Category: Friends

Painless Fashion – Holding On To Your Style While In Chronic Pain

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When picking out your clothes for the day, have you ever needed to stop and think about how much pain they will cause you? You might think about what shoes you might wear depending on how long your day will be or how much time you’ll be spending on your feet. But what about just your jeans? Or what coat you’ll wear? The fit of your shirt?

During the winter months, this is what I need to think about every day. My skin becomes so sensitive during the cold months that even a pair of jeans becomes intolerable. I had to go and buy new clothing this winter just so I didn’t have to wear jogging pants every time I left the house. I had to decide whenever I went out whether I wanted to be cold or in pain because the weight of my winter jacket caused me too much pain.

I wear only comfy clothes while I’m at home, but I like to look good when I leave the house. I don’t mean that I get incredibly fancy, but I like to wear fitted jeans, makeup, and I do my hair. It got me thinking that I should do a blog post about how it is possible to be comfortable, in as little pain as possible, and yet still be fashionable! Thankfully, leggings and tunics are very à la mode right now, but it’s possible for those of us that are in chronic pain to still get our unique fashion sense in without feeling like a bum all the time.

So I enlisted some help from two other of my Spoonie Sisters.

Here’s Sarah! Sarah likes to say that she has Alphabetitis. Her diagnoses include Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, Rheumatoid Arthritis, and Neuro-endocrine Tumors, to just name a few from the extensive list of ailments she battles with. Sarah and I have known each other for a few years, and our friendship has become stronger as we are able to relate to each other. We know that we can cancel on each other at any time and the other doesn’t get upset. We get it. Sarah pushes herself as much as she can to have a fulfilling life; giving everything she has to her passion of art and food, and to her husband and two beautiful girls. Seeing her face beam as she modeled these dresses was just amazing! We don’t get to feel this good all that often because we’re in constant pain, but one afternoon of feeling like a star just made it all worth it!

ab(1of1)-11Amaryllis Dress by RAMONALISA

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Wonder Woman Dress by ANNIE 50

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Ombrelle by CHERRY BOBIN

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Bicicleta Dress by RIEN NE SE PERD, TOUT SE CREE

Catharine has recently been diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. This is a connective tissue disorder which leaves Catharine’s joints loose, causing them to dislocate often. Her muscles are also constantly tense, compensating for her joints’ slackness. Catharine has moments where even being touched is too much to bear. Every time I see Catharine, she’s got a huge smile on her face. Although I know that she has some unbearable days, Catharine’s joy radiates through her and it’s hard not to be infected by her attitude when she’s nearby.

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Joe Dress by FIG CLOTHING

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Daiquiri Reversible Camisole Bicycle Print by RIEN NE SE PERD, TOUT SE CREE

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Annabelle Dress by 3RD FLOOR STUDIO
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oa Cardigan by FIG CLOTHING

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Abela Long Camisole T003L by MOOVMENT
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akura by RAMONALISA

And then there’s me! I have had Short Bowel Syndrome for nearly two years. I have a central line going into my chest that my IV nutrition gets pumped through five nights a week. Now you may ask, how in the world do my bowels affect the sensitivity of my skin and the stiffness in my joints? I don’t actually know why, but my guess is that this is my body’s way of reacting to the trauma that it endured back in April 2015. The day after shooting these photos, I felt like I had bruises along my spine, I was waddling around the house like I was 9 months pregnant, and literally every inch of me hurt.

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Capitaine Stripe Tee by CAMELEON
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erveza by RIEN NE SE PERD, TOUT SE CREE

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Take It Easy by ANNIE 50

ab(1of1)-9Archipel by CHERRY BOBBIN

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Memories Dress by ANNIE 50

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Babette by MOOVMENT

So then why did I put myself through it? Because doing this photo shoot made me feel good about myself. I felt gorgeous! We had so many laughs. We enjoyed ourselves. For one afternoon, we could forget about our illness and truly enjoy ourselves. And these moments really are few and far between when you’re constantly fatigued and aching.

I also wanted to show the world that it’s possible to be chronically ill and fabulous! We three ladies are proof of that.

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Thank you so much for the wonderful contributions of the following:

 

Clothing – Flock Boutique (Store is in Ottawa, Canada. Everything shown on this blog and more can be found on their website. Direct links are embedded in the pictures.)

Photography – Vintage Bow Photography (Ottawa, Canada)

Makeup – Make-up by Julia Sangalli (Ottawa, Canada)

 

I couldn’t have done it without any of you!

