The Art of Recovery

I’m back on the radio this week with a new installment of The Art of Recovery on Playtime with Sid & Bill talking all about ways to show compassion to people with chronic illness. Wait, you didn’t know I was on the radio? It’s ok. Sometimes even I forget.

The Art of Recovery is a weekly segment all about living with chronic illness and often has a very artistic slant to it; after all it is neatly tucked into Chicago’s only radio show completely dedicated to the arts. But how did it get there? Why is it there? Isn’t that weird? Who wants to hear about chronic illness on an arts show?

Years ago I connected with the lovely author of Fibromyalgia This: A Diary of A Pain Warrior, Ana Turck. It was her recipe for homemade bone broth that drew me in, but her intelligence, perseverance, and warmth that made me want to be her friend. I knew she was the first person I wanted to interview for my podcast The Flare and she kindly obliged (it was an AMAZING show fyi). A few months later she told me her husband had started a new radio program and was hoping I’d do a segment. The rest, as they say, is history.

Of course I was paralyzed with fear. Doing a podcast is one thing – I can do it, or not do it as often is the case, whenever I choose because it is mine and I alone am responsible for it. Doing a weekly radio segment is an actual responsibility and commitment – something my chronic illness does not like. Low and behold Bill & Ana had already planned for my flareups, which made me actually tear up and love them just that much more, and so began a very interesting journey for me…the chance for me to actually do something good with the hand I’ve been dealt.

I don’t make podcasts or write blog posts in hopes of becoming famous or because I think my life is so important that everyone and their mother needs to hear about it. I don’t share advise because I think I know everything because trust me, I know I don’t. Originally I began putting my voice out there as a form of therapy for myself, but I quickly learned that my stories had power as I began receiving countless messages thanking me for speaking up about my experiences from people who were also suffering but just couldn’t bring themselves to share it with the world.

So many times throughout my life I have wished there would have been something, anything, that I could relate to that could help me get through these very unique and difficult times that only those with chronic illness can understand. When I received enough messages to know that my parents weren’t paying people to say nice things to me (legit concern, people), I realized that I could be that thing, that person, for someone else. I could become what I always needed for someone else who might need the very same thing.

I’m not the best. I’m not for everyone. But I’m here for whoever needs me and I’ve spoken to enough people to know that there are so many of us going through the very same thing that we don’t need to feel like we are going through it alone.

If I reach and help only one person… that is good enough for me. I hope to reach more. I hope that one day not a single person with chronic illness is diagnosed and then just left in the dark to figure it all out for themselves. I hope that one day a person is diagnosed and their doctor says, “Here are some resources to help you,” and that it is a a gorgeous pamphlet filled with lists of radio shows, blogs, support groups (both online and local), Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, medical websites, and anything else you can think of. Whether or not I’m on there is meaningless; I just want it to happen. I’m happy with whatever life decides to give me.

And right now life has given me a weekly spot on a Chicago radio station where I can speak about my experiences with chronic illness and hope it lands in the ears of someone who needs it. And because it is tucked inside an amazing arts show I also get to interview artists that I personally admire and talk to them about how art has helped them heal or overcome struggles in life. That is the second part of why this opportunity is so special to me. I myself am a musician, artist, writer, and dancer and chronic illness took it all away from me. I was so depressed not just from the physical pain but from no longer being able to be myself. So I found ways to get back into all the things I loved and stopped focusing on what I used to be able to do and instead began exploring what I could do both in spite of my illness as well as with my illness.

It’s also important to note that the title of the show does not mean I am cured or that I’m going to tell you how to cure yourself. The “recovery” I speak of on the show is all about reclaiming pieces of myself that illness has stolen away, and healing internally so that I can cause myself as little pain as possible. It’s about coming back into the light after falling into the darkness and imagining new possibilities. And it is absolutely about how art has played a huge part in all of that.

If this sounds like something you’d like to listen to, you can hear The Art of Recovery every Sunday on Playtime with Sid & Bill from 1pm – 3pm Central on AM 1590 WCGO. You can listen live on their Facebook page, on their website, or by using any podcast/radio app on your phone (I use TuneIn Radio).

I hope to see you next week!


Settling In

Things have settled down a bit over here. I mean life is still completely weird and every day I discovery a whole new level of insanity for every possible aspect of my life (a story for another time!), but on a whole I feel… settled.

