For Rare Disease Day, I have asked many people to take the time to learn about my experience with my illness. I have written this post as if it were a one-time visit. Please indulge me.
Today is Rare Disease Day. On the last day of February every year, we celebrate the rare diseases. Why? Because February contains the rarest day of all, February 29th.
We ask people to wear their jeans in support of people in support of rare disease, because it’s in their genes.
I was diagnosed two years ago with Ehlers-Danlos Hypermobility Type 3 Syndrome. Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome is a genetic condition which means your connective tissue is faulty. Hypermobility is a common feature of Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, determined by the Beighton scale in patients aged 16 to 35. To learn more about Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, please visit Ehlers-Danlos.com.
This is me, Dana, pronounced DAH-nuh. This is what I look like on an ordinary day.
My Personal History
I was not diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome until I was 44 years old. My childhood progressed normally, with a few peculiarities. My mom reports I used to eat every third day or so. This was mirrored in my teens, as I had severe disordered eating, but mostly because my stomach hurt.
My knees used to ache during ballet class in middle school. I was told it was growing pains. I used to walk everywhere. I was a free-range kid. And adult. As a person in my 20s, I worked three jobs, and loved it. But things started to wear on me. As I turned 25, I got one good-paying job. I worked eight hours, I would come home and sleep. Then I would need to sleep on Saturday. Then I would be sleeping most of the weekend. What was wrong with me?
I met my second husband in 1998, and we started talking about a family. We had an ectopic pregnancy in 2000, and a daughter in 2002. In 2003, the pain in my hip and pelvis from symphysis pubis was too much to bear, after three months, I couldn’t return, and was on short-term disability. Then long-term. In 2003, I fell pregnant with our son, and in 2004 our family was complete.
Not Much Has Changed
The only things that have changed since those days is how much more independent my kids have gotten and how much my pain has increased.
I am in pain every minute of every day. It’s not something I talk about much, because it’s boring, and I have been working with the best doctors in the world on treatments. Someone always has something negative to say or a better idea. The only input I entertain is from fellow pain sufferers who approach with respect. This sounds harsh, but you need to hear some of the stories I can tell!
My knees are without meniscus or cushioning, my hips are so sore they can’t be touched without me screaming in pain. I’m not exaggerating, either. My stomach muscles along the right lower quadrant have been spasming for two weeks. They go into a deep twinge where I can’t move or breathe. I’d scream if I could. It’s like being cut in half with a chainsaw. I get chronic migraines, they are pretty well controlled with Botox injections, but I still get them. My elbows are sore, I have killer carpal tunnel, trying to see a doctor about that. These things mostly keep me around the house and in bed.
Two of the worst ones, are the pubic bone pain, and the Proctalgia Fugax. The pubic bone pain is from the birth of my kids, the ones I’m so lucky to have at all, because my pubic bone separated and never went back together. So it feels like I’ve been kicked all the time. Walking is so incredibly painful. Proctalgia Fugax is a pain in my ass. Literally. This is so embarrassing, but it’s the worst thing ever. It’s when my anal sphincter cramps up. I get no warning, and I am in blinding pain, where I can’t see, think, or breathe. The first time it happened, I was sleeping, I thought my first husband was violating me. Why he would, I don’t know, that’s just what it felt like.
My stomach pain and constipation and diarrhea are the most inconvenient. My stomach always hurts. I am currently on the FODMAP eating plan, which is gluten and Lactose free, garlic and onion free, and I still have wicked acid reflux. I eat about 800 kcals a day because that’s what my stomach will allow. I’m constantly nauseated. I’m always trying to force food down. There are maybe five things I’m eating right now. My constipation used to be so bad I used to get shots to make me go, shots that would counteract the opioids I am on. It was a horrible nightmare. Now I can go about once a week, but it’s always urgent diarrhea when I do! Fun times! This eating plan has helped with the bloating and gas pains, but I still have actual sharp stomach pain, and my last stomach biopsy last summer said my stomach had an ‘unusual texture’.
