Times Are Hard. Having a Disability Is Harder.

"Times are hard," said the creditor, cutting off my explanation that I'd love to pay my debt, but can't, because my disability is so severe that I can't work. "Times are hard for us all. I know".

Don't tell me you know how hard I have it until you've stayed up all night, clutching your stomach and trying not to be sick, wondering if a tenth extra-stong painkiller will kill you-- and wondering if maybe dying would be better than this.

Don't tell me you know how hard I have it until you've been so desperate to make the pain (emotional and physical) stop that you'd consider anything, everything; therapies that make you go into debt, dangerous treatments that have a 50% chance of working, expensive prescriptions that give you viscious side effects. And when none of that works, you're ready to cut your wrists or burn your thighs or drink until you forget.

Don't tell me you know how hard I have it until you've worked as diligently as you possibly could, for as long as you possibly could, and realized that your best wasn't good enough. You fall asleep on the job because the fatigue is so overpowering. You're in excruciating pain and have to call it quits early. Maybe you can't even get a job in the first place because you're too sick.

Don't tell me you know how hard I have it until you've had to stretch your $100/month salary and sell everything you own and beg your parents or friends or the government for help so you can put food on the table. And then the creditors start calling... You fell deep into debt 'splurging' on clothing and shelter and medication, praying that your health would stop declining so you could finally hold down a real job and pay off your Visas, just for your cards to be maxed out and the sharks to start circling. How can you pay off 3 credit cards and feed yourself and pay for medical treatment on $100/month? They don't care.

Don't tell me you know how hard I have it until you've been stared at and cat called because you gained literally 150 pounds on a new medication. You lose friends because you keep having to cancel on them because you don't feel well, ever. Even your doctors don't know what to do with you. You develop clinical depression because you're so distressed about your illness and the way it affects your family, friends and career. People glare at you because you won't can't give your seat on the bus to a little old lady because your joints are aching. You go to bed in pain and wake up in pain. You go to bed tired and wake up tired. You take your meds, grab your cane or your brace or your heating pad and pray that tomorrow will be better, that people will be more understanding, that simply existing won't be this grueling.

Don't tell me you know how hard I have it. Because unless you have a disability, you don't.

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You Should Definitely Break Up With Him

If you're a long-time Sparkler, you probably know I have a dreadful track record of dating the wrong people. I'm not sure if it's Borderline, bad luck, or (until relatively recently) the feeling that I didn't deserve a loving partner, in the true sense of both words, that's to blame. Probably all of the above.

I know it takes two to tango-- and we both stepped on each other's toes-- but I'm far from responsible for the emotional abuse I've endured. I could have been more patient, I could have been more understanding, I could have been less demanding, and maybe we would have lasted longer. But that doesn't excuse abusive behaviour. Nothing excuses abusive behaviour, EVER.

It doesn't matter if you remember his birthday, you iron his shirts, you pick up after yourself more often, you stop nagging him about that holiday you want to take together. It doesn't matter if you're the perfect girlfriend or you're practically a succubus; if he abuses you in any way, shape or form, dump him. You deserve better. You will find better. You are better off without him.

I'm not the poster child for finding the perfect life partner. I haven't dealt fully with the psychological damage of having been abused, obviously, since I've chosen abusive boyfriends again and again and somehow thought they'd stop hurting me and start loving me. But what I do know for sure, is I'm getting better. This relationship didn't last nearly as long as another did. I got out. And I know I deserve better.

So for now, unless the right person magically appears before me, I'm going to enjoy the single life. I'm going to focus on my career, my mental health and my platonic relationship. Sparklers, we deserve to be happy. Let's remember that.

Panic Is a Pain for Everyone It Touches

My mom had suggested we take a walk, and I was looking forward to both the company and the fresh air. 

"I'll meet you outside," she said. I smiled and replied that I'd be just a minute. I put on my shoes and grabbed my purse. Just as I was about to leave the house... Panic attack. Accompanied by physical illness.