I don’t know if it was winning my disability case afer fighting for 6 years, or if it’s because I now have a weekly segment on a Chicago radio station that makes me feel both accomplished and helpful, but lately I have felt more “myself” than I have in a very long time. The thought occurred to me that perhaps I just needed a 6 year long tantrum in order to get over my old job, my old hopes and dreams – basically my entire old life. Maybe. I mean it was a pretty awesome life, so I guess a 6 year long tantrum is pretty appropriate. But now my attitudes have shifted and I’ve begun to look at this new dysfunctional life as an opportunity as opposed to a crushing boulder sitting on my chest. I guess, basically… I’m moving on.

It feels odd to even say that. How do you move on from losing every bit of your identity and all of the capabilities that made you “you”? Honestly, I don’t really know how I did it myself. Maybe I just got tired of being miserable and pining for days gone by. Maybe I wanted to show my son that I can practice what I preach and truly make the best out of any situation thrown at me. Maybe I decided that my inner peace was worth more than my outer impression to the world. Perhaps I learned that I don’t always need to be absolutely outstanding every moment of the day in order to be worthy. Maybe.

I do know I learned to ask for help and lessen the unbearable load upon my shoulders. I know I learned to rest and proactively care for myself so as to cause myself as little pain as possible. I remember somewhere along the line coming to terms with what I could and could not control regarding my pain and overall health and abilities. And I distinctly remember thinking one day that  if I were someone else looking in on my life, I could possibly see it as though I have been blessed with the chance to live two different lives – an opportunity most people will never recieve.

Yes everything I used to do and be is pretty much gone. But strangely enough none of those things were what made me “me”. Maybe I’m suddenly calm and pretty content because I finally know that life could place me in a ginorous mud puddle and eventually I would still find a way to shine as well as help others to shine; it’s my nature. I’d be writing songs in my head, telling great stories, making beautiful sculptures out of mud, and doing my best to care for everyone around me and enjoy what I have – even if it’s only wet dirt.

So while it has been a tortureous experience, one that almost killed me… I can see how I could one day be thankful that it all happened if only because I have learned lessons that most people don’t learn until they are upon their death bed. I already know what I want to do differently, what really matters, and exactly who I am and why I am here. Had I been allowed to live the life I was living before, as satisfying and comfortable as it was, I would have never understood these things so soon. Are they more important than how I envisioned my career? More important than the future I had designed in my head? I can honestly say yes. All the things I was wrapped up in weren’t real anyways. They were simply ideas, constructs of my imagination and desires projected onto myself and everything around me. Knowing the truth trumps that any day.

Even if it takes 6 years to realize it.

So lately I’ve been simply settling in to this “new” life, exploring what is truly possible while finding ways to meet my true needs. There isn’t anything easy about it in any way, but I’ve learned that it does not need to be easy in order for me to be happy and fulfilled.

Yes I still have moments nearly every month where my pain brings me to my knees. Yes I’m still cancelling plans and sometimes in bed for an entire week at a time. But in these darkest moments I can, with full confidence, tell myself that I have been here before and I will certainly be here again and again… and that it always eventually passes. And maybe, just maybe the reason why I’m so settled is because I’ve begun to apply what pain has taught me to my entire life – I’ve been here before and I’ll be here again and again… and it always passes.

Only time will tell if this is what’s happening. I’d like to think I’m the kind of person that could learn and grow from pain and devestation and turn tradegy into something beautiful in the end, but there is always the chance that I finally gone completely insane. I do consider my mental stability when things get rough and this cockiness pops up out of nowhere and says “That’s all you’ve got? I’ve seen worse…” Which in a way is kind of nice. I like thinking that maybe there is still an undiscovered part of me that is just now waking up.

I can’t wait to meet her.


Moving, and Moving Forward

For a long time I was told to keep moving in order to improve my fibromyalgia symptoms, but it never helped me. More often than not it would send me spiraling into a flare up of symptoms that would make it impossible to move for days, sometimes even a week or more. Yet over and over I would do what “they” told me to do because all these people saying the same thing couldn’t be wrong, right?

I’ve always been a person who has not only met but surpassed any goal laid out before me. So to constantly fail at simply moving every day was a very big blow to my self esteem. I started to believe what a few truly awful people and a lot of really awful doctors were saying – that I was just lazy. And they must be right because there was no other reason for me to not be able to do this very simple thing.