How I Would Describe Myself vs How A Friend Describes Me

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I’ve always hated being asked this in interviews; trying to turn negative sides of myself into positive. I’m very passionate – I’m stubborn and don’t change my mind easily. I work great under pressure – I leave everything to the last minute. I work well on my way own – I hate working on group projects; please don’t make me do it! And then there’s the positive attributes that we want to get across, but still sound humble about ourselves. I have worked in this field for X number of years but still have lots to learn – I deserve a senior position because I know pretty well all there is to know on this topic. I have put together this and this and that, but I did it with the help of so and so – but really, I’m mentioning it because I’ve done most of the work and I’m wanting to take credit without being seen as a jerk. It’s such a balancing act! You’re selling yourself, trying to come off as confident in your capabilities, but not come off as arrogant. It’s an art really.

Well, this isn’t a job interview so I’m going to try and do this without putting a sugar coating on myself.

I’m going to start off with things I know I need to work on. My faults. My weaknesses. I don’t want to sit here and only describe my wonderful traits, although there are many 😉 . I realize I’m far from perfect and how else does anyone grow if we don’t see those areas in ourselves.

I’ve come to realize recently that I’m quite insecure. I think I always have been, but those insecurities went away for a while. I grew confident in the young woman I had become. And now that a lot of my titles and a lot of who I was has been stripped away due to my illness I’m having a hard time with coming to terms with who I am and how I am viewed. I realize everyone’s lives have continued on, I’ve written about that before, but it doesn’t make it any easier some days. Now keep in mind, while everyone’s lives are busy and full with work and social gatherings, I’m literally at home, all day, every day. I try to get out when I can, but even at that, it’s for a few hours, a couple days a week. So I have A LOT of time to sit and dwell and think people have forgotten about me. Which I KNOW isn’t the case, but I get in my own head, and scenarios build, and I basically sink my own ship.

That goes well into my second point, I overthink EVERY THING. I keep those to myself most times, but again, I sit and dwell. I’m a dweller. I’m working on it and to help with that I’ve changed my phone’s lock screen to this picture:

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A reminder that I should never be anxious, to hand my worries over to God, and to find His peace. It’s something to meditate on and we all know I spend way too much time on my phone and so now every time I look at my phone, I’m reminded of these words. Hopefully it doesn’t just become a screen that I bypass all the time, but it will give me a moment to pause and think every time that I see it.

Now to the good things (I already dwell on too much so why dwell on my negative attributes more than necessary)!

I’m a passionate person, which yes means I’m also very stubborn, but this has helped me continue to grow and move towards bigger and better things. I throw myself into new ventures that I truly believe, I advocate hard, and I fall in love with these projects. This, as of late, has been my writing. So yes, although I may just be a blogger (and no I don’t believe JUST being a blogger is a bad thing by any means), I definitely consider myself a writer now. I have grown exponentially in my writing skills and I’m really looking forward to seeing where this takes me.

I’m a mom, and I think a darn good one at that. My patience some days is barely non-existent. I think all moms go through that, but especially on my days where I’m really hurting or not feeling well, it’s even more difficult than on my good days. But I love my daughter, I try to be patient and I see her being patient with me. I look at her and it makes me want to be a better person.

I love. I’ve always loved people. It may not always seem that way as I’m also very much an introvert, but I love people. I love hearing people tell their stories, and having people vent to me, and having people be a part of my life and me being a part of theirs. My compassion for people has made me who I am today, and although some days my heart hurts for people around me more than on other days, I wouldn’t trade that quality for anything.

I’m an open book. I have done everything I can to be vulnerable through this process. I’ve always worn my heart on my sleeve. Ask anyone in my life, if I’m having a bad day, you know it (and unfortunately may get caught in the crossfires – sorry! Blame it on the passion.). I’m sad? You can see it in my eyes. I have good news? There’s no way I’m keeping it to myself.

I am a wife, a mother, a daughter, a sister and a friend. Although my life is very different than I ever imagined it would be, who I have always been is still there. My positive characteristics are growing more than ever, as well as my negative ones peek through more often than they used to. It’s who I am though, and I will embrace it with every fiber of my being.
The rest of this post is written by one of the closest people I have in my life, Maggie Gilbertson. After reading her description of who I am, after wiping the tears away, all I wanted to do was delete my half! Maggie did an amazing job embodying who I am. I am so very grateful to have you in my life. 
The best overall word to describe Carmen would be authentic. I’ve known Carmen since 2009, we met when we were doing our Social Service Worker program at Algonquin College. We became fast friends and even better we were each other’s ‘person’. This was before her gastric bypass surgery, before she met Joe, before she had Maddie and before that fateful day(s) when the incompetence of a fellow human almost killed her. In a way, we did lose Carmen that day. I think it would be impossible for her for her to stay the same person as she was before due to the devastating nature of what happened. We will all deal with life events that affect and shape us, but rarely it’s to the degree that Carmen has experienced. Trying to find peace is a very long and bumpy road and it looks almost identical as the road to success.

