I wish I could stop my fake smile

July 21, 2018

Even at 12 years old, I knew not to milk my situation. If I exaggerated the pain I was in, cried unnecessarily, or complained too much, it would come back to bite me in the butt later. I was right, of course. Even without all of the theatrics, some doctors and teachers suggested my pain wasn’t real, that I was just trying to get attention. Assholes. The thing is, this idea that I shouldn’t exaggerate anything boomeranged, and soon I was pretending I was ok even when I wasn’t.

Sometimes that’s a good thing. For me, faking it until I make it can help. And I hate having people constantly ask me what’s wrong, so looking like nothing is wrong can help to prevent that.

But then, sometimes it’s not so good.

Today a friend stopped by unexpectedly. I was NOT in a good place. I’ll probably right about that another time, but basically, I’m in rough shape. The pain has been worse lately, and it’s spreading to more parts of my body for some unknown reason. I’m worried about the future. I might have to move out of the apartment that I love. I’m frustrated and overwhelmed and, mostly, very scared.

I started to talk about some of this with my friend. I could feel the start of tears in my eyes. But I didn’t want to get too far down the rabbit hole. If I tried to explain everything, it would just lead me to focus more on the thing I’m trying to get off my mind for a while. So I said I needed to stop talking about it. And a second later we had changed the subject and I found myself smiling.

Now don’t get me wrong, smiling is a good thing, especially when you’re happy. But I wasn’t happy. I was smiling because I am used to plastering that smile on my face, even when I don’t want to. It’s what made the LTD and SSDI trials so hard: I was supposed to let them see how I really felt, and I didn’t know how to do that anymore. After so many years of fake smiles, how could I stop?

Before my friend showed up, I was definitely not smiling. I wasn’t smiling after he left, either. But with him here, I smiled. I thought to myself, “I should stop smiling. He knows I’m scared and in pain and he’ll be here for me. I want to stop.” But I couldn’t.

When my grandmother died just a few years ago, I cried during the funeral. Later, at the shiva (a Jewish tradition where friends and family gather to console the bereaved) I found myself smiling a lot. One relative I didn’t know very well even commented on how great it was that I could focus on the good parts of my grandmother’s life and remain so cheerful. Little did he know. I wasn’t cheerful. It was an act. I was smiling, I had a bounce in my voice, and I was miserable.

My fake smile was helpful today at the grocery store. I looked and acted normal, so no one asked any questions. But with my family and friends, sometimes I want to stop smiling.

If only I knew how.

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Feeling too disabled to protest

June 29, 2018

Like in many cities around the country, there will be a big protest in Boston tomorrow, and I won’t be there. Not because I don’t want to be there, but because my health stops me.

At first I thought I might borrow a wheelchair like I did a couple weeks ago for the Pride parade. A friend even said she’d push the chair, and I really appreciated that. That spark of hope lasted for about 45 seconds. Then I remembered the weather forecast.

Until now, we have had surprisingly not-horrible-by-my-standards weather for this time of year. But that ended this week. And tomorrow is supposed to be the worst of them all: 97 degrees and a dew point that the forecasters are calling “oppressive.” The thing is, I struggle when the dew point is what everyone else considers reasonable, so you can imagine how well I do when it’s “oppressive”! For me, that means difficulty breathing, lots of sweating, my already suffering adrenals struggling even more to do their job, more pain than usual, etc. I could end up suffering not just for a day or two. I could have a major health setback. So I can’t go.

I would like to participate in some other substantial way. I can’t donate to funds, since my income doesn’t even support my own expenses.

So I do what I can. I post a lot on social media to make people aware. I don’t know how many people are actually seeing what I post, or how many care, or how many didn’t already know what I’m posting about, but if I get even one person to vote this fall who wouldn’t otherwise, then it’s worth it.

I am trying to humanize the situation for my friends and acquaintances. For most of them, Trump’s and the GOP’s policies are horrible, but don’t affect anyone they know. I’m trying to show them that isn’t true.

Of course, this is harder because I won’t post on social media about being on SSDI or food stamps. My “real” friends know, but I don’t want to share that online. Still, I do talk about how my health insurance is at risk, and the real consequences that could bring for me. I talk about not being about to work, about being queer, about being Jewish, about being a woman, and how these policies will affect me because of those various aspects of myself.