Fast forward to today where I’ve spent the summer learning the ins and outs of my newest diagnosis, Rheumatoid Arthritis, and receiving the proper medical treatment for it. For the first time in my life swimming is actually refreshing, whereas before it would feel good for only the first few minutes then slowly begin to crush me for days afterward. For the first time in so long I can actually feel the benefits of moving every day, whereas before there were only consequences no matter what I did or didn’t do. I now know that weird sensation of my finger joints suddenly feeling bigger than I remembered was not a hallucination because now my doctors feel them and record the ups and downs themselves, and that getting trapped under my comforter in the morning wasn’t because I wasn’t working hard enough in physical therapy – it was because my immune system was attacking my shoulder joints making them inflamed, painful, and weak. For so long my doctors just assumed all these things that are so clearly RA were  “just fibromyalgia,” proving that they neither properly understood fibromyalgia nor were properly caring for me, and I’ve lived every day second-guessing my sanity because of it until now.

Fibromyalgia still has that “garbage can diagnosis” stigma and it’s not doing anyone any good. If you are a person diagnosed with it, plenty of crappy people will take it upon themselves to wield that stigma like a sword and cut you to your core because according to that stigma there isn’t really anything wrong with you, you just have a bunch of symptoms caused by a whole bunch of things that are your fault, and you need to just do better and you’ll feel better. If you are being treated by a doctor who believes that stigma, how can you ever feel human when the person treating you believes your symptoms belong in the trash? If you are a doctor who believes that stigma, you are failing you patients who have fibromyalgia…and even more so the ones who don’t.

Now I still do have fibromyalgia – as well as hypothyroidism, degenerative disc disease, depression, anxiety, and now rheumatoid arthritis – but being treated as if that were my only problem caused me so much unnecessary pain. I’ve lost years of my life. I can no longer work. I’m a completely different person than I used to be. And all it would have taken was one doctor way back then to rebel against the stigma, properly do their job, and save me. But instead I saved myself by never giving up until I found the treatment I deserved.

I’m very thankful for my current medical team; they are quite simply amazing. I’m on two new medications for RA and the difference is night and day. I’m nowhere near normal, but my quality of life has drastically improved. There’s still a lot for me to learn about pacing myself and RA in general, but now I finally feel better when I move every day. Now I can make health goals and meet them, and every now and again exceed them. But along with the new diagnosis and medications has also come a new mindset, and all together that is ultimately what is helping me.

When I started to feel a bit better I went crazy and overdid everything. Cleaning, social visits, trips with my child – I went nuts. And then because I was feeling so much better my doctor and I finally decided to get rid of one of the last fibro medications I was prescribed. I was so excited! I continued to go crazy as I was nearly a full week free of that medication when I found myself doubled over in pain in the middle of a clothing store with my son, unable to move. The pain didn’t go away. It lasted for a full week and that is when I learned a few very important things.

One, I still have fibromyalgia and clearly need that other medication. I had to learn that my goal was not to be on less medication but to be on the medications I needed to feel better – no matter how many that may be – and that it was bound to be a good amount of them considering I still have several conditions as RA did not magically replace everything else. So I called my doctor and went back on that medication, and within four days I was back to what my new normal had been since I started my treatment for RA. Lesson learned.

Two, most of the things I was overdoing was because I thought I had to do them. I’ve learned that I do not, in fact, need to do all of the cleaning to be a good person. I can actually ask for help even if I’m not in pain in order to prevent myself from burning out or ending up in pain. I don’t need to prove anyone wrong; I just need to be happy. And I’m not happy when I’m doing everything.

Three, I still need to rest even when I feel good. This is possibly the hardest lesson I’ve learned so far. Doing nothing while feeling good feels like a slap in the face to feeling good. But then I had to ask myself why did I think that? The answer is because I was worried about what people would think. How lame is that? New rule – screw what people think and do what is best for you at all times. What others think has never helped you before, why would it help now?

