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15 Things Only People Living With A Health Problem Know

15 Things Only People Living With A Health Problem Know

I used to be that person, the one who was disgustingly fit, annoyingly thin, and perfectly in shape. As a runner, triathlete, and personal trainer, I was the picture of good health. Even though I’d had heart surgery when I was a child, I hadn’t experienced any issues or symptoms since then. Heck, I still I enjoyed my lifestyle, including the occasional overindulgence (PMS chocolate binges, cervezas at sunset by the beach, and 2 a.m. rolled tacos after a night of dancing downtown).

Life was good.

Until my heart decided to go haywire. Suddenly, I was living with a “health condition,” or what some cardiologists refer to as a “critical congenital heart disease.” I was sick. And I wasn’t going to get better. Life, as I knew it, was over. I quickly realized that unless I wanted to spend the rest of my life hiding in the corner of my room, crying, I’d better learn to adapt to my new situation. It’s taken a lot of work, but after meeting a ton of other people like me, here’s what I learned on my journey to acceptance.

1. It is what it is.

Biggest lesson ever: It is what it is. There’s nothing we can do to change the situation, so we might as well accept it and move on. This doesn’t mean we ignore it or even like it. It simply means we choose not to curl up in little balls and cry, nor do we spend hours stressing over it or the outcomes. We’ve realized that’s wasted time and energy that can be used elsewhere. Like on baking chocolate brownies.

2. We’re not faking.

Some days, we feel like crap for no reason. We woke up feeling that way. Or we did laundry, which made us feel awful. Or we took meds, which made us sick. There’s no rhyme or reason why we feel sick, we just do. Hopefully, time, fresh air, a good book, a little nap, or some different medications to counter the first medications will help. Something. Anything. It’s a toss-up and every day is different. Just when you think you’ve figured out our symptoms, or when you believe you know what will help, everything’s probably changed again. Sorry.

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3. We don’t like being sick.

It may seem like we enjoy the attention or we’re seeking it, or we conveniently get sick at just the right time, but that’s not the case. We know we were fine a few minutes ago, which makes it very suspicious that we’re all of a sudden deathly ill. Since you’re not inside our bodies, we’re certain it’s difficult to understand. It is for us as well. Sometimes anxiety exacerbates our symptoms, which may make it look like we’re trying to get out of things, but that’s not the case. Please believe us.

(By the way, you’ll see this a lot with kids with chronic illnesses. They don’t try to be sick to get out of school or things they don’t want to do, though it may appear that way. Please believe and understand them.)

4. Having a health problem isn’t the same as being sick with a cold or flu.

Being sick sucks no matter what. When you have a bad cold or flu, we feel bad for you. We do. But our chronic illness isn’t the same. We’re not trying to one-up you, we’re just saying our situation isn’t something that will go away in a few days. It’s also not something a nice, warm cup of tea and some Ibuprofen will take care of. We can’t down a shot of NyQuil and be done with it. We need about five meds in the morning just to survive. Thank you for your suggestions, but we’ve probably tried everything. Even the natural stuff.

5. The excuse, “I can’t because I have a doctor’s appointment,” isn’t an excuse.

It’s true. We always have doctor appointments. We’ve had to schedule and reschedule babysitters, change work schedules, rearrange the kids’ sports activities, cancel social plans (what social plans??), and even been laid off from jobs because of the obscene amount of medical appointments, procedures, and surgeries. We’re not complaining. We know we’re lucky to have such good medical care, but it gets old after a while. We’re sure it gets old hearing it, too. “Oh, another doctor appointment? Shocker.”

6. The pharmacy is our second home.

Most people call Starbucks or something cool their second homes.

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We spend so much time at CVS getting our prescriptions, we figure, “What the hell,” and so we pick up some milk and laundry detergent and bread while we’re there. We spend hundreds of dollars a month for medications, why not add a few things to the bill? Especially chocolate. Lots and lots of chocolate.

7. We might as well be nurses and pharmacists.

All we do is research and read research articles and talk to nurses, physicians, and pharmacists. And then we research some more. We’ve spent years learning about medications and treatments and what does/doesn’t work. We seem to know so much that even you come to us for advice. Yep. We’ve probably considered a change in careers (at least, many of the moms probably have).

8. We always know what to pack for the day.

We’re the ones with the Band Aids, the Tylenol, the Motrin, the baby aspirin, the tweezers, the nausea medicine, the motion sickness medicine, the gauze bandages, the wraps, the emergency blankets, the emesis basin, the tourniquet, the antibiotic ointment, the latex gloves, the antiseptics, the defibrillator, the….God, who knows. Trust us. We have everything anyone needs for an emergency.

You’re welcome.

9. You can’t see our illness.

Unless we’re topless or in a bikini. Yeah, good luck with that.