It’s not enough, but it’s a start.

I feel incredibly frustrated and yes, even angry, that I can’t protest tomorrow. Over and over I have had to miss out on these protests. Instead, I am trying to remind myself that maybe what I am doing is helping in some small way.

And in that vein, dear reader, let me ask you to please vote! I know that many of you aren’t in the U.S. but I’m guessing it’s important for you to vote, too. And for those of you in the U.S. with chronic illness, it is especially important for you to look at who is going to be on your ballot this November and what their policies are. Our lives are at risk. We are facing limits to healthcare access, cuts to social security as well as medicare and medicaid, not to mention cuts to food stamps and housing services. There is so much more that I could say, but I will just mention these few things that on their own should worry us all. This November we will see many seats in the House of Representatives as well as the Senate up for grabs, and it’s important to vote in folks who will fight for us, not hurt us. At the same time, many governors’ seats will be voted on, as well as other state and local seats, and those are also super important. If you ever want to learn more about any of this, just let me know and I will be glad to discuss it.

Either way, if you are in the U.S. then put November 6, 2018 on your calendar and be sure to vote! And if you won’t be able to get to your polling station, contact your town or city hall well in advance to get an absentee ballot. You can vote from home!

Even if, like me, you can’t get out to protest in person, you can protest with your ballot. Let’s do this!


Trying to manage when it feels unmanageable

May 7, 2018

Somehow I used to work 45+ hours per week, cook, clean, do errands and chores, and have a social life. How?

Now I feel more overwhelmed than I did then, and I do a lot less. In some ways. In other ways, I suppose I do a lot more, but it’s hard to remember that. Our culture is so wrapped up in “jobs” and “what do you do for work?” and “you must have a lot of free time without a job” that it’s easy to feel like a failure for being overwhelmed without the 9 to 5.

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I think that my mental and emotional tolerance for these kinds of things is way lower than it used to be. But I also know that I do a lot. Dealing with pills and physical therapy exercises take up time. So do meal planning, clothes planning, and all of the other planning around my health issues. Meditation, reading up on symptoms and treatments, and writing this blog also take up time. Then there are the many, many medical appointments. And that’s all before we talk about actual acute symptom management. Not to mention, the extra hours I need to spend in bed and resting on the couch. Put that all together, and that’s my full time job.

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Then there’s my work. It’s not a 9 to 5, but it’s all I can manage. Sometimes, it’s more than I can manage. I sell craft items I make. Or at least, I try to. I have an online coaching business. I just tried to start another online business, but it was too much, and now I’m in the process of shutting it down. I do dog sitting. Not every day, but a little is better than none. It has the advantage of giving me canine company. Right now, this beautiful dog is snoring next to me!

There’s also non-work work. I do a little bit of volunteering for a support group that I’m in. I speak to friends, friends of friends, and friends of friends of friends about health issues and try to assist the best that I can.

On top of all of that, I have typical adult stuff: laundry (which I should actually be doing right now,) grocery shopping, cooking, dishes, cleaning, other errands. This week I finally got a haircut, which was about 3 weeks overdue. I wanted to do it sooner, but between feeling sick, being busy, and simply feeling overwhelmed, I wasn’t able to do it.

I have personal projects. I am currently writing a book about living with chronic illness. I am trying to clean out the clutter in my closets. I’d like to experiment with some new recipes. I want to spend more time reading.

On top of all of that, as if it weren’t already enough, I’d like to socialize more. Over a year ago I left the city and moved out to the suburbs. I want to make more friends out here. I want to spend more time with my old friends. I want to date. After a recent breakup I finally feel ready to date again, but I have no time or bandwidth for it.

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It’s true that I’m less efficient than I used to be. Let me sit in front of the computer to work for an hour, and I will accomplish less than I could have accomplished in an hour 10 years ago. Some of that is illness-related. Some of that is being out of practice. But I am working for that hour and I do get shit done.

It’s just that there’s always more to do than I can manage. And something’s gotta give.

Which is why I am not dating. Which is why I am closing one of the businesses I started. Which is why I don’t socialize nearly as much as I’d like to. Which is why I don’t have much fun in my life these days. Which is why I am stressed out and overwhelmed and feeling like a failure. Sure, I know that I am not a failure. It’s just that sometimes it’s hard to remember that. To really believe it. All I can do is keep remembering how much I do, and strive to eventually get to a place where I’m less overwhelmed.

