Category Archives: family

Friday Feelings with Pain Pals Blog

Hey there, hi there, ho there!

As it is Ehlers Danlos Syndrome Awareness Month, during the course of May, we will be reading the diary entries of EDS sufferers. Each person experiences their illness differently and I think it will be interesting to see these differences throughout the month.

This week I spoke to Claire from Pain Pals Blog. The mum of two previously worked in health care but medically retired nine years ago. She now works in the education system and enjoys Spoonie friendly hobbies.

Claire was diagnosed with hypermobile EDS at 42. She also suffers from migraines; dysautonomia/POTS, chronic nerve pain, gut problems, Raynauds, neurogenic
bladder and reactive depression. You can find Claire on Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram. 
EDS - Claire pic 

“Hi, I’m Claire. I am a married mum of 2 boys aged 21 and 18, and a girl aged 14 living on borders of South London & Surrey, UK. My career was nursing and I trained and worked in various London hospitals, and then worked as a palliative care nurse in a local hospice – a fantastic, rewarding job that I loved. I was medically retired 9 years ago when my back gave up on me. Now I am kept busy with the family (more needy as young adults than they were as toddlers). 

I am a school governor at a local primary school, and I am about to become Chair of my old school’s friends’ committee. We keep old pupils in touch as well as arranging careers events for current pupils. I love meeting new people and interacting with the pupils at both schools. I love reading and belong to several book clubs, posting reviews on the blog, and when I can get there I love the cinema and streamed theatre live events.”

So now that we know a little about Claire, let’s have a read of her Friday Feelings entry.

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“Dear Diary,

It’s Friday, many people will go out tonight for a few sociable drinks with their friends. On a typical Friday night I will usually be found curled up in my PJs! How much of the evening meal I help with really depends upon what sort of day I have had and how fatigued I am. These days my hubby, Duncan is based at home with me, and in theory the kids can take over the kitchen duties but, it is usually like Piccadilly Circus as they come and go, leaving us to keep pace with who is eating or not! Some weeks I will try to join in with Spoonie Speak – a chat set up on Twitter for those of us who can’t go out, but like a chat in our PJs. Like lots of spoonies Netflix, Amazon & TV play a big part in my life but, this week I am actually going out on Friday for the leaving dinner of the current Chair of the friends committee.

I really want to go but do get a bit anxious about making arrangements in case I have a bad day, can’t go and let others down. Not to mention missing out.

My physical health has really deteriorated recently and since having a spinal cord stimulator implanted for the chronic pain, my POTS symptoms have really gone mad. I feel frustrated, tired and worn down  by the constant pain, fainting, dislocations, drug side effects, losing my independence, the uncertainty of how I will be from hour to hour and struggling to make plans. Something I really struggle with is the fatigue and the subsequent guilt at needing to rest. On a beautiful day I can’t stand not being to jump up and just go for a walk in the park.

Some days I feel like I am constantly saying sorry for needing help to have a shower, for fainting, for being unable to cook, for being pushed in the wheelchair, even for not being able to lift the iron.

I try not to think too hard about the future for me – on bad days I can’t think about living with the pain, particularly the chronic back and leg pain, for another week let alone another 40 years! Sounds dramatic but that is how it feels. I also know that there is very little that can be done for the extreme joint pain – I have been told I need shoulder and hip replacements, but that it isn’t possible because of the dislocations and I’m still too young.

I don’t want to “give in” to the illness any more than I have to. Sometimes this is easier said than done – and at times the future feels uncertain.

But I do tend to do what I can when I can and probably don’t pace. I want to keep as active as I can for as long as I can, but the severity of POTS symptoms this last 6 months has left me feeling really low and really ill. Hopefully the different consultants can sort me enough to get me back on an even keel – but the lack of “shared” care is frustrating; repeating the same story over and over, no one knowing what other specialities are doing!

What does worry me for the future is the kids – the younger two anyway. The 18 year old has bad and frequent migraines, with neck pain, hand and arm pain. The youngest is now subluxating and dislocating, has daily pain in joints, can’t hold a pen in a normal grip, writes slowly and has pain. All 3 are dizzy on standing and lose vision – and all three are overly anxious. Two have had counselling, one self harms, one is on anti depressants, we are well acquainted with CAMHS!

I do accept that hardly anyone will have heard of EDS and have got used to suggestions of having collagen injections but what is tougher is the lack of understanding about what chronic illness means. No, I won’t get better. It is genetic so no there is no cure, not even for the kids! I feel that I have to justify myself for being tired, cancelling plans, etc. I hate having to ask for help and would love it if friends would just remember that I can no longer drive and offer a lift without me having to ask. Some people can’t understand why I use a wheelchair when I can stand and walk – pain is invisible, as are the implants in my back, and damage to my joints, but these are what making standing up and walking a near impossibility some days. I feel that other people’s lives are so busy and that I should be fitting in with them, after all I’m at home all day.

It is frustrating when I’m told how well I look and this happens when I’ve put on some lippie and blusher.

You don’t see me at my worst because I can’t actually get out of the house then! But I would probably rather people think I’m putting best foot forward and being positive – chronic illness doesn’t stop you wanting to look good, go out, have a laugh; even if you can’t always actually do this.”

 A big thank you to Claire for taking part in Friday Feelings and being so open with us. Can you relate to Claire? Do you feel guilty not being able to perform certain tasks? Let us know in the comments below!

 Want to write your own Friday Feeling entry?

Send

A high res photo

A short paragraph about yourself

What illnesses you have

Your diary entry with the following topics in it:

It’s Friday, many people will go out tonight for a few sociable drinks with their friends. What do you do on a typical Friday night?
How are you feeling at this moment about your chronic illness?
How do you feel about the future in regards to your illness?
How do you feel about the way people view your illness?

and links to your blog and social media to evienevin87@yahoo.ie

Be sure to put “Friday Feelings” in the subject bar.

Until Sunday,

Z.M

x

 

Disability and Social Media

Hey there, hi there, ho there!

Sorry for the radio silence, I had been in London again for tests and treatments and then I had some pretty bad issues with my neck. After almost two weeks and muscle relaxers, it’s finally under control. Interestingly, the muscle relaxers seemed to help my general widespread pain. I do have chronic tendinitis pretty much all over my body so obviously muscle relaxers would be helpful. Unfortunately my GP won’t allow me to have them long term in case I start sublimating and dislocating more often. Anyway, I’ll update you with London in next week’s post but I really wanted to get something off my chest this week.

How many of you out there have had people accuse you of faking your illness based on things you post on social media? It really can be a lose/lose situation for those of us with disabilities. If you post yourself getting out and having fun, you’re not that sick and if you post yourself lying in bed in pain, you’re attention seeking. If you do both? You’re not being consistent and therefore lying about your illness. It seems people are under the impression to be truly disabled, you have to be miserable, housebound 24/7 and silent. Out of sight, out of mind.

Recently I had the displeasure of being accused of faking my illness by a family member. Why? Because the wide range of photos on Facebook show my life for what it is; inconsistent.  Some days I am in my wheelchair and some days I socialise with friends. Anybody with a chronic illness knows that you have your good days and your bad days. When you do have your good days, you take advantage of them. I was told by said family member to get off the internet and “go for a long walk.” I’m sure some of you reading this are scoffing at the very idea. I was pleasantly surprised to see how many of my non spoonie friends stood up for me especially when the conversation got nasty. Funny thing is this person hasn’t seen me in five years, so it’s not like they have seen me at home contorted in pain with heat packs attached to me and medicated up to my eyeballs.

Disability and Social Media

I’m sure a lot of us with invisible conditions face these judgements and questions pretty regularly. Unless you live the spoonie life, you don’t know what it is like to be ridiculed and made to feel insecure simply by sharing your life, the good, the bad and the ugly.

