or binge watch all of the real housewives episodes, only to then stress yourself out even more knowing you achieved nothing. We would be so much better off if we just accepted our reality as it is in that present moment, rather than pretend we are living some alternate reality that we daydream about.

 

Currently, I wish that I could be more physically active than I know I can be. I listen to friends talk about their workout routine and how they’re losing weight and growing stronger and more confident. I’m happy for them. I am. And after the few minutes of acting like Eeyore knowing that my body can’t do all of the the things that theirs can, I then convince myself that I actually can do what they’re doing. Why should my life be any different? They all face difficulties themselves. They pull muscles, tear ACLs, herniate a disc, etc and they all end up recovering and getting back into their exercises weeks or months later. So what’s stopping me from doing the same?

 

This is when I need a pretend slap in the face to wake myself up to my reality and the fact that my reality is not anyone else’s reality. My headaches intensify not only when I lift weights, or run or do yoga, but simply even when I walk up stairs, bend over, or push furniture around. My exertion headaches have no mercy on activity level. It’s something I’ve been dealing with since I was a teenager. I half expected them to be gone by now, but again, I was only kidding myself, right?

 

While I know I can’t squat big weight or run on the treadmill in order to lose weight and gain muscle quickly like “normies,” I do know that I can do just what I am capable of and no more. I have learned to endure the headaches throughout a workout and stop myself when the headaches grow to be more than I can handle. (It helps that I can handle more than someone else may due to the longevity of my illness.) Each day I have to remind myself that my routine will be very different than anyone else’s. I am unique and that’s ok. I won’t be as physically fit as I dream of, but I can do what I can to get close to that dream. I’m learning to accept my body and it’s limitations, but it’s something I have to remind myself of and teach myself daily.

 

So, just today, I’ve created a workout plan for myself. Two days of weights (more reps, less weight-in order to keep the impact low), three days of yoga (check out Yoga With Adriene, she’s awesome!) and two days of rest. Now, I know that this is an ideal plan. I know that my illnesses will throw curveballs at me and that there’s no way I will be able to stick to this routine as strictly as another person may be able to. I’m bound to have a migraine or narcolepsy spell come in and make me miss a day or two. It’s inevitable. I can’t control that. What I can control is how I accept the fact that I can make a routine, stick to it as best I can, not push my body more than I need to, and be cognizant of the fact that there will be days when my illness throws my schedule out of whack.

 

We have to learn to accept our realities as just that–our realities. We can’t compare ours to anyone else’s, just as someone else shouldn’t compare their reality to ours. We must constantly adapt, though the frustrations will want us to do otherwise.

June is Migraine & Headache Awareness Month!

June is Migraine & Headache Awareness Month! This month is dedicated to advocating for patients like myself who suffer from an invisible illness that is much more debilitating, physically and emotionally, than most people know.

I’ve lived with migraines & exertional headaches for a little over 10 years now. They have changed the way I live my life entirely. I had to stop playing sports, start avoiding the hot/humid weather, try to accept that I can’t live as active a lifestyle as I wish and overall adapt to the diagnosis.

I’ve lived with chronic daily headaches (meaning no days with a “0” pain level) for around 3-4 years now. This has had a much bigger impact on my life than my migraines, because while my migraines are extremely painful, they only happen on occasion. These chronic daily headaches have become my new norm–they’re like my shadow, always there. The only time I don’t feel them is when I’m sleeping. My chronic daily headaches have resulted in many mental health ups and downs, anxiety, relationship/friendship strains, tons of forced FOMO, many days at home missing the fun, etc.

But this is not meant to be a sob story post. Instead, this is meant to be a post that opens peoples eyes to the debilitating nature of migraine and headache disorders. There is an urgent need to increase awareness of the impact migraines and headaches have on a person’s quality of life. Let’s spend this month (and every month after) shining a light on these disorders and advocating for everyone who deals with them.

