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15 Things People With Scoliosis Want You To Understand

15 Things People With Scoliosis Want You To Understand

Scoliosis – adults have certainly heard the term and know that it refers to a curved spine. They don’t think about it much, though, because it isn’t publicized as a serious condition. And, they don’t really think of it as a handicap or disability either. It’s just one of those things that some people have.

Moderate to severe scoliosis, however, can be really debilitating and really painful, not to mention dangerous to lungs and the heart. While people don’t mean to be critical or mean, their lack of understanding about this condition often causes them to seem to be. So, here are 15 things that Scoliosis sufferers want others to know, so that these non-sufferers can have some empathy for the victims of the condition.

1. We have a real disability

No one really knows the cause, but I‘ve had it since the age of 11, and it got worse as I grew older. It now really impacts my life a lot, and there are lots of things I avoid because of it, not because I am anti-social or lazy.

2. We are in a lot of pain on the bad days

If I am complaining about back pain, it is because it has gotten so bad that I just can’t keep it in any longer. Please don’t make statements like I must have just “slept wrong” the night before. It would be nice to hear you say that you are sorry that I am in such pain and is there anything you can do? Just offering to get me a cold drink so I can down my pain meds would be appreciated.

3. We already feel really self-conscious about our looks

We are trying our best to stand up straight as much as we can. When you make comments like, “Don’t you think it would be good for you if you forced yourself to stand up straight?” you only make us more self-conscious. If I could stand straight more, I would — believe me. I don’t enjoy looking like this either. But it’s something I have to live with.

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4. We feel it differently every day

Some days the pain is minimal, other days it is so bad I even have to pull off the road until the spasms subside. So, if you see us doing pretty well one day and very badly the next, please don’t ask if we think some of it might be “mental.” It’s not. The nature of this condition is that there are good and bad days, and no one really knows why. That’s the frustrating part – there just aren’t the answers that all of us who have scoliosis really want and need. Research funding for Scoliosis is pretty minimal, since there are so many other life-threatening diseases that must take precedence.

5. We find desk work particularly hard

We “slouch” in our chairs as it is probably the most comfortable position anyone with scoliosis can get themselves into. Even the newer ergonomic chairs available in most offices don’t help much. Don’t make comments about how I am not using the chair properly — it is because I can’t.

Stand desks can be our best buddies, especially those DIY models you can assemble up to your liking. However, we can’t spend too much time in front of them either. We are not being picky or restless when it comes to our working places. It’s just a tad bit difficult for us to find the optimal position we can comfortably spend the whole day in.

6. We can’t make plans ahead of time

This is because we never know what kind of day we’ll be having. When we have to cancel something at the last minute, please know that we are as upset about the cancellation as you are. But please don’t get angry with us. If we had plans for an after-work Happy Hour, and we cancel, it is because the best we can do right now is get home and try to find some comfortable position that will ease the pain. We really do want a social life, but the scoliosis often gets in the way.

7. We don’t just have a crooked spine

That crooked spine causes many other things too. One of my hips is higher than the other, one shoulder blade protrudes more than the other, one of my legs is longer than the other. And my ribs push on my lungs, making it more difficult to breathe. If I am out of breath after walking around a bit, please don’t kid me about being out of shape. It’s my ribs that are out of shape, not me. I get as much exercise as I am able, but my breathing issues do keep me from a lot of the physical activity that you take for granted. Even walking up and down hills is really tough for me.

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8. We have to turn down offers to join the office volleyball team and most other group activities

When we turn down offers to be on the office volleyball/baseball/golf/any other team, please don’t think we are being “standoffish” or “unsociable.” We would love for someone to ask us to come and be the scorekeeper or perform some other supportive duty. In fact, we usually volunteer in these circumstances. We really do want to be a part of what others are doing, but often we have to participate in a different way.

9. We experience certain emotional consequences to scoliosis

We don’t just have good and bad days related to the levels of pain. We have emotionally good and bad days too. The lack of being able to lead a normal life, the pain, and the physical appearance just really get to us sometimes. We try to put on a “tough” exterior, but we can’t always keep it together. So if we seem depressed or if you see us getting teary-eyed, please don’t tell us to put a smile on our face and “snap out of it.”