I started hyperventilating, praying this wasn't happening, Beads of sweat formed on my forehead. I suddenly felt like I was going to fall over. All typical panic attack stuff.

Maman rushed back into the house when she heard me, held my hand and wiped my forehead. "It's okay. Just sit and relax. Have a Gravol. We'll go out another time". 

"No, I know how much you wanted to go for a walk. I'll be fine. Just give me a minute". 

"It's okay. Don't push yourself too hard. I'm not mad".

I was calmed by her words, and yet... I felt even worse than I had when I was bent over the sink. Not only are my anxiety disorders interfering with my life; they're making hers more difficult, too. And I know it's not my fault, she loves me no matter what... But sometimes I hate myself just a little bit because Panic is a pain for everyone it touches.

Do you ever feel guilty because of your anxiety disorder(s)?

Why I Won't Go Gluten-Free

I've heard incredible stories of spoonies becoming practically symptom-free thanks to their new gluten-free diets. Whether they're embellishing or not, both research and anecdotal evidence do show that there's something to the gluten-free craze. However, I'm not joining the bandwagon. Here's why:

1. It's not a sure thing. There's no such thing as a sure thing in treatment for chronic illnesses, but... Cutting out gluten and waiting months, or even a year, to see if it's helped at all is not for me. I'd rather continuing exercising and eating healthy when I can, practicing self care and taking my medications. That's the closest there is to a sure thing for a spoonie.

2. I don't have the strength. Gluten-free eating takes careful planning, grocery shopping and cooking or baking. You can't just buy a frozen pizza or pick up a sandwich at the cafe down the street; you have to diligently read the ingredients to be sure no gluten is lurking in your food. Eating out, even in a metropolis like Toronto or New York is difficult. And all your go-to recipes need to be altered. That is, if you have the spoons to cook in the first place.

3. It's expensive. If you don't have the strength to prepare your own gluten-free meals (see #2), you're stuck eating out at one of a handful of celiac-friendly eateries or paying an arm and a leg for prepared foods sans gluten. Many spoonies, including myself, aren't able to work as much as they'd like, and don't have the funds to keep up this lifestyle.

4. It's triggering. As someone who's had an eating disorder, I find cutting anything out of my diet incredibly difficult (emotionally). I can't help but be dragged back to that place in my mind where I think, "if I'm cutting out gluten, maybe I'll lose weight! Maybe I should cut out dessert too! And this and this and this! And then I won't be fat anymore, people will accept that I'm not lazy; they'll realize I really do have a legitimate illness. I'll finally be thin and acceptable to society". And then I can't get out of that head space. Do I really want to risk it, for a chance that I won't be as tired or sore? No. My mental health is just as important as my physical health.

5. I have no definitive medical reason to stop eating gluten. Is the huge lifestyle change of cutting gluten from my diet worth the slight chance that my health could improve a little? Definitely not.

6. I love bread. I know this might be kind of a silly reason, especially compared to the others on this list... Besides, gluten-free bread exists. I've tried it. But it's not the same. If I had to subsist on it I could, but I absolutely love food and I'm not giving up my favourites without reason. No sad salads for me!

Are you gluten-free, or would you try a gluten-free diet?

Can Cats Treat Chronic Illness?

As spoonies, sometimes (okay, a lot of the time) it's hard to go out and socialize. And even if we're introverts, being alone all the time can have a negative impact on our mental health. That's where pets come in.

Furry friends are great company, and playing with them is known to cause the release of oxytocin, a hormone which increases self esteem, induces feelings of optimism, helps heal wounds and relieves pain [source]. Plus, recent studies show that your pet releases the same hormone when interacting with you. Proof that Kitty loves you just as much as you love her!

So what if you don't have a fur baby of your own?

Fortunately, June is Adopt-a-Cat Month. Each spring, or "kitten season", thousands of kitties are born, with many of them joining the millions of adult felines already in shelters by summer. For this reason, June is the ideal time to find the perfect addition for your family.

How does your pet help you cope with chronic illness?
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