For most, social media is a way to pass the time. It’s entertainment. But for those of us who do not have the luxury of having a vibrant social life, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat etc are what keeps us connected to the world on a personal level. Have you been told you’re “always on Facebook”? Well, I don’t know about anyone else but many of my fellow spoonie friends also use Facebook to connect with loved ones. I scroll through my feed to check in on them and to see how other loved ones are doing since I am not able to get out and visit people as much as I would like to. Of course I do enjoy the entertainment aspect of social media, I like the Buzzfeed quizzes and the odd meme too. I am vocal about all aspects of healthcare and politics too. I’m a pretty opinionated person, I don’t think that should be frowned upon though.

Social media is a fantastic way to raise awareness of the various conditions that fall off the radar. Thanks to selfie campaigns and social media challenges like the ice bucket challenge for ALS (or my beloved REDS4VEDS campaign) the general public know more about diseases that previous generations may not have ever heard of. Even simply sharing a meme or infographic about a condition can educate thousands or possibly millions of people worldwide.

me good day:bad day

Posting our feelings about our condition or how the health system/Government let us down may come across as moaning or self pitying but for the majority of us, we just want to be heard. It is so frustrating to live in a country where there is an incredible lack of care (both senses of the word) and to witness the poor quality of life those with chronic conditions have. Again, when you’re isolated from the outside world, you don’t get to vent to someone in person, like most people do. We can’t just get up and leave the house to visit a friend for a cup of tea and get things off our chest. Most people ignore these posts, and you know they will but, you also know that your fellow spoonie friends will respond and be empathetic. Sometimes just seeing a comment saying “I hope you feel a bit better tomorrow,” can brighten up your day.

Posting a wheelchair selfie or a “good day” selfie doesn’t have any motive, we post photos without thought, just like everyone else. People post photos of themselves in the gym, or their food. What’s so wrong with us posting photos showing the complexity and inconsistency of our lives? Again, it’s about awareness. I think so many people are under the impression to be truly disabled, you must be missing a limb or in a wheelchair full time. As I’ve said, we do have our good days, they are far and few between and so on those days, we take photos and post. To be honest, most of the time it’s just a way to keep all the photos in one place. I also love when Facebook sends me a memories notification. I often get to see photos of a day I’ve completely forgotten about or a post of how ill I have been. I look back and see I’ve survived so far, and that can sometimes boost my motivation to keep fighting for recovery.

The thing about social media is it has given people the confidence to be cruel and rarely have to deal with the repercussions of their words because they post in the comfort of their own home. In reality, the majority of keyboard warriors wouldn’t say these things to your face. Also, these people forget they have the free will to scroll on by or unfollow someone if they don’t want to see “depressing” posts (yes, my life was too depressing for this lovely family member). There’s a plethora of posts on social media that aren’t to everyone’s liking or taste and most of us choose to either ignore them because it’s not worth loosing a friend or a family member over.

Anyway, I just wanted to get this off my chest because it is something that has been bothering me for awhile.

Until next time,

Z.M

 

 

 

How ‘attachment parenting’ helped me with my chronic illness

Hey there, hi there, ho there!

Soon I’ll be back to London for my next round of tests and physiotherapy. The smallies will also be seeing their paediatric physio in the Hypermobility Unit in London. Going abroad with small children can be so stressful and takes up so many of your spoons. I remember with Alex, everywhere we went, even for a short trip to the city we had a truck load of things to bring with us. This time with Olivia it is so much easier because my parenting technique is so different.

Attachment Parenting&Chronic Illness

So what is “Attachment Parenting”?

Well, for me I just call it parenting, it’s the biological norm to raise a child so I hate putting a label on it.

According to parenting science.com:

“Attachment parenting” is an approach to child-rearing intended to forge strong, secure attachments between parents and children.”

Attachment Parenting is often referred to as AP.

But how does AP differ from any other type of parenting?

AP is associated with a number of practices, including:

Baby-carrying or “baby-wearing”
Breastfeeding on cue
Nurturing touch (including skin-to-skin “kangaroo care” for infants)
Being responsive to a baby’s cries
Being sensitive and responsive to a child’s emotions (e.g., by helping her cope with nighttime fears)
Co-sleeping

In addition, attachment parenting advocates often promote “positive parenting,” an approach to discipline that attempts to guide children by emotion coaching, reasoning, and constructive problem solving.

However, proponents of AP–like William and Martha Sears, who coined the term “attachment parenting”–note that there is no checklist of rules that parents must follow to qualify as “attachment parents” (Sears and Sears 2001).

Family circumstances may prevent parents from carrying out every AP practice. What’s really important, argues these authors, is sensitive, responsive parenting-— understanding and addressing your child’s needs in an affectionate way.

Similarly, the founders of Attachment Parenting International argue that that attachment parenting is really about adapting a few general principles–like providing kids with a consistent, loving, primary caregiver–to the particular needs of your family.

This is not the same as being overly-protective. By definition, securely-attached kids are not overly clingy or helpless. They are the kids who feel confident to explore the world on their own. They can do this because they trust that their parents will be there for them (Mercer 2006).

So how has AP practices helped me with my chronic illness?

Babywearing

When I was pregnant my Hypermobile Ehlers Danlos Syndrome wreaked havoc on my body. I was wheelchair bound by 5 weeks into my pregnancy because I developed severe Symphysis Pubis Disorder (SPD)  and my Autonomic System was all over the place.

I knew that there was a pretty good chance that I would still be affected with the SPD post partum and I was right. Two years on and I still suffer with it. How was I going to push a buggy while in a wheelchair?

Babywearing was my answer. Even on days where I couldn’t wear Ollie for whatever reason, Daddy wore her. It was a lovely way for them to bond. While I liked my ring sling, he was more into the wrap type slings. My coordination couldn’t handle the wrapping at all.

Three months after her birth, I didn’t need the wheelchair as frequently but I still carried her. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to manage lifting and opening up a heavy buggy so just popping my sling into my bag was the easiest option. After the ring sling I opted for the Rock n Rolla Fidella buckle carrier it was badass. Then I switched to a beautiful pink Fidella Mei Tai before going back to a buckle carrier (Nova) as my shoulder became to sore for wrapping. The Nova hasn’t had much use as Ollie likes to walk but I do use it for when I need walk to collect Alex from school or when we are in London. We brought a stroller on holiday once and it went unused, plus it is a pain having to bring it along with the other luggage.

Me sling

In retrospect, I wish I had gone along to a babywearing group to try things out before I bought the Mei Tai. It was only after I rented a Nova from the group that I realised it was exactly what I needed, lightweight, breathable and tidy enough to go in my bag. I would absolutely recommend people to try before they buy.

Babywearing allows you to be hands free as well and baby sleeps contently snuggled into their parents chest.

Marty fence BW

It really is a win/win situation. Baby is happy therefore Mommy is happy.

I can imagine people who are unfamiliar with babywearing wondering how I possibly managed to carry extra weight with weak joints/muscles and pain.

If you’re wearing your baby correctly, you should be well supported and you shouldn’t feel the extra weight bearing down on you.

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Interestingly, I was sent a link to a blog called Babywearing with Disabilities recently. Until I began writing this post, I hadn’t opened it. Imagine my surprise to find out the woman who wrote the blog actually has hEDS too! She offers some very good advice about how to babywear when you’re disabled. Really worth a read. Further reading about the general benefits of babywearing for parent and baby can be found here.

Slings come in so many gorgeous prints and designs. Say goodbye to your shoe/handbag addiction and say hello to telling your other half “Oh I won that on a dip.”

Marty Ollie

Breastfeeding on demand

Sadly due to poor support and advice, Alex was only breastfed for just over two weeks. He had an undiagnosed tongue tie which caused me to be in a lot of pain when feeding him. Yet no healthcare professional said anything bar “it happens”. No. Breastfeeding should not hurt. That’s a different story that you can read about here.