Four, I do actually need to move now in order to continue feeling good. When the pain set in after I stopped that medication, I ended up in bed for nearly a week. I started taking the meds again and it took another four days of being in bed before I felt back to my new old self…except that my back still really hurt. I had a feeling that it was stiffness from not moving, so I bit the bullet and did some physical therapy exercises and in a few short days my back pain levels were way down again. Now that I’m being treated for RA l actually know what it feels like to feel good, and because I have RA I will become very stiff in very bad places if I sit too long. Five minutes of physical therapy a day is enough to combat that. Yes, it really truly is. But that was never the case before I was diagnosed and treated, so it’s been hard to believe it! But the evidence so far speaks for itself.

Five, learning to balance Three and Four is going to be a lifelong journey. It’s not easy! It almost requires me to have a schedule of sorts, something that I haven’t been able to stick to in years because my symptoms and pain were so out of control. But I’ve found that a very small amount of practice every day is actually yielding results. I don’t need to overdo it and I can’t not do it at all, but somewhere in-between it all is my very best life. And that is something that is worth spending my energy on.

Six, everything I’ve learned that I need to do now in order to keep feeling good never helped me before I was diagnosed and treated for RA because my symptoms were far too out of control – it was like throwing ice cubes at a house fire. I may not be able to educate every person who thinks they know what is best for me or what I should be doing in order to help myself, but I can change the narrative within myself when approached by these people and know that my instincts have always been correct from day one. So when stupid things are said to me or bad advice is passed on to me, I can confidently say, “Thank you but my medical team and I have a very good plan right in place right now and none of those things are in it. But thank you, again, for your care and concern.” Or just stick up my crooked, swollen middle fingers, smile, and ethereally float away.

Moral of the story is that there will always be dumb people, rude people, people who mean well but are ill-informed, people who don’t mean well and are ill-informed, bad doctors, good doctors who are ill-informed about your specific condition, people who mean something to you and have no clue what they are talking about, and people who mean nothing to you and are just know-it-alls and/or nosey and just like the feeling of superiority they get when they solve other people’s problems…poorly. But how other people treat you is their path and how you react is your own. And I know it’s even more difficult to stick to your path when you are in excruciating pain, feel abandoned by the medical field, and are questioning your sanity. But I think that if you are travelling a similar path as I have, take it from someone who is a little further along and keep believing in what you know is right, never stop looking for the better medical care that you deserve, and do not put any of these weirdos’ words in your own narrative because living with a chronic illness is a very rare thing that not many truly have a grasp on. I wish I would have learned that sooner.

And also flipping people off, smiling, and ethereally floating away from them. I totally wish I would have started that sooner, too.



It Doesn’t Get Better, It Gets Different

I feel as though I’ve written about this before, yet I can’t find a single shred of evidence that I have. Maybe the feeling and the idea has just been with me for so long now.

I was very recently diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis. After suffering for nearly 12 years with no name for what was wrong with me, I finally earned myself a Fibromyalgia diagnosis and proceeded to fight for proper care and treatment for another 15 years. That’s when I met the team who cared enough to listen. And because they did that, I am now being treated for RA.

I began my treatment in the beginning of summer and I could feel the difference with the very first injection of methotrexate. I know it takes around 8 weeks to feel the full effects, but I most certainly felt something change for the better immediately. The week after I found myself lazily coloring with my 3 year old nephew out of the blue and it took until we were nearly done for me to remember that I hadn’t been able to color, draw, paint, or write by hand for about 10 years. I caught myself doing origami with my son. I even French braided my hair. I wasn’t forcing myself to try any of these things; I was simply doing what felt natural at the moment. And then the medication began helping me so much that I eventually went overboard – but boy did I enjoy it.

What I didn’t enjoy, though, was the after effects of overdoing it. At one point I ended up writhing and rolling on the floor, crying in pain, after cleaning way too much of the house. I scared my son. I scared myself. It was time to calm the hell down and realize that even though I sometimes felt like my old self, I wasn’t my old self.

And that is the paradox of “getting better” when you have a chronic illness.

I soon started Enbrel in addition to the methotrexate, and it has been an entire world of difference. I’ve driven to see my sister more times since starting it than I have the whole year prior. I took my son to Great America twice, but the second time I ended up in laying down in pain my sister’s van for the second half of the outing. I’ve been able to play my guitar, something I had to give up 6 years ago. And my daily level of pain is down significantly – I can just “be” and not be in agonizing pain much of my day, unless of course I’m in a flare.

And that all sounds amazing, right? And it is amazing! Except that the actual change in my daily life isn’t much of anything.

