This is for my #1 fan and caregiver

Christine & John's wedding day

With our wedding party

Earlier this month on May 8, we toasted to our 7th wedding anniversary. When you have a chronic illness like Neuromyelitis Optica/NMO, the support network with which you surround yourself is of utmost importance. My “squad,” if you will, is who got me through my roughest times. I always acknowledge this fact, and the kindness, compassion, and encouragement I’ve received from others are what makes me happy to pay it forward.

The #1 support in my life is my hubs, John. He is caring but not handicapping. He believes in tough love and always pushes me to do my best and be independent. I joke that I have to do the laundry, wash the dishes, and act as my own tech support at times all because of John’s laziness, but if I’ve learned anything in life, we just never know how long each of us will be around, and we all have to assert our own independence to some degree.

So this post (which was originally published on my own blog) is dedicated to my #1 caregiver, John Suh!

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I say “happier marriage” because I won’t pretend that I hold the keys to a happy marriage. I say “happier” because it’s relative. Every person is unique, and every relationship possesses different dynamics. What works in my marriage may not work in yours. But after seven years of marriage, I’m happy to say I’m still happy. And so today, as a tribute to our 7th anniversary, I offer you my 7 bits of advice that has made our marriage work so far. Following these tips may not solve all of your marital woes, but I can almost guarantee they’ll make your marriage (or relationship) happiER.

7 Tips for a Happier Marriage

1. Take time out every day for each other.

The hubs and I eat at least one meal together every day. This is a natural activity for us to share in since we both love food. If one of us is traveling, we make some time to catch up on the phone, even if for a short while. It’s important to check in with your S.O. every day.

2. Put yourself first, your partner second, everyone else (including your children) third.

I’m not defending selfishness here. What I’m saying is, we (especially women) often sacrifice so much—our happiness and our health—to make others happy. We don’t realize how beaten down we are until it implodes and manifests in some form of mental breakdown, physical illness, or general unwell-being. My advice is to do things that make you feel happy and relaxed; don’t put your needs secondary to everyone else’s. Pursue your goals, cultivate your hobbies, foster your own life. When you take care of yourself first, you can then find the energy to take care of others. Putting your partner or spouse second also means you’re exercising the true meaning and nature of the word “partnership.” Your children will one day be grown and independent, and it will just be you and your partner again. Don’t become strangers to each other.

3. Maintain your other relationships.

I’m a firm believer in maintaining my independent identity, which means I need my friends, many of whom have been with me far longer than my hubs. We make regular dates with each other to eat, shop, and hang out. We’ll even coordinate all-girls’ vacations, though these have been less frequent since most of my friends have small children now. The hubs also has frequent guys nights where they eat steaks and undoubtedly reminisce about their glory days Al Bundy style.

4. Know which battles to pick.

I get annoyed at the dirty socks the hubs leaves all over the house: on the foyer, by our full-length mirror in the bedroom, on the bathroom floor, underneath the dining table. I sigh every time I go near his bedside table and find a disarray of half-empty water glasses, iPads, tangled cords, unread books, a backscratcher, and (of course) dirty socks. There are many things the hubs does (or doesn’t do) that bother me, but I’ve learned you have to choose your nagging points wisely. Too many battles, nags, and criticisms, and his brain will shut down, and you’ll be tuned out completely and forever. Now my nagging is almost a joke, and I’ve learned to accept picking up after him from time to time. At the same time, the hubs has started picking up his dirty socks sooner rather than later. Learn to compromise.

5. Don’t fight or insult each other in front of others.

No one wants to feel uncomfortable around their fighting couple friends. Keep your dirty laundry behind your own doors, away from your parents, your in-laws, your friends, and your children. The hubs and I have a special code phrase that means, “I’m upset right now, please stop what you’re doing, and we’ll talk about it later.” We hardly ever fight, though, so now we just use the phrase as a joke. But seriously, we’ve been around other couples who hurl insults and argue in front of us, and it’s just not cool. Don’t put people in awkward situations, please. (And if you must know, our code phrase is, “We’re going to go running later.” LOL)

6. Laugh together.

Humor is the single most important aspect of our marriage. No one makes me laugh more than him, and I’d like to think vice versa. Laughter has helped me through some of the roughest times in my life, and I think it’s vital to survival. Life is unbearable if we take it too seriously.

7. Experience new things together.

If you choose to heed one piece of advice, it should be this one. I’ve said it before: life is all about experiences. And the best way to grow in your relationship is to experience new things together. Travel to new cities and countries together. The hubs and I have a world map on the wall by our staircase, and we pin flags on every new city we visit. We like to think of it as “Christine and John conquer world travel.” Eat new foods, cook fresh meals, and try new restaurants together. Pick up a new sport or hobby together. Experiences and memories are things money can never buy, and they increase the value of your relationship. They teach you about yourself, each other, and your relationship.