Some days I just don’t want to, and others days I just can’t. If you could put yourself in my position, if only for a day, you would understand, I know. But since you cannot, please just give me a kind empathetic statement, like “I am sorry you are having a bad day. If there is anything I can do, please tell me.” That lets me know you care, and that is important.

10. We have troubles with finding clothes that fit well

Given that one shoulder and one hip are higher than the other, given that my stomach and butt may protrude, given that my ribs are protruding on one side, I have to carefully select the clothing I buy in order to hide as much of my physical deformities as possible.

Most of us actually prefer winter because we can look quite stylish in clothes that are bulky. Spring and summer are the bad months, because the clothing reveals so much more of the body. So, if we seem really out of style with our clothing selections, especially in the warm seasons, please understand that we would love to dress more fashionably, but we just cannot make ourselves expose the “deformities.”

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11. We can suddenly experience tremendous pain

Simple things can send our back, legs, and ankles into spasms of pain. I dread colds, because a simple cough or sneeze can “do me in.” If I bump into a desk or chair, or have a little minor fender bender, I can be in pain for hours afterward.

It’s easy to think of us as hypochondriacs, I know, but please understand that we are not exaggerating the pain, and that we are not looking for sympathy. Please just acknowledge that our pain is real. When we see you and someone else rolling your eyes at one another while we are experiencing spasms of pain, it starts hurting even more!

12. We are not lazy

Very basic activities, like cleaning the house, involve some pretty major planning. First, we can only do this on the “good days.” Second, it takes us twice as long as someone else to complete the same cleaning chores. We have to mop, dust, and vacuum very carefully and slowly. We have to avoid bumping into things. We have to watch our stretching, pulling, and pushing.

So, if you should visit me at my house and it is not clean, please do not think I am a bad housekeeper. Understand that I probably have not had a good enough day to get the house cleaned this week. And please don’t go out and comment to others about the condition of my home. It’s hurtful, and giving people the impression that I am lazy is not fair.

13. We don’t usually go to the pool or to the beach

I don’t do this because I would never put on a swimming suit. If I ever do attend an outing of that type, the best I can do is shorts and a good-sized T-shirt. I may dangle my feet into the pool from the side or walk into the shallow part of the lake or ocean, but I will not be swimming.

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Please don’t chide us for not bringing a swimsuit – we feel badly enough about it already. Swimming is actually a good exercise for us, and we do go to rehab centers often because they have a pool and we can swim with other Scoliosis patients.

14. We will gladly explain Scoliosis if asked

When people ask us to explain the condition, it makes us feel good. Obviously, the person wants to understand why we have the symptoms and why too many activities are so difficult and/or painful for us. Believe me, I keep up on all of the latest research and treatments because I want to take advantage of anything that might ease my symptoms. How much time have you got?

15. We may not be active participants in all of our kids’ activities

We really want to be. So, if the girl scouts are planning a weekend campout, we do want to go. We will bring our pain meds and we will tell you what we can and cannot do. We may not be able to paddle a canoe, and we may not be able to go along on a nature hike up and down hills, but we will bring the guitar and teach the girls some great fun songs around the campfire at night.

We may not be able to participate in the parent-son softball game, but we would love to help out in some other way on game day. We’ll volunteer to pass out drinks. We’ll wash the team uniforms after the game. We’ll be the best vocal cheerleaders ever. Please find a spot for us!

Scoliosis is permanent. And that realization to sufferers is very difficult to deal with. Most who have it started out with a very mild form that developed during a growth spurt period before puberty. Over the years, however, it gradually worsened, and no one really knows why. Some people develop a very mild form that stays very mild all of their lives. Others are severely handicapped by it as adults. If you work or socialize with someone who has moderate-to-severe Scoliosis, it would be really nice to do a bit of research so that you can understand the condition better.

Featured photo credit: angela c. via flickr.com

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Published on November 14, 2018

Why You Suffer from Constant Fatigue and How to Deal with It

Why You Suffer from Constant Fatigue and How to Deal with It

With our busy, always on lives, it seems that more and more of us are facing constant tiredness and fatigue on a regular basis.