I still cannot work because my symptoms are still wildly unpredictable. Fatigue has been crushing me since I started these meds and I often lose an entire day to sleep. These meds make me highly emotional, so I cry about nearly everything right now. I still can only use my arms so much – even if it feels ok I have to set strict limits so that I don’t overdo it and hurt myself. Things are so much better for me right now yet in so many ways they are exactly the same that I almost want to stop saying that I feel better and instead simply say that I feel different.

And I do feel different. I can have a day where I do nothing and not be in pain and it feels so damn amazing, but the guilt always sets in. I should be doing something. The house needs cleaning. I should take my son somewhere. I’m feeling fine so I should take the opportunity…and so on. Well I’ve taken the opportunities and abused them so many times now that I don’t really trust myself anymore, so I save it for really special things that are totally worth the pain. But that leaves a lot of days where there is just nothing… and it is driving me insane.

Now here is something I do recall writing about before – not knowing what to do with myself. Wanting to be productive so badly but being physically incapable of doing so. And now that I’ve gotten a taste of the old me I feel like I had an addiction to accomplishing things in my old life and now I’m relapsing.

I had a really, really good run once both of the new meds  were working in my system and ended up feeling great for a few weeks in a row. So I ignored the new calm the hell down rule and tore up my rug and painted my table and organized drawers and then fell into a flare right in the middle of it all and woke up one day in a werid foggy pain, barely able to walk through my dining room because of all the projects I started at once, and immediately felt overwhelmed in a very, very awful way. Having to stop hit me hard. I thought I knew my new limits but they were as unpredictable as before, and I fell into a bit of depression because of it. I’m once again climbing out, just as I was the last time I wrote about wanting to be productive. But having to live with the mess I made while trying to be productive was possibly even worse than the flare itself.

So I’ve had to make some very hard choices about what it means to be feeling better, er different, and what I want to feasibly do about and with it. I think the only good that has come of it all is that I have finally decided I am done using my better for cleaning and projects that are simply too big for me and will be finally getting help.  I even decided to let go of grocery shopping and used an order online and pick up at the store service today just so I didn’t have to lose an entire day to groceries. And it felt amazing!! I was able to put all my groceries away as soon as I got home, something I can never do because I’m either crying or in a pain coma. But I put them away, made myself a great cup of coffee, sat down feeling very accomplished and pleased with myself… and proceeded to have *nothing* to do for the rest of the day.

It’s not easy finding the balance here. I know I’m done torturing myself and that I’d like to use my feeling better for good, like for myself or for my child, but when my son isn’t home there is quite literally nothing for me to do. Because I don’t really have a life anymore. So I don’t know what to do!

Yes, this girl needs a hobby. I love music and have been able to get together with my father and a few other good musicians and play about once a month since my new meds, so there’s that. But it’s not enough. I love writing, but I am limited to about 30 minutes on the computer before I cause myself serious pain. That is the same problem I run into with working on my podcast – limited computer time. I can only work on it for so long. I read somewhere that I should get on a schedule and I thought “Yes! This is the answer!” and then I laughed myself silly. The problem with being on a schedule is that it works great until you are in flare and lose two whole weeks to it and reemerge from the pain cave just to start all over again. Hence half the reason why I don’t work – schedules. If you can’t stick to it, what’s the point? I’d need like three different schedules. One for good days, one for ok days, and one for flare days. Who does that? Me? Maybe? No. No. I’m not doing that.

I suppose if I could sit around and not do anything and just be happy doing that my life would be pretty good right now. I hate to come off as not being happy for having less pain, and please know that couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s simply that less pain and more fatigue and unpredictable limits brings more problems that need to be solved – problems that I do not have the answers for because I’ve never been here before and I’m simply doing the best I can. I find it as freeing as I find it frustrating. I’m as happy as I am irritated and lost. I’m as clear as I am confused.

This is a very strange place to be.

It’s certainly different.


Chasing Ghosts

I’ve written so much about my struggles with fibromyalgia that at times I can’t imagine any new way to describe it all. Thankfully fibro keeps changing and evolving, constantly giving me new material! I know how that appears. Why is there always something wrong with that woman? When will she feel good? How can she have that many things wrong with her? How can it hurt if there really isn’t anything wrong? And those are just questions from my own brain, what the hell are other people thinking??!!

