Life with a Chronic Illness

Close your eyes. Imagine flashes of bright white light making your eyes strain. Think of two metal pots banging, consistently, in your ear. Then, picture getting punched straight in the nose, so hard it shatters. Pain so bad it makes your stomach churn. Now imagine this, once, maybe even twice a week since you were 11 years old.

It’s feeling like you’ve hit rock bottom, sobbing on the bathroom floor for everything to stop and desperately begging for a quiet rush to take over, throwing up and sucking in the deepest breath you can muster all before going back to your desk to answer the ringing phone at work. It’s cancelling plans you looked forward to all week because you can’t stop the room from spinning. It’s not eating or sleeping. And it’s a pill a day for the rest of your life. This is what it’s like to live with a chronic illness.

I’ve had migraines since puberty hit and they have only gotten progressively worse as I’ve gotten older. When they come on in the most inconvenient of times, I picture a really rotten mischievous man wearing cleats and overalls, somewhat resembling a leprechaun, using my brain as it’s bouncy house. I’ve had to hope friends don’t think I’m backing out on them purposely, give up activities that bring me joy, let go of delicious but no-good-for-you foods, and even explain to my employer that sometimes wearing sunglasses to stare at my computer is the only way I’ll get through the rest of the work day.

I never wanted to be someone who relied on medication, heavy prescriptions, for day to day function. I’ve tried unconventional methods of yoga practice and accupuncture, a changed diet, increased exercise, and changes of positions while sleeping, sitting, or driving. Even with all these methods combined, what I’ve come to realize now is taking a pill to make me feel like my best self isn’t admitting defeat, it’s admitting that (as ever true to my nature as anyone who knows and loves me can say) I beat to my own drum and so does little leprechaun man.

I sought help from a migraine specialist and we’re continuing to work towards a regimen that will work best for me. No two people, two heads, two pains, are exactly alike. It takes time, patience, and even a little faith. Taking a pill does not make you weak or less than. Taking a pill does not make you abnormal.

END THE STIGMA THAT SEEKING HELP IS DIRTY OR WRONG OR LABELS YOU ANYTHING OTHER THAN HUMAN.

For all those who have called me crazy, said I was faking it, whispered about me or made me feel inadequate for not being able to keep up during the dark days, I have to say, I don’t even wish this on you.

Living with a chronic illness is not easy. Bringing a chronic illness to light is even worse. But you know what’s really good? Being able to share my experience for those people curled in a ball feeling alone, wondering if this feeling will ever end. Oh, and the sweet, sweet feeling of relief after three pills and a 6:30 pm bedtime.

This is life with a chronic illness. Some days it sucks, some days it’s crippling. And some days it’s as if I’m not living with an illness at all.

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Taming a Lion’s Mane

In the 6th grade we were tasked to write a vignette after reading The House on Mango Street, written by Sandra Cisneros, a story detailing the life of a young Latina, Esperanza, and how the circumstances of poverty had shaped her into the woman that she is. For this assignment, we had to pick something we felt helped to define who we were – the subject I chose: my hair.

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I had straight, thin, wispy hair until I turned five or six. For a long time, it was a running joke that my hair was ‘athetic,’ (I cutely, but unfortunately, suffered from a bit of a speech impediment) implying that my head of hair was pathetic in comparison to the rest of my Jewish family.

Then one day, it felt like I woke to find not only had I been genetically blessed with olive under-toned skin, but dark, bushy hair that was large and in charge.

Thanks to puberty, my hair was thick and curly and had a mind of it’s own – which is fitting because I’m a Leo, and stubbornness is innate to my being.

I had no idea what to do with the newfound heap of textured, unruly curls atop my cranium. I did everything to fight against it – straightened it until it was fried, put it in tight top knots so no one was able to see the true body, and loathed every rainy day the weatherman called for.

As today is the first of April, which marks the idiom of expecting May flowers to be on their way, this month will be full of showers bringing them to bloom. What that also means? The season of frizz is upon us.

As my curly-headed cuties know to be true already, hair care is in no way an exact science. But, I’m pretty proud of the routine I’ve developed for my curls, no matter how high-maintenance I feel when getting ready to go anywhere where I actually wish to look presentable, and thought I’d share some tips and products I’ve found to be most successful.

