Multiple Sclerosis

Mental Health & Chronic Illness: Why It’s Critical We Discuss them TOGETHER.

Just so you know, I may earn money or products from the companies mentioned in this post, but it won’t affect the price you pay at all! I have a full affiliate disclosure that you can find here.

I share openly about my chronic illness, Multiple Sclerosis, and my struggles with chronic pain, fatigue, and brain fog. Why? Because if my story can help one other person feel less alone, or help someone to be kinder towards a person with an invisible illness, then it was worth sharing.

While I’ve mentioned it, I don’t think that mental health, including depression and anxiety (two conditions I have), are talked about enough in today’s society. Sadly, there is still a stigma against mental health conditions.

“At the root of this dilemma is the way we view mental health in this country. Whether an illness affects your heart, your leg or your brain, it’s still an illness, and there should be no distinction.”

Michelle Obama

As we enter May, which is Mental Health Awareness Month, I want to share some statistics from Mental Health America. Does the fact that 80% of people struggling with a ‘traditional’ chronic health condition also struggle with a mental health condition surprise you?

It certainly doesn’t surprise me.

Chronic illness is isolating, exhausting, frustrating, and unpredictable. I cannot imagine living with MS and not also dealing with depression and anxiety. Actually, I had been receiving treatment for depression long before my MS diagnosis.

I’m extremely grateful that I learned some coping techniques and found a medication that works for me before my first MS flare. Plus, I’m extremely lucky that my family and friends never stigmatized mental health conditions and have always supported me.

Mental health and chronic illness; why it's critical we discuss them together.

The Struggle Is Real

According to Mental Health America, “For those dealing with a chronic health condition and the people who care for them, it can be especially important to focus on mental health. When dealing with dueling diagnoses, focusing on both the physical and mental health concerns can be daunting – but critically important in achieving overall wellness.”

Well, daunting seems like a bit of an understatement to me! I do agree that mental health is critically important in achieving overall wellness. Personally, I know that the worse I feel physically, the worse I tend to feel mentally too. Yes, I know that the opposite can be true as well.

Unfortunately, when you don’t have as much control over your daily energy or pain levels as much as a ‘normal’ person does, you have to make harder choices. Doing things that are good for your mental health, like going for a walk in the park or meeting up with friends, can be physically impossible.

What CAN We Do?

Well, although I spend a lot of time at the doctors’ office, I am not a doctor and not giving you any medical advice. However, I am confident that by sharing our own stories, struggles, and successes, we can all help each other.

No matter what you’re dealing with in life, you deserve to be happy. You are enough. I do think you can find joy in life with chronic illness and that includes mental health conditions too. I wrote a blog post sharing some of my favorite strategies here, but a few of my go-to ways to find joy are:

  • Snuggle with your favorite pet. Dixie, my rescue dog, is critical in my life and brings me so much joy!
  • Talk to someone. I have personally found that meeting with a professional therapist is helpful, and worth the time and energy.
  • Find an online support community if you can’t get out of the house. Join us on Facebook in Full of Grit and Grace if you’d like.
  • Readjust your expectations, try to think of the little feel-good moments, and celebrate the small wins in your life.
  • Try not to waste your precious energy on beating yourself up mentally. Life is hard enough without us being harder on ourselves.
  • Don’t have enough time for self-care? Download this free tool to help you reclaim your schedule.
  • Recognize that doing your best is always enough. Is breathing all you accomplished today? That is enough.
You are enough. The connection between chronic illness and mental health. Nails from Color Street and Sticker from the Soul Project.
Mental Health Awareness Nails by Color Street & Sticker from the Soul Project.

What are your best strategies for living well with chronic illness, depression, anxiety, or other health issues? I’d love to hear them!

And if you’re struggling, please know that you are not alone. Visit http://www.mhascreening.org to check your symptoms. It’s free, confidential, and anonymous. Once you have your results, MHA will give you information and help you and tools and resources to feel better.

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3 Strategies for Living Well with Chronic Fatigue

Just so you know, I may earn money or products from the companies mentioned in this post. I have a full affiliate disclosure that you can find here.

Stay Hydrated!