Anyway, I remember being so exhausted when we switched to formula. Having to make up bottles in the middle of the night, dealing with reflux and constipation, the usual drama with formula was just so much hassle. Even with two of us taking turns to get up. I was also pretty annoyed that the weight that had been falling off me for the first two weeks stopped melting off me.

Luckily, armed with evidence based information and a fantastic network of breastfeeding mothers, I was determined that this time it would work out. It’s crazy the amount of misinformation being spread not just by ill informed loved ones but by actual health care professionals too. I actually interviewed one of Ireland’s leading IBCLCs and the world renowned, Dr Jack Newman about breastfeeding myths.

Anyway, unlucky for us, Ollie was also born with a tongue and lip tie. But, this time I was determined to get it sorted as quickly as possible so that we could continue our breastfeeding journey. After exclusively pumping for 3 weeks and then pumping while also    learning the skill of breastfeeding, we were on our way. Ollie is just two weeks shy of two and honestly, feeding her has been one of my greatest achievements as a parent. Breastfeeding is the biological norm but in Ireland where just 2% of babies are fed by 1 year, it’s a pretty big deal to even get to two years.

Breastfeeding forced me to relax and properly recover after the birth which in itself was pretty traumatic. I had to give birth early as my waters had broken. I ended up loosing half of my blood but the consultant managed to stop the bleeding just as they were calling for blood bags. I was very weak and ill after the birth so lying on the couch for the first 2 months while Ollie built up my supply was ideal. I didn’t have to get up in the night to make bottles and the lovely hormones released during feeding time helped me feel content and loved up. Plus with the extra hand it meant Alex could join in on the cuddles.

BF OA

Breastfeeding also meant that I didn’t have to bring a huge bag filled with bottles and powder everywhere we went. You literally just have your breasts and you grab a nappy and off you go. Babywearing while breastfeeding also meant that I could get on with whatever I needed to do while baby was getting everything she desired; being close to mama and her milk. Best part is that my meds are all compatible with breastfeeding as 99% of medications are, again unfortunately that is another piece of information that isn’t well known amongst a lot of healthcare professionals and new mothers.

You can read more about breastfeeding while being chronically ill here.

Cosleeping/Bedsharing

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We intended to have Ollie sleep in a cosleep cot that Daddy made following this hack. FYI total cost was 65 Euro in comparison to the phenomenal amount of money you spend on a store bought cosleeper crib! The new mattress was the most expensive part.

Anyway, so we had the cosleeper cot attached to our bed and by the looks of it, Ollie would fit into it until she was at least four! Well, nope, this happened:

cosleeper

You know what? It worked out for the best because having her closer to me meant she could feed as I drifted back to sleep and it became a place to keep all her clothes and cloth nappies! Now she is able to undress me and help herself while I stay asleep! Research shows that parents who bed share and breastfeed get more sleep than those who don’t.

Once you practice the safety guidelines, there is virtually no risk in bed sharing, in fact a lot of research shows that babies who are exclusively breastfed and bed share with their mothers are actually less likely to die from SIDS. You only have to look at every other species of mammal to see that the dyad sleeping together is a natural part of child rearing. Hey, the Gruffalos cosleep too!

997034-the-gruffalos-child

You can find some evidence based articles about infant sleep and bed sharing here.

As stated before, AP doesn’t have to be all or nothing. You can formula feed and babywear, you can breastfeed and use a buggy. I just know from my own experience that following my mammalian instincts has helped me to cope with parenting while having a chronic illness a whole lot easier.

Until next time,

Z.M

x

 

10 things to do with your children when you’re stuck in bed

Hi there, hi there, ho there!

It’s Mother’s Day here in Ireland. While most moms enjoy having a day to relax, those of us with chronic illnesses would love nothing more than to actually get out and about and do something fun. However, no matter how much we want to, sometimes it just isn’t possible to move from our bed, let alone leave the house.

As a Spoonie, days where I have a random burst of energy come far and few between. When I do feel good I take advantage and go on a spoon spending splurge with my children. Our favourite activities are going to the beach for a walk, going for lunch/dinner or searching for fairies in the woods. Unfortunately, those days don’t happen very often as my Ehlers Danlos Syndrome and Dysautonomia wreaks havoc on my body. There are days where I can’t move from my bed never mind actually leaving the house. My illness not only affects me, but my entire family. The children have to endure many days stuck inside because mummy is unwell. So, for those days we try and do things together from the comfort of my own bed. Here are some of the things we do together. I hope it helps another Spoonie parent who may be at a loss with their children on the days they’re stuck in bed.

10 Things to do with the kids when you're bed bound

Read books

One of my favourite things to do as a child was to read with my Father. Going to bed when I was little wasn’t the big fight it turned out to be as a got too old for bedtime stories. His voice even to this day is so soothing. His Anglo-Irish accent is so pleasant to listen to that I could quite happily listen to him read the dictionary to me. Quite often I did! If I didn’t know what I word meant I was sent to his study to fetch the dictionary. There was no Google back then! My favourite book as a child was The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton.

The_Magic_Faraway_Tree

Considering the first edition was published in 1943, I’m sure the everyday lives of those children brought back some fond memories of my father’s own childhood during the 1940s. When we finished one chapter of that, Dad used to make up stories about a mischievous little girl called Yvette (hmmm I wonder where he got the inspiration for the name) who used to get up to all sorts of mischief. When her parents found out what she did the story always ended there with her parents shouting “Yeeevette!” A few years back I dug out my copy of The Magic Faraway Tree and gave it to my son Alexander when he was about 4 with a note:

“Dear Alex,

I hope this book brings you as much joy as it has brought me.

All my love,

Mum.”

I love reading The Gruffalo with the kids too. Sometimes Alex and I turn it into a song. Alexander will beat box while I rap the story. It’s great fun! Every now and then during the summer when my pain isn’t too bad, you might hear us in the woods reciting the story aloud by heart while we stroll through the rows of beautiful green trees and bunches of bluebells and daisies. Recently we started putting on the torch and getting under the duvet to read. It gets a bit stuffy though.

Watch movies

For as long as I can remember TV and movies has been a massive part of my life. Most things I know about life I’ve learned from television! I try to limit my own kids TV limit but sometimes when you can’t do anything but lie there, TV is a Godsend. I do love the days where I snuggle up with the children and show them the movies and TV shows I grew up watching. I get such a warm feeling watching their little faces in wonder at the magic of Mary Poppins or the original Doctor Doolittle. Of course the old school Disney films like Pocahontas, The Lion King and Aladdin are a must. Movies bring me hope and joy, watching others overcome their struggles sometimes give me a boost or inspire me and that’s what I want for my own children.

Watch funny videos

Sometimes looking up fail or funny animals videos on YouTube is just the thing to cheer you up. Laughter is a great medicine and the children get such a kick out of watching them. Of course do make sure that you are supervising the children when giving them access to the Internet!

Art

Art is a great therapy for everyone, young and old. Grab some crayons/markers/pencils and   a few blank sheets of paper or a colouring book. Art is proven to be beneficial for mental health, something many chronically ill patients suffer from, unfortunately. Creating art relieves stress, it encourages creative thinking, boosts self esteem and a sense of self-accomplishment, increases brain activity and so much more! Make art work a hobby if you enjoy it, it’s a great way to forget about your illness for a while. Creating art can help you work through the feelings you have about your illness.

family art.jpeg

Puzzles

Jigsaw puzzles are not just for rainy days; they’re great for bed days too. If you have a tray a table that you’d usually use for breakfast in bed, you can use that to make your puzzle on. A duvet is no good as one movement and the whole thing will fall apart. Soul destroying!

