Tag Archives: Chronic disease

14 Ways To Become a Chronic Disease Advocate

There is not a one-size-fits-all way to become a chronic disease advocate or activist. Everyone’s journey will be shaped by personal experiences, interests, time and ability.

I’ve gathered these tips from my own journey, but by no means is this an exhaustive list and I don’t recommend attempting them all at once. Also, while directed at people who have chronic diseases, these tips can apply to partners, caregivers, friends and family who want to become allied advocates.

As long as the end goal is to raise awareness publicly for the sake of social or political change, there is no inherently wrong way to create an advocacy platform.


1) Get comfortable telling your own story. Come out as sick. Introduce your disease to friends, family, and peers in a manner that also outlines your clear desire for them to listen – you may even need to say, “This is my story and unless you have lived it, I expect you to really hear me.” No one can tell your story for you and owning your experience can be empowering. Also consider that there are hundreds, thousands, or millions more people experiencing the same things you are.

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Charis giving a TEDx talk in Sacramento, CA in September 2016

Continue reading 14 Ways To Become a Chronic Disease Advocate

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People With Severe Health Conditions Dream of Simple Things

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I want to go to the doctor one day and once again check the box on the intake paperwork that says “generally healthy.” The once robotic maneuver of sliding my arm smoothly down paperwork to check off a straight line of boxes is now a chore requiring concentration and an agile hand zigzagging across columns.

Having the opportunity to check that “generally healthy” box would reinstate my self-worth as an able, capable human.

This dream is on my bucket list between trips to Hawaii and Zamibia. But the dream vacations do not get much attention – I’m distracted by the more immediate and unrealistic desire for good health. I’m waiting with open arms, but I don’t expect this invitation will be answered. Continue reading People With Severe Health Conditions Dream of Simple Things

My Running Shoes Are Waiting for a Cure

My running shoes shuffle hesitantly by the door, moving in unplanned rhythm with cat hair and dust bunnies that create a grey veil over their silent, still tongues. How long have they been sitting there? They peer at me hopefully every time I open the front door, but I can see they feel more neglected each day, every time I look at them and shake my head: “No, not today. I don’t know when. I’m sorry. I miss you, too.”

Continue reading My Running Shoes Are Waiting for a Cure

To the Social Security Administration About Denying My Claim for Disability Benefits

When I first wrote about applying for disability, I mentioned a standard practice of the Social Security Administration: default semi-automatic denials of disability claims. On average, it takes 3-5 years for someone who is disabled to be awarded benefits. This routine dragging out of claims affects me and many others financially and emotionally and also feels immoral and unjust. The disability process has been intentionally crafted to be as difficult as possible to navigate and even survive, yet this program was founded for the purpose of helping people live better lives.

The following letter is my formal response to a denial of my first claim. To be clear, many claims are denied twice before moving to a hearing with a judge. I am sharing this publicly because I want to expose the vulnerability so many go through as they seek disability – as they seek resources so they might live longer, healthier, fuller lives in the face of significant barriers to a substantial work-life.

Before I share my letter, here are some reasons I was told I am not disabled under the rules of the Social Security Administration:

Continue reading To the Social Security Administration About Denying My Claim for Disability Benefits

Healthcare Is a Privilege. It Should Be An Inalienable Right.

I grew up privileged – white, yes – but also without ever considering what life would look like if my mother’s job did not provide her and her family with healthcare.

When I had walking pneumonia in fifth grade and was in bed for three weeks, I never considered what it would mean if my mother had to choose what to do or where to seek help if we didn’t have insurance.

When I was on birth control pills in high school, the drug co-pays were predictable. I didn’t fear my medication would suddenly become cost-prohibitive.

When I broke my nose, I never once considered that some people couldn’t go to the emergency room because they didn’t have insurance.

When I was in college I tore my ACL and later broke my hand playing college soccer. My bills were covered. I didn’t know other students didn’t have the healthcare I accessed.

I believed healthcare was something everyone had. If someone got sick or injured, s/he went to the doctor, paid the copay, then went to the pharmacy, paid the copay, etc etc.

I was blindly privileged. Continue reading Healthcare Is a Privilege. It Should Be An Inalienable Right.

We All Need Gathering Places

Arthritis Introspective 9th Annual Gathering: #GrowTogether16

Nashville, Tennessee

May, 2016

Dear Journal,

I’m spending the weekend with a lot of really special people. We’ll drink alcohol, many of us. And take lots of drugs combined. Lots and lots of drugs.

Drugs we wish we didn’t have to take. Did you think this was Burning Man?

No. We’re all sick. We all have some form of arthritis, and many of us brought loved ones with us. We came to have fun – not despite – because we have arthritis.

We didn’t come here to complain. We came to share experiences and be reminded that we aren’t alone. We are a family. We know exactly what it means to survive, and we are determined to be whole humans in the process.

Many of us suffer from multiple chronic conditions because of and/or in addition to our arthritis: depression, anxiety, heart disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory conditions, high blood pressure, etc.

And the drugs. Oh the drugs. Did I mention the drugs? Biologics. Corticosteroids. Chemotherapy. Non Steroidal Anti-Inflammatories. Analgesics (oral and topical), Disease Modifying Antirheumatic Drugs, eye steroids (did you know there are steroids for eyes?). Sleep medication. Anxiety medication. Depression medication. Blood pressure medication. Insulin. Medical Marijuana. Etc. Etc. Etc. Continue reading We All Need Gathering Places

Chronic Doesn’t Go Away

Chronic does not mean predictable. Chronic does not mean temporary. It also doesn’t mean consistent, monotonous, predictably repetitive, or habitual. It’s not banal or soporific. Except that it is.

It can be seen, yet it is invisible. It’s tedious, at the same time that it’s not. It’s not a routine, at the same time that it is. Everything changes, at the same time that nothing really changes.

Which is why we have such trouble understanding it.

Like the Greek word agápe, with no direct English translation, chronic disease – chronos – does not translate into something we can make sense of at first either. The idea that anything will last until we die is far-fetched (except for happy marriages and twinkies).

‘Chronic’ doesn’t fit our understanding of how health and sickness works. We’ve been conditioned to believe that our illnesses are curable; if we just try enough treatments we’ll get better. Injectables, swallowables, stitchables, chemicals, radiation(ables) can fix anything.

Except that they can’t.

Chronic disease is like a parasite; surviving off its host, always adapting to resist being eradicated. The intense throbbing of an anxious and overburdened body is an unwelcome, yet familiar, intrusion with the dawning of each new day.

Chronic disease is unpredictable and that unpredictability makes it nearly impossible to control. The drugs may not be permanent but some side effects are, and the progressive nature of the disease introduces new symptoms when least expected – symptoms that will be forever crashing workdays, nap times, parties, and vacations.

Imagine every injury or mystery pain is there to stay. No longer are muscle strains and sprains healed with heat/ice and stretching; the pain never goes away. No longer are a stuffy nose and sore throat symptoms of a common cold; they are now permanent. No longer is an all-over, throbbing ache a warning sign of the flu; it is reality 24/7/365.

We who have these forever conditions don’t get used to them. There is a degree of accepting them, and though we adapt to these changes in our bodies with no other choice, we still remember what we used to be capable of. Even if we’d prefer not think about our losses, our medical charts track them for us. We can hope for remission, but anyone who knows anything about cancer understands that remission is a sleeping dragon.

Chronic is the wicked word, not disease. Because chronic is the reason our diseases stay.

Chronic doesn’t go away.