And for you, dear reader, I want you to know that you’re not alone. In the chronic illness world, we often seem to have 2 modes: doing a lot that never seems to be enough and feeling overwhelmed and stressed out; or doing very little “productive” stuff while we rest and take care of our health and feel guilty about not doing enough.  But we shouldn’t feel guilty. We are doing the best we can to take care of ourselves. Some folks are even taking care of families as well. It’s hard. Fucking hard. And we deserve praise and congratulations for everything we work so hard to do, even when it’s not as much as what we want to do. So give yourself a figurative pat on the back. And then go do something FUN and don’t feel guilty about it. You deserve it.

Note: I have written many times about being on benefits, so some of you are probably wondering why I’m busting my butt with multiple jobs. That is because when I add up social security, food stamps (SNAP), and fuel assistance, I still fall far short of what I need to pay my expenses. I live in affordable housing and my rent is currently over 90% of my social security income. Then I need to pay for utilities, car insurance, gas, car maintenance, medical treatments that aren’t covered by insurance, and maybe once a month I might even go out for a cheap meal. On top of all of that, I am nervous about the future state of benefits in this country, and don’t want to rely on them. I would much rather earn my own way and be independent of them. For now my goal is to earn enough to support myself with benefits. Down the road I would like to get off of them, though I know that’s a rare and difficult thing to accomplish.


The stress of dealing with stress

March 12, 2018

When the doctor told me I needed to avoid stress because of my autoimmune disease, I laughed to myself. If it was that easy, wouldn’t everyone do it?

But over the years I learned how to stress out less. I’m still Type A. I’m still controlling, But I managed it. I get stressed out in more reasonable ways. It doesn’t feel as extreme as it used to, or last very long. I almost never lose sleep.

Until this month.

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The last few weeks have been really rough. I have been struggling a lot. And finally yesterday, I just felt so frustrated by it all. I wasn’t sure what to do. I called a friend who also has chronic illness, because I felt stuck. I wanted to stay home and rest and be alone. But I had already done that several times in the last week and it didn’t help. So was it fair to cancel plans with a new friend?

She helped me realize that I did need to stay home and take care of myself. And that while spending a day watching tv and crocheting will help me when I’m physically exhausted, it’s not enough for my current anxiety and stress. Emotional issues require a different approach.

She suggested a journaling exercise: write for 10 minutes without stopping. Make it a stream-of-consciousness writing exercise, and do it for 4 days. The key is not to write about *what* is causing me stress but to write about *how* it makes me feel. That’s harder. I’m not good at that.

But the minute we hung up the phone, I set my timing and got started.

Within a few minutes I was crying. It was wonderful! You see, my problem is that I have gotten so good at compartmentalizing my feelings when I need to, that I’m doing it even when I shouldn’t. Like right now. For the past week I have felt like I needed to cry, but I couldn’t. I knew it would help me feel better, but I couldn’t do it. I tried cutting onions. I shed some tears, but it wasn’t a real cry. I watched a sad movie. Again, I shed tears, but it wasn’t the sobfest that I really needed. It wasn’t enough.

But the journaling exercise got me to cry. Then I got in the shower and cried more. Seriously cried. It didn’t last long, but I had tears streaming down my face and snot running out of my nose and it felt good. Cleansing.

I need to cry more. Maybe today’s journaling will help. Maybe not. But it’s worth a try.

We’re taught not to cry. Crying is bad. Not crying shows strength. I am proud of the fact that I almost never cry. I feel embarrassed when I do cry. But why? It’s a natural expression of emotions. What’s wrong with that?

My health issues also bring up a lot of negative feelings. I usually deal with them by setting them aside while they’re raw, then dealing with them a bit later when they aren’t quite as strong. That works for me.

The problem is that it stopped working. At least in this case. A few weeks ago my girlfriend and I broke up. We weren’t together long, which was part of the problem: it made me feel like I didn’t have the right to be upset. But I was. This relationship was different. I thought it would last a long time. So did she. The breakup itself isn’t the point of the story, though; the point is that I didn’t mourn. We broke up at night, and I called my mom and cried. The next day I had a medical appointment in the morning. On the drive there I wanted to cry but I stopped myself, because I didn’t want to be an emotional wreck during the appointment. I didn’t want to be distracted. By the time I got home, I was too tired to deal with my emotions. The next day I had another appointment. Again, in the car I almost cried, but I stopped myself.