Play games

Board games are a great way to pass the time and are so much fun. I personally like playing Guess Who with my son because it teaches him to use his descriptive words, improve his concentration and his observational skills. Operation is another great option for fine motor skills, which many children with EDS have difficulty with. Travel sized games are perfect for playing in bed. Sometimes we forego the board games and play I Spy or Simon Says.

board game.jpeg

Creative writing

Creative writing can be very therapeutic for people suffering from mental and physical disorders. Using your own experiences can help you gain perspective and work through emotions and obstacles in your life. Of course, it doesn’t always have to be so serious. Sometimes it can just be funny to take turns making up sentences of a story. So for example if I said, “there was once a unicorn,” My son, Alexander might continue with “who had rainbow coloured poo,” or something as equally juvenile and silly.

Put on a show

Shadow puppets, actual puppets or just themselves a lot of kids like to entertain their parents and show off a song/poem/dance they’ve learned in school. I just love when my children sing and dance for me. It reminds me of when I was a child and my cousin and I would put on shows for our parents at Christmas time. There is a really cringey video of us doing our own version of Father Ted, a comedic show about three Irish priests. Our parents laughed a lot but I’m guessing it was the combination of alcohol and their 10-year-old children saying the iconic lines “Drink, Feck, Arse!” or “That money was just resting in my account.” The two of us really loved being the centre of attention, I can see that in my own children now.

child play.jpeg

 Have a sing song/listen to music

I have to say it but the majority of modern music pales in comparison to the music of “my day”. I grew up listening to Nirvana, Metallica, Smashing Pumpkins, ABBA (I know), The Police and Fleetwood Mac. Now I am partial to a bit of Ed Sheeran, Hozier, Rag N’ Bone Man a few other singer songwriters. But I feel that music isn’t as big on the story telling anymore. Stick on iTunes or a CD player (whatever you have) and introduce your kids to the tunes from your childhood. Take turns with your child and let them introduce you to the music they like. Again, my Dad’s influence comes in here. Driving to/from school or to a hospital appointment used to be my time to have Dad up to date with “new music”. As a teenager I was a big fan of Avril Lavigne and Dad was a fan too. We used to bond with music a lot. Sitting down on a Sunday morning listening to classical music is still a time in my life I look so fondly back on. Sometimes I put on some classical music like The Four Seasons and my son and I close our eyes and talk about what we imagine when we hear the music.

Knitting/crocheting etc

 Learning to knit/sew or crochet is a skill that will always be useful and also enjoyable. The sound of the clicking needles in a rhythm has always been comforting to me. Sadly, knitting isn’t an option for me any more since I began dislocating my wrist. Knitting was dying out for a while but it has gained popularity again when many celebs said it has helped relieve their stress. Teaching a child to sew a button is a skill that they’ll always have as they grow up. These practices are also a good way to improve motor skills.

child knitting.jpeg

Pick something to learn about

My kids love learning and my son’s choice of book is more often than not, an encyclopedia or history book of some kind. His thirst for knowledge is contagious; I love to learn with him. Even as adults there is still so much about the world we have still to discover and learning about it with your children is so, so rewarding. If my son asks me about how something works and I don’t know, we will try and find a book, or if we don’t have time (or I’m ill) we will Google it. This probably stems from my childhood. Whenever I didn’t know what a word meant, my Dad used to send me to his den to get the dictionary and look it up. This led to me knowing the longest word in the English dictionary by the time I was six (it’s floccinaucinihilipilification in case you’re wondering). Interestingly, this word never came to use in my days as a journalist! YouTube has some great educational videos produced for children. Netflix also has a brilliant selection of kid friendly documentaries. Our favourite are the dinosaur themed documentaries.

 Have a conversation

Every now and then I’ll ask my son questions like “What’s your favourite book?” “What’s your favourite colour?” Anything I can think of I’ll ask him. It makes him feel important to talk about what he likes and that mom is taking a real interest. Every time I ask his answer changes, it’s the nature of children, I guess. Ask them about their friends and school or what they want to be when they grow up. You could plan a nice day out for when you’re feeling better.

mom and child talking.jpeg

“Feeling guilty often comes part and parcel of being a Spoonie parent. But remember; you can only do your best and you won’t help anyone, including yourself if you run yourself into the ground. All our children want is to know they are loved and have some quality time with their parents.”

Until next time,

Z.M

x

Friday Feelings with The Zebra Mom

Hey there, hi there, ho there,

This week I didn’t have any guest post submitted so, I decided to do a Friday Feelings post myself.

Usually I explain what my guests suffer from and a they tell us a little about themselves but I’m sure anyone who follows my blog is well aware of my conditions and the things I am passionate about. I will take the oppurtunity to plug my social medias though :p You can find me on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram and Snapchat (see the snap code in the header)

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So we will just dive straight into this week’s Friday Feelings post

 

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“Dear Diary,

It’s Friday and for once, I’ve had an excellent night’s sleep and I’m feeling relatively OK. Usually I wake with something wrong but luckily, I have no more pain that the usual aches. I am so happy that I’m feeling well as can be since I am celebrating my 30th birthday tonight with family and friends. It is not often I get to socialise and get dressed up so when it does happen I appreciate it so much. I’ll probably run low on spoons after I finish getting myself ready but I am hoping the adrenaline will kick in and help me enjoy my night. I also have to be weary of certain lighting in pubs as my sensory issues can cause havoc when I do get the chance to go out. My typical Friday nights are usually much more boring. I sit at home and spend my time watching the Gilmore Girls or socialise on Facebook.

Even though I feel OK right now the last few weeks my EDS and Dysautonomia has been acting up a good bit forcing me to use my wheelchair. I hate using it, it makes me feel very self-conscious but I know I would be much worse off if I didn’t use it. Yesterday we went into the city to take our little boy shopping for new party clothes and if I didn’t have my chair, I wouldn’t have been able to enjoy our time. It’s a frustrating time for us at the moment as we are currently fundraising to get back to London for treatment. This 5-night trip is costing us 5,000 Euro. Luckily I have some really good friends and family who helped us raise 765 Euro a couple of days ago at our coffee morning. We couldn’t believe that that amount was raised in just a couple of hours! The community really came together to support us. I was truly blown away.

The future is uncertain but I am hopeful that getting treatment in London will give the children and me a fighting chance at some normality. I am having Autonomic tests in London to find out exactly which type of Dysautonomia I have. Here in Ireland I have been diagnosed with Orthostatic Intolerance and Vasovagal Syncope but the experts in London believe I have Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (PoTS). They believe Alexander also has PoTS but luckily he isn’t greatly affected. I also see symptoms in Olivia too.

I think as time goes on, people are understanding our conditions better and know that they are invisible illnesses and that some days I need my wheelchair and some days I don’t. I think the fact that we have had to go to the UK and fundraise thousands made people realise the severity of our conditions. It’s a shame that it has had to come down to this but I am content that those nearest and dearest to us take things seriously. I have had negative experiences with the way people has viewed EDS before. One doctor said that people with EDS didn’t suffer from chronic pain (I know, I know) and that I more likely had Fibromyalgia. Now, many experts do believe that most people diagnosed with Fibro have actually been misdiagnosed and that they actually have some form of Connective Tissue Disorder. I told her this and she was most unimpressed to be challenged. Pregnant and wheelchair bound, I left that appointment in tears in pure anger and frustration. A Rheumatologist diagnosed me with hEDS at that point but I saw another one to confirm the diagnosis because I felt the private consultant’s diagnosis wasn’t being taken seriously. I had the diagnosis confirmed by two experts in London so I am pretty confident hEDS is the right fit but I am going to have genetic testing just to be sure as I do fit a couple of the types of EDS too. I think anyone diagnosed with hEDS should have genetic testing to rule out other types and other Connective Tissue Disorders. If the tests come back clear, I’ll be happy sticking with the hEDS diagnosis.

Anyway, better start getting ready for my hair appointment and party. Wish me luck that my EDS or Dysautonomia doesn’t kick off!”

Want to write your own Friday Feeling entry?