“How To Live Well With Chronic Pain & Illness” Educating Family & Friends On Your Condition/Illness

I’ve had a difficult time finding people and words out in the world who understand (or at least nearly understand) what I feel from day to day as someone who lives with a chronic invisible illness. I often scroll through blogs written by people with their own chronic illnesses and one day I came across a blog that talked about this book called “How To Live Well With Chronic Pain And Illness” by Toni Bernhard. The author of this blog wrote something about how this book has helped her cope and become more mindful in during her day to day life with a chronic illness. I decided to check it out. I bought a copy on Amazon and immediately dove in. Each page has something that strikes a chord with me. Each chapter provides new insight as well as much needed comfort and understanding. While the author of this book doesn’t live with the exact same illness that I do, she is able to connect with me so well because the emotions and situations that we face are nearly identical.

Each week, I will summarize a different chapter and provide the tips/advice/insight that I found most helpful. I hope you find this helpful, and then maybe even go purchase this book for yourself!

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Chapter 1: Educating Family and Friends about Chronic Pain and Illness

“The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.” – Alan Watts

It may take a while, longer than we want, for family and friends to adapt and adjust to our lives with chronic illness. I know from experience that the people who love you will try their damnedest to understand everything that you are feeling and going through. Of course, that’s not possible, since they aren’t going through it themselves. However, the effort is all that matters. It can bring about frustration for us when we feel like our loved ones really just don’t get it–but instead of getting frustrated with the ones who care for us, instead we should try to educate them on what exactly we are going through, to help them better understand and in turn better love and care for us how we need to be loved and cared for.

  • Share information from the internet or other sources
    • A quick Google search can bring about a number of organizations and associations that are devoted to your condition/illness and others like them. You could print a few pages, send links through emails, or just read through them with family and friends. You can let these people know that it’s important to you that they go through the information–don’t treat it like a test though–keep it lighthearted!
  • Communicate in writing
    • This is always effective for me–mostly because I cry every time I talk about something that is either very important to me or about something that has affected my life heavily. Actually, I just cry when I talk about a lot of things–I’m just a sensitive person and proud of it! So for me, I feel like it’s a lot easier to get out everything I want to share with someone through writing (clearly, since I have this blog.) When you write a letter or note to someone, make sure to use “I” more than you use “you.” You could start by describing your day to day life with a chronic illness, explain to them how you have had to adjust your life because of it and just let them know how you truly wish you could be as active as you once were–because sometimes it’s hard for outsiders to understand that we just can’t do the things we once were able to. Toni made a good point in this chapter–she said you could write to them about how the way you will “feel on any given day is unpredictable.” This is so completely true for me, and I find myself reminding my friends and family of this as often as I can.
  • Work on accepting that some people you’re close to may never treat you the way you’d like them to
    • This is something I still struggle with, but I’ve become much more comfortable with over the years. Some people may not show an interest because they think that if we want to talk about it, we will bring it up. For me, I think this rings very true for a lot of the people in my life (just assuming) and I’m ok with that. It’s nothing wrong that they’re doing or feeling. One really important note that Toni says in this chapter regarding this point is: “Understanding that others have their own ‘demons’ can lead to compassion arising for them, even though they’re letting you down. Compassion for others tends to ease your own emotional pain because it takes you out of your self-focused thinking.” We need to understand that everyone has something. We can’t take it personally when they may not always remember to ask us about ours.

I have an amazing support system built of family and friends that I hold near and dear to my heart. They all are understanding and accepting of me, no matter how I’m feeling or how my health changes. There are some people who I have accepted may never be as understanding as the next, but all that matters is that I have a solid group of people who love me and accept me whether I’m having a 1/10 or 10/10 pain day.

Next up will be: “Letting Go: A Not-To-Do List for the Chronically Ill”

HAWMC Day 7: Starting My Advocacy Journey

We all need people in our lives who push us to do and be greater. Sometimes it’s hard to accept advice that someone has to offer, but most of the time, it’s worth it to hear them out.

I never even thought about sharing my story about living with chronic daily headaches, because I never thought anyone would really need or want to hear and read about it. The thought never crossed my mind.

That was until one day, during a pretty dark and frustrating period of my life when I was experiencing 6+/10 head pain every single day for a long string of time. I was living with my older sister at the time, so she knew and could see that I was living in constant pain and that I was having a difficult time dealing with it. One day she suggested an idea that turned out to be my motivation behind creating The Headache Heroine. She said “Why don’t you write about all of this?” She suggested I use it as a coping mechanism, since I already had a love for writing. Why not take my love for writing and do something positive with it? She helped me realize that it could be therapeutic for me, which turned about to be very true.