It’s near impossible to imagine pain with no cause (rebels with no cause are cool, though). I didn’t break my leg or get injured; my nervous system is injured which means you can’t really see my pain and it doesn’t appear to follow much rhyme or reason – but that doesn’t mean it isn’t real.

I have a new primary care doctor, recommended by my pain doctor (when does that even happen?), and he is wonderful. But I can’t help but to think he’s at the “why the hell did I accept this patient” stage of our relationship (even though I was told he loves a challenge, hence why he got me). If I had to be honest I would tell you that I feel emergency levels of pain several times a month, every month of my life. This is pain that my body knows is bad and needs urgent medical attention because something inside me has to be in the process of dying in order to feel this way. My brain, however, knows that this is just par for the course and that the last time (and time before that, and the time before that time) I went in there was nothing wrong with me. It’s like going on Maury on a regular basis, each time certain you have found the daddy of your pain baby, only to hear those words “you are NOT the father” and now everyone just thinks you are a pain slut.

I might’ve taken that too far.


It’s embarrassing. At least it is for me. And if the attitudes are just right, or if I feel the attitudes are just right, i.e. judgmental, I can very easily be discouraged to come in for any kind of treatment for a very long time out of pure shame or simple self doubt. Knowing I can’t trust my body and that I can rarely tell if I’m actually sick, actually injured, or if I’m just chasing a ghost means I’m not going to trust my uncertainty with just any practitioner unless I absolutely have to. Which means I often end up in a bad place that was completely preventable had I just gone to the doctor. It’s a crazy, endless cycle.

This is my life. This is why I’m a total dipshit.

Every day I am monitoring myself for hints of things going wrong so I can stop them before they get too overwhelming while already dealing with whatever has already gotten overwhelming. This is why when I feel good I just go batshit crazy and do all the things, which must be terrifying for people because I don’t even know how to socialize anymore; I swear to sweet baby jeebus in his little tiny sparkly spaceship that the last time I escaped and tried to be social I sat down next to someone and said “I like pot-roast”.

I’m a grown-up, you guys. I’m in charge of a kid and a dog (and a cat, but we all know no one is really in charge of a cat). Someone let me loose on this world and thought I could adult and check my own engine oil and not explode microwaves and otherwise just basically function, and I don’t even know what a normal human body is supposed to feel like.


Take me to your leader right meow.


Breaking the Silence

Yesterday was my 6 year blogiversary here at Still Smihlen (thanks to my friend Rita for naming it!), and seeing that little notice really kicked me in the ass. I realized that I haven’t been here as of late. You know, here. Not necessisarily here at this blog or on my facebook page – which really sucks because posting ridiculous stuff for you guys is on my Top Ten List of Bomb Ass Shit – but, yes, both here at the blog and here in the normal, functional world. Since I checked out I have taken blow after blow after blow and each time I thought about chronicling my experience I just cringed. It was too depressing, too dark, and simply too painful to recount while I was trying to recover. It’s a bit like falling through an ice covered lake in subzero weather and someone offering you a glass of ice water once you finally pull yourself out. No. I need a blanket, dumbass. STAT.

And so I climbed into that blanket and just stayed there until I could feel my toes again. It took almost a year and a half. I’m not proud, yet here I am so perhaps I should be. Not everyone makes it back.

Writing is normally very therapeutic for me, but I haven’t been able to pick up my blogging ever since my last fall. I’ve tried, but the nagging feeling that I was avoiding something, that I was leaving something important out of the story blocked me every time. And so I am going to tell you this part of my story and just get it out there and over with in hopes of being able to move on AND in hopes that it will help someone else.

So here we go.

Let’s talk about Depression.

In high school I decided I’d be a great psychologist because everyone told me I would be a great psychologist. I remember one time being called out of class thinking I had done something wrong, but it turned out a peer was in crisis and only wanted to speak with me. Yeah. Pretty badass, right? I know. I know.

Once I was an adult (and not a psychologist lol), I really enjoyed studying and reading about psychology. And I’m glad I did because it really came in handy after I almost caused a severe car accident due to my irrational fear of spiders. That experience really shook me and I knew I had to do something about that fear before I hurt myself or others. So I read up on desensitization therapy and did it my damn self. Successfully. I cured myself of the fear of spiders and also learned that my mind is my own and I am absolutely capable of keeping it in check.