Send

A high res photo

A short paragraph about yourself

What illnesses you have

Your diary entry with the following topics in it:

It’s Friday, many people will go out tonight for a few sociable drinks with their friends. What do you do on a typical Friday night?
How are you feeling at this moment about your chronic illness?
How do you feel about the future in regards to your illness?
How do you feel about the way people view your illness?

and links to your blog and social media to evienevin87@yahoo.ie

Be sure to put “Friday Feelings” in the subject bar.

Till Sunday,

Z.M

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9 ways to keep the romance alive when you’re chronically ill

Hey there, hi there, ho there!

So last time we discussed how sometimes people forget that life for the chronically ill person is far more difficult than a carer’s. I briefly touched on how relationships can dwindle from lovers to a carer-patient relationship when your signifiant other is acting as your carer. So, with that in mind, let’s look at some ways you and your partner can keep things romantic even when chronic illness tries to intervene. A lot of the things I’m going to talk about can be applied to any couple that may have let the romance die out a little.

Kiss. 

When you’ve been with someone a long time, sometimes you genuinely forget to kiss-even if you’re not chronically ill.

“Even just a quick touch of the lips.”

When you’re so busy concentrating on your illness and/or family life it can be easy to forget to just stop and have a moment together.

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Do something together at least once a month.

Whether it’s getting in some alcohol free wine/beer, watching a romantic movie or having dinner together-make the time to spend a couple of hours together not talking about family/illness etc. Even a gentle stroll on the beach/ woods while holding hands can be just enough to keep that flame-a-flickering.

Go back to where you first met.

If it’s possible, go back to the place where you first clapped eyes on each other. Try and remember how you felt that day. Recreate your first date. Go to your friends house and help them get you ready.

“Have your partner pick you up or meet you at the place where you had your first dinner/drink together.”

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Do something nice for each other.

It doesn’t have to be a birthday or a special occasion to do something nice for your significant other. It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture or anything expensive. Write a love letter and leave it somewhere for them to find.  Make a playlist of all their favourite songs or songs that remind you of them. Run a bubble bath, light some candles and let them have some time to themselves.

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Massages

Get some nice oils, light some candles and help get those pesky knots out. PLEASE do be careful if you’re massaging someone with a hyper mobility syndrome-last thing you want on your romantic night is to end up in A&E!

Go on a weekend break/holiday.

If you’re like me and are seriously affected by low pressures and crap weather, you might appreciate getting away to somewhere warm (but not humid).  A nice week away to the Mediterranean can give you and your partner a break from pain and all the other symptoms associated with your condition.

Renew your vows.

You don’t need to recreate your wedding day-unless you want to. You can simply organise to renew your vows with your priest/registrar/humanist. You can do it alone or just invite your close family and friends.

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I love you.

Those three simple words should be said every day. Whether it’s first thing in the morning or last thing at night.

“Let your significant other know that they are loved.”

Just like kissing, sometimes it can be easy to forget to say it. Especially when brain fog is a factor of your illness. Set a reminder if you have to!

Sexy time.

If you can do it and want to, go for it. 90% of the time us spoonies don’t feel sexy or attractive. Sometimes you gotta make yourself look good on the outside to help you feel better on the inside. Make yourself feel sexy by having your hair/ make up done. Have a relaxing bath, shave your legs (if you want), get into a nice nighty or PJs. Do whatever makes you feel good about yourself. Sometimes after all that effort-the last thing you want to do is to do the horizontal mambo but if you still have some spoons left and you’re not in too much pain, use that last bit of energy to make lurve. Remember, you don’t have to necessarily have to “go all the way” sometimes some heavy petting can be just as nice.

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Till next time,

Z.M.

x

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A letter to my fellow chronic illness sufferers.

Hey there, hi there, ho there!

Recently I’ve read posts from fellow chronic illness sufferers about having to endure ignorant comments from strangers and sadly, friends and family about how how hard it must be for those in their life caring for them without their own difficulties being acknowledged. Now, I’m not saying that life for carers isn’t hard. They have it so tough but, what outside observers tend to forget is that there is a vulnerable person, in pain, unable to look after themselves who have feelings of loss, despair, grief and insecurity. Many sufferers are still dealing with the fact that they are not 100% independent. That can be a very difficult pill to swallow.

For those of you who have had to endure such ignorant comments, this letter is for you.

Do you ever have days where you think: “God, I’m such a burden.” or “I need something but I don’t want to ask for help again.”?

I do. All. The. Time.

How many of us have been with friends or family and listen to them go on and on about how wonderful your husband/wife/partner etc is for taking care of you? Most of them will be somewhat diplomatic but, there are times when you are unfortunate enough to endure a conversation with an ignorant friend or stranger.

You know your spouse/partner is wonderful that’s exactly why you are with them in the first place. You don’t need someone to tell you how hard it is for them to put up with your moods that are a result of fatigue, pain and pure unadulterated frustration. You don’t need  them to remind you that you depend on them to help you with tasks that any healthy person could do for themselves.

When someone says: “Isn’t he/she great for looking after you?”

This is what we hear:

“You’re a burden on your husband. You know that, right? If you didn’t have him you would struggle and probably be alone.”

OK, OK. It might sound a bit dramatic but if it’s what you hear almost every time your illness is discussed it grates on you. Words are funny things. When people are already insecure in themselves they can read into things that may not have any ill intent. Chronic illness eats away at our bodies but it also eats away at our minds and self confidence.

You hear how great your partner is more than you hear how great you are for not getting into bed and never coming out of it no matter how much you want to do that sometimes. But that’s the nature of having a chronic illness, isn’t it? People simply don’t get it. Unless you have a life threatening illness, nobody really listens. Chronic illnesses aren’t “sexy” diseases that can be marketed as well as life threatening ones. People don’t get that your symptoms are for as long as you live-there is no cure and there is no looming death sentence.

Yes, it is really hard for caregivers. Especially for parents and partners of people with chronic illnesses. Caregiving can often be a full time job without the pay. But, imagine how hard it is for the person who is being cared for. Having to be cared for can be downright humiliating. You need help getting off the toilet when your hips are giving you trouble, you need to be lifted out of the bath because you’re dizzy. You need help dressing because your so fatigued after having a shower. You need someone to cook and clean for you because you simply can’t. It takes years for people to come to terms with this-if ever.

You shouldn’t have to be considered “really special” to take care of your significant other, isn’t that the whole point of committing to each other? In sickness and in health etc, etc? Isn’t it part and parcel of choosing to have a child or deciding to spend your life with someone?

I have so many friends who are chronically ill who have their husbands/wives/mothers etc acting as their carers. I know they have had to endure ignorant comments from strangers about whether or not they should have children, that they are a burden on their partner and that their partner is “a really, really great guy that puts up with a lot”. But, I know those same people fight every single day to face their illness and a world that is filled with so much ignorance head on. I also know that these people are so appreciative of everything the people in their support system do to make their lives that bit more bearable. I see them declaring their love and appreciation of their caregiver to the world. But I also know that these same people lay next to their partners on the couch or in bed after a really hard day. They look them in the eye and thank them for everything they have done today to help them endure the pain, the fatigue and all the horrible symptoms they put up with every single day.

Of course you should thank them. They didn’t ask for this life either and yet, they do it anyway and without complaining (well, most of the time anyway). Doing something special for your caregiver every now and then is a nice way to show your appreciation. If your significant other is your carer, sometimes the romance can dwindle and the relationship can go from lover to carer. So it is important to do something together that keeps that passion between you going. Even if it’s snuggling up on the couch and having a kissing and cuddling session. It goes both ways, though. Sometimes those needing to be cared for can feel inferior, childlike, useless,unattractive and yes, a burden. We will explore maintaining romantic relationships next week.

So you, reading this. If you’re chronically ill and have a loved one caring for you remember this; you’re not a burden. You didn’t choose to be sick. You take on the biggest task of all. Surviving.