One last piece of advice is something my professor and Creative Writing Program director, Jay Kastely, said in his 2009 History of Rhetoric class: “Marriage is solely built on conversation. If you can’t talk [with each other], head for the hills. Conversation provides a certain kind of sharing. This kind of sharing nurtures your soul.”

Happy 7th anniversary, Hubster! Do you have any relationship or marriage advice?

29
May 2017
POSTED BY Christine
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#SorryNotSorry

IMG_0395Hi everyone, I hope this finds you all reasonably well. I am still pretty sick and no closer to knowing the why of it. I’ve had a ton of blood tests. Yesterday’s blood draw was nine vials and apparently the mixing of my blood with…wait for it…viper venom (Seriously!) as part of one test. I hate snakes and that little nugget of information totally creeped me out. I am having a CT with contrast later this week to see if they can figure out what’s going on. At this point, I really don’t care what it is, as long as we can make the pain stop.

I’ve been thinking how when I get seriously ill, I struggle really hard to keep my commitments. It’s this hardcore, deeply ingrained thing of wanting to keep my word, but at the same time, I bow out of being social-I can’t commit to hanging out with anyone. I used to apologise for this (because Canadians are painfully polite and we apologise without even thinking about it) but I’ve consciously stopped doing it. At this point, if you are in my life, you know I live with chronic illness and this is part of the package of being friends with me. Sometime I have to withdraw into my own little world as a measure of self-care. (Or survival, if I’m being totally honest.)

It’s been interesting to see how people react to having a friend with chronic illness. I’ve had my fair share of people who simply walked away. In the beginning, it was painful, but over time, I’ve shifted how I think about it. I realized that it has everything to do with them and really nothing to do with me.  I have a sacred circle of old friends who have been there for me, no matter what. They are my rocks. I also have some amazing new friends I would never have connected with if it weren’t for my illness. Many of them live with chronic illness and/or disability themselves, so they get it. There’s a comfort in being a part of a community of people that you don’t have to explain yourself to. We can talk about the hard stuff without it being weird or awkward. (And sometimes, we can laugh about it too!)

I think that serious and chronic illnesses can test any relationship. In some ways it changes who you are. When I am in a lot of pain, I don’t have the energy to be the kind of friend I want to be. As much as I don’t like it, this is part of who I am now and  it doesn’t feel good to have to apologise for being myself.

So….this is me.  I am who I am, no apologies.

04
Apr 2017
POSTED BY Lelainia Lloyd
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How to support others in crisis

Loved one: Its been tough feeling this horrible, dealing with doctors, missing work, but it’s nothing compared to what you’ve been through or go through everyday.

Me: They aren’t the same thing. My normal is different than yours is. It doesn’t and shouldn’t minimize what you’re going through. I’m still here for you, even if just to listen.

Loved one: No, I know…I just don’t know how you deal with feeling like this all the time. 

giving

There’s a funny thing that happens when you’re diagnosed with an incurable, possibly life threatening, beast of a disease – no matter what ailments affect other people they will inevitably compare their struggles to ours, and more often than not, feel like they don’t have a right to complain to us. I know the above conversation or some version of it always comes from a good place. I know my loved ones would never minimize how difficult my everyday is. 

But we’re not talking about me. We’re talking about you.

I get it, being dealt a bad hand with you or your loved ones health is head spinning. Suddenly there are doctors with different opinions, a foreign language with long terminology, appointments, check ups and tests. There is pain, the emotional sometimes feeling more raw than the physical challenges. It will change your current lifestyle and for some even require permanent changes. Nothing makes you feel more vulnerable than failing health. 

Having dealt with medical practitioners for years has certainly given myself and even my husband a level of expertise we wish we didn’t possess. We’re not regularly vocal about my health but we also don’t hide that I have neuromyelitis optica (NMO). Friends, family, even co-workers and clients will seek us out for advice when they encounter the medical ‘system’. They know we’ve put in our time and are continuous learners and they need to ramp up their knowledge now.

I try to avoid using language like, “well I did this” and never use language like, “it’s not as tough as this”. I will always ask how their body feels but also what they are thinking about, no matter how irrational it might sound. I am grateful to hear them out because many did and still do for me. I let them know I am always hear to listen because their loved ones will also need time to process a new reality.

I am relatable for all the wrong reasons. Perhaps their health challenge is only temporary like a surgery with a recovery period or it is unfortunately a forever deal. Regardless, their today isn’t great and I want to support them like others have for me. 

Photo credit: Evan Kirby

The movie Burnt

Here is a short blog about me recently watching the Burnt. Burnt_Poster_Updated

YouTube Preview Image

The Holiday Season is Here!