Fast forward about 20 years and there I was crying in my bed, isolated and hopeless, a prisoner of my own mind. I hadn’t posted a single thing on social media in several weeks. I’d try…but nothing would come out. Nothing.

Also, I couldn’t feel happiness for ANYONE.

New baby?




And creepily I had no reaction at all to people dying or any otherwise awful event. I remember saying to myself “I know I’m supposed to feel something, but I just don’t”.

I was depressed.

We tend to think of depression as sadness, but I’m here to tell you that it’s actually closer to nothingness. And that is quite terrifying.

I set out to help myself and quickly found that no amount of indulgence (I got a dog,) or ridiculousness (I watched only cat videos for several days on end), or self-help (allll the books), or meditating (books and apps and books and apps) was completely lifting me out of the dark, and no amount of telling myself to just snap out of it and feel things that I couldn’t feel was working. I needed professional help. So I called and made an appointment.

Going to therapy felt great. I appreciated having someone objectively examine my situation and explain exactly how I got where I was, by no fault of my own, and how we could improve things. Having a therapist diagnose my fibromyalgia pain as the cause of my depression was the biggest relief of all. Why? Why did it matter? It mattered because I didn’t want to have that flaw that caused me to not be able to control myself. I didn’t want to be weak. Please, anything but weak.

When you are fighting something like chronic pain or depression, you are also fighting stigmas. Mental illness and invisible illness are perceived as lapses in character or strength and control; a poor choice that you continue to make and dare to complain about. If your heart fails you are rushed to the emergency room and prepped for surgery; if your mind fails you are told to smile.

I have always fought these stigmas for others, but when depression landed in my lap let me tell you that my PRIDE took a beating. Everything I knew to be true about mental illness didn’t matter because I was stronger than that. Or at least I was supposed to be.
That pride nearly killed me once before so thankfully I knew better than to let it win, but that doesn’t mean it was easy. The mere fact that it was even an issue at all proves how deadly these stigmas can be.

I’ve done a lot of work. I’ve got a good mix of medication and therapy and coping skills to help ease the symptoms but I am not in the clear yet and I do not know when I will be. Also, I’m pretty pissed. I’ve been busting my ass to beat depression and the truth is that I may not pull through this until my pain is under control – which, based on my medical history, could be never. I honestly thought that if I worked hard enough I could just eliminate this issue from my plate. Learning that it doesn’t work that way has sent me into what I can only describe as rage.

I grieved my former life, I did the soul searching to find my worth beyond a paycheck, I found ways I could still help the world and feel satisfied with myself and yet I still ended up severely depressed. I was not prepared for the level of isolation and utter exhaustion paired with my pain and frustration…. but who could be prepared for that? And then, after I crawled out of that hole, I had to discontinue a medication that sent me into actual for real withdrawal. I’m talking cold sweats and spasms, brain zaps and nausea, and pain like I’ve never felt before. And I was right back in that pit all over again.

It’s not easy. And it’s been a non-stop cycle that I just can’t see myself talking about every day because I need to use that time to watch dumb videos that make me laugh and write ridiculous things on my page so that I do not hate life.

I have support. I have a great medical team. I have an amazing family, beautiful friends, and my child shoots sunshine from his butthole. I’m educated on mental illness. I have everything I need to recover but I have to accept that it is a very slow process that is much more like a rollercoaster than a marathon. There is no quick fix.

So there you have it. I don’t have much more to say about it other than if you’re going through something similar, just know you are not weak and you are not alone.

Now go watch that damn Sharkira video. That shit is hilarious.



From the Chandelieeeeer

Ok, look. I’m just going to be straight up honest with you here and admit that I am NOT the best housekeeper by any means, but I’m not disgusting. Gross, sometimes [I do have a kid], but not disgusting. And I tell you this because we’ve developed a bit of a fly probem, which might bump me up into the upper tiers of grossness but, honestly, most of it is not my fault so hold that Judgey McJudgerson judgement for just a bit longer as I explain.

Our dog was diagnosed with Lymphoma on April 13th, and a few weeks later stopped eating her regular dog food. So I started scrambling to feed her whatever people food she would eat – which worked great for about two weeks. Then one day I had to feed and water her by hand. When she regained her appetite, or so I thought, I served her a big spoonful of her favorite beef and rice…and the entire bowl disappeared.

