Sunday, October 24, 2010

POTS: Tornado warning!

My life with POTS has left me feeling like I'm living the movie "The Wizard of Oz". One day I'm struggling with POTS symptoms, that resembles the bleak black and white world of Kansas. The next day I'm almost symptom free and living in the joyful, colorful world of Oz. After two years of having POTS, I'm still surprised by the fickleness of my symptoms. It often reminds me of a tornado destroying one house and the house next door is still completely in tact. The randomness of the destruction is a mystery.

The POTS tornado seems to skip over me at work! I've often shared how blessed and fortunate I am to be able to teach. I'm awed and amazed that I'm able to walk to my car at the end of each day. Teaching kindergarten is no easy task, most of my students have been the center of their families universe all their lives (as they should be). Now place those precious five year olds in a classroom with 31 other five year olds and only one teacher to meet all their needs and it's quite a shock to their little systems. Now add the hundred or so standards that the state of California requires me to teach them, the shoe tying, the emotional meltdowns, the glitches in the schedule and the daunting task of preparing them to be the best students they can possibly be is overwhelming at times. Being able to complete my day is nothing short of a miracle, so I celebrate this accomplishment daily, knowing God must have a purpose for me in this place.

The POTS tornado seems to touch down for odd reasons as well. Like grocery shopping (which I love), I'm always completely wiped out, exhausted and very symptomatic after every trip. POTS seems to strike during worship time also, singing leaves me out of breath and dizzy. The loudness of the worship band does odd things to my heart rate and adrenaline, I've learned to sit at the back of the church which has helped quite a bit. It can be so frustrating, today I went to the front of the church to pray with a friend (my heart wanted to be there so badly), the band music was roaring and so were my POTS symptoms. It was so distracting that I started to become angry, I was able to remind myself as to why I was there, and put my mind back on track and finish what I was called to do in the first place.

I often wonder at the randomness of the symptoms. Why can I do such a strenuous job such as teaching and yet shopping, singing and worship music sends me crashing. I'm learning to be thankful for what I can do, and ask God for answers as to what I can't do. If I listen hard enough I'm sure He'll answer!

Inspired and learning,

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Living the Moment

Before my POTS diagnosis I woke up in the morning, got ready for work, worked hard, looked forward to the end of my day, and counted the days or hours for the weekend to hit. I loved my career and enjoyed what I did every day, but I looked forward to my time away from work. I often see TGIF as someones status on FB, I've never seen a TGIM. Work is some place to make money to pay the bills and do the things you enjoy outside of work.

Work became something completely different for me after my POTS diagnosis. When I was hosplitalized I could barely walk from my bed to the bathroom without being completely exhausted, dizzy, out of breath and as white as a sheet. I became a "House" episode. My heart,lungs and brain all checked out normal (yes, even my brain). It wasn't until I told the doctors to check my heart rate and blood pressure laying down and standing up did my diagnosis become obvious. I was told my condition is rare, the treatments varied in each patient, and I may or may not recover. I didn't realize at the time how scary those statements should be to me. I was given several meds to try (some worked and some didn't), and a short list of things to avoid. The list made it pretty obvious that mornings were gong to be difficult, and I still chuckle at one of the items : Avoid having a b.m. in the morning. How am I suppose to do that, I've done my big business every morning for as long as I can remember! Most of my education I picked up from other POTSies, I don't know what I'd do without their knowledge and support! When I first returned to work there was a deep appreciation for the fact that I could go to work. Work no longer was I place I had to go to five days a week, but a place I get to go to five days a week. Believe me when I say it isn't easy. Every day I wake up nauseated, dizzy, and exhausted.

During this journey, I became connected with many amazing people who share this wonderful diagnosis. What I discovered was the majority of them have it so much worse than I do. Daily migraines, fainting (I have never fainted, only feel close to fainting), severe digestive issues, severe pain and fatigue, tachycardia and bradycardia, and weak swollen and discolored limbs. My friends can't work, and want to work so badly. They deal with sever chronic illness every minute of their lives, and we complain about a rough day at work.

In the beginning I had a deep appreciation for being able to work, but that has grown into something much more. I'm learning to appreciate every minute. Every word I speak, every communication I acknowledge can leave a life changing experience in someone I touch, no matter how small the event may seem. Even in chaos and exhaustion I have a choice as to how I use it. Sometimes when my classroom is being unruly, I'll close my eyes for a second and appreciate the fact that life is happening around me. The rules in my room are important, but how I enforce those rules is just as important. I'm looking less at the clock as a way to measure the end of my day, and more as a measure of what more I can do in the time I have left.