For many people, they just take this in their stride as part of modern life, but for others the impact can be crippling and can have a serious effect on their sense of wellbeing, health and productivity.

In this article, I’ll share some of the most common causes of constant tiredness and fatigue and give you some guidance and action steps you can take to overcome some of the symptoms of fatigue.

Why Am I Feeling Fatigued?

Fatigue is extreme tiredness resulting from mental or physical exertion or illness.  It is a reduction in the efficiency of a muscle or organ after prolonged activity.[1]

It can affect anyone, and most adults will experience fatigue at some point in their life. 

For many people, fatigue is caused by a combination of lifestyle, social, psychological and general wellbeing issues rather than an underlying medical condition.

Although fatigue is sometimes described as tiredness, it is different to just feeling tired or sleepy. Everyone feels tired at some point, but this is usually resolved with a nap or a few nights of good sleep. Someone who is sleepy may also feel temporarily refreshed after exercising. If you are getting enough sleep, good nutrition and exercising regularly but still find it hard to perform, concentrate or be motivated at your normal levels, you may be experiencing a level of fatigue that needs further investigation. 

Symptoms of Fatigue

Fatigue can cause a vast range of physical, mental and emotional symptoms including:

  • chronic tiredness, exhaustion or sleepiness
  • mental blocks
  • lack of motivation
  • headache
  • dizziness
  • muscle weakness
  • slowed reflexes and responses
  • impaired decision-making and judgement
  • moodiness, such as irritability
  • impaired hand-to-eye coordination
  • reduced immune system function
  • blurry vision
  • short-term memory problems
  • poor concentration
  • reduced ability to pay attention to the situation at hand

Causes of Fatigue

The wide range of causes that can trigger fatigue include:

  • Medical causes: Constant exhaustion, tiredness and fatigue may be a sign of an underlying illness, such as a thyroid disorder, heart disease, anemia or diabetes.
  • Lifestyle-related causes: Being overweight and a lack of regular exercise can lead to feelings of fatigue.  Lack of sleep and overcommitting can also create feelings of excessive tiredness and fatigue.
  • Workplace-related causes: Workplace and financial stress in a variety of forms can lead to feelings of fatigue.
  • Emotional concerns and stress: Fatigue is a common symptom of mental health problems, such as depression and grief, and may be accompanied by other signs and symptoms, including irritability and lack of motivation.

Fatigue can also be caused by a number of factors working in combination.

Medical Causes of Fatigue

If you have made lifestyle changes to increase your energy and still feel exhausted and fatigued, it may be time to seek guidance from your doctor.

Here are a few examples of illnesses that can cause ongoing fatigue. Seek medical advice if you suspect you have a health problem:

Anemia

Anemia is a condition in which you don’t have enough healthy red blood cells to carry adequate oxygen to the body’s tissues. It is a common cause of fatigue in women.

Having anemia may make you feel tired and weak.

There are many forms of anemia, each with its own cause. Anemia can be temporary or long term, and it can range from mild to severe.[2]

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS)

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) is a condition that can cause persistent, unexplained fatigue that interferes with daily activities for more than six months.

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This is a chronic condition with no one-size-fits-all treatment, but lifestyle changes can often help ease some symptoms of fatigue.[3]

Diabetes

Diabetes can cause fatigue with either high or low blood sugars. When your sugars are high, they remain in the bloodstream instead of being used for energy, which makes you feel fatigued. Low blood sugar (glucose) means you may not have enough fuel for energy, also causing fatigue.[4]

Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder where sufferers briefly stop breathing for short periods during sleep. Most people are not aware this is happening, but it can cause loud snoring, and daytime fatigue.