As I am gearing up for the next few weeks it’s going to be very busy time. First I would like to wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving! We are traveling to Kansas to see my husband’s family this year for 4 days. This time of the year just seems like chaos for everyone till after New Year’s. As NMO patients this can be challenging for us trying to keep up with everything and trying to take of ourselves. I know for me this time of year is very exhausting and for that I need to thank Starbucks since I will be visiting them everyday till after New Year’s.  Once we get back from Kansas I will be decorating the house for Christmas. I am one of those weird people that put up four Christmas trees because I love Christmas trees! Also it’s that time of the year for Elf on the Shelf to appear and this year we are having another elf joining our elf Buddy I love doing elf on the shelf even though I stress about it too much some times. The look on Allen’s face is just worth it every morning when he is looking for Buddy. The following weekend we are staying downtown for one night and will be watching the Christmas lights parade. Then it will be my 35th birthday which I am absolutely dreading to me that means I am 5 years closer to being 40. I think I will have a hard time with that one well I know I will. I recently watched that movie “This is 40.” Yes I will be like her and will be celebrating my 38th birthday for several years. Four days after my birthday I will be doing my Rituxan which we all know that’s a party in its self. Which means I will not be feeling well for a couple weeks. The next thing on my schedule is my husband’s company Christmas party. Which means Eric and I will be wrapping about twenty gifts for the Christmas party gift raffle. Also squeezing in wrapping all the gifts for the kids and family members. I am hoping I will have time to do Christmas cookies with the kids. Started this tradition with Allen ever since he was a baby. Alana was not into it last year but I think this year she will be more into it. Well at least eating the frosting out of the bowl when I am not looking. Then before I know it will be Christmas. We are staying home this year for Christmas so the kids can enjoy playing with their toys.

Even though it will be a hectic time of the year, I am very thankful for the many blessing in my life such as my family. I think we all can to relate to that when it’s the holiday time we forget what matters the most sometimes.

 

 

Good mental health is critical to managing your physical health

I imagine I’m probably one of the worst patients to treat. I fully understand the advice I receive but I’m horrible at following them. We’ve all been told it; Stress can really affect how we handle existing and future problems arising from having neuromyelitis optica (NMO) and admittedly, I’m in the habit of taking on quite a lot.

stress

I love to work hard and I work to live well. The type who suffers from wanderlust, adventure and trying new things, I generally only operate at hyper speed. A couple of months ago I knew I was at yet another crossroad. Where previously I could manage daytime fatigue, the burning sensation and general pain, my body had started to feel sluggish, unresponsive and exhausted. I tried to sleep it off, eat well and rest but I couldn’t bounce back. I recently blogged about a flare as a result but still couldn’t feel better.  (more…)

8 years living with NMO

June 23rd marks my 8th year being diagnosed with NMO. It’s a bitter sweet day to reflect on as I remember how much my life changed within a week. I remember so clearly; I was working at my family’s hotel in Frisco and I was riding the elevator down to the lobby when all of a sudden I couldn’t control my left arm. I walked into my husband’s office since he was the general manager. He looked at me and asked what the heck is wrong with me and to stop waving my arm around. I said something is not right and I need to get to the hospital. Within hours I was diagnosed with Transverse Myelitis, which they thought would likely be my only attack. They suggested that I should be fine after my 5 days of steroids in the hospital.

Almost 1 month later I had another attack where this time my whole body started shaking uncontrollably and I started to go paralyzed on my left side. This time we drove down to Denver and I was admitted to the hospital for 5 days again for IV steroids. They did another MRI and they changed my diagnoses to relapsing remitting MS. I didn’t know what to think when they told me I had MS but I focused on finding a neurologist to start MS medication right away. What a whirl wind experience I had to find a doctor and to start educating myself about MS and all the different medications I had to take. At one point I was taking 15 different pills, which did not include my MS medication that I had to inject into myself everyday.

In August again 1 month after my second attack I started to go blind in my left eye and the doctors did not understand why I was having such horrible attacks since I was on MS medication. My neurologist was second guessing I had MS so I was admitted again to the hospital for 5 days of IV steroids. My doctor recommended I go to the Mayo Clinic and get a second opinion as he thought I had Neuromyelitis Optica. When my doctor told me that I might have NMO he looked at Eric and I and said I would have a better chance winning of the powerball then being diagnosed with NMO. Well within a month I went to the Mayo Clinic and the doctor there agreed I had NMO. Now my life was going to change even more they originally told me. I needed to start taking Rituxan right away and the doctors could not guarantee I would get my vision back in my left eye.

Looking back all I went through and how much my life changed after being diagnosed with NMO it’s been bitter sweet. At one point through my journey I thought I would never be able to have kids and I would never see out of my left eye and I would never recover being paralyzed on my left side. I beat all those things; I have two adorable children, my left eye I can see out of, and for my left side it’s just more weaker then my right. I am very thankful I have seen some wonderful doctors that helped my dream of having kids come true. I have also met some incredible people because of having NMO and I wouldn’t have met them if it wasn’t for NMO.