I've been given twelve more students in my class, and at first my attitude was this is wrong, I can't do it, and I'm not getting paid enough to do this. What I realized is that I get to have twelve more students in my room, they will change who I am and how I teach, and I have the opportunity to change and affect who they are. Is it wrong, YES! Developmentally kindergarten and first grade should only have 20 students. I can't change the state budget, but I can accept what I have and make the most of this opportunity.

I've also seen a change in my attitude about parent-teacher conferences. These conferences add two to three hours to my day. For those of you who are not in education, I get paid for a 6.5 hour day, not for eleven or twelve. I'm not given a stipend or extra pay, it's part of my job description. I've always done this part of my job grudgingly. A week of hard labor, and the hope of getting them complete without any parental conflicts. But this year was so different. I have such a supportive group of parents, and I love my students, so I couldn't wait to spend some one on one time with these amazing parents. This time I enjoyed the insight I received from my parents about my students, and feeling like we had connected as a team to provide success for their students was a joy! Last night I posted "joyfully exhausted" as my status because I knew every moment was well invested and worth the exhaustion I felt at the end of my day.

I guess my target audience would be those who are relatively healthy. Work doesn't have to be a prison sentence, "time served". There are people who are chronically ill who would give their right arm to be in your shoes. Try to think more about the time at work as opportunities to make a difference, and the people around you as precious moments to make a positive difference in someone. Many of my friends are alone and would love to be able to touch someones life (for some talking makes POTSies out of breath and dizzy, including myself).

For my POTSy friends, try not to waste precious time focusing on the can'ts. Dysautonomia is a thief, and has stolen our health and many of the things we enjoy in life. You have family and friends that need your heart, compassion and moral strength. Please don't let this disease steal the joy out of the moments you spend with others, make each moment count, because to be honest there's always someone out there who has it allot worse than you do.

Always inspired,

Psalms 126:5
Those who sow in tears shall reap with joyful shouting.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

I'm a Super Freak, Super Freak, I'm super Freaky!

I'm a super freak! I would have downloaded Rick Jame's Super Freak, but I'm not THAT KIND of super freak. The song is kind of fun and catchy though.

It's Friday, and it has been a busy week. Back to school night, unruly students, PTA meeting, picture day, and alphabet party to end it all. I had plenty of volunteers, and the students had a blast using foamy letters to make A,B,C hats, letter name necklaces, stamping A,B,C's on vests, shaving cream writing and play-dough letters. But managing time, behavior, checking on groups and taking photographs can be very tiring. Thankfully all went well the rest of the day, but I was pooped.

To finish off the day I had a doctors appointment with my new doctor. I had to change insurance plans because of an increase of $350 on my former and much better plan. I was very nervous going from the top of the line insurance to the bottom. It's scary when your healthy, add having a rare chronic disease and it can be a nightmare. The new doctor was very nice. Then I told her I had dysautonomia and she replied "You have what?". I said it a second time, and she made a pretty good guess at what it is by it's name, which is a better response than I'm use to getting. I gave her my symptoms list along with the medications that work. While I was sitting on the examining table my feet turned a hideous shade of purple (my feet have a tendency to show off on the examining table), and her eyes popped out and she said "Is this normal?" I giggled and said yes, and apologized for not including that symptom in the list I just recited. She informed me that I should get some compression stockings, and I giggled again and said "I do wear them, but I'm a bit naked right now." She giggled too, so we're off to a good start. At least she gets my bazaar sense of humor. I requested a referral to my neurologist who specializes in POTS, and she informed me that it's next to impossible to get a referral outside their building. My sole purpose in choosing that medical group was that they were the only one in my plan to refer to my specialist. So I guess I'm on the road for some red tape and hassles. Oh well, what's new.

So I get home and I'm feeling more fatigued than usual. I take off my sweater, and my hands and arms are red, which is a new thing for me (my hands are usually red and purple and that's all). To top it off my arms are blotchy and spotty! I take off my shoes, and notice my feet and lower legs look the same. I decide to take it easy and I stick a frozen dinner inside the microwave. In 5 minutes and no effort dinner is ready. I watch "Say Yes to the Dress" and decide to call it a night. I get ready for my nice cool bath and as I step into the tub I notice my whole body has blotchy red spots "Nice"! As I dry off my swollen purple feet and my blotchy body, I start crying. I'M A FREAK! Then my wonderful sense of humor comes back and Super Freak begins to play in my head, and I feel a bit better. When I put my socks on I notice my feet are so red that they can be seen through my socks. I decide to show my daughter my freakiness, and I tell her that I'M A FREAK! She giggles and tells me "No mom, you're special!". Special is good, and a much more positive way to see things. So "I'm super special, super special, I'm super special now, da-da-da-dum, da-dum, da-dum, da-da-da-dum, da-dum, da-dum".