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A lot of people have health conditions or chronic conditions that can’t been seen on the outside. For example, my heart is sick. You wouldn’t know unless you saw me walking up a flight of stairs, huffing and puffing. You’d probably think, “Wow, she looks kind of young to be so out of shape.” I’d have to take off my top to show you all my scars from all my recent surgeries for you to know something was wrong. That’s the difficult thing about my illness. Same with my kids. My daughter has only half a working heart. Sometimes we park in a disabled parking spot, either for her or me. People stare, wondering why on earth we have the blue placard hanging from our rearview mirror.

10. Our bodies change.

Having a health condition or chronic illness means accepting our bodies for whatever they decide to do or be—no matter what we do or don’t do. I used to be a freaking triathlete. I ran marathons. I rode in 100-mile bike races. I surfed. I danced ballet. I was phenomenally fit. I rocked a bikini.

And now I don’t do any of the above. I can’t speak for men, but as a woman, this is horrible. Blame it on society. Blame it on the media. Maybe it’s my own fault. I have to work really hard to remember “it is what it is” when it comes to my physical appearance. My body changes all the time. Five pounds up, eight pounds down. Some days strong, some days weak. I can only go with the flow my health decides.

11. Having a health/chronic condition forced us to reevaluate our finances.

The Prada bag, Miu Miu sandals, iPhone, Sushi dinners, yoga classes, and those darn Caramel Frappuccino® Blended Coffees topped with extra whip and more caramel sauce go out the door. We’re now too busy paying co-pays, out-of-network fees, things that aren’t covered, and prescription costs, in addition to covering missed days at work or non-existent paychecks to pay for any extras. We learned long ago to sayonara the fun stuff — movies and dinners and manicures and shopping days.

The good news is it forced us to be more creative and adventurous when it comes to fun. The not-so-great news is sometimes our friends and/or our kids’ friends aren’t as excited about freebie fun, so we often have to say, “No, thanks,” to their invitations to activities that cost money.

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12. It makes us question who we are and who we’re capable of being.

We have to work hard not to limit ourselves. “It is what it is” must be used correctly so as to accept reality, but not limit ourselves. We must remember we’re still us, we’re still capable of success, we’re talented and have a lot to offer this world. No matter how shitty we feel.

13. We work hard to show our children we’re doing OK.

Sometimes, our health condition scares us. Once in a while, we worry about the future. We hate to think about finances.

I don’t lie to our kids, but I don’t want them to be afraid either. I want them to be strong because they, too, have health issues they will never be rid of. They will have to grow up with heart conditions. They will have to overcome and live “normal” lives. How can they do that if they see their mother falling apart on a daily basis? They won’t. So I don’t. They know what’s up and they also know “It is what it is,” and they’re able to rise above.

14. There are upsides.

That sounds like a crock. But honestly, there are some good things that come of having a chronic health condition. We’ve learned to change our perspectives about a great deal of things. It’s simple with practice.

15. Priorities change. For the better.

Since I’ve gotten sick, I’ve learned to realign my priorities. I don’t sweat the small stuff anymore. Surprisingly, my stress levels have decreased dramatically. My house doesn’t have to be spotless. I don’t have to be the faultless wife and mom, who looks 14 years younger than I am. I don’t feel the need to have perfect children who get the best grades, who do every sport and are involved in every activity. Having health conditions frees all of us from such pressures. We do the best we can do in whatever we choose to do and are a hell of a lot happier.

While I’d never hope for a chronic health condition, I’m stuck with one. It is what it is. I can only learn to live with it and make my life the best it can be.

Featured photo credit: Amy Kellogg via flickr.com

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Missy Mitchell

Author, Artist, Advocate

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Last Updated on November 11, 2019

How to Improve Memory and Boost Your Brainpower

How to Improve Memory and Boost Your Brainpower

Have you ever noticed that some people are able to effortlessly remember even the most mundane details and quickly comprehend new things? Well, you can too!

To unlock the full potential of your brain, you need to keep it active and acute. Wasting time on your couch watching mindless television shows or scrolling through facebook is not going to help.

Besides getting out flashcards, what can you do to help remember things better and learn new things more quickly? Check out these 10 effective ways on how to improve memory:

1. Exercise and Get Your Body Moving

Exercising doesn’t just exercise the body, it also helps to exercise your brain. Obesity and the myriad of diseases that eventually set in as a result of being overweight can cause serious harm to the brain.

Furthermore, without regular exercise, plaque starts to build up in your arteries, and your blood vessels begin to lose the ability to effectively pump blood. Plaque buildup leads to heart attacks and it also reduces the amount of oxygen and nutrients that your blood carries to your brain. When the nutrients don’t make it there, the brain’s ability to function is compromised.