Guest Blogger Heather Sowalla NMO and Teens

A few weeks ago, thanks to the Guthy Jackson Charitable Foundation, I was able to attend the 2016 NMO Patient Day in Los Angeles. And, unlike in other years this year I had a purpose. I was to lead a support group meeting for teens and young adults with NMO the day before the conference. I have to admit, I was a bit nervous. I’ve always been good at public speaking and leading discussions, but this was going to be a completely different situation than my norm.

To be honest, even in the world of NMO, I think people often forget about the teens that suffer from NMO. We hear the stories about children and our older adults, but we don’t hear much from the teen age groups. Where do they fit in? They aren’t really adults yet and they aren’t little kids, so we’re faced with the dilemma of where they fit into the NMO community. They are old enough to understand what the doctors are doing to them and why. It’s because of this reason that I was approached at the 2015 NMO Patient Day, to create a place where the teens and young adults can talk freely about their issues, and I have been moderating that group since then.

This year, for the 2016 NMO  Patient Day, I was approached about running a support group for the teens the afternoon before the conference, and truly I feel it made a difference. A group of around eight people were able to come together to talk about NMO. I wish it were under different circumstances that this amazing group of individuals got to meet, but we were able to come together and it was amazing. Some of the teens in attendance had never met another person with NMO before, let alone another teen. So, during a time when they feel sick instead of feeling alone they can fall back on that first meeting and how even if life is no longer in our control that we can find methods of coping, which we discussed in the meeting.

The largest issue all of my teens agree on is how they can or cannot maintain an active normal teenage life on top of trying to control their NMO and symptom management. Teens are emotional. They don’t necessarily have the life experience that adults have, and it can cause their emotions to get mixed up and they can easily become frustrated and angry. That is something I am proud of, of my support group members. They were there. They were aware. They wanted to ask questions and get answers. Having NMO is difficult enough without the added stress of friends, dating, driving, school, etc.

Something we discussed was relationships. With family, friends, and significant others. It came across that most of the teens in the group feel as though they are isolated and that no one understands them, and that nobody gets what it’s like to spend days, weeks, or even months in the hospital and it can get depressing. But, there is always that one friend, the one that brings you chocolate and chips and sneaks soda into the room.

I’m glad to say that bringing these amazing teens together has allowed them to create a bond they may not have otherwise. No longer are they fighting their battle alone. Together, standing tall, they speak out about NMO and fight to find a cure.

We have a few things being prepared for this group of amazing young individuals. Between the online support group I am working with the Guthy Jackson Charitable Foundation to put together a teleconference so the teens can have the opportunity to talk over the phone with one another about life’s events, NMO, and how they are or aren’t coping. It’s an amazing way to bring them together and start a dialogue that in recent years we didn’t have available for our younger NMO community members.

Things Only NMO Patients Will Get

I missed this year’s NMO patient day but absolutely loved seeing all the posts and photos of past and new attendees connecting with each other. It’s what has inspired this week’s post that only NMO patients might appreciate.

1. (Upon seeing you in person) “I’m so glad you’re feeling better”
NMO patients always sympathize with the inevitable prednisone use, which causes weight gain including the dreaded “moon face”. Those who aren’t familiar might assume the weight loss or return to normal weight means you’re healed from the disease, but that’s just not the case. Prednisone is used to treat flare ups or as a precautionary measure.

2. “But you were walking yesterday. What’s wrong with you today?”
NMO symptoms can flare up and cause different mobility from day to day or even from hour to hour. This is tough for others to understand who don’t realize how symptoms work.

3. Having to cancel on your friends and family…again
This is related to #2 and the unpredictable nature of NMO. If you’re like me, you’ve probably had to make excuses that seem easier to understand like “my kid is sick” or “I’m stuck working late”. It can be heartbreaking for patients when the invitations stop coming because they assume you’ll probably have to cancel anyways.

4. The stubbed toe syndrome
Right now 3 of my 10 toes are badly bruised. That’s because my mobility gets thrown off, I walk into things because of the numbness and vertigo is sometimes a problem.

5. Healthcare is expensive
Even if you have extended health coverage, having a medical condition is very expensive. The medication alone can cost a fortune and that’s before any additional maintenance care like massage therapy, acupuncture or doctor appointments. And most patients can only work limited hours or survive on disability earnings.

6. We know how to navigate the medical system
This is a broad statement that might include best time to call for an MRI, the nicest nurse for blood work or even best time to pick up a prescription from the pharmacy. Most of us are even on a first name basis with our neurologist!

7. Food is our friend (and our enemy)
Eat what makes you feel good but that usually means really restrictive diets. Eating with others fuels our sense of belonging but people can get weird about our food limitations.