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Life has given you a pretty crappy hand but you’re still here and that should be applauded. You put up with more things in one week than most people deal with in a lifetime. You are good enough. You are not “lucky” to have a parent/partner caring for you. Sure, there are people who wouldn’t be up to the task of looking after a chronically sick loved one but that doesn’t make you any more “lucky”. Luck has nothing to do with it. You fell in love with a good person and they fell in love with you for the same reason. You are not your illness. It does not define who you are-unless you want it to. Being chronically ill does bring out the not so pleasant side of people but it also embellishes all the wonderful traits of you too. You learn to be more compassionate, more appreciative of the little things in life like a walk on the beach or an hour in the playground with your child. You learn to take opportunities-when you can. You learn that saying no is perfectly fine. If you’re not up to it, you don’t do it. Chronic illness takes so much away but it allows us to see the world in a unique way.

Bottom line is your caregiver is a wonderful person but, so are you.

Till next time,

Z.M

x

Being Chronically Ill means..

Hey there, hi there, ho there!

Hope everyone had a nice break over the holiday period and that you’ve recovered from all the travelling, cooking, early mornings and late nights.

In latest news I’m very excited to announce I have been asked to speak at a medical conference in Manchester this coming May. The conference is to educate and raise awareness of Vascular Ehlers Danlos Syndrome. I am truly honoured to have been asked to address medical professionals from all over the world. It’s a massive responsibility to represent the EDS community and I will do my best to explain the struggles we all face.

Anyway,  I just wrote this piece for a bit of a laugh. I’m not trying to be a negative ninny (in case somebody doesn’t pick up on my sarcastic tone), I will get around to writing part two of my trip to London shortly. I know some of you were eager to read about prices and places to stay etc.

Hope you enjoy my latest blog!

One day of fun=several days of a flare up.

You’ve taken your meds, you’re feeling as well as can be. You put on your glad rags and you make it into the car. Even doing that much your energy levels start to drop and your pain levels start to rise but God damn it, your going to this party. You’ve been staring at the same four walls for weeks now. Even if you have to walk in with a cane or arrive in your wheelchair, you are going to spread your wings and be a social butterfly for one evening.

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You manage to spend an hour or so catching up with friends while listening to how “you look great and you’d never know you were sick by looking at you” when all you wanted to do was forget you were sick for one night. But getting out is worth being someone’s inspiration porn.

You go home and fall into bed. This is where you stay for the next few days only crawling out to use the toilet or to grab a packet of crackers to stop yourself from starving to death.

You have more sets of PJs than actual clothes.

You spend more time at home than you do outside so it’s only natural you’d spend a lot of time in what you’re most comfortable in. While many of us would prefer to get dressed and glammed up to make ourselves feel normal, others just don’t want to waste energy on putting on clothes and make up. A lot of the time you choose between getting dressed or putting on a load of laundry or ya know, eating?

Hey! If these dudes can walk around in their house all day in their PJs, why can’t I?

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Your bed is your best friend and your enemy.

When you’re ill a lot of the time your bedroom becomes your place to escape so that you can rest and recover. Unfortunately you do end up spending a lot of time in bed and sometimes it can be for several days. You can often end up resenting your bed. While the majority of society love their beds, people who are chronically ill associate it with being in pain.

You often develop a less than desirable odour.

When you’ve been in bed for a day or so, you develop a very specific smell. It’s a mix of sweat, anguish and food that you’ve spilled on yourself. Getting up for a shower can be very tough on our bodies. Again, it’s about picking and choosing what you spend your energy on. Bathing or making dinner. The kids have to eat. The smell won’t kill em but starvation probably will.

When you do get round to washing  yourself you feel somewhat human again. But then you have to go lie down.

If someone were to shake you, you’d probably rattle.

You can never just have one chronic illness. No, no, no. There’s always a domino affect. Your main illness causes all sorts of weird and wonderful sub conditions. Consequently you take a whole lotta pills to keep yourself functioning. You’ve got one cupboard in your house that looks like a pharmacy, you have to brace yourself when you open it as more often than not, something falls out. People are always shocked to see it and know that if they get a headache while in your home you’ll have an array of pills to kick that sucker’s ass.

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A successful day for you is getting dressed and actually leaving the house.

Just grabbing whatever has been tossed at the end of your bed and leaving the house to buy food or collect the kids is enough to gush about when your significant comes home from work. Victory is yours!

You get annoyed listening to people crib about having a cold, going to work or having to go to out socialising with their friends even though they are so00 tired.

Many of us can’t work or leave the house when we want so don’t complain and tell us “I know how you feel” because you have a cold. Difference is you’re going to get better. Oh no! You have to go to a Christmas party? My heart bleeds for you.

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You have watched anything worth watching already.

Netflix and chill doesn’t mean the same thing to us. It literally means to binge watch shows while doped up to our eye balls on pain meds. Many of us will tell you we have spent many a day watching OITNB while curled into the foetal position because said meds aren’t working.

Till next time,

Z.M

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A Simple Guide to The Ehlers Danlos Syndromes

UPDATE: On March 15 2017, criteria and classifications of The Ehlers Danlos Syndromes were updated for the first time in 20 years. In light of this, I will update my guide (with the new information made available) to highlight new diagnostic criteria and classifications. You can read more about the changes here.

Because there are now 13 types of EDS, I have only covered Hypermobile Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (hEDS), Vascular Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (vEDS) and Classical Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (cEDS). If you would like me to do another guide to the rarer types, please comment below or email me. I would be more than happy to oblige!

“You’re suffering from Fibromyalgia!” “You’re depressed!” “You’re imagining it!”

“You’re malingering!” “You’re attention seeking!-”

“No I’m not – I have an Ehlers Danlos Syndrome!”

 The Ehlers Danlos Syndromes (EDS) are a group of conditions that are poorly understood, even by many in the medical professions. It is essentially a defect in the production of collagen, an essential component of connective tissue.

Many articles about EDS contain medical terminology that can be difficult to understand. The purpose of this guide is to put the medical terminology in plain language and help non-affected family and friends understand exactly how EDS affects people and their day-to-day lives. The medical terminology is included in italics. Links to web pages are included throughout the article if you want to conduct your own research.

Why are they called The Ehlers Danlos Syndromes (EDS)?

The name of the condition itself is quite a mouthful! Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (Eylerz-Dan loss Sin-drome) is named after the two physicians, Dr Ehlers and Dr Danlos, who first described this group of connective tissue disorders.

What is EDS?

People with a type of EDS will produce faulty collagen. Collagen is essential for healthy connective tissue, which is found throughout the body supporting and connecting the different types of tissues and organs, including tendons, ligaments, blood vessels, internal organs, bones, the blood and skin.

Imagine a healthy person’s connective tissue as being like regular household glue. People with EDS have collagen that is more like chewing gum; stretchy and not very good at keeping things in place.

What causes EDS?

There are a number of different genes responsible for making collagen and connective tissue, so there are different types of EDS depending on which genes are faulty. There are 13 types of The Ehlers Danlos Syndromes

How did I get a faulty gene?

It is possible that the faulty gene may have been inherited from one parent, or both parents, or not inherited at all. It may be that the defect has occurred in that person for the first time. This happens in 25% of cases.

 How I explained it to my 7-year old son.

A carpenter makes a wooden chair. Instead of using wood glue to place the joints of the chair together, he uses chewing gum. Once finished, the chair looks fine. But, as time goes by and the chair is used, the chewing gum doesn’t work very well at keeping the joints together. Without proper glue the chair can begin to get wobbly. I went on to explain that with proper exercise he could help to strengthen his muscles so that they acted like binding around the joints to help support them.

What does EDS feel like?