No, not like she ate it. She HID it. The entire bowl, with it’s contents. I laughed at first. What a weird thing for her to do, right? I laughed until I couldn’t find real people food in an open container for three days. Not so funny anymore.

I learned that she hid it because I put it next to her new sleeping spot and that she wanted her area clean AND probably also did not want the food period because her appetite was just about completely gone. And so, while looking for my son’s hoodie, I found the bowl and the spilled food in the corner of our “coat rack”, which is a bunch of hooks I hung behind the door but nothing really gets hung on them because my son throws his shit on the floor.

But I digress.

Grossness ensued as I cleaned rancid fat and meat…the rice held up nicely, I must say…but by then it was really too late. And I was too tired – let’s not forget that I’m pretty broken over here – and the seeds had been planted. Or the eggs. Whatever.

Fast forward to a few more episodes of her hiding food no matter where I put it, me having to leave plates of baby food out for her overnight in *hopes* that she’d eat, and, well…flies. Lots and lots of flies.

I was overwhelmed with the whole process of trying to find food for my dog to eat, on top of already being too overwhelmed to clean a normal house much less a house riddled with the remains of people food that was now dog food that was now hidden somewhere inviting problems.

I made a few homemade traps – I am an EXPERT at fruit fly traps, so why shouldn’t I be good at this? I mean, a fly is a fly, right?? After a few spills of just *disgusting* stuff, I quit. I quit and I went online and searched for where the hell I could get fly ribbon…which is where I came up with my first piece of comic relief in this entire fiasco – please see the description.

Ass water. I should have known.

I stuck with the fly ribbon.

So here I am, pulling the first fly ribbon apart, and just praying that I do NOT get it stuck in my hair. Because I ran right into one once as a child and the memory of that thing in my hair still haunts me to this day.

I got the first one out very carefully, barely getting any on my hands, and managed to hang it in the bathroom without a hitch. This falsely raised my confidence levels, which really wasn’t a good idea, and so I was a little more cocky with the next ribbon.

I decided the next one should go above where the pet food bowls were. And so I started pulling it apart…pulling….pulling….until somehow it was stuck to the front of my shirt.

No problem, I told myself. It’s ok, I said as I peeled it from my shirt watching the residue stay stuck to my shirt in little patches. It’ll wash off…

Next fly ribbon was to be attached to the dining room chandelier because a) I really like Sia and b) they are really attracted to the light that comes from the window it hangs in front of. So I find some tape, open the ribbon, get the ribbon stuck to itself, peel it apart again, and successfully tape it to the chandelier.

Or so I thought.

I finally go to sit down, flipping off every fly caught on every ribbon on the way because I’m a bad ass bitch, when I hear FLOP!!!

The ribbon hanging from the chandelier had fallen to the floor.

Thank goodness it’s only tile, I tell myself as I get MOAR tape and go to pick up the ribbon.

[cues A Christmas Story’s tongue vs metal pole scene] Stuck? Stuck?? STUCK!!!!!!!!!!!

I finally pull that bitch off the floor only to find MY FLOOR TILE ATACHED TO IT.

So I pull off the floor tile, and the ribbon gloms right onto the front of my shirt as if my shirt were made of fly ribbon magnets. My hair sets on fire, figuratively of course, and I rip the damn ribbon off my shirt only to lose my grip on it and send it plopping back down to my damn floor tiles.

Shampoo. Rinse. Repeat.

I finally get it taped back up to the chandelier, to the chandelieeeeeeeeer, and then I go and flip every little stuck fly off AGAIN because FUCK THIS, I AM THE BOSS.

The very sticky boss.

Do you know that soap won’t get this shit off your hands???? Thank goodness I tried to be a good mom once two years ago and make my own baby wipes [because CHEMICALS], therefore I still have a newish bottle of baby oil in my cabinet – even though my baby is 8 years old. [Boys have pooping/wiping issues until they get married.]

And so here I sit, waiting for all my hard work to pay off, hoping I won’t walk right into a ribbon like I did as a kid, half knowing I’m probably going to do just that.

And that is life right now in the Ihlenfeld house. Thanks for tuning in. I’ll be pouring baby oil all over my floor tile if anybody needs me…and probably pouring it in my hair later if anyone would like to bring me some wine…

Maybe I should have gotten the ass water.