At first, I was worried that sharing my story would just make me sound like I was throwing myself a pity party and was inviting people to bring gifts of sympathy. But that’s not what I was going for and that’s not the kind of vibe I wanted to throw out into the world.

What actually ended up happening, was that I got an outpouring of encouragement and praise for being “brave” for being vulnerable enough to start opening up about my health and really putting it all out there. I had been hesitant to share my blog posts on platforms like Facebook and Instagram, because I didn’t want to bug people and add things to their newsfeed that they didn’t want to look at/read. But then I realized, that if people wanted to skip over what I shared, they would, and if people wanted to read what I wrote, then they would. I eventually created a separate Instagram account for my health journey, but I still tried to tell myself not to worry about what others thought.

After a few months of being worried that people would judge or roll their eyes at the stories I was posting and sharing, I slowly grew much more comfortable with sharing my story. I realized that I was actually reaching people who really appreciated and benefited from my words. I became less concerned with those people who didn’t care about my story, and focused all my attention on the people who did care and who actually benefited from hearing my story and my advice.

While advocating and getting my voice out there actually helps me cope and feel more positive about myself and my life with chronic daily headaches, I also know that I have helped other people who are facing similar health journeys. That fact alone keeps me writing and sharing, and it should help encourage you to do the same!

Health Activist Writers Month Challenge: Day 1-Why I Write

I didn’t plan on sharing my story with the the world. Not until I was encouraged to do so by a loved one who saw me struggle with my health and the consequences of my health problems every day. Before I started writing, I never really believed that there were other people out there who lived with chronic daily headaches like I do. I had never met or talked to anyone who lived with anything close to what I live with. I live with chronic daily headaches and migraines. For me, this means that I have a headache 24/7. It sounds like an exaggeration, but I promise you that it’s not. I have some type of headache all of the time. While the intensity varies and changes frequently and without warning, the frequency is the same: it’s always there. It has made me change my way of living, from an active young adult always looking for adventure, to a wishful young adult who lives a rather stagnant lifestyle yearning for more adventure and more answers.

I started writing because I needed a coping mechanism. I had to find some way to release all of the frustration that had been building up over time, weighing me down. It has helped me more than I ever expected. When I find myself feeling very low, I turn to my writing. It helps pull me out of the darkness. As I found myself climbing out of the darkness, I realized that maybe I could help pull others out their darkness as well. I realized that while I was helping myself cope through my writing, I could also help others like me who really needed a hand to help them up.

I write to help people feel supported. To help them feel less alone. To help them remember how strong and brave they are.

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This Is What Invisible Illness Looks Like

As invisible illness awareness week wrapped up yesterday, I think it’s important for people to see who we are advocating for. The real faces of the people who aren’t invisible even though their illnesses are.


I’m what someone with an invisible illness looks like. There’s nothing visible that shouts for attention, yet for me there’s a constant invisible pain inside my head. I have become a master of disguise, hiding my rollercoaster of symptoms behind blue eyes & soft, sometimes strategic, smiles. 

Whatever illness you are facing, I hope I can remind you that you are not alone. There’s always somewhere you can turn and someone you can talk to when you feel like you’re losing your fight. 💓

But for my invisible illness soldiers, remind yourself every day that just because your illness is invisible, it does not mean that you are. We have a tendency to put on a front for others when we don’t feel well, but we don’t have to do that all of the time. It’s ok to frown instead of smile sometimes. It’s ok to cry when you’re hurting instead of putting on your suit of armor to protect yourself. 

You are not alone nor invisible. Keep your head up and your heart strong 💛

Hope For Progress, Rather Than Fear The Disappointment 

I have gone through months where I’ve effectively given up, only to give myself a wide wake up call that I needed to pick myself out of my funk and continue to try to find an effective treatment. No matter how walls I ran into and how many failed attempts there were, I had to keep trying.
I hope that you keep fighting to find an effective treatment. Or if you’re in a funk and you’ve lost hope, that you find the strength to try again. Because hope is the only thing stronger than fear. Hope that there is a treatment out there, rather than the fear of never finding an answer.