Having an EDS feels different from person to person, depending on their type, but many describe it as having a lifelong flu. Have you ever had the flu? Do you remember how painful it was having those aches and pains in the joints and muscles? Do you remember how tired and run down you felt? That’s what it’s like for people with EDS only worse and it never goes away. In addition to the daily aches and pains people with EDS also have to deal with very painful headaches, gut issues and then of course there’s the issue of dislocation. Many EDSers can’t go a day without a joint popping out. It can happen simply by stepping off a footpath or picking up a pot when cooking. A lot of people with EDS are also affected by the weather. When it is damp or when the air pressure changes their pain can increase.

How does EDS affect people?

Because collagen is everywhere in the body, there are hundreds of ways EDS can affect people. Any two people with EDS may have very different signs and symptoms, this includes people with the same type. In som,e the condition is quite mild. For others it can be disabling. Some of the rare severe types can be life-threatening.

One of the problems with diagnosing EDS is that many diseases share the same symptoms. As a result, EDS can be easily confused with other conditions and it may be difficult for doctors to recognise. But there are ways to tell if someone may be affected by EDS and need more thorough investigation. Some of the investigations available are listed later.

The most common symptoms of EDS (hEDS and cEDS) are:

  • “Double jointed” – Hypermobility: joints that are more flexible than normal.
  • Loose, unstable joints that dislocate easily.
  • Clicking joints.
  • Joint and muscle pain

In addition there may be

  • Fatigue (extreme tiredness).
  • Injuring easily.
  • Fragile skin that bruises and tears easily. The skin may also be stretchy.
  • Digestive problems
  • Dizziness and an increased heart rate after standing up. (Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome or simply POTS for short)
  • Incontinence of urine in women

Digestion.

If food in the stomach doesn’t move through the body to make its way out it may just sits in the intestines and can cause a feeling of fullness, nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, to name just a few symptoms. This condition is known as Gastroparesis. (gas-tro par-eesis).

Nervous System

Another condition than often affects people with EDS is a fault with that part of the nervous system controlling the “automatic” functions of the body; things like blood pressure, breathing, heartbeat, digestion, how hot or cold you feel and the way your organs work and so on. This is called the Autonomic Nervous System. When it doesn’t operate as it should the conditions is called Dysautonomia (Dis-auto-no-me-a). Common symptoms of this are trouble with digestion, dizziness and fainting.

Dysautonomia affecting the heart.

The most common type of Dysautonomia causes dizziness and an increased heart rate after standing up. This condition is called Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome or simply, POTS for short.

Some sufferers have fairly mild symptoms and can continue with normal work, school, social and recreational activities. For others, symptoms may be so severe that normal life things like bathing, housework, eating, sitting upright, walking or standing can be very difficult. They may feel dizzy or even faint from doing these things.

What are the symptoms for POTS?

People with POTS experience fatigue (extreme tiredness), headaches, lightheadedness (feeling dizzy), heart palpitations (when their heart beats so hard you can hear and feel it), exercise intolerance (feel ill when exercising), nausea (feeling sick), diminished concentration (hard to concentrate), tremulousness (shaking), syncope (fainting), coldness or pain in the arms, legs, fingers and toes, chest pain and shortness of breath. People with POTS can develop a reddish purple colour in the legs when standing; this is believed to be caused by blood falling down in the body because of weak veins. The colour change subsides upon returning to sitting or lying position.

Can you tell someone has EDS just by looking at them?

The short answer is no. Some may have typically blue sclera (whites of the eyes), they may have translucent skin (see through) and you may even notice how bendy they are. But some people may have some of these things and not have EDS.

Many people with the type of EDS that affects blood vessels (Vascular Ehlers Danlos Syndrome or simply, vEDS) do have some facial characteristics. Notice in the picture below that the people have big eyes, thin nose and lips.

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Can EDS kill people?

Some people think it can’t but actually, EDS has led to the untimely death of people all over the world. vEDS is considered the most serious form of EDS due to the possibility of the heart or organs tearing.

Many EDSers live a life of constant pain. This pain and misunderstanding from their medical teams, families and friends can make a person feel very sad and alone which can lead to depression and even suicide.

What treatments are available for people with EDS?

Because EDS is considered “rare” there are not many doctors willing to learn about it. Types such as hEDS and cEDS can be somewhat managed through specialised physiotherapy. Joints with weak connective tissue are more likely to dislocate. Exercises to strengthen the muscles around a joint can help stabilize the joint. Your physical therapist might also recommend specific braces to help prevent joint dislocations. Occupational therapy is also useful to help manage everyday life. Pain relief is very important for people with EDS.

EDSers should also be under the care of a Rheumatologist (a doctor who looks after bones and joints), a Cardiologist (heart doctor). There may also be a need for more specialised doctors such as Neurologists (doctors who look after the nervous system) or all of the above plus many, many more. Sometimes operations are required to repair joints that have dislocated frequently and haven’t healed properly.

Do all people with EDS need wheelchairs?

Not everyone will experience EDS the same way, some people can live normal lives and manage very well with physiotherapy and pain relief. Others may need to use wheelchairs or walking sticks to help them get around. Some people with EDS also have Gastroparesis which we discussed earlier and may need to be fed using a tube. Others may only have mild tummy problems. Some people with EDS may have to go to hospital a lot while some may only go to their GP every few months. But, just because one person can live their lives fairly normally, it doesn’t mean they don’t have EDS or that their pain shouldn’t be taken seriously.

Can you catch EDS, POTS or Gastroparesis?

No. EDS and other sub conditions are not contagious. If you know somebody with EDS, don’t be afraid, you’re not going to catch anything from them. So, if you’re avoiding someone with EDS, go make friends with them.

 How can I help someone with EDS?

Be there to listen if they want to talk about it. Some people are afraid to tell you how they feel because they think friends and family don’t want to hear them complain. Ask them how they are and if you can do anything to help them. Doing shopping or household chores can be a huge help and it would be most appreciated. If you’re friend or family member has EDS and can’t access appropriate treatment like here in Ireland, write to your local representatives to tell them about EDS and the lack of care that is available. Help raise awareness in the public by sharing articles or pictures about EDS. Experts believe that EDS is not rare, just rarely diagnosed.

I will update the Diagnostic Criteria for cEDS, hEDS and vEDS in the coming days.

*Special thanks to my Dad who helped me edit this guide.*

Do you think anything else about EDS needs to be explained? Let me know in the comments!

Z.M

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Teaching our children about consent should start in early childhood

The topic of consent is everywhere at the moment, it is an important social issue that affects each and every person, male or female, no matter their age. While I welcome mandatory consent classes on college campuses, I can’t help but wonder whether we are leaving it too late to begin introducing the topic of consent to the young people of Ireland? Let’s face it; the majority of first year college students are already sexually active. Should these mandatory classes be apart of the secondary curriculum? Absolutely. But as parents I feel it is our responsibility to plant the seed much earlier on in life.

I recently watched Louise O’Neill’s documentary Asking for It? If you haven’t seen it yet, you can watch it here. After it’s airing, I began scrolling through comment sections on social media to suss out what the Irish public thought of rape culture and the issue of consent.

Sadly, I was unsurprised to see so many people claim that Ireland does not have a rape culture. People were either too fixated on the word “culture” or almost literally sticking their fingers in their ears and screaming to avoid dealing with this very real issue. It’s such an Irish thing to do, to sweep it under the carpet, no need to make anyone uncomfortable. We have a rich history of turning our backs on painful subjects. Just look at the Magdalene Laundry scandal, for instance. Modern day Ireland is repulsed with how women up until very recently were treated by the Church. We are also disgusted that as a society we kept quiet. This attitude reflects what we are seeing today with women being perceived within a Madonna-whore complex. No, “rape culture” does not mean that as a nation we condone rape. Not. At. All. Of course the vast majority of people believe that rape is a heinous crime and those who carry out such acts should be punished to the fullest extent. Consent is consent and using excuses means we will never tackle the real issue head on.