And then that was it. I never really cried. I just went on with my life. I didn’t talk about it much with friends. What was the point? The breakup was no one’s fault. I wasn’t mad at her. I missed her, but talking wouldn’t help, right? The thing is, pushing aside my feelings just meant that I felt fine at the time, and now it’s caught up with me. Now I’m stressed out and anxious.

But it took yesterday for me to figure that out. I thought I was stressed about other things. I knew my response to them was way out of proportion, though. I wasn’t sleeping well. I was anxious a lot. I was overwhelmed. I was yelling at people. What was wrong with me?

What was wrong was that I wasn’t dealing with things. I was pushing them aside.

And as if that wasn’t enough, I have autoimmune disease. Thankfully, I didn’t get sick! But it was definitely a strain on my adrenals, and I had to increase the dose of adrenal supplement that I was trying to decrease. There has definitely been a physical toll.

I have a pretty good handle, all things considered, on managing my physical symptoms. I have had decades to figure that out. But when it comes to emotions, I have to unlearn years of bad habits. I have to learn how to stop hiding from my feelings and to let myself feel them. I have to ignore the daily messaging from society that says crying is bad, being sad is bad. It’s ok to not be the happy, cheerful poster-lady of chronic illness. It’s ok to be sad, stressed, anxious, or whatever else. I just have to stop hiding from it.

So that’s my lesson for this week. It’s taken me far too long to learn it. Before long I’m sure I’ll be learning some other lesson. But for now I am focusing on this one. Because I’m still sad, and I’m still learning.

Now it’s time to go do my stream-of-consciousness journaling again. Hopefully I’ll cry.


Wanting and despising pity

February 17, 2018

I’ve been off my feet for the last week, more or less. Some days I could barely hobble around my apartment, even with crutches or a cane. Other days I could walk around the apartment fine, but putting on shoes was incredibly painful. This doesn’t happen often, but it’s happened many times over the last 13 years.

The difference is that this time, there are new people in my life who aren’t familiar with it.

More than once, a neighbor, a friend, and my new girlfriend all noticed me using crutches or limping, and they offered sympathy. Some were clearly pitying me as well.

Most days I despise pity. Instead of pity, I wish people would offer sympathy. And I wish they would do things to help. Hold open a door. Don’t come near me when they’re sick. Call their legislators and ask them to vote against the new bill that guts the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). (Seriously, call them! The bill is described here and you can find your senator’s contact info here.) Those things are helpful. But not pity. Pity sucks, and it’s dehumanizing. It means they’re seeing me as a set of symptoms instead of as a whole person.

And let’s be honest, we are taught by society that we shouldn’t like pity. We should be strong and resilient, blah blah blah.

But some days, that’s just how I feel. Some days, life sucks and I want more than sympathy, I want pity! Like when my feet hurt so badly I can barely hobble to the bathroom. Like when the pain is so bad, I can’t even wear socks. Like when I have to cancel plans so that I can stay home and feel like crap. Sympathy is good. Usually that’s enough. But every now and then, when I’m feeling especially sorry for myself, I also want pity from others.

Now here’s the thing: I talk to people about being in pain. Because I’m in pain. Every day. It’s a part of my life. I don’t dwell on it, and I only complain on the worse days, but I mention it a lot. And sometimes, people offer pity, even though that’s not at all what I’m looking for. And I hate it.

Then again, sometimes I bring it up because I DO want some sort of acknowledgement. I hate to admit it, but it’s true. Sometimes, I want people to know I’m in pain, to feel bad about it, to offer me some sympathy, and maybe to offer help with something I struggle with.

It’s a hard line to toe. I want to be able to say that I never want to mention it, I want it to be ignored, I want to be treated like everyone else. I want to say that, but it’s not true. Because the truth is, I’m human. And sometimes we humans want a little sympathy and support. Some days we even want pity!

