Tag Archives: invisible disease

I Talked with Zach, the Try Guy with Ankylosing Spondylitis (Part II)

Since Zach’s vlog announcement of his Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS) diagnosis in September 2017, the video has been viewed over 4.9 million times (as of time of this publication).

In part one of this series I talked about Zach’s story’s impact, the validation that came with his diagnosis, and lessons learned living with a disease that is always beneath the surface.

In part two I dive deeper into Zach’s decision to announce his diagnosis on YouTube, his approach to coping with AS, and whether he calls himself an advocate. Finally, I’ll share his exclusive message to the AS community.

Before I continue, I want to clarify that I am neither doctor nor medical professional. None of the following should be taken as diagnostic, medical or treatment advice. Please consult with your physician before starting, stopping, or changing treatment.

Let’s get started.

Why the video? Continue reading I Talked with Zach, the Try Guy with Ankylosing Spondylitis (Part II)

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I talked with Zach, the Try Guy with Ankylosing Spondylitis (part I)

When Try Guys member Zach Kornfeld announced he has Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS) in September 2017 I was so relieved.

I know what you’re thinking. Relief sounds super self-centered, so let me say right now that I was also really sad for Zach’s diagnosis; I wouldn’t wish Ankylosing Spondylitis on my worst enemy. But when you live with a common-but-unknown disease, awareness is what you live for.

Well, it’s what I live for anyway. And when a celebrity makes an announcement a lot of people pay attention.

Zach’s video marked the second “Ankylosing Spondylitis coming out” by a celebrity figure in two years (Dan Reynolds announced his in 2015) and it made a big splash in the AS community. Spondylitis Twitter was buzzing. Spondylitis Facebook and Instagram were buzzing, etc etc. It was exciting to see someone talking frankly about AS to a really large audience (as of April 27, 2018 the video had nearly 4.9 million views). Zach was telling all our stories by telling his own and we clung to this moment as a chance to be seen and heard.

Here, let me lay this out for you better.

Ankylosing Spondylitis is an immune-mediated inflammatory disease that can progressively damage joints in the body, especially in the spine, and in some cases cause the spine to fuse into a column of rigid bone. Additionally, AS is a systemic, or whole-body, disease; so it can cause fatigue, cognitive impairment, sleep impairment, and damage multiple organs in the body. There is no cure, so the goal for treatment is to reduce inflammation to slow the progression of the disease and manage symptoms.

Many of us who have AS had never even heard of the disease before a doctor sat us down and opened their mouth to a flood of slow motion gibberish, “You have A n k y l o s a u r a s d i n o s a u r S p o o n d a c t y l a u r u s B l i b b i d y B l o p p i d y B o o.”

Then, as if our disease isn’t hard enough to pronounce, our own friends and family struggle to even understand what we’re experiencing and that it’s serious. And a lot of general practitioners have already forgotten the one paragraph about AS they read during medical school. There are even rheumatologists (the specialists who treat AS) who refuse to diagnose women. More about that another time.

And yet AS affects so many people. Ankylosing Spondylitis falls under an umbrella of diseases called Spondyloarthritis, which affects an estimated 2.7 million people in the USA alone. That’s more than Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)/Lou Gherig’s Disease, Multiple Sclerosis, and Rheumatoid Arthritis combined. Estimates vary regarding the number of people specifically with AS in the US, but it is the most prevalent type of Spondyloarthritis. That’s a LOT of people.

I wish nobody had AS, but since a lot of us do and we largely suffer in silence, Zach’s video was cause for celebration – not for his being diagnosed, but for his willingness to talk about it in front of millions of people.

When I saw his video I knew I wanted to help his story reach more people. I knew I wanted to talk to him.

So six months later I reached out to him about a chronic disease documentary I’m in (shameless plug) and it turned into a Skype interview.

Continue reading I talked with Zach, the Try Guy with Ankylosing Spondylitis (part I)

What I Wish You Knew About Living with an Invisible Disease

You may look at my young, healthy-appearing body and ask, “You’re sick? Why don’t you suck it up and try harder? Why haven’t you tried XYZ?”


What you see is the poker face I’ve spent years creating, the one that allows me to pass in an able-bodied world so I don’t spend every moment defending my disease to faux-cure-evangelists.

What you don’t see is that I’m faking health to preserve my dignity, energy, and ability to accomplish whatever task it is I have to do before I collapse. Faking it is hard, but it’s easier than displaying my pain and then having to use more energy to defend my body’s permanent sickness.

What you don’t see are the grimaces I make when I’m in a safe place, when I allow myself to actually respond to the pain that is unrelenting, the pain that I do my best to ignore in public.

What you don’t see is the fear underlying my existence. Will I die young? Will I lose healthcare? What if my disability is denied? Will this new treatment work? Will I become homeless? Will I find a forever partner?

Continue reading What I Wish You Knew About Living with an Invisible Disease

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.

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.