P.S. It's so funny my week ended this way. On Wednesday I actually thought I might be in remission, I felt almost normal Sunday through Thursday, I hadn't felt that good since before POTS. Funny how quickly things can change, just gotta role with the punches.

Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons, freely you have received, freely give.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

My Favorite Discoveries

I thought I would designate a post to some of the things I've discovered that have helped me cope with having POTS. Some are personal life lessons, and some can be purchased at the store or on line.

My very favorite thing is my Mio heart rate monitor watch. For over a year I didn't quite know what my heart was doing, and unfortunately I confused bradycardia symptoms (low heart rate) with tachycardia symptoms (high heart rate). Knowing what my heart is doing, and how bad it really is has given me peace of mind.

My ice vest is one of the ugliest pieces of clothing I own, but also one of the most important. My body doesn't respond to temperature like the rest of the world. My body temperature rises and falls in extreme weather. I purchased the Artic Heat ice vest because it's light weight and doesn't soak my clothing. It was a bit expensive but definitely worth it.

For a year I carried packets of salt with me everywhere, ewww gross! I discovered from some helpful POTSies that salt tablets are way better. Please check with your doctor about dosage and whether this is a good option for you. And don't forget plenty of water to go with it.

I spent the first year of my POTS diagnosis in a continuous state of nausea. I thought it might be the medications I was on. I discovered by accident that if I ate small meals all day that the nausea only exists in the morning hours.

Finding the right medication combination can be a long and frustrating road. In the beginning of my medication trial it was very frightening. The first medication they tried made my heart raced so high, that after I vomited I was on watch for 24 hours. The medications I'm on now had such bad side effects that I became suicidal. The sad thing was, that the medication worked very well with my POTS symptoms, and they didn't have any alternative medications to give me. I was forced to live through the emotional battle or become bed ridden and an invalid for the rest of my life. It took a little over a year, but I'm now able to take my medications without the scary side effects. What a difficult choice that was! Be patient, and be in constant communication with your doctor.

Living with POTS is like living with the Blob, the symptoms change from day to day, and sometimes it's hard to tell the difference from a "normal" illnesses and POTS symptoms. Being connected with a website support group is very helpful. People who share this unique disease usually can answer questions you have. Often times reading posts from others will shed some light on symptoms that I have that I didn't know were POTS related. People who have lived with POTS often have a wealth of information that our doctors may not have tried. And always seek the advice of your doctor when you hear about something new.

Like I said in the previous paragraph, living with POTS is like living with the Blob. Many of us share similar symptoms but our bodies react to medications differently. Some people with POTS are very symptomatic and are still on the road of finding something that works for them, and others have found treatments that allow them to live close to normal lives. Remember everyone is different.

I often experience survivors guilt, feeling bad for those who have it so much worse than I do. But I have learned to appreciate what I can do, because there are so many who have it worse. Even if I was living with the worse case scenario of POTS, it still would be better than paralysis, being a burn victim or so many other debilitating diseases. POTS has taken so much away, but I do have a choice as to how I deal with that loss. I've learned to focus on what I can do, and not on what I can't.

POTS has friends, don't be surprised if you become scent sensitive or intolerant. I became very dizzy at a bon fire at church one day, who knew? Sound sensitivity was very surprising, my heart rate went through the roof listening to very loud praise music at church. Ehler Danlos Syndrome, Raynauds, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and Lupus usually go hand in hand with POTS. Just be prepared for anything.

I try to keep my friends and family in the loop of how things are going for me, but I'm also learning that it's a process for them too. They have lost the Michele they knew well, and they have been given a different Michele in it's place. Don't forget to give them some grace, and communicate what you need from them.

I have been a servant most of my life, serving and helping are things I enjoy. POTS has made that difficult. I've learned to accept help and ask for help, neither of these come natural. I've learned to accept that the warm fuzzy feeling I would get from helping others is now happening to those who help and serve me. God is at work in those around me, and I need to sit back and get out of the way.

When writing my blog, I try really hard not to pound people over the head with my faith, I'm more of a love people to Jesus, than a hit people over the head with a bible type. Being a Christian is at the core of who I am, and not sharing how God has made a difference in dealing with POTS would be denying who I am. So hear it goes, I trust that I have POTS for a reason, I believe that God uses my circumstances for His purposes. I have seen God work miracles through my POTS diagnosis, and I've seen God change my heart through the difficult circumstances. I'm not saying this is easy, there are days when I'm frustrated or angry with things that happen to me with POTS, but God gave me feelings for a reason and I'm learning it's OK to ask "Why this God?", and I'm learning to wait patiently for answers. Because He always answers, maybe not in my timing, but in His.

Truly inspired,

Jeremiah 29:11
For I know the plans that I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.
My life verse.