Like I said before, society tells us we shouldn’t want pity. We should be strong and inspirational. Others should be able to point to us and say, “Look how amazing she is! If she can do what she does despite her health problems, I have no reason to complain.” Talk about dehumanizing! I’m a real person. I’m a whole person. I laugh and cry, feel optimistic and pessimistic, go out with friends and stay home feeling sick, do laundry and errands and cooking and other mundane chores. I’m more than a set of symptoms. I have feelings.

And yes, sometimes those feelings lead me to wanting pity.

I’m not proud of that, but I’m not going to be ashamed of it anymore, either.

I don’t live in the land of pity. I know that would not be healthy for me. But if a few days here and there I feel this way, what’s so wrong with that? I can’t compel someone to pity me. More than that, I know I’d be pissed if a bunch of people started doing it. But if for a few days I’d like my mother or a friend to pity me a bit, to offer condolences for what I’m dealing with, then so be it!

I won’t ask for pity. And most days I will still despise it. But if every now and then I want it, that’s ok.

Is it just me? Do you ever feel this way? Do you feel guilty for wanting pity? How do you handle it? Please share in the comments!


Feeling fatigue frustration

January 20, 2018

Fatigue is my most frustrating symptom. Unlike the others, I can’t push through even small amounts of it. Unlike the others, it feels vague and a little unreal. And it stops me from doing so much.

My pain has been better lately. I can work around it. The nausea is still a major problem that causes me a lot of anxiety, but it doesn’t happen too often. But for some reason, the fatigue has been worse over the last few months and I just can’t fight it. I can’t push through. I can’t work around it.

I’m going out less. Exercising less. Doing less. Feeling less than.

It’s hard to explain this feeling to people. It isn’t a matter of going to sleep earlier or waking up later or taking naps. I have no reason to think I’ll feel better tomorrow or next week or next month until we figure out the cause and do something to fix it.

And yet I want so badly for it to go away.

This isn’t as bad as the fatigue I had 5 years ago. It took years to improve that, and I want to avoid getting back to that bad place. Still, this level is also limiting, and irritating, and oh so FRUSTRATING!

There is so much I want to do. Today is unseasonably warm and I was going to take a walk around a local Pond. That walk always makes me happy. I’m not in too much pain. But I just don’t have the energy. So much for that plan.

I have lists of things I both need and want to do, and I feel like I can’t do any of it today. Will I manage more than watching tv in my pajamas? I have no idea.

I’m frustrated. And I hate it. I am used to pushing and fighting for things, and I can’t do that. If the fatigue is being caused by an adrenal problem (which is looking likely as we’ve been running tests and ruling out most other potential causes) then pushing and fighting will only make it much worse.

There are no answers today. All I can do is hope it doesn’t last too much longer. And try very hard not to blame myself for not doing more.

So I am writing this in part to complain (hey, what did you expect from a blog titled Chronic Rants?) and in part to offer support to everyone else dealing with fatigue. It can stop us from working, from socializing, from buying groceries, from cleaning the house, from taking a walk, from sitting up. Fatigue sucks. And I hope yours and mine improves very soon. And in the meantime, I hope we can all find good audiobooks and tv shows for when we have enough energy to enjoy them.

(On a side note, I love audiobooks, so if you want suggestions of what to listen to, comment with the kind of stuff you like and I’ll be happy to give you some recommendations! I listen to most genres – adventure, chick lit, historical fiction, murder mysteries, all kinds of non-fiction, etc.)


Struggling to endure

December 6, 2017

Last week was a really good week. And that made Sunday so much harder to deal with.

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First I took a long walk around beautiful Walden Pond (and took this photo), stopping a bunch of times to admire the view. It was unseasonably warm, and sitting down to watch the water was lovely. I was able to clear my head and figure some things out.

I made plans. I worked through ideas that had been weighing on me. I made some tough decisions about my finances and my health. By the end, I was super excited to get started! I walked about 2 miles total and felt ok afterwards. I rested that evening, but that was it.

A few days later my mom came to visit. After a lovely lunch, we took a walk in a wooded area. The sign said it was a 1 mile loop, and that seemed ok to us. Well, I don’t know what went wrong, but the path never looped. We eventually made it back to the car, but we walked about 4 miles. I was surprised I felt so good afterwards. Tired, but good. Hmm. Maybe this was a new trend?