Being overweight, smoking, and drinking alcohol can all worsen the symptoms of sleep apnea.[5]

Thyroid disease

An underactive thyroid gland means you have too little thyroid hormone (thyroxine) in your body. This makes you feel tired and you could also put on weight and have aching muscles and dry skin.[6]

Common lifestyle factors that can cause fatigue include:

  • Lack of sleep
  • Too much sleep 
  • Alcohol and drugs 
  • Sleep disturbances 
  • Lack of regular exercise and sedentary behaviour 
  • Poor diet 

Common workplace issues that can cause fatigue include:

  • Shift work: Our body is designed to sleep during the night. A shift worker may confuse their circadian clock by working when their body is programmed to be asleep.
  • Poor workplace practices: This may include long work hours, hard physical labour, irregular working hours (such as rotating shifts), a stressful work environment, boredom or working alone. 
  • Workplace stress – This can be caused by a wide range of factors including job dissatisfaction, heavy workload, conflicts with bosses or colleagues, bullying, or threats to job security.
  • Burnout: This could be striving too hard on one area of your life while neglecting others, which leads to a life that feels out of balance.

Psychological Causes of Fatigue

Psychological factors are present in many cases of extreme tiredness and fatigue.  These may include:

  • Depression: Depression is characterised by severe and prolonged feelings of sadness, dejection and hopelessness. People who are depressed commonly experience chronic fatigue.
  • Anxiety and stress: Someone who is constantly anxious or stressed keeps their body in overdrive. The constant flooding of adrenaline exhausts the body, and fatigue sets in.
  • Grief: Losing a loved one causes a wide range of emotions including shock, guilt, depression, despair and loneliness.

How to Tackle Constant Fatigue

Here are 12 ways you can start tackling the causes of fatigue and start feeling more energetic.

1. Tell The Truth

Some people can numb themselves to the fact that they are overtired or fatigued all the time. In the long run, this won’t help you.

To give you the best chance to overcome or eliminate fatigue, you must diagnose and tell the truth about the things that are draining your energy, making you tired or causing constant fatigue.

Once you’re honest with yourself about the activities you’re doing in your life that you find irritating, energy-draining, and make you tired on a regular basis you can make a commitment to stop doing them.

The help that you need to overcome fatigue is available to you, but not until you tell the truth about it. The first person you have to sell on getting rid of the causes of fatigue is yourself.

One starting point is to diagnose the symptoms. When you start feeling stressed, overtired or just not operating at your normal energy levels make a note of:

  • How you feel
  • What time of day it is
  • What may have contributed to your fatigue
  • How your mind and body reacts

This analysis may help you identify, understand and then eliminate very specific causes.

2. Reduce Your Commitments

When we have too many things on our plate personally and professionally, we can feel overstretched, causing physical and mental fatigue.

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If you have committed to things you really don’t want to do, this causes irritability and low emotional engagement. Stack these up throughout your day and week, then your stress levels will rise.

When these commitments have deadlines associated with them, you may be trying to cram in far too much in a short period of time.  This creates more stress and can affect your decision making ability.

Start being realistic about how much you can get done. Either reduce the commitments you have or give yourself more time to complete them in.

3. Get Clear On Your Priorities

If working on your list of to-do’s or goals becomes too overwhelming, start reducing and prioritizing the things that matter most.

Start with prioritizing just 3 things every day. When you complete those 3 things, you’ll get a rush of energy and your confidence will grow.

If you’re trying to juggle too many things and are multi-tasking, your energy levels will drop and you’ll struggle to maintain focus.

Unfinished projects can make you self-critical and feel guilty which drops energy levels further, creating inaction.

Make a list of your 3 MIT (Most Important Tasks) for the next day before you go to bed. This will stop you overcommitting and get you excited about what the next day can bring.

4. Express More Gratitude

Gratitude and confidence are heavily linked. Just being thankful for what you have and what you’ve achieved increases confidence and makes you feel more optimistic.

It can help you improve your sense of wellbeing, which can bring on feelings of joy and enthusiasm.

Try starting a gratitude journal or just note down 3 things you’re grateful for every day.

5. Focus On Yourself

Exhaustion and fatigue can arrive by focusing solely on other people’s needs all the time, rather than worrying about and focusing on what you need (and want).

There are work commitments, family commitments, social commitments. You may start with the best intentions, to put in your best performance at work, to be an amazing parent and friend, to simply help others.

