Perspectives

Adulting is difficult. Especially when you get the feeling you’re half-in, half-out, of the whole adulting thing. Add in chronic illness that makes you want to curl up and sleep all day like you could when you were 10 and there’s a lot of mixed messages there.

It’s got me thinking about different perspectives – which can change depending on who you are, what you do, and your level of confidence.

This week has not been my week. Between issues with my health, studying for finals, difficult moments at both jobs, and some small problems with friends/family that add up, my perspective hasn’t been great. I’ve started doubting my ability to do things which, previously, I’ve felt extremely confident about. Mistakes are normal, but I’ve made enough this last week that it starts to add up to a lot of low-confidence moments.

I like thinking about human perspectives, and opinions. Everyone is different. Everyone has a different background. For example, if a person is told multiple times thay they’re doing a great job, they’re bound to be more confident and perhaps make more choices that continue to display their abilities. If a person is constantly given negative feedback, or none at all, they’re more likely to think they’re incapable and stop trying.

I wonder a lot about the differences between perspectives on self vs. perspectives on others. If you’re overly confident, do you believe everyone else is less capable than you? If you’re under confident, do you believe you couldn’t possibly do a better job than someone else?

I love my job, and I think I’m relatively good at it, especially for never having done something like it before. But, others might disagree, a little, or a lot. My bosses or coworkers might think I seem awkward, or full of myself, or completely inept. The same situation and facts looking different to different people.

A child who was raised to read, or play music, or do mathematics at a young age might believe they’re behind in their skills even when they’re ahead of their age group, while everyone else is sitting there wondering how they can’t see it. A child raised to focus on different things such as family care, and working, instead of topics often focused on in school, might think they’re awful at learning compared to the first child, when in reality they may learn just as, or even more, quickly.

Sometimes it’s hard to be sure whether we’re measuring up to expectations, simply because everyone may have a different opinion. When I think about it, especially when I’m feeling discouraged, I try to remind myself of that difference. Then I remember to focus on doing my best, because that’s all I can do. Asking questions, working hard, and learning from my mistakes is how I want to live my life. There will always be people who find flaws in me, just as much as there will be people who see how hard I’m trying, or maybe the potential they believe me to have.

In the end, if I stick to always trying my best, I’ll end up in a place where I’m appreciated and doing something I’m good at, or at the very least love enough to continue doing in spite of my mistakes. And that’s all I can really ask for.

Ambition

Every day for me with chronic illness is new. Every day as a person is new. I also feel like a circus juggler half the time: a ball for illness, four balls for four jobs, a ball for friends and family, a ball for hobbies, a ball for this blog, a ball for my YouTube channel, a ball for each Instagram page. So much to juggle. When I get overwhelmed, ultimately I have to throw some away. Recently I left two jobs, and I’ve decided to treat my social media as a secondary goal. Posts, and content will come at a much slower pace.

To me, those choices simultaneously lift a weight off of my shoulders, and break my heart. No matter what, I have some juggling balls I can’t drop, and that means giving up some that I love. I know I’m not the only one who feels this way, it’s pretty normal. But it never fails to make me feel like a quitter.

I’m all together a perfectionist, ambitious, and a firm supporter of maintaining one’s health and well-being. Unfortunately, my body is insistent on me dialing back my ambitions a little.

I want to be that person, the one who can do all of her jobs on time and correctly. The one who can show up for all the social gatherings. The one who can do all the housework, errands, and cook all the meals. The who can ace all of her classes and never miss a school day. But, that isn’t reality, for anyone, and especially not me.

I make mistakes, I get tired, I lose motivation, and my body shuts down on me. Nothing goes as planned, and people are rarely as understanding, or as helpful, as the ideal. That’s life. That’s reality. It’s the way things are expected to be, by everyone. No one can do it all. No one is perfect. No one can do everything without help.

It’s hard, being ambitious and being sick. There’s the constant question of: “is this really my limit? If I didn’t have this illness how much more could I do? How much am I missing out on?” The answers are, it is right now, a lot, and more than I’d like, in that order.

Every missed party, every disappointed friend, every job left undone, is a crack in my confidence. I worry if I’m really going to be able to do the whole “adulting” thing.