The next day I hung out with friends and had a wonderful time. I got home later than I expected and was too tired to go out to a friend’s house that night like I had planned. Too bad. I really wanted to go, but I knew that resting was the right move.

It had been such a fabulous week. I exercised, got fresh air, got clear on a new mindset, spent time with friends.

And then it all changed. I spent all day Sunday feeling run down. I never left my apartment. I cancelled all of my plans for the day. This sucks, but it isn’t unheard of. And I did a lot this week, so I couldn’t complain, right? I trudged through the day, mostly reading a novel and wishing I could do more.

That would have been ok. It would have been disappointing but totally fine. If only that was it.

Sunday night I got really nauseated. Sometimes I know what causes the nausea, but usually I don’t. I tried Pepto Bismol, which usually helps, but this time it didn’t. I tried medical marijuana, which usually helps, but this time it didn’t. The nausea was really bad. My pulse was racing (114 while I was still sitting) and I felt bad all over.

Over the years, nausea has because an emotional trigger for me. I don’t know why it has, when the pain hasn’t, but it just has. So as usual, I started thinking about how horrible this is, and when will it end, and why won’t it ever go away. Yes, I have these episodes a lot less often now that I’m off gluten, corn, and a couple others triggers.

But why does it still happen? Was it something I ate? Something I did? A delayed reaction to the 4 mile walk 2 days before? How will I handle another 50+ years of this? Why did I bother to make plans? Obviously it was stupid to think I could ever get off of benefits and support myself. I should just stop trying. Then I started thinking about how it might be easier to just kill myself and end this. Except that would be very upsetting to my family and friends. I couldn’t do that to them.

I started having those thoughts a few years ago. I know it’s temporary. I’m not too worried, because I only have them when I’m curled in a ball on the floor, too nauseated to do more than stagger to the toilet occasionally. I have never gotten to the point of really wanting to kill myself but even if I did, I wouldn’t be able to until the worst of it had passed, and I never think about wanting to die except when I’m in the worst of it.

So all these thoughts were floating around in my head, and then something strange happened: I started to cry. And cry. And cry. Before I knew it, I was sobbing. Big, ugly sobs. I couldn’t stop crying. I thought I should call someone. (If you’re new to this blog, I live alone.) I ran through a mental list of awesome people in my life, and finally decided to call a friend who lives in my apartment complex. I asked him to come right over and he did. I didn’t explain, but he must have heard it in my voice, because he showed up with his dog, saying the dog was for therapy.

The dog, of course, immediately started to nuzzle me and lick me. He’s that kind of dog. Very sweet. But what I really needed was a hug and some understanding, and I got that.

We sat on the floor while I cried and talked. I always sit on the floor during these spells – for some reason, it just works for me. I cried myself out and we just sat there for a while. Then for some reason, I started crying again. Still, having someone there was extremely comforting.

Eventually I wore myself out. My friend and his dog left (he mentioned leaving the dog, but I was too weak to care for him.) I fell asleep on the couch to an old movie that I often watch when I don’t feel well. I woke up less than an hour later and found the nausea had subsided enough that I could drink a little water. Lots of diarrhea and lots of crying can really dehydrate a person. Then I stumbled to bed. I slept fitfully, but got through the night.

Monday was a bust. I cancelled plans and ate almost nothing. But it didn’t get that bad again. Tuesday was better, and I even left the apartment. And today is better still (though it’s after noon and I’m still in my pajamas, so it’s not fantastic – I try to get dressed by noon every day when I can.)

So why am I sharing this? I’m sharing it for a few reasons. For one, amongst my friends with chronic illness, I’m often seen as the strong one. Strangers online (both through this anonymous blog and under my real name) say that I’m a role model. I have my shit together. I’ve got a good handle on all of this. I work my butt off to take care of my health, research new treatments, find the best doctors and practitioners. That’s all true. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have really bad times, too. I think we all need to remember that the people who seem to be great probably have bad times behind closed doors where we can’t see them. It’s important not to idealize people, but to see them as they are.

It’s a reminder that we all have our struggles. We struggle, and then hopefully we have better days, too. We don’t need to assume someone is perfect in order to have them as a role model.

I’m not perfect. I’m still continuing to fight every day for the best health possible. I want to believe that one day those episodes will end. Until then, I will just keep on trying. Because what else can I do?


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