  1. Never. Ever. brush your hair when dry. 

This is the first, and argumentatively most important, thing I learned about caring for my curls. A comb in the shower has become my best friend, used in combination with a curl-friendly conditioner.

 

Unlike most women with curly hair, I wash my hair every day. My hair gets greasy quickly, which I’ve found causes my curls to look wet and flat, neither of which I like, so a daily wash is a necessity.

However, I use conditioner every other day. Because a conditioner is meant to replenish the missing moisture from your hair, applying it directly to the roots can make grease uncontrollable.  I learned from my hairdresser, which by curly-girl standard basically means my all-seeing god, to apply my conditioner from the base of my ears down to help keep the grease to a minimum.

2. Air drying can help stop frizz. 

I noticed that a diffuser, or adding heat to my hair, was making more split ends and not just drying my hair but drying it out. I turned to letting my curls air dry after a shower, and it has helped to ensure healthy looking hair throughout the day and every day.

I typically shower in the morning before my day begins and use a towel to soak up some of the water so I don’t drip all over, then rely on the waiting process of the natural air to shape my curls however they wish to form.

3. If you don’t want to wait on air-dry, speed along the process with an old t-shirt. 

If I really want or need my hair to feel dry fast, I finish a towel dry with an old cotton tee. I start from the bottom of my curls and squeeze sections upwards, actively wringing out my curls without separating them, turning them flat or knotted. The cotton soaks up the water similar to a towel, but isn’t as harsh on my curls as a micro-fiber cloth tends to be.

4. The heavier the weight, the better.

I have found that the longer my hair is, the less out of control volume my curls tend to take. The heavy weight of longer hair helps elongate my curls to lay flatter and in a more flattering way.

But don’t get me wrong, short curls can be not only sexy, fun, and playful, but easier to manage than lengthy locks. When I decided to cut 13 inches and donate to Pantene Beautiful Lengths, I needed a stylist who was ready to help me take the plunge. I can’t reiterate enough – a god/goddess hairdresser who understands the needs of your hair can and will change your life. Do some research in the town or city you live in on what the online curl-endowed community is saying.

For those of you who live in the DMV, I highly suggest you swing by Hugo Salon and have Sam breathe new life to your locks. That woman is a mastermind with a pair of scissors.

5. Every hair texture is different, and that is more than okay.

Find a sculpting product that works for you. This may take time, patience, and a series of trial and error product demos. I used to use a sculpting mousse or gel on my curls, but have found that they add unwanted crunch and volume with the sculpting process.

I always love the way my curls bounce after a beach visit and wished I could bottle the salt air and bring it home for the rest of the seasons. For me, Not Your Mother’s Beach Babe Texturizing Sea Salt Spray has gotten me the closest to beach-like curls year round.

Just like every body shape, all hair textures are different for every individual person, and all are equally beautiful. But, just like a ‘one-size fits all’ mentality is absolute bull, not all hair products will work for all hair types. Boho waves? Crisp quaff? Take the time to figure out what fits you best, or change it up depending on what you want your look to say that day.

So, why did my 6th grade English class assignment have relevancy you ask? Just as Esperanza in The House on Mango Street learned that the Chicago streets helped to influence who she is, I’ve grown and matured to realize that my Jewish heritage, filled with traditions and beauty and strength, comes along with my big unruly head of hair, and has assisted my growth into the woman that I am today.

Britney Spears wrote ‘Can’t be Tamed’ as an anthem for the wild-spirits and as the original 2000s pop-icon got through 2007, and I lived through the unfortunate photographic proof of the disdain of my curls, I know you and I can both learn to embrace them.

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For all my curly girls cursing the genetic make up that causes the kink in your lion’s mane, know its okay to wear your hair natural or apply whatever product and heat to your heart’s content, as long as you feel the most confident you. Either which way, I hope you don’t let anyone or anything stifle your roar.

Bring. It. On. Spring.