But sometimes, we extend ourselves too much and go beyond our personal limits to help others. That’s when constant exhaustion can creep up on us.  Which can make us more fatigued.

We all want to help and do our best for others, but there needs to be some balance. We also need to take some time out just for ourselves to recharge and rejuvenate.

6. Set Aside Rest and Recovery Time

Whether it’s a couple of hours, a day off, a mini-break or a proper holiday, time off is essential to help us recover, recharge and refocus.

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Recovery time helps fend off mental fatigue and allows us to simply kick back and relax.

The key here, though, is to remove ourselves from the daily challenges that bring on tiredness and fatigue. Here’s how.

Can you free yourself up completely from work and personal obligations to just rest and recover?

7. Take a Power Nap

When you’re feeling tired or fatigued and you have the ability to take a quick 20-minute nap, it could make a big difference to your performance for the rest of the day.

Napping can improve learning, memory and boost your energy levels quickly.

This article on the benefit of napping is a useful place to start if you want to learn more: How a 20-Minute Nap at Work Makes You Awake and Productive the Whole Day

8. Take More Exercise

The simple act of introducing some form of physical activity into your day can make a huge difference. It can boost energy levels, make you feel much better about yourself and can help you avoid fatigue.

Find something that fits into your life, be that walking, going to the gym, running or swimming. 

The key is to ensure the exercise is regular and that you are emotionally engaged and committed to stick with it.

You could also walk more which will help clear your head and shift your focus away from stressful thoughts.

9. Get More Quality Sleep

To avoid tiredness, exhaustion and fatigue, getting enough quality sleep matters. 

Your body needs sleep to recharge.  Getting the right amount of sleep every night can improve your health, reduce stress levels and help us improve our memory and learning skills.

My previous article on The Benefits of Sleep You Need to Know will give you some action steps to start improving your sleep. 

10. Improve Your Diet

Heavy or fatty meals can make you feel sluggish and tired, whilst some foods or eating strategies do just the opposite.

Our always on lives have us reaching for sweets or other sugary snacks to give us a burst of energy to keep going. Unfortunately, that boost fades quickly which can leave you feeling depleted and wanting more.

On the other hand, whole grains and healthy unsaturated fats supply the reserves you can draw on throughout the day.

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To keep energy up and steady, it’s a good idea to limit refined sugar and starches.

Eating small meals and healthy snacks every few hours throughout the day provides a steady supply of nutrients to body and brain. It’s also important not to skip breakfast.

Eating a balanced diet helps keep your blood sugar in a normal range and prevents that sluggish feeling when your blood sugar drops.

11. Manage Your Stress Levels

Stress is one of the leading causes of exhaustion and fatigue, and can seriously affect your health.

When you have increased levels of stress at work and at home, it’s easy to feel exhausted all the time. 

Identifying the causes of stress and then tackling the problems should be a priority. 

My article on How to Help Anxiety When Life is Stressing You Out shares 16 strategies you can use to overcome stress.

12. Get Hydrated

Sometimes we can be so busy that we forget to keep ourselves fully hydrated.

Water makes up about 60 percent of your body weight and is essential in maintaining our body’s basic functions.

If we don’t have enough water, it can adversely affect our mental and physical performance, which leads to tiredness and fatigue.

The recommended daily amount is around two litres a day, so to stay well hydrated keep a water bottle with you as much as possible.

The Bottom Line

These 12 tips can help you reduce your tiredness and feeling of fatigue.  Some will work better than others as we are all different, whilst others can be incorporated together in your daily life.

If you’ve tried to make positive changes to reduce fatigue and you still feel tired and exhausted, it may be time to consider making an appointment with your doctor to discuss your condition.

Featured photo credit: Annie Spratt via unsplash.com

Reference

[1]Oxford English Dictionary: Definition of fatigue
[2]NHS Choices: 10 Reasons for feeling tired
[3]Verywellhealth: What is chronic fatigue syndrome
[4]Everyday Health: Why does type 2 diabetes make you feel tired
[5]Mayo Clinic: Sleep apnea
[6]Harvard Health: The lowdown on thyroid slowdown

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