We all know the importance of drinking water, but drinking enough water is hard, am I right?! And apparently, iced coffee totally doesn’t count!! I enjoy adding Hydrant to my water, because the lime flavor is great, plus the benefits are awesome too. Per their site, Hydrant‘s unique ingredient blend allows you to absorb water more efficiently, think of it like a hydrant that sends water quickly and efficiently to your cells. Plus, you can save 33% on your order through 5/31/19 with this link and code HYDRANT33!

Hydrant lime drink helps keep you hydrated

Hydrant creates effective hydration products developed in-house by an Oxford Biologist. The Optimal Hydration Mix fights the fatigue that 75% of us experience from dehydration every day. Formulated to make water work better, instantly and conveniently, Optimal Hydration Mix keeps you healthy and hydrated.

#DrinkHydrant

Use Your Energy Wisely

Look, we all want successful businesses, clean houses, fab hair, and home-cooked meals, but it’s just not attainable for most people to ‘do it all’, let alone someone with a chronic illness! If you’re dealing with chronic fatigue, as I do, then you know that you never know how much energy you’ll have each day. That makes it even more important to learn to prioritize ruthlessly, which I discussed further in this blog post.

When my body tells me I need to rest, either by giving up completely or giving me the dread cognitive ‘fog’, I have to take a break. Pushing myself or ‘hustling’ harder will NOT work when you have a chronic illness. So the dishes might stay dirty. The house always needs to be cleaned. The meals aren’t gourmet. And, I use way too much dry shampoo. But, those are things that are a part of my new ‘normal‘ and I’ve come to accept them.

Minimize Stress

Minimize stress? Yeah, right. I know you’re rolling your eyes at me! And that’s ok, because life is freaking stressful. Right?! We cannot control a lot of things in this world, but we can learn to control how we react. Things that would stress me out before, like those constantly dirty dishes I mentioned above, I’ve learned to let go of. I don’t have extra energy to waste stressed out about unimportant things. Of course, I still get stressed, but therapy, meditation, and learning to give myself grace have helped a LOT. Mental health issues, like the depression, and anxiety I have, are common in today’s society. Unfortunately, they’re still sometimes stigmatized. If you need help, medication, or talk therapy, please reach out to someone you trust. There is NO shame in doing what is best for you.

What helps you minimize your fatigue??

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Actipatch Review: Does it Help with Pain?

Just so you know, I may earn money or products from the companies mentioned in this post. I have a full affiliate disclosure that you can find here.

We all deal with aches and pains, but what happens when the pain won’t go away? I was in a car accident 5 years ago, and I’ve had chronic back pain and sciatica ever since. After herniated discs, back surgery, and dystonia (muscle spasms) from my Multiple Sclerosis, my back pain is chronic and often quite miserable.

Three weeks ago, I saw an advertisement for the ActiPatch and decided to give it a try. $30 with free shipping for the chance at pain relief for 720 hours, why not?!

Of course, I’ve tried everything to help relieve the pain. I go to weekly massage appointments and often see a chiropractor. Yes, I have done physical therapy, acupuncture, cortisone injections, and I make many accommodations to my life to help make my pain more manageable. And I’ve met with countless doctors. I shared a few of my tips on The Unchargeables blog as well.

Does it Really Work?!

Yes! Surprisingly, I’ve been wearing my ActiPatch for two full weeks, and it has made a great difference in my pain level. Has it solved everything? No, of course not. But has it lowered my overall pain level? YES.

Wearing the ActiPatch on my right shoulder, where my MS has caused uncontrollable muscle spasms, has helped me the most. Does the muscle still spasm? Of course. But it hurts substantially less thanks to my patch.

can you retrain your brain to unlearn chronic nerve pain?

How does it work? Magic? Their website says: When you have chronic pain—like my nerve pain—your nerves are constantly sending pain signals. There are 2 problems causing your pain: 1) “Wear and tear”,leading to bone-on-bone contact and pain/inflammation. 2) The faulty pain signaling that your nerves learn from sending pain signals for too long.

ActiPatch works on this faulty signaling: When nerves in your painful shoulder constantly send pain signals over a long period of time, the nerves “learn” to “over-react”, like developing an allergy. During regular activities, instead of communicating normally with your brain, the nerves in your spine “over-react” and falsely send pain signals to the brain—and deliver “real” pain signals much more strongly than they normally would.