How Self-Care Has Never Felt So Critical

Hey reader. Are you seeking solace in words on a screen because you thought you knew the definition of exhausted from your college days until you met the newly popular term ‘adulting?’ You’re living on your own, trying to find your place and your way in a new city, getting used to roommates you made connections with through the very screen you’re viewing this on, too afraid to let them see the mental breakdown that may be encroaching?

Or maybe you moved back home after graduation – to save money? To reground yourself after four maybe too chaotic to admit to your parents years? To be closer to or to help out your family? To who gives a damn because that is where you are right now and that is what you’ll make the best of.

New schedules mean new adjustments – but I’m pretty sure what hasn’t adjusted for most of us is the amount of energy we are exerting in all facets of our lives, without really thinking of the repercussions for our mental, physical, and/or emotional health.

While we had the ability to stretch ourselves in every-which-way direction before, the luxury of getting to sleep away the consequences has, for most of us, faded. The harsh reality of a 5:30 a.m. wake up call (even if brief on the weekends because your internal clock sends you into panic that you’re going to be fired for oversleeping your alarm) coupled with trying to go out (and drink) at the same pace as our pre-21 bodies were used to will take a toll if we’re not careful.

So here is a list of things I’m *attempting* to be more cognizant about in order to focus more on caring for myself. Hopefully you and I both benefit from some little changes that will hopefully make a big difference.*Please interpret this term loosely as I’m trying the best I can here, as I know you all are too.)

  1. Washing my face every morning and every night.  – I have always been a huge proponent of the goodness you feel from washing your face. That deep in your belly, things are going to turn out good for once feeling. Yes, I know how ridiculous this sounds. Yes I know you understand the exact feeling that I am describing. Some get it from a good morning stretch or a solid dance party in the shower, I get it from scrubb-a-dub-dubbing my money-maker (not to be confused with Ludacris’s idiom.) Thanks to my lovely new roommate (hey Tor if you’re reading this), I have been re-convinced of the importance of not being too lazy or too drunk to fall asleep with my mascara on, because let’s be honest a caked on or half-wiped off face ain’t a cute look for the artsy, and maybe slightly shambly, brunch you and your friends have planned for the morning after a good night out.

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    Current face scrub of choice Clean & Clear Blackhead Eraser from Ulta Beauty ($5.99)

  2. What I’m putting into my body matters. – Binge drinking is a sad but very real culture that I am sure werking millennials know all too well. If it isn’t a night of dancing and bar hopping down your new city’s strip, it’s Netflix and a wine night in. And if it isn’t happy hour it’s brunch, better if it is accompanied with the word ‘bottomless.’ While we were all nervous and aware of what drinking can do to your body because of the dreaded freshman 15 (or 50) horror stories we had been told, many of us forget how the amount we drink can negatively effect us post-grad. Redefining (and knowing) my limits will not only stop me from potentially embarassing myself outside of a college town where that behavior is expected and laughed along with instead of at, but will also help me from becoming the potato a night after drinking typically turns me into. Water is a great friend whom I should deepen my flirtation and contemplate exclusivity even. *Gasp.* We are extremely lucky and blessed to have access to plenty that is both clean and safe to consume after all. I recently received a Corkcicle bottle as a gift and owning a nice water bottle has significantly increased my desire to stay hydrated.
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    Never find me without my Corkcicle bottle, which keeps cold for 24 hours and hot for 12. ($19.95 and up)

     

  3. Skipping meals just won’t cut it anymore. – Along the lines of realizing that the liquid I’m consuming matters, so does the food because it helps provide me with the energy to get my work done and meet new people and not feel completely and utterly pooped by ‘adulting’ (because if we’re being honest, we’ll all probably feel a little down in the dumps about it from time to time). It is possible to be cost conscious while grocery shopping and still find healthy options to fuel your fire. One meal I never used to think much of was breakfast, but I want to make it an avid point to start my day with a full belly in order to be fully in my right mind. My recent go-to is a smoothie bowl (OJ, frozen fruit of choice, and a whole ripe but not frozen banana topped with fresh fruit, coconut flakes, and a drizzle of honey if I’m feeling fancy.) Keep it simple or become the next insta-famous food guru if you’ve got time to spare.
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Check out some scrumptious smoothie bowl recipes for those more slothful mornings.