 The reason why I’ve chosen the word authentic to start with is because in all my experiences and adventures with Carmen I’ve never once doubted that she wasn’t being real with me. She doesn’t care for drama. She will never shy away from saying something just because it may be the unpopular view or a hard truth. She is kind, but never apologetic about her interpretation and feelings. Her and I don’t always agree and that’s one thing that I love about her. We are both people with strong morals and opinions. We can have a great conversation on any topic without being scared that we’ve said something that offended the other. The Carmen I know always has something to say, in class she would often challenge someone’s comment if she thought their view on it was too narrow or they were completely wrong. She would present another angle to satisfy her conscience as well to add to the diverse opinions that our class shared. I can always rely on her to be honest. We can share our thoughts and feelings with each other without judgment and if someone else was listening it might raise an eyebrow occasionally. Life can get messy and hard sometimes. It’s not always pretty and that’s okay. You need that person in your life and we have that with each other.

 Carmen is an emotional person who is exceptionally kind to others. She loves to laugh and joke around. She’s fantastically sarcastic and puts it to good use. She’s a mom who just wants to have enough energy to do everything she envisioned with her kids before she got sick. As a result from that fateful day another word to describe Carmen is chronically ill. This is something she never thought her future would hold, and neither did anyone who knew her. Carmen fights like a dog every day to not have that label define her. She is so much more than a person who is sick and I am so happy that she asked me to help her with this blog post. At the same time, I can see that Carmen is also trying to embrace her new situation as hard as that is for her. She doesn’t want this label or word to hold all the power. Where people will whisper it in hushed tones. She is taking her power back. She has the strength that most people only dream to have. Her and I share our daily successes and struggles with each other and sometimes we are just SO done with life that we need our ‘person’ to listen and say “yup this sucks”. We don’t always try to fix the problem, listening is enough some days. She has great compassion for others, and it shows through when we talk about our own struggles. Comparatively, our problems are not equally matched, but it’s not a competition. My problems are important to me and Carmen’s are important to her. I don’t need to say that she is a great friend too. That goes without saying.

 Carmen has forgiveness in her heart, and always will. She has a tremendous amount of love to give others and herself. A lot of who Carmen was before she got sick is still with her and she fights to keep it that way. Most days she’s successful and the other days she’ll try again tomorrow. Sometimes there just aren’t enough spoons left. Carmen has been given a new perspective, one that no one could have anticipated, but this is her path for better or worse. She does it with grace and strength. It isn’t always easy and she is still learning how to navigate it, but the warrior inside has been unleashed. She is not a quitter and that’s one of the biggest reasons why I think she is still here today. I would be lost without her in my life(and her sarcastic comments).

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Discovering My New Self Since My Diagnosis

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Through every stage of life we’re trying to figure out who we are. What is our role in society, how do we fit in, who are we really? What side of us do we keep to ourselves, show to those closest to us, what do we show to the rest of the world? We are constantly evolving. Jobs change us. People change us. Age changes us. But most of these changes happen gradually enough that we adapt without any thought. What happens though when something comes along and changes everything rapidly? Everything about you needs to accommodate for your new reality.

Since becoming sick, I’ve had to stop working, my social life has changed dramatically, and my relationship with my husband has changed. I no longer work out, my energy level has changed dramatically. My months are filled with appointments instead of coffee dates. I sport an IV line on my chest which everyone stares at, have a handicap parking pass, and have a walker for my really rough days. I’ve made new friends, lost old friends, and grown closer to friends that really stuck by me through all these changes. The list goes on and on, but name something and I can pretty well guarantee that it’s changed in one form or another.

I’ve been saying it for the last year and a half, and I’m sure I will be saying it for a while yet, but I miss the old me. I miss my old life. I was full of life, joyful, positive, loud and opinionated. I loved going out and I hated staying in. If I had an afternoon free, I would either be out being social or working on one of my various projects.