ActiPatch helps your nerves “unlearn” pain

ActiPatch helps retrain your nerves—teaching them to quit sending so many abnormal pain signals. Using rapidly pulsing electromagnetic waves (so low you can’t even feel them), but high enough to provide benefits, ActiPatch “teaches” your “over-reactive” nerves to signal correctly again. And, because it’s wireless, you don’t need to attach anything, you just put it directly on your skin or over bandaging, hold it in place with adhesive or a wrap and let it work! It’s so light and small that you can’t tell that you’re wearing it under your clothes.

ActiPatch helps retrain your nerves—teaching them to send pain signals normally again.

I gave my mom an ActiPatch and it has helped her back pain as well. Of course, she forgets to wear hers, so it hasn’t helped her as much. I wear mine constantly, and it’s light enough so that I don’t even notice it when I’m sleeping etc.

While I still live in pain daily, I am glad to have found the ActiPatch. It works along with my daily stretching routine and therapies.

If you live with pain, how do you cope?

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Chronically Ill? Wow, you must be SO Brave.

Just so you know, I may earn money or products from the companies mentioned in this post. I have a full affiliate disclosure that you can find here.

Being brave isn’t the absence of fear. Being brave is having that fear but finding a way through it.

Bear Grylls

Do you think of yourself as brave? I never have. Growing up, I was always afraid of bugs, needles, heights, and oh so much more. Okay, I’m still afraid of all of those things, but I’ve gotten a lot better with needles! Let’s just say, I’ve never been the epitome of brave.

When I picture someone who’s brave, I picture a first responder. A veteran. A surgeon. A teacher (all those kids?! Whoah, that’s brave!). Someone who does difficult or terrifying things because they want to help others. Yet, since my Mulitple Sclerosis diagnosis, many people have told me how brave they think I am.

Can I get a refund on this body?! It’s defective!

Uh, me? Nope, I think you’ve got the wrong girl. Mulitple Sclerosis isn’t something I chose, and doctors don’t even know why it happens yet. I don’t want this disease, and I don’t think I deserve admiration for living my life with something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.

excuse me, can I get a refund on this body please? It's defective! Thoughts on bravery and inspiration from a Multiple Sclerosis patient.

Sharing about my treatments and my life with MS on social media is something I do to help raise awareness for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. And, I do it to help others will invisible illness to know that they’re not alone. I appreciate the never-ending support all of my friends and family give me. But, I’ll be honest, while I appreciate them telling me that I’m ‘brave’ and ‘inspiring’, I usually don’t feel like I am.

I don’t feel brave when I’m lying on the couch too fatigued or in too much pain to play with Dixie, my sweet dog. When I have to turn down doing things I enjoy with the people I love, because my body will not cooperate, I don’t feel brave. Trying to choose a medication that will possibly help me but likely will also have horrible side effects doesn’t feel very brave. I sure as hell don’t feel inspiring. But, as one of my dear friend’s often reminds me, I don’t get to choose who I inspire,

And as another friend reminded me, choosing to be vulnerable, choosing to fight my disease (and my own body, really), continuing to participate in Walk MS is actually very brave.

Brave: ready to face and endure danger or pain; showing courage.

While I may not ever be truly ready to endure the pain that Multiple Sclerosis causes me, I can recognize the times when I show courage. Using the wheelchair assistance in the airport, because I need it as much as I hate it, is brave. I wish it wasn’t brave, because I wish that people wouldn’t stare when you ‘look so good’ but actually need the assistance. #ThisisMS

I’d love it if we didn’t have to talk about how brave Selma Blair was for showing up at the Grammys with a cane because of her Multiple Sclerosis. I wish we could simply talk about how beautiful she looked. Or better yet, how talented she is! Yet, that’s not the world we live in. Disability, using assistive devices, etc., is still looked upon as ‘less than’. And showing your face in public when you’re different?! Wow, that’s brave.

Maybe one day, being different won’t be seen as so brave. We can hope, right? Truly, I hope that as a society, we can all learn to be kinder to each other. To judge less, love more, and believe each other when we say that we are struggling.