We have a tendency to victim blame, not just about rape but also in many other situations. Just look at Kim Kardashian’s ordeal in Paris, for example. The narrative wasn’t about this traumatic event a human being went through but rather, blaming Kim for showing off her very expensive jewellery on social media. That she was “asking for it to happen.” The same thing happens to victims of sexual assault.

“Well if she’s going out dressed like that…”

“She shouldn’t have walked home alone”.

“How much did she have to drink?”

“Sure wasn’t she mauling the face off him earlier on in the night? What did she expect?”

Excusing a man’s (or woman’s) actions because they were drunk and saying “he/she would never do that normally.”

Every time these words are uttered we undermine the actual issue.

Growing up in Ireland, I could not go with friends for a night out without the following lecture chanted at me like some sort of protection spell:

“Stay with the crowd, don’t wonder off alone. Watch your drink. If someone is buying you a drink, go to the bar with them.”

As a young teenage girl, I had never been exposed to rape. It was something I only knew about from obsessively watching Law and Order: SVU. It was something that happened in far away lands, not here in little ole Ireland. Then again, I did live a fairly sheltered life.

But, as I began going out more, I started to understand why my mother gave me the same speech over and over again, each and every single night out. Even today at 29, a mother of two children, I am still reminded by my mother to do all of those things. Years ago I would have rolled my eyes at mum followed by a “yeah, yeah, yeah. OK, Mum.” Now?  I make sure I don’t walk home alone on the rare night I do go out. Or if I can’t get someone to walk home with me, I call my husband for the 7-minute walk home. A lot can happen in 7 minutes.

I recently had a discussion with an older relative about rape culture and particularly, victim blaming. The conversation went something like this:

“Women have a level of responsibility to protect themselves,” the relative said.

In a perfect world, it would be great for women to feel comfortable enough to walk home alone at night. It has been drilled into our heads so much that we shouldn’t put ourselves in dangerous situations but how about we start telling young men before they go out to respect any girl they potentially hook up with. That no means no and not try a little harder to swoon her into submission.

Sexual abuse is rarely ever about sex, it’s about power. Assault can happen anytime, anywhere and the attacker more often than not is someone familiar to the victim. 93% of perpetrators are familiar to their victims.

I responded to this relative with a question.

“If a man is mugged in the street at night. Do you blame the man or the thugs that mugged him?”

This made my relative stop and think.

A few days later we went to the woods for a stroll and some foraging. We separated for a few minutes. I noticed a white van with no windows pull up near me. I looked around to see how many people were around me and checked the laces on my runners were tied properly. My male relative didn’t acknowledge the van, as in he didn’t think twice about it. Women all over the world are on edge. We always have our defenses up. Will that guy cat calling follow me home? Will I arrive home safely in this taxi?

When scrolling through the comments section under Jennifer Hough’s article about rape culture in Cork one comment stuck out for me.

It went something like this:

There have been no reports of rape over the weekend so I question the author’s claim that she saw this happening.

One in four Irish women have experienced sexual abuse at some point in their lives. One. In. Four. That’s almost as common as cancer and yet, why don’t we see it in the media more? Victims of assault fear the trauma of reliving their experience during an investigation or fear of being accused of leading the perpetrator on; that they did something to ask for the attack. According to the Rape Crisis Centre Network of Ireland’s (RCC) 2014 statistics 33% of survivors contacted the police about their assault. According to the Sexual Abuse and Violence in Ireland Report (SAVI), only one in ten sexual crimes are reported in Ireland. Of that one in ten, only 7% secures a conviction. Less than 1% of victims of sexual crime in Ireland get justice.

So, just because we don’t see it in the media everyday, it doesn’t it’s not happening.

Consent is a hot topic and Louise O’Neill’s documentary resulted in the subject being discussed everywhere-amongst friends, on social media and in the news. The end message is we need to teach young men about consent just as we teach women to protect themselves. We are now seeing mandatory classes in collages being taught about consent but should we wait until most young people are already sexually active before we introduce the idea of consent to them?

Just the other day my 7-year-old son was trying to get his 19-month-old sister to give him hugs and kisses. She was shouting no but my son kept trying. At that age of course there was no malice in his actions but something clicked. This is where it begins. I told my son there and then that if his sister didn’t want hugs and kisses and she is shouting no that it meant no and to stop. I want him to understand that now, not when he’s a teenage boy. No means no. We see it all the time, relatives practically forcing children to show them affection. Why are we so pushy for physical affection? Children are not property. We have no right to hit them so why should we force them to hug and kiss us? It is their body. It is their choice. Their feelings about their personal space matter as much as any adult’s.

It all starts in childhood. We need to teach our children that our bodies are our own and nobody, not our parents or siblings have a right to invade our personal space or have forced affection brought on them. Parents often tell their children to let them know if anyone touches them inappropriately. Abuse often starts with uninvited touching, hugging or stroking. If we force affection on a child who clearly doesn’t want it, it can be confusing for them to know when something is inappropriate. Forced affection doesn’t show children we love them, it shows them that we can do as we please with their bodies.

If you don’t believe the idea of consent should be introduced to children just take a look at the figures from the 2014 RCC report:

52% of survivors aged 13 to 17 were subjected to rape

15% of perpetrators were under 18

9% of survivors attending crisis centres in Ireland were children.

Waiting until our children become young adults to discuss consent is too late and the figures reflect this.

Although parents or relatives have no intention of harming a child, nor do they think they are doing anything inappropriate; we are teaching our children that an adult or other person’s want for physical affection is more important than their own comfort and safety. It starts as early as toddlerhood; we are laying the groundwork for behaviours that continue into adult life. Teaching our children that no means no could potentially save them from assault later in life. It could also empower young people to have sex only when they’re ready to.

We don’t see physical interaction amongst children as a problem until it’s too late. They tickle, they force hugs and rarely they mean any harm. But every parent has experienced an occasion where their child has either been subjected to touching they didn’t want or have been the ones to force the affection or tickles. So how can we introduce consent to children without going into too much detail about sexual abuse?

We need to teach our children to ask for permission to touch another person. “Is it okay if I hug you? Or “Can I have a hug?”

This teaches our children to ask for permission and it also teaches them to think about their actions before they do them.

We need to teach our children that consent can be taken away too.

Adults know all too well, especially parents that we have days where we feel “touched out.” Kids have those days too. They may have been very affectionate and willing to accept affection the day before but they are well in their rights to tell someone that they don’t want to be touched today. This maybe confusing for other children so it is vital that we show them that it’s OK to change your mind.

A child should never be forced to show affection to another person.

It is a common occurrence that children are told, “go give Nana a hug” or “give Aunty a kiss”. Children are eager to please so they may oblige but that shouldn’t be the case. No matter how familiar your child is with someone, he/she should feel comfortable enough to say no. Given that 93% of cases involve a person the victim is familiar with, it is important that we validate our children’s feelings and respect their decision. Under no circumstances should you guilt a child into giving you affection. Don’t pretend to cry or be sad. So many of us are guilty of this. I know my husband and I have been guilty of this. Humans need touch, we are social creatures but it isn’t really affection if you force or guilt a child into it is it?

Not saying no doesn’t mean yes.

As discussed, children are eager to please so they may do something they don’t really want to do to please a friend, teacher or family member. You may think your own child has no problem saying no but they may not be so forthcoming with someone other than you. Our children must also learn just because they don’t hear a resounding no that it means they can go ahead with that hug or kiss.

Practice what you preach.

Lead by example. Children imitate what they see in their day-to-day lives. If they see Daddy (or Mommy) force affection on to one another, the idea that it’s OK to do that is solidified. Many couples will force a hug or a kiss a form of tomfoolery and no there is no ill intent but still, it is important for us to show our children that we should respect everyone’s boundaries.

Further reading and helplines:

http://www.rcni.ie/wp-content/uploads/RCNI-National-Stats-2014.pdf

Rape Crisis Centre helpline:

1800 778888

or see the website www.rapecrisishelp.ie.

Until next time,

Z.M.