I’m quiet now and much more reserved. It takes a lot of energy to be full of life. I’m not surrounded by people all the time anymore, partly because of not working at the moment and also because going out takes a lot out of me. I find it really difficult to follow conversations now, especially in the evenings when I’m really tired.

How do I go back to being who I used to be? Is it even possible? With my diagnosis and disability has come wisdom and an empathy that has helped me reach out to people. But would I give it up to be the old me again?

I’m sitting here trying to put into words who the new me is and I’m having a hell of a hard time doing that. I think I need an “Under Construction” sign to put on me for the time being. I don’t know who I am right now. I’m still trying to figure out how all of this plays into my new life.

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Yes, I am a mom, a Christian, a wife. But I’m talking about more than labels right now. I’m talking about what knits me together. What words others would use when describing me.

Ideally I’d like to eventually piece who I am back together. Some of my old self and some of my new self. The joy and thirst for adventure I had with the wisdom and vulnerability this new life has taught me. I’m still trying to figure it out, it may take time, but I want people to see the joy and the shine that used to show in my eyes.

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4 Things I’ve Learned When I Realized I’m Not Invincible

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Unless you’ve faced death early in your life, most people believe themselves to be invincible, believing they won’t have to fear death until they are much, much older. The majority of people my age have only experienced death from afar – a friend of a friend, a grandparent, a long lost relative. But for the sake of this post, when I’m talking about facing death, I’m talking about a first hand experience. Having stood toe to toe with death yourself.

Usually the certainty of living until you’re closing in on your 90s is something possessed by those younger than their mid 30s. The thought that nothing will happen to them. Tragedies are only in the movies, far off lands and only found in the news. With this view of our lives, I find comes two responses. The first is that death won’t find you, and therefore you can take on the world and test your luck. You can do anything and everything and hope that the worst that’ll happen to you is a broken bone or two. The second response is that you have plenty of time to get things done. Things constantly get put off. You continue to dream, but you’ll find a better time to live those dreams out. Focus on the here and the now.

The latter form of thinking was me. I’ve always been a dreamer, but felt I had to be practical first. Things or people always got in the way. Excuses upon excuses kept building up and my dreams kept getting pushed to the backburner.

Then the unthinkable happened. A freak accident. My small intestine twisted up and became necrotic, and if it had not been caught when it had, I would have died. I was so ill going into the emergency surgery that I didn’t even realize what was happening. It was when I was going into my second surgery a week later that I had realized how serious this all was. I was laying on the surgical table, and my surgeon came to talk to me before they put me under sedation. I will never forget that moment. Looking up at him, I could see it in his eyes. The sadness, the hopelessness. I could tell just by looking at him that he thought that I wouldn’t make it out of the surgery alive. Tears rolling down my cheeks, I told him that he needed to make sure that I survived; I wasn’t ready to die.

My view on life has changed since those days, and I really want to share with you guys what realizing that I’m not invincible has taught me.

#1 – I’ve had to give up on some dreams, but I can form some new ones. We all dream. We all want big things for our life. I’ve had to give up on some big dreams: going scuba diving, running a 10k, getting pregnant again, living in Africa. Some dreams are easy to give up, and others are ridiculously hard. My heart still hurts, and may never stop hurting, that I can’t get pregnant again.

I’ve also come to realize that I need to start taking advantage of the life that I do have left. I’m crossing off things on my bucket list that I’ve put off for so long. Ok, so I may never be able to go scuba diving for fear that I’ll get an infection from the bacteria in the ocean, but I’ve had other dreams brewing for a long time. I’ve had the opportunity to cross a couple off my list already this year that honestly, I would’ve put off even longer if I hadn’t become sick. I have to plan for things differently to make sure I don’t get too sick, or plan that I do nothing for a couple days after knowing that I will be very sick. But, at least I know to plan for them. Life looks different now, but I still have to take advantage of my time here on earth.

#2 – I look at my loved ones in a very different light. I do my best to invest in the relationships that have always been there, and putting more time in relationships that I want to see grow.

I almost made my husband a widower, my daughter motherless, and my parents bury their only daughter. These are things that are always close to my heart. Not as something that devastates me, but as a reminder to really prioritize these relationships. I say sorry when I’m being a jerk, I never leave the house without saying I love you, and I get in all the hugs and kisses that I can. You really never know when the last ones will be.