Money is always a fun subject because people get pissed off. My husband and I have been damned lucky in our lives and I won’t deny that for a minute. I had a pretty good job when I got sick, so I have disability insurance and he is a genius, so he makes a good living, plus good benefits. We live in Canada, so that is a perk right there. We managed to buy single, detached house right on the edge of downtown Toronto right as the housing boom started. It’s tiny, sad and ready for destruction by the next person who buys it, but…
Some of our expenses include:
- Medical, prescription marijuana
- Botox injection fees
- Therapy and counselling fees
- Prescriptions not covered by our plans
In Canada, if your medical expenses exceed 4% of your income, I believe, you can write them off on your expenses. Likely we will get some of this money back. Considering we have two children with Aspergers, this medical expense amount can be high.
I do take pain medication, but I don’t like taking more than I absolutely need to, or I get fuzzy headed. This is why I negotiate with my doctors to keep the dose as low as possible. On the other hand, what is the point, though, if you can’t do anything because you are in too much pain? I’ve been struggling with this lately, as my back pain has been flaring as well as my lower abdomen. If I take the breakthrough medication I’m prescribed, I’m drowsy. If I don’t, I’m in agony. If I take sleeping pills, I sleep for two days, if I don’t, I’m awake for two. Lower the dose? I’m at the lowest that works, unfortunately.
I can’t tell you the number of friends that have come and gone. It’s too painful. I’m like a girl in a rom-com repeating ‘don’t get attached’ every time someone is nice to me. It starts out fun, usually. Especially if I am mobile for a while! I’m having a good couple of weeks! But then it drops off. Always. I do have some friends who have stuck it through. They always have chronic illnesses themselves. The able bodies who do stick around for a while do imbue you with some kind of deficit, however. Whether it be intellectual, social, or your judgement, they will second guess you at something and educate you at every turn. It’s fun.
My family is mostly accepting. My husband is a gem from heaven. I had him running off his feet last night, as he was performing myriad little tasks for me and I finally asked him to stop when it came to cutting my toenails, which I find difficult, since my back hurts. I told him it wasn’t fair for him to do this for me. He responded that he wanted to. I told him that it made me look like a demanding wife. He told me to forget about appearances and be my own woman! 😂 I love him. Even though his parents actively tried to have him leave me when we found out I had chronic pain. Just after the kids were born. They decided I was faking and just didn’t want to wash dishes or cook or do laundry.
I feel a lot of loss in my life. There is the life I wanted. I had wanted to be a photographer when I grew up. I never had the stamina to study. I wanted more than two children, but my husband was raising them, essentially alone. He couldn’t raise more than two. I wanted to be a gym bunny! I can hardly walk, not even a block, never mind a treadmill. I wanted a big career, a degree, an education. I know at this time, that is futile. This was supposed to be a starter home. I know the over $30,000 in medical bills we average per year has stood in the way of that. Our kids love this house, though, so that’s probably not that big a deal. At any rate, I did not want to spend my life in bed.
The Plus Side
On the plus side, I have met some many wonderful people because of this disease. It’s given me a chance to slow down. I was able to see my kids grow up. My children always know where I am. Teachers know where to reach me. My husband has had the opportunity to be an outstanding father. My kids have learned how to be compassionate caregivers. I did manage to also lose 100 lbs over the past two years, through incredible stomach pain and vomiting. There were days I would lie curled up in a ball and sip water because my stomach would hurt so much. The gastroenterologist hoped the FODMAP eating plan would help, and it has, slightly. I still have the sharp pains, but they aren’t constant anymore.
I hope this has given you some insight into what my life is like. Feel free to ask any questions you may have.
Stay stripey, my zebras and friends! 😘
Edited to add: I kind of thought this went without saying, but we haven’t had sex in ten months, and that isn’t going to change until a doctor finds a way for me to be touched without screaming. I bet you’re jealous now! I miss snuggling. Hugs. Holding hands lasts for five minutes before my hands get too sore. See how easy it is to forget about intimacy?