Then I go out and actually do it.

And I realize, if I’m stressed, and sicker from the stress, and missing out because of that…. wouldn’t it be better to just do the things I know I have time and energy for? Adulting is just doing what you have to do. Pushing through the stress, being responsible, and planning your time wisely. And I can do, and have done, those things.

I don’t like to spend too much time away from some kind of work/hobby. I like keeping my hands busy because it makes me feel like I’m using my time wisely (and partly because that’s how I deal with being hypersensitive and avoid sensory overload). And time always feels like it’s moving too quickly. And it is, but that time passing is not unique to anyone:

“The present is the same for everyone; its loss is the same for everyone; and it should be clear that a brief instant is all that is lost.”

~Marcus Aurelius; Meditations

One thing about going through sudden illness is that it reminds you how quickly things can change. In an instant you can lose your ability to eat, walk, or breathe. In a moment you could lose large parts of your life. So I spend every moment trying my hardest to make the most of my time. Trying to avoid life’s bullshit and pettiness and just live my live. I don’t always succeed. But I always take a good memory from every experience, good or bad. Even if all it is, is a warm cup of tea, or a brief moment of silence in a shouting match, or a warm heater in a cold room. I try to remember that even when I’m doing nothing, I’m still appreciating my life.

Leaving two of my jobs sucked, but the time and health I’ll gain from that choice will let me enjoy other things I like doing. Sometimes being ambitious is great, because I throw myself at certain kinds of experiences. Sometimes it’s not so great because most of my stress is pressure I put on myself, to succeed, to help, and to grow every day.

No matter what, I’m never going to stop being ambitious in my own way, and I’m never going to be able to do everything I want to. But, it would be pretty boring if I did everything I wanted as soon as I tried. Life is full of many brief moments, and we need things to fill them. And if I can grow in each moment, then I’ll feel like I’ve lived my moments to the fullest, illness or not. And if through my life I lose more of my health or abilities, then I’ll just have new goals, new juggling balls, and new moments.

Missing Work, Tattoos, and Self Care

There’s a corresponding video to this blog post here.

This week I had to miss two days of work for my chronic heart condition. Currently I’m still trying to figure out what is causing it to flair because I’ve been sleeping most of the time. The sleep doesn’t seem to be helping.

Thursday was our first day of classes, and while waiting for lunch before work I almost passed out. Not a fun time. Friday I had to get some minor fillings done (didn’t need novocaine) and was still having some pretty bad symptoms so I missed work again.

The hard part about having an invisible illness is that, sometimes, taking care of myself doesn’t necessarily mean laying in bed. It means doing something enjoyable, not thinking about my jobs (I’m about to start a 3rd one), not worrying about producing content, being in good company whether that’s my best friend or my pets or family, and just lowering my stress so my heart condition doesn’t flare.

Unfortunately, not many people understand this. A lot of superiors don’t have empathy to a situation where you aren’t bed ridden, and even when they do it’s still something I worry about just from past experience.

Ultimately though, my health comes first. I will never force myself to work if I know it isn’t healthy. I don’t want to ruin my health just for a day of work; especially since missing one day is better than missing a week because I didn’t rest and got worse.

Having a minor chronic illness that lets me live a relatively normal life, and having to trade a minor inconvenience like someone’s lack of understanding, I can easily and happily live with that. But I am constantly aware of the situation and always want to help raise awareness. If you’re in a position to advocate for someone with any kind of illness, well… it’s always appreciated.

The attached photo is my newest tattoo which I talk about in the video link at the top of the page. Thanks for reading!

Interviews, American Ambulance Costs, and Medical Reception

I always get nervous, applying for a new job. I think most people do; reaching out to a stranger and asking them to see your worth as an employee from a single resume, cover letter, and maybe an interview, is intimidating.

With my chronic illness, it can sometimes be even more intimidating because, while my illness rarely affects my work, (I’m very lucky, I know) telling a new employer about it is always a bit nerve wracking. I’m never sure if I should or not, but usually decide it would be better to be upfront. Why? Because if something did happen, they would know how to handle it and everyone would be less nervous.

