Tag Archives: chronic pain

Dear Prescription Opioid Debaters:

Dear debaters,

I am a 30 year old who inherited a lifelong inflammatory disease called ankylosing spondylitis (AS). AS can cause the spine to fuse together from bone spurs and can affect organs and other joints. AS causes significant pain, to put it lightly.

I am also a former college athlete and marathoner. I know what it means to push through pain as an athlete. But I cannot push through the pain caused by my disease. Pushing through it causes the disease to progress and the pain to increase.

My main treatment is a drug made from living cells (the same class of drugs that treats many cancers); it helps slow the progression of my disease. Because this treatment is [finally!] working, it also reduces some of the worst symptoms. But AS is a severe disease with no cure, so even with this specialty drug I still have plenty of pain.

And, like millions of chronic pain patients who fight simply to survive daily, I’ve tried everything to control the pain. Continue reading Dear Prescription Opioid Debaters:

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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.

My Walk to Cure Arthritis

I still remember my first time. I showed up curious, yet expecting to be bored. After doing cancer walks and fundraisers for everyone else, this was just another event for people with some horrible condition. I didn’t really take it seriously – after all, arthritis was for old people, not me.  This walk felt like something else to fill up space on my calendar. I could be doing…something else.

It was May 18th, 2013, and I was standing in front of the California State Capitol building at 8:30am. A month earlier I had been diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis. It was “California-HOT.” People were gathered around without much energy – people I didn’t know, until a few friends showed up and held me upright while I wondered for the last time what I was actually doing there. I still didn’t want to accept I actually had arthritis.

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With Suzy, 2013 Arthritis Walk

I had raised over $2,000 for this walk. Raising the money was a way to share my story after the shock of hearing the words, “You have ankylosing spondylitis.”

It wasn’t about the money. It was about screaming at the top of my lungs to be heard after my world fell apart. It was about what I could control. While I couldn’t control this new diagnosis, I could make sure everyone in my life knew about it.

It wasn’t about the money. It was about people seeing my world fall apart, and I wanted my friends to glue me back together and erase the scars. Continue reading My Walk to Cure Arthritis