4. FOMO is better than functioning without a full 8 hours. – A fear of missing out is SO normal and SO real. You want to be with all your new friends, catching up with old ones, and following through on the best laid plans. Specifically during the work week, sacrificing beauty rest just isn’t always worth it. If you’re going to start your day fresh faced and with a fresh meal, you might as well feel refreshed at the same time. Obviously making memories is what life is all about, but not being able to keep your eyes open infront of your CEO during your weekly office meetings just isn’t worth it. An early bed time will pay off for a normalized functioning schedule, or as close to normal we can get to, in order to achieve the city socialite status we’ve dreamt of (even in those days where we didn’t get enough sleep to truly enter a REM cycle for dreams.)

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Can’t get your mind to turn off? Try Sleep Pillow Sounds (free with in-app purchases)

Can’t show the world how to properly werk it unless you’re feeling on your ‘A’ game. And worst comes to worst if your skin is breaking out because you’re stressed and you forgot to wash, your bloated because you chose cheeseburgers over a salad because your soul just needed the damn grease patty, or you’re losing sleep because you just can’t figure out for the life of you how you got a job and how to keep it (or how you’re going to get a job and keep it), always remind yourself…

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Why the “I’m fine” Paradox is the Heavyweight Pitfall of Our Culture

In 1901 a scientist theorized that the weight of the human soul was 21 grams. But with all the changes that have happened in the last year of my life I really can’t believe that’s true, it’s got to be heavier. You see, this last year has brought me the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. I’ve experienced loss, heartbreak, new adventures, new friendships, successes and failures – physical, mental, and emotional challenges that have, on some days, made me feel like my mind and heart couldn’t weigh less than 1000 tons, and others, lighter than how a piece of dust swirls in the sun from the window panes. 

I can’t go without saying that I truly feel so lucky to have the friends and family that I do. Without them, I could not have faced the darkest days, and would not have gotten out of some of my darkest places. If you’re reading this and you feel you’re one of them – here is my public expression of gratitude, although words will never do justice what you have done for me this year. 
But along with these changes, I have noticed more and more that we are a society of “I’m fine”s. Rather than tell people we are overwhelmed or sad or anxious or depressed, we suck it in, swallow our pride and feelings and thoughts and express in two weightless (but full of depth words) the false idea that nothing burdens our souls. 

I don’t really understand why we don’t or can’t admit to one another when there’s just too much to handle. Why we don’t lean on each other more? Maybe because we’ve been told it’s a faux pas to talk about the deep stuff, maybe because we’ve convinced ourselves surface level is okay, or maybe it’s because of the longstanding stigmas associated with mental illness? But I think that what is stunning about the human race, and about humanity, is that we have the ability to express empathy and sympathy and use language and our bodies and our expressions to show one another how deeply we care. 

When we ask each other how we’re doing, I think we should truly be ready to listen to a raw and honest answer. We should delve into the beauty that is the ever-adaptable human connection. 

So, if you’re reading this and it resonates, I just want you to know it’s fine to not be fine. A lot of the time, I’m not either. It’s fine to say it aloud – to me, to your friends, to your family, to even admit it blindly and attempt to sort through it on the Internet (like this werking gal is trying to do), but most importantly to yourself. Personal recognition that your mental health has taken a backseat or has taken a blow exudes far greater strength than stifling your emotions out of fear of judgment (or if you are an anxious little annie like me, for fear of inconveniencing someone else with your problems). 

I’m trying to recognize that I must show myself the same sympathy and compassion I try my best to show others. Breaking the “I’m fine” paradox and starting the conversation is the first step to better self-love, to lightening the weight of my soul, even just for a little. 

So here’s my admittance – there are a lot of days I’m not always so fine and while that statement feels so heavy, hopefully it’s the beginning of being more internally cognizant of when it’s time to share what’s weighing me down. I hope that by doing so, this encourages others to do the same. 

Here’s to growing with all of you in love, and to watching it grow inside you and within myself. Here’s to not always being fine, but learning to be a better person, lover, and friend from it.  