My biggest risk is fainting, either due to vasovegal syncope, or exhaustion. Either way, I have a tendency to go into postural seizures (there are different kinds of seizures) which is, in my case, due to lack of oxygen to my brain from a blood pressure drop. For someone who isn’t educated about it, or doesn’t know me, it can be horribly terrifying. Everyone has heard that fainting, especially with seizures, needs an ambulance. Except, no, mine doesn’t. I, in every time it’s happened, have always needed a big glass of water, an apple (I really don’t know why that helps but it does, where other foods don’t), and a nap that lasts several hours. A thousands of dollars ambulance ride and a pointless ER stay have never been required.

In America, regardless of who calls them, the patient pays for the medical transport service and the ER bill, even if they don’t want it. If you’re unable to verbally refuse service and your medical ID doesn’t say “no ambulance”, there’s no way around footing the bill. It’s extremely frustrating, and why many epileptics risk a fatal seizure to avoid paramedics. It’s also why, even though I have a medical ID, I don’t like to go places without a friend or family member. My ID doesn’t have the ambulance ban because I don’t faint enough to risk turning down lifesaving help if another emergency arises.

Anyway, back to jobs. Wednesday, I had an interview for a position as a part-time receptionist in a post-acute care facility. I told them about my illness and, to my relief, it didn’t phase them (HOORAY!!). I got a second interview on Friday and GOT THE JOB!!

I don’t have much experience in the field but I’m very passionate about being a medical receptionist and maybe ending up as a doctor’s personal secretary some day (I need to learn more about what that job entails before I know for certain). I want to be one of the people helping to connect patients and their care team in a way that makes them feel comfortable and like they’re a priority.

As Spoonies, we know how big a difference it can make when your receptionist is knowledgeable and helpful vs. when they’re not. One recent experience I’ve had was of calling into a facility, asking for a specific specialty department for an office visit, and instead being connected to a procedure office with a similar sounding (but very different) name. Not only did it slow me down, it slowed down the procedure scheduler, and if she hadn’t caught it I would’ve been extremely angry to find I’d scheduled a procedure, and not an office visit, and would have to start the scheduling process all over again.

I want to be that receptionist who makes a patient or their family say “Wow, that was quick!”, “This was so much easier than I thought”, or “This facility cares about us” because so many times I’ve spoken to someone who wasn’t certain what I was asking, which department I needed, or what health condition I was talking about (or its subsequent urgency) and it made me feel like I was just an annoying voice on the phone instead of a human looking for medical care. I’m educated in a lot of kinds of conditions and since my mom is a nurse I’ve learned a lot about levels of urgency. This can be helpful when relaying to a nurse or doc in a message the urgency of a patient’s call. Attention to detail can help a patient feel welcome and like they matter to their care team.

Receptionists are the first person you interact with in a hospital or care facility, and they have the ability to make your subsequent interactions just a little bit easier. I’m so excited to start, so that hopefully I can make the patients more comfortable and help their families to know they’re a priority and being cared for properly. I hope this step into this field leads to even more opportunities to help build communication between patients and facilities. I think I’m going to really enjoy the job and am looking forward to starting.

Missing Work, Loyalty, and Determination

These past two weeks have been stressful, to say the least. My overall sense of calm, loyalty, judgement, and resilience were tested in ways I did not see coming.

First, I had a minor health complication that normally would have been a quick fix in the form of an outpatient procedure with minimal fuss. Unfortunately, my health insurance does not cover my doctors whom have been familiar with my personal history (even though the company said it would). This meant I could either tackle the problem with rest and an old medication which I was not fond of, or go to a doctor who doesn’t know me and certainly wouldn’t understand how my current problem tied in with my complex history. I chose to rest.

The American Medical System, everyone…..the one place you’ll find people choosing not to see a doctor to avoid bills for visits and procedures which may make them worse or that would not be helpful even though the prices make you think they would be the best in the world. (If you’re looking for a good YouTube channel about healthcare and insurance check out Healthcare Triage)

I had to take time off of work to heal, which isn’t ideal considering I can’t exactly afford that. Now, my much needed student loan refund is probably going to go towards supplementing that lost income.