#3 – I’ve learned to not fear death. I have a strong faith in God. I know that when I do die, I’m going to Heaven. But I really do think that if God saved me from dying, there’s a reason for it. I’ve come to the point where I’m not scare of dying, but more so scared of leaving people behind. I think that’s what helped me be so strong and fight for my life, the people I knew that were waiting for me.

#4 – Now I’m learning to not be afraid of living. I think this is honestly one of the hardest ones for most of us who live with a chronic illness. I said earlier how I’m working on crossing things off of my bucket list, but those events only come a few times a year. Those are the big things that you plan for. When I talk about living, I talk about the day to day life which is so hard for us to face. I guess this point has less to do with realizing that I’m not invincible, but embracing my life with chronic illness. I’ve come to realize that life is ridiculously short and I don’t want to waste it sitting at home all the time. Thing is, if I leave the house, I will pay for it later that day, the next day, and sometimes even longer. But – I keep having to remind myself it’s worth it. I sometimes literally have to force myself to go out, even if it’s just for a coffee run. I’ve made a goal for myself to make plans with friends at least once a week. I never regret making plans, even if it knocks me out for days. I can’t live the rest of my life cooped up in my house, no matter how terrible I feel.

Yeah, being faced with death sucks, for anyone, but we also have a little nugget of wisdom and insight on life that not everyone gets. Take advantage of that and LIVE.

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I Can’t, but We Can

I’m a very blessed woman. I have always had a community of some sort around me. Through every walk of life, I’ve at least had one person to turn to and as I grow older, my support systems have grown – both in depth and numbers. More importantly though, I have come to appreciate them so much more in the last year.

I have my family – my husband and daughter, my parents and siblings, and my in-laws. I also have my friends that may as well be family, those both far and near. These are the people who were the first ones there when I was sick. Waiting with Joe while I was fighting for my life in surgery. Hopping on the first flight to be by my bedside day in and day out. Friends who, over the last year, I have been able to call while in tears because I am so fed up with my situation. I realize not everyone has family and friends like this, but I have been immensely grateful to have these people by my side.

There are so many other forms of community out there though, and take it from me, no matter what you’re going through, you need community. Whether to help you celebrate or grieve different situations in your life, they are a necessary part of it.

Church – I found a great community in my church and I literally had hundreds of people praying for me, feeding my family, and helping care for us in many ways while I was hospitalized. These are the people who have held on to hope and faith and kept praying for me when I just wasn’t able do it for myself.

Online Community – I so love and appreciate the fact that everything is online nowadays. I have been able to connect with people from all over the world who also rely on TPN as a form of nutrition. Through Facebook, I’ve been able to meet a mom here in Ottawa whose daughter is on TPN (and am so looking forward to meeting her daughter). I’ve also become great friends with a woman down in Texas who went through a very similar situation as mine last April and hope that we can one day meet in person. I am forming friendships that I never would have found otherwise. They are under very unfortunate circumstances, but nevertheless, I am very thankful for my new friends.

Being diagnosed with a rare illness makes it hard to find answers (my doctors don’t have answers to many of my questions), and through online forums I’ve been able to ask many questions to others who have been on TPN for longer than I have. The best resources have been through these online communities.

Even just through Facebook and writing on my blog, I have regained contact with old friends who are also struggling with a variety of life’s hardships. It’s interesting how when life seems to dump on you, it can bring people together. Hurting people tend to know how to encourage other hurting people, no matter how different their situations may be.

Support Groups – The last form of community that I want to mention in this post, is support groups. This isn’t necessarily finding a group that is going through something similar to what you are, although it can be, but it’s also to find a group that will uplift and encourage you and that you can do the same for the others in the group.

I’ve been going to a Mom’s group which has brought into my life such wonderful women. Although we all come from different walks of life, it’s 2 hours a week where we can forget life’s troubles and just come for a laugh and a good time. It’s something that I really look forward to going to and again, it’s introduced me to people that I may not have necessarily gotten to know.

I’m also starting a book group with a few others to study Walking with God through Pain and Suffering by Timothy Keller (check him out, I love his books)! This is obviously a very different type of support group than the one I previously mentioned, but I really didn’t want to go through this book alone. I know that it’s going to bring about some very difficult issues to deal with and why not go through it with other people who are also grieving different losses in their lives.

There are so many different forms of community out there. You don’t have to be a part of a big family or a church. You don’t have to be ill or going through a difficult time. But everyone needs a community of some kind. It’s so important and so necessary for the soul.

I really don’t think I could have gotten through this last year without my different communities. They’ve all played their parts and for that I will be forever grateful.

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