Feeling a Great Deal of Feelings

I got the idea to start this blog from my mother who told me that if I thought I had something to say, I should find a way to share it with the world. (Hey Mom – since you’re probably one of the few people reading this, this is public admittance that you were right!) 

While I don’t necessarily know that my thoughts are all that crucial to share, I might as well combine my knack for gabbing with an interest in writing. My hopes for this blog are that I work through some of the trials and tribulations of officially becoming a slave to the Man for the rest of my life, while sprucing up my cynicism with a bit of humor for anyone who likes me enough to give this a read. Topics to come: fashion, food, exercise, and whatever else my tip-tipping little fingers can ramble about across your computer screens. Until then… here are my feelings on feeling. 

Limbo: “An uncertain period of awaiting a decision or resolution; an intermediate state or condition.” (Also known as a really awesome bar mitzvah game I always tried and failed to win.) 

This is my condition. Limbo is me. I am Limbo. We have recently, in the last three weeks to be exact, become close – so much so that I have taken up residence with Limbo, cried over Limbo, yelled at, and laughed with Limbo. Limbo has become my significant other, and dare I say, my friend. But pretty soon, (nine days but who’s counting really?) Limbo and I will go through a break-up, or maybe a break by Ross Geller standards. This tragic separation is because the grand and terrifying ominous “G” word is fast approaching – graduation. 

You see, for the last three weeks I have felt as though I am too old to be at school, to participate in the debauchery of college town antics, and too young to be comfortable in situations where pleasantries exchanged about children’s sporting events and pet bodily functions while in stuffy suits and panty hose are the unspoken, but strictly held to, social-code. And this feeling of not belonging in any world, of the unknown hypotheticals that have racked my brain for weeks, that is a feeling that has caused a lot of feelings, that is a relationship with Limbo that has quickly went from a naive honeymooner to absolutely trapped in a matter of days. 

It’s hard to put into words how I’ve felt over the past few weeks – excitement and joy and pride and being absolutely scared shitless all in one to put it simply. As a psychology major, I have slaved over theories that have consistently confirmed nervousness and anxiety are very different things. So, I feel it is safe to say that I know I am nervous about the future because it feels unpredictable. My whole life I have been a traditional classroom student, where the months between August and June were spent behind a desk and summer offered a break for sun, socializing, and seeing the world outside of institution walls. But living in Limbo means this isn’t the case anymore – cue anxiety. I am so anxious in fact, that rather than studying the 483 notecards that are necessary to know in order to meet the qualifications for graduation, I am writing this post. I am so crippled by the fear of what is to come that I have reached an inability for productivity whatsoever.

 

How do you say goodbye to everyone you have felt comfortable with, to the people who have shaped you into the person you’re okay with looking at in the mirror today? How do you possibly say goodbye to that person in the mirror as you step into the deep-dark hole that is the working world in which the only way out is retirement or death (or I guess whichever you reach first?) How do you make new friends and how do you make sure the old ones remember how much you mean to them and them to you? How do people get past this feeling? See what I mean… anxiety is a real head-bitch-in-charge, lose your footing and lose your head, temptress.

 

But then I remember – I am not alone. Whether it be my friends who followed ‘traditional’ paths and went to four-year institutions, or my friends who sought other paths and have recently found themselves back on the doorsteps of their family homes, unsure and feeling unwell, we have all taken up residence in Limbo. And the recognition of this eases that chest-aching, stomach churning, lack of sleep anxiety back down to nervousness. I am nervous that I will not meet the expectations set forth by myself or those who have watched me grow over the last four (or more) years. I am nervous that I may not be doing exactly what I was put on this earth for right now (and really nervous that I still don’t know what that reason is), but I have zero – and I mean zero – fear that my friends and now roommates in Limbo will impact the world. The Millennial generation has goodness in our hearts and an unwavering faith in the success of the underdog through all hate, bigotry, violence, and small-mindedness that we have seen come from our world, and yet still we have a tenacity to keep on keeping on.

 

So Limbo is where we are. Limbo is where we live. And it’s a scary, unknown world out there, but for those of you reading and feeling the same feelings, I’m glad to know I have you here with me – take my hand, lean back, and we’ll go under the stick together.