Category Archives: Conversations

What do you use your chair for? How a Lyft driver wore me out.

My phone rang – someone was calling from a Washington D.C. number. I usually ignore unknown numbers, but something made me answer this time.

“Hi, this is *Frank, your Lyft driver. I see you have a chair, will it fit in the back of a regular-sized sedan?”

I’d forgotten I had my account on the accessibility setting. This must have been why the only available driver was over 15 minutes away – Lyft had to find someone who could transport a wheelchair.

“Oh, I’m so sorry, I forgot I had the accessibility setting on. I don’t have my chair with me.”

“Oh…ok. Well, I’m – I guess I’m about 10 minutes away. Bye.”

In my mind I began creating an awkward (or worse – judgmental) hypothetical conversation for when Frank arrived. Continue reading What do you use your chair for? How a Lyft driver wore me out.

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Q&A with Charis about her journey with Ankylosing Spondylitis

 

These questions were asked by friends of mine after I was diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis. If you have a question, add it in the comments below!


How old were you when you started showing symptoms of AS?

I was 13 when I first began showing symptoms, although I’m beginning to think I was younger since I had really bad “growing pains” in my knees as a young kid. At 13, my hips began aching and cramping – I recall my friends in their 60s telling me it sounded like arthritis.

When were you first diagnosed, and how did you handle it? 

I was officially (clinically/medically) diagnosed during the spring of 2013, although I knew what it was several months beforehand. I did not have insurance when I found out, so I couldn’t have an official diagnosis until after I found insurance. At the time I would have been charged more for having a pre-existing condition. My whole world was uprooted. I have accepted that I have the disease, but I have not accepted what I have lost and what I am and will continue to lose.

How did it present initially and how were you finally diagnosed?

Symptoms multiplied over time as I aged. In late middle school I began experiencing a dull achy pain in my lower back – it hurt to lie on my stomach and prop myself up on my elbows because it arched my back (that aggravated my pain). In college my back would spasm at night. Severe low back pain began my sophomore year in college, even while I was playing college soccer.

Throughout my life: I would be told by people I sigh a lot, but I did not notice it – it turns out I have always struggled to fill my lungs with air. I was also always a very fidgety person, never able to sit in one position for long.

Some upper respiratory bug caught me in the fall of 2012; it wouldn’t go away. I went to urgent care twice in two weeks for a pneumonia scare and a heart attack scare, but each time nothing was discovered. When doctors tried to give me anti-anxiety and anti-depressants, I did my own research and discovered I had inherited my father’s disease. This was days after my 26th birthday in 2013.

I didn’t connect all my symptoms to the same disease until after I was diagnosed. Continue reading Q&A with Charis about her journey with Ankylosing Spondylitis

Talking Ankylosing Spondylitis with Imagine Dragons’ Dan Reynolds

I don’t always interview rock stars – it’s not really my thing. But this day was different. This was personal.

It was a chilly morning, much too early for my stiff body to roll out of bed. But this was a big day – I would soon be interviewing Dan Reynolds, the lead singer of Imagine Dragons.

“This wouldn’t be happening,” I thought, “if we didn’t share a wicked diagnosis.”

In late 2015, Dan announced during a show that he lives with Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS). A year later, he partnered with Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation and the Spondylitis Association of America to launch This AS Life Live!, an interactive talk show for and by patients living with AS.

Before I keep going, I want to express how lonely it can be to trudge through life surviving a disease that people do not know about. I spend substantial time and energy educating friends, strangers, and even doctors about my condition, which leaves little room for receiving compassion and empathy – like the supportive gestures people usually offer to someone who has a disease in the limelight. Everyone knows cancer is bad, but AS is not a well-known disease, so for a celebrity to name it on stage is life-changing. Continue reading Talking Ankylosing Spondylitis with Imagine Dragons’ Dan Reynolds

I’m Still Proud

I’m still proud.

…Of being a Democrat. Because we try to put in place policies that protect and assist the poor, the disadvantaged, the disenfranchised, the marginalized, the needy…people who are less-than by no fault of their own. I’m proud of being a Democrat because we don’t expect everyone has the ability to pull themselves up by their bootstraps but we do want everyone to flourish as best they can with the same or similar opportunities. I’m proud because we reach across the aisle even when our hands are slapped over and over, we accept defeat graciously and we continue our work even if we can’t have the title ‘President’ or ‘Senator’ on our lapel pins. Continue reading I’m Still Proud

“Smack That Ass!”

Yesterday evening as I was walking with my friend, Robert, by the river, two men in a motorboat passed by heading the same direction.

One called out: “Are you two a couple?”

No.

“Are you related?”

No.

“Then smack that ass. You better smack that ass!”

I immediately turn to keep walking and ignore them just as Robert yells, “Why do you want her to smack my ass?” as he gets in front of me and bends forward slightly. “Like this?”

So I did. I smacked his ass.

But the end of the story is not what made me nearly sob today when I remembered the interaction.

Continue reading “Smack That Ass!”

What Mom Thinks About Me Being Sick

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Mother, Caroline, and Daughter, Charis, at Meredith College circa 1989. Charis is wearing the first dress she ever picked out.

I have ankylosing spondylitis and several mental health issues. I asked my mother some questions about them impacting my life. Here’s what she had to say:

What was I like as a child?

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Charis building muscles at a young age

You were always physically active – as a baby, stretching and leaning toward what you liked/wanted.  You enjoyed crawling, walking, later bicycling.  I enjoyed watching you do backbends and cartwheels at about ages 6-10.  You wanted to be scored – 1-10 – as though in the Olympics.  You loved kittens and puppies.  You enjoyed holding them and carrying them around.  You were inquisitive.  You were very shy as a toddler, often hiding behind my skirts or my legs so you would not have to talk to people who addressed you.  You enjoyed spending time with people of all ages as you became an older child.  You became friends with adults and enjoyed learning new things such as tennis and fishing from your grandparents.  I had come to believe that “it takes a village to raise a child”, so I encouraged your independence in going alone by bicycle into our village and forming many relationships with nurturing adults there.  I allowed and encouraged you to be outspoken to the point of some thinking you were “too sassy”, but I believed that as a female in this society, you would need to be able to speak up and take care of yourself as you grew up.  There could easily be a book about how you were as a child, so this will have to be an incomplete capsule.

Do we have any similar quirks that you have noticed/ Do you think these quirks are the result of nature or nurture? Continue reading What Mom Thinks About Me Being Sick

My Queer Story

Elementary school:

+I’m on the school bus sitting behind an older girl. She is playing with her hair and I stare at her, intrigued. She turns around and says, “What are you staring at, white girl?” I blush deep red and look away, unsure what I did wrong.

Middle school:

+I still wear my brother’s hand-me-downs. I’m comfortable wearing shorts that reach my knees, jeans with holes in the knees, and shirts multiple sizes too large for me. But I begin to feel self-conscious because the other girls and some of the boys bully me. I am pressured to start dressing more like a girl and I begin to wear tighter jeans and shorter shorts.

+A new boy moves to town and he becomes my boyfriend. We kiss behind a building during a school field trip. We ride bicycles and play soccer together.

High school:
Continue reading My Queer Story