To prevent this from happening, make sure you get moving every day. Even if it’s just a brisk walk, it’ll help you maintain and increase your mental acuity. Brisk walking, swimming and dancing are all excellent activities. Take a look at these 5 Ways to Find Time for Exercise.

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2. Eliminate Stressors and Seek Help If You’re Depressed

Anything that causes you major stress, like anger or anxiety, will in time begin to eat away the parts of your brain that are responsible for memory. Amongst the most brain-damaging stressors is depression, which is actually often misdiagnosed a a memory problem since one of its primary symptoms is the inability to concentrate.

If you can’t concentrate, then you might feel like you are constantly forgetting things. Depression increases the levels of cortisol in your bloodstream which elevates the cortisol levels in the brain. Doctors have found that increased cortisol diminishes certain areas of the brain, especially the hippocampus which is where short-term memories are stored.

Prolonged depression can thus destroy your brain’s ability to remember anything new. Seek professional help to combat your depression – your brain will thank you.

3. Get a Good Night’s Sleep and Take Naps

Getting a consistent 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night will increase your memory. During sleep, the brain firms up memories of recently acquired information.

Getting enough sleep will help you get through the full spectrum of nocturnal cycles that are essential to optimal brain and body functioning during the waking hours. Taking a nap throughout the day, especially after learning something new, can also help you to retain those memories as well as recharge your brain and keep it sharper longer.

4. Feed Your Brain

Fifty to sixty percent of the brain’s overall weight is pure fat, which is used to insulate its billions of nerve cells. The better insulated a cell is, the faster it can send messages and the quicker you will be thinking.

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This is precisely why parents are advised to feed their young children whole milk and to restrict dieting – their brains’ need fat to grow and work properly. Skimping on fats can be devastating even to the adult brain.

Thus, eating foods that contain a healthy mix of fats is vital for long-term memory. Some excellent food choices include fish (especially anchovies, mackerel and wild salmon) and dark leafy green vegetables. Here’re more brain food choices: 12 Foods that Can Improve Your Brain Power

Deep-fried foods obviously contain fat but their lack of nutritional value is not going to help your brain or your body, so think healthy foods and fats.

5. Eat Breakfast and Make Sure It Includes an Egg

According to Larry McCleary, M.D., author of  The Brain Trust Program, an egg is the ideal breakfast. Eggs contain B vitamins which help nerve cells to burn glucose, antioxidants that protect neurons against damage; and omega-3 fatty acids that keep nerve cells firing at optimal speed.

Other foods to add to your breakfast include fruits, veggies and lean proteins. Avoid trans fats and high fructose corn syrup. Trans fats diminish the brain cells’ ability to communicate with each other and HFCS can actually shrink the brain by damaging cells.

Having a healthy breakfast in the morning has been shown to improve performance throughout the day. If you’re too busy to have a healthy breakfast, this maybe just right for you: 33 Quick And Healthy Breakfasts For Busy Mornings

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6. Write it Down

If there’s something you want to remember, writing it down can help.

It may sound like a no-brainer, but do you really know why? Writing it down creates oxygenated blood flow to areas of your brain that a responsible for your memories and literally exercises those parts of it. Here’s How Writing Things Down Can Change Your Life.

You can start a journal, write yourself emails or even start keeping a blog – all of these activities will help to improve your capacity to remember and memorize information.

7. Listen to Music

Research shows that certain types of music are very helpful in recalling memories. Information that is learned while listening to a particular song or collection can often be recalled by thinking of the song or “playing” it mentally. Songs and music can serve as cues for pulling up particular memories.

8. Visual Concepts

In order to remember things, many people need to visualize the information they are studying.

Pay attention to photographers, charts and other graphics that might appear in your textbook; or if you’re not studying a book, try to pull up a mental image of what it is you are trying to remember. It might also help to draw your own charts or figures, or utilize colors and highlighters to group related ideas in your notes.

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Here, you can learn How to Become a Person Who Can Visualize Results.

9. Teach Someone Else

Reading material out loud has been shown to significantly improve memory of the material. Expanding further upon this idea is the fact that psychologists and educators have found that by having students teach new concepts to others, it helps to enhance understanding and recall.

Teach new concepts and information to a friend or study partner, and you’ll find you remember the information a lot better.

10. Do Crossword Puzzles, Read or Play Cards

Studies have shown that doing crossword puzzles, read or play cards on a daily basis not only keep your brain active but also help to delay memory loss, especially in those who develop dementia.

So pick up the daily newspaper and work on that crossword puzzle, read a book or enjoy a game of solitaire.

Pick one to two of these tips first and start applying them to your everyday life. Very soon you’ll find yourself having better memories and a clearer head!

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Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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