And of course, I hope that one day there’s a cure for Multiple Sclerosis so no one else will have to suffer and be brave enough to fight their own immune system.

How do you deal with being told that you’re brave or inspiring when you don’t feel like you are?

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Four Words that Will Change Your Life Forever: You have Multiple Sclerosis

Just so you know, I may earn money or products from the companies mentioned in this post. I have a full affiliate disclosure that you can find here.

Dear Newly Diagnosed Me,

Welp. This sucks. Remember that time you were sideswiped in your car and you had no idea that you’d live with chronic back pain every single day going forward? Yeah, this is gonna suck more than that did. And it’s going to hit you much harder than that accident did, not over a long period of time and trials.

 

Those four words “You have Multiple Sclerosis” are absolutely going to change your life forever.

 

Cry. Scream. It’s okay to feel all of those feelings. But know, deep deep down somewhere that you probably can’t feel right now, that you are still going to live a good life with chronic illness. In fact, you’re going to live a GREAT life.


Is every day going to be great? Nope. A lot of days are going to be complete suckfests. You’ll need more surgery (not even related to your Multiple Sclerosis), you’ll have new symptoms that don’t go away. Remembering things that came easily to you before will now be hard. But no one will be more frustrated with you than you are. You won’t listen to your body, you’ll overdo it, and you’ll pay for it.

 

Trusting your body and your mind will be harder than you ever imagined. Symptoms and fatigue are unpredictable. You will lose friends. Learning to cope with your Multiple Sclerosis will take time, and you’ll grow distant from people. Your depression will be the worst it’s ever been and you’ll have some bad days. Plus, you’ll start living with anxiety, which isn’t something you ever had to face before.

In fact, when you tell someone you have Multiple Sclerosis, when use your cane, the handicap service at the airport, or know the secret pathways through the hospital, people will stare at you in disbelief. ‘But you look SO GOOD’ they’ll say. And they’re not wrong. You can have a chronic illness and still be cute. Who said that you suddenly ‘look sick’ when you have Multiple Sclerosis? Or any other invisible disease for that matter? Invisible diseases like Multiple Sclerosis, Degenerative Disc Disease, Depression, Anxiety, and so many more are referred to as INVISIBLE for a reason. And yes, you WILL get frustrated when people (lots of them) tell you how good you look, or how brave you are because you know they mean it as a compliment, but it’s frustrating as hell when you feel like someone doesn’t believe you.

 

Hope is not lost. Life’s hard, choose joy anyway, right?

Rocking my Chronically Ill Badass t-shirt and my Tysabri infusion to help slow the progression of my Multiple Sclerosis
Rocking my Chronically Ill Badass t-shirt and my Tysabri infusion to help slow the progression of my Multiple Sclerosis

You’ll learn that sharing your story, your diagnosis, and your struggles will resonate with people you don’t even know. The kindness and empathy you receive from complete strangers will move you beyond words.

 

You’ll learn to re-prioritize your life, your business, and what brings you joy so that you can actually do things you love AND listen to your body’s needs. Thankfully, you will learn (super quickly) to become an advocate for your own health (and others). You’ll have an amazing team of doctors that advise you to combine holistic therapy and traditional therapies as you see fit. Spoon theory will become a valuable term that helps you to describe your capabilities to your family, friends, and doctors.

 

You’ll quickly learn that you don’t have energy or ‘spoons’ to waste on negative people, anger, or drama. You will surround yourself with people who lift you up, who support you, and who empathize with you, even if they can never truly understand you. Most importantly, you’ll never be alone, and you’ll work to make sure that no one else facing an invisible illness feels alone either.

 

Life isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. Some days are still going to suck with Multiple Sclerosis and chronic illness. But you’ll learn to find more JOY in the mediocre days, and truly savor the GREAT in the good days. You won’t find balance (spoiler alert: it doesn’t exist), but you will find joy again. You’ll help people more, love stronger, and learn to ask for help, even if you still hate it, and you’ll thrive.

 

You’ve got grit, and you’re going to figure out how to give yourself the grace that you so freely give to others. Plus, you’re pretty chronically badass too. 

 

Do you have a chronic illness? What do you wish you could tell your newly diagnosed self?

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