On top of that, I took more time off to help a friend with their own personal health crisis. Which is where my patience was tested. My friend was not the problem. I will not get into details, for their privacy and general courtesy for all involved. I don’t see the point in publicly shaming someone in this particular situation.

Details aside, I learned things about myself and have found I’m quite proud of those discoveries. I found that I’m willing to stand up for a friend and protect their freedom to choose, and their basic autonomy. I found that I could withstand mental intimidation and childish retaliation and respond with maturity and a sense of calm and rationality. That’s not to say I didn’t feel anger, because I was beyond angry, but I didn’t act on it and I am glad I did not.

I was deeply invested in maintaining my friend’s freedom and autonomy, probably because it’s something many of us in the chronic illness community lose for many reasons. Sometimes, it can’t be helped. But when another person over-steps their bounds and threatens, needlessly, someone else’s freedoms that makes me extremely upset. I believe that people are healthiest when they’re given the chance to be responsible for their own lives, decisions, and bodies. I’ve seen people thrive once they had full control over these things.

Additionally, no one can grow or learn if they only take other people’s advice or orders; if you did not make the decision yourself there is always the question of “would it have turned out better if I’d done it my way?”. People typically learn better when they experience consequences for themselves, instead of listening to the consequences another experienced. This isn’t to say that we should all go and do things someone else has found to hold undesirable consequences; advice should be listened to and other people’s viewpoints taken into consideration. But don’t forget to form your own opinions. Trust your gut, your heart, and your mind, while also listening to the opinions of multiple people and sources to form your own opinions.

Whether it’s your healthcare, or your personal life, or your career or education, your decisions are your own and no one can (and no one should) take that away from you. The very few exceptions are if you are directly harming another person, or yourself, or if your own mental illness has made reality very…. cloudy. But even in these circumstances, there are people who have the training and the knowledge to assist and whom we give this authority to, and there are people who do not.

I know a lot of this depends on the situation and which person is trying to take away the free choice of another. In my own situation I asked for advice from multiple people and I stood by what I strongly felt was right. I will never regret that.

I’m back to work now and excited to start the new school year soon. I hope I’ll be able to bring you all more content and that we all have a low stress week. Thanks for reading!

Excoriation Disorder

Apart from my physical illness, I also struggle with mental illness. The ones easiest to guess are depression and anxiety, but those don’t affect my functioning nearly as much as one I’ve had for 17 years and counting: excoriation disorder.

When I first got it bad, I was in 5th grade, age 10. I’d had it before then in the form of scratching at my scalp until it bled, but in 5th grade it turned to the more recognizable skin picking people see with excoriation disorder, a.k.a dermatillomania. I had acne, which meant I was scratching and picking at pimples, but I was also picking at spots that weren’t anything except itchy. I grew up learning to wear bandanas, hats, and makeup regularly. I never failed to put something on to hide my wounds and scars.

My days, weeks, months, and years looked like this: wake-up, shower, peel at dried and healing skin, put makeup on, walk out the door nearly in tears saying “I’m ugly”, wishing I knew why I couldn’t help but do this awful thing to myself, then come home from school and go straight to a mirror to pick, wash my face, and curl up in front of a video game.

I missed out on a lot of fun things because I was scared they would cause me to have to show my skin. Swimming, summer camp, sleep overs, late nights with friends after I’d spent hours in front of a mirror and looked too awful to want to go out.

I tried everything. Covering mirrors, warm washcloths to aid in healing, acne creams, keeping busy, all of them failed. The things that did work the best were the warm cloths and staying so busy I didn’t have a chance to pick. Some days I would have to accept that I was going to look “not-my-best”, and that it was okay because I was going to heal. There were a lot of tears, a lot of lost friendships, and a lot of frustrated days with my parents just wanting me to be better.

When I was 10, dermatillomania wasn’t even a diagnosable disorder. When I was in my teens, the APA decided it was a thing, and that it had its own classification among other conditions like trichotillomania (hair pulling), which were grouped together due to their dual nature: a mix between cardinal behaviors of addiction, and those of obsessive compulsive disorder. When I started college, they then called it excoriation disorder. It had a name. I had an answer. I had something to fight, something to treat, something to see a doctor about.

Sadly, there’s not much to be done. Similarly to addiction and OCD, excoriation disorder varies in cause, severity, and form of treatment. Sometimes, there isn’t an effective treatment and you just have to work through it day by day. Some people find behavioral therapy helps, or counseling to assist with the root cause (if there is one besides brain chemistry), for some it’s a matter of removing yourself from the temptation. Many people avoid mirrors, or being alone for too long. For myself, therapy was a failure.

Maybe they should start an AA for skin pickers. Maybe it’d help to get a coin for a year, and pats on the back each month you go without destroying your face, arms, legs, and back. It feels like a constant battle because it is. I’ve spent every day, for 17 years, fighting my brain’s constant desire to pick at my skin until it bleeds.

It’s not about hurting myself, it’s not about destroying my face because I hate looking at it, it’s not some obsession with blood or pain or wounds. It’s an overgrooming instinct. A desire to have clear skin, empty pores, and an even toned complexion. I would pick until I was certain all the dirt and oils clogging up my skin were gone, but it’s not a conscious decision. It’s an odd instinct, almost out of my control. If you’ve ever has the urge to scratch a mosquito bite until it bleeds, or pick at a scab or dry skin, then you have experienced that instinct. Mine, however, just happens to be out of control.

Sometimes, the best way to fight it, is to be more meticulous and methodical about my skin care. To remove instinct from the equation and have rules much like a doctor would when treating anything. I would think “blackheads and whiteheads are fair game as long as there’s no bleeding or pain” and “dry skin, okay, I can take care of that, but scabs I need to let heal” and I had a set routine of washing, moisturizing, and grooming that made me hyper-conscious of my actions and thoughts. This helped, but the minute I became tired or distracted and got lost in my thoughts, instinct would take over and I would lose two hours to “face grooming”. Which resulted in more picking just out of sheer anxiety.

This disorder comes and goes with my stress. Lately, my stress has been high and so my skin is a wreck; the skin picking is at the worst it’s been for a year and a half. There are red wounds all over my face. I would post a picture, but the fact that I’m not should tell you something: I am horribly ashamed of my skin. I know that most people would understand, seeing a picture of my face, that it’s a disorder and it’s healing. But…. my anxiety is too great and I cannot force myself to photograph it.

What I want, is to raise awareness. Awareness that this is not completely under my control and unlike an alcoholic who avoids the bottle, I cannot hide from my own skin. I want to give tips to those struggling: warm compresses, showers, and baths, can help take away the urge and soothe skin, and staying busy and among people who understand is helpful to keep your hands (or tools) off of your skin. I want to explain why sometimes, I hide away, and there’s nothing on this planet that could get me to come out, especially without makeup. The building could be on fire and I’d probably sit here putting foundation and concealer on (I wish I was joking but it’s also okay to laugh, because that image is pretty funny).

As a Spoonie, I have enough on my plate. My excoriation disorder feels as much a part of me as my heart or GI conditions, maybe more so. I am always going to fight it. I am always going to work to manage it. It’s one more thing that takes my spoons away. One more thing that affects my daily functioning and causes me to miss out. I, like anyone with chronic illness, constantly wonder what my life would’ve been like if I didn’t have excoriation disorder, but I also wouldn’t be the person I am. I wouldn’t be as understanding or compassionate, I wouldn’t know how to soothe wounds and spot severe infection. I wouldn’t know that heat works well, but a combination of heat and ice do wonders for reducing inflammation for acne as much as they do for muscular wounds. I wouldn’t know that sometimes people do want to visit friends but there are other factors in play for their decisions. I wouldn’t know how to stand tall (well, as tall as a 4’10” girl can) and confident in a room full of people and make a speech (something I’ve had to do) when I feel my least confident and my most disgusting.

I know more about the human condition than I ever would have if I did not have the illnesses I have. And I am proud of that. I am okay with being sick, if it means I can help someone else with their illness. You do not always have to receive good, to put more good out into the world. I will never regret anything, as long as my life makes me more kind and compassionate as opposed to bitter. My illnesses have taught me that I now have knowledge I did not have before, and I fully intend to use it to benefit others.

It certainly beats going home and picking at my skin, doesn’t it?