My heart hurts so much for you both, for so many reasons…

I have Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS) and many more conditions associated with EDS (comorbid to, or pathological of), including severe osteoarthritis, Degenerative Disc Disease, Tethered Cord Syndrome, Intracranial Hypertension, CSF leaks, Chiari Malformation, and more.

Ehlers-Danlos is a Hereditary Disorder of Connective Tissue (HDCT) that involves a mutation in our body’s collagen (the most abundant protein in the human body, often described as the “cellular glue” that holds our bodies together). It’s not unusual for patients to wait years or even decades for a correct diagnosis, because it is misunderstood and underdiagnosed. We suffer for years before a doctor is willing to diagnose us because it is a fairly rare condition and it is incredibly systemic in nature (affecting so many things throughout the body that it crosses from one specialty to the next). It can affect our joints, heart, brain, gut (and ability to properly metabolize foods and supplements), mast cells (tryptase/histamine levels), hormones, vision, hearing, and every organ and muscle inside of our bodies right out to our skin. The most common type of Ehlers-Danlos is Hypermobility Type (hEDS) and there is no genetic test to confirm or deny it, diagnosis is based on clinical evaluation. BUT THE PAIN IS VERY REAL AND EXTENSIVE!

Dr. Phil has the entire Ehlers-Danlos community (a well-organized community) up in arms about his flippant dismissal over your symptoms, since it’s obviously not his field of expertise. Although you clearly some depression going on. I hope that you both will benefit from the therapy he offered. Therapy is a good thing and can be tremendously beneficial when living with a chronic pain condition, especially over a lengthy period (which often ends up being a lifetime for EDS patients). The pain from Ehlers-Danlos is not psychosomatic and there’s no amount of counseling that will repair the wide-spread damage going on in our bodies (whether Dr. Phil realizes it or not). Unfortunately, knowledgeable doctors are hard to come by.  But they do exist, so please be encouraged and keep looking.

As with most chronic conditions, there are many things outside of our control that we need a medical professional’s help with (most of us live from one surgery to the next). We can’t change our DNA and since hEDS is believed to be autosomal dominant (meaning that only one parent need have it for it to be genetically passed on to a child), means that there is a very real possibility that both of your daughters will suffer from it one day as well. However, we ARE NOT POWERLESS IN OUR FIGHT! There are still things that we can do that are within the sphere of our control. I noticed that your daughter was giving you milk and what appeared to be a chicken sandwich on a bun (and the chicken appeared to be a frozen chicken patty). As mentioned, we don’t metabolize certain foods well, and dairy, processed foods, sugars (even sugar substitutes), gluten (and gluten substitutes), and complex carbs, in general, are all high on the list of things that we tend to have problems with. For the most part, we tend to have inflammatory reactions to them, and that inflammation isn’t distributed to just one part of the body; it can happen everywhere including in our gut, joints, back, and even the brain (especially anywhere there’s an injury). Increased inflammation means increased pain (and even brain fog).

I’m glad that Dr. Phil offered life-coaching and help from the PNP Center. I encourage you to take him up on it and get all that you can from it. Their knowledge of EDS is probably substantially limited and even if you “really have it,” they’re more likely to simply concentrate on behavioral therapy and ignore what is likely “really going on with you.” But I encourage you to get all that you can get from free services and then get ready to fight for a proper diagnosis and help with your pain and symptoms. THAT IS THE FIGHT!

I’m diagnosed, and I know the fight, so I can’t be as easily bullied by Dr. Phil. It’s a hard life to live and depression (including suicidal thoughts) is common in our community. Nobody “wants” to endure a life of pain. Nobody “wants” to burden their family members. I work from home the best that I can, in between medical procedures, but for the most part, my husband is my caretaker (something else that Dr. Phil has dishonored on one of his previous shows). My father helps and so do my adult children (as they can). Even my five-year-old grandson understands that grandma is sick. He knows that he needs to be careful around me (he says that his “grandma is made of glass”). When I drop something, he’s eager to help me reach it. It’s not ideal, but it’s real-life (something that Dr. Phil appears to have forgotten). I’m very blessed to have the support of my family. I am honored to have their support and understanding (although I’ll admit, I’m not always good at showing it). My children knew that their mom wasn’t well from a young age. I became symptomatic at age 29 and it took ten years for my first diagnosis, and another five years for me to be correctly diagnosed with an underlying connective tissue disorder (EDS). It was hard on all of us, especially before my diagnoses started rolling in. (And I say “rolling” loosely because most of the diagnoses aren’t easy to get). We tend to spend many years complaining of each problem before a doctor cares enough to listen so we can get properly diagnosed – and those diagnoses usually all end up related to the EDS in one way or another. But as disabled moms (and grandmas), we continue to do our best to love our families back and do what we can when we can to help lighten their loads and ease their burdens. Some days I can help more than others, but on the days that I can, I do. And even when I can’t, I still have value in this world as their mom, and SO DO YOU (even though I realize that you probably don’t feel like you do right now)!

Honor and respect don’t seem to have been a priority in your relationship, and that’s sad. Despite the thanks that you give her, nothing demonstrated your lack of gratefulness for all that she’s sacrificing for you, in that you stole from her. In doing so, you dishonored the love that she’s been giving you. You showed contempt for her love. Even if you never established direct boundaries, I believe that you knew that you were crossing a line. No amount of depression can justify what you did. It hurt her and love protects, it shouldn’t intentionally hurt. That’s going to have to be something that the two of you will need to work on healing together… BUT YOU CAN HEAL FROM THAT!

Cheyenne, if EDS really is in the genetic line of your family, it’s not just going to go away by sending your mom away. You probably need help with healing your heart before anything else, and you definitely need to establish healthy boundaries with your mom (whether she lives with you or not). If that man of yours really loves you, he’s going to have to have to learn to love you through EDS, because the likelihood of you (or your kids one day) becoming symptomatic is high. If he doesn’t love you enough to honor your love for your mom, then he’s not likely to love you (or your children) through symptoms and pain should you become symptomatic. When you marry and say, “I do,” it’s just that, “for better or worse.” It’s not an “I will, if you…” situation. And his momma, boy I have some words for her that I’ll just keep to myself. I realize that she’s trying to love you the best that she can in the situation that you’re in, but people who have no understanding of something shouldn’t be presumptuous enough to say something on a topic outside of their understanding. If she doesn’t believe your mom’s symptoms, she won’t likely believe your symptoms later should they develop. If she was presumptuous enough to talk about your mom and her symptoms behind her back (since she doesn’t even know her), she will likely talk about you and any symptoms when/if you develop them, behind your back as well.

In closing, I’d like to say that despite all that you have gone through TOGETHER, I hope and pray that you don’t throw it all away. You really could be an amazing MOTHER/DAUGHTER DUO that takes life (and all that it throws your way) by storm TOGETHER! It will take a commitment from each of you to stay connected and establish and respect healthy boundaries in the future. Those boundaries are healthy for both of you and are built on love and respect, not on guilt and manipulation. I run several things in our community that might be able to help empower you both, but whether it’s through me or anyone else, I sincerely wish you all the best in this difficult hand that you’ve both been dealt.

Best Regards,
Michelle Cole

Note: This letter is in response to an episode that aired on February 25, 2020. While Dr. Phil only has segments of the episode on YouTube, somebody does have it posted in its entirety here, should you wish to watch it. LINK

Making homemade stockings and cutting flowers for wreaths.

Baking treats and devouring them with hot cocoa by the tree that we spent hours decorating.

Shopping for just the right gifts and wrapping them meticulously, just to make those I love would know how special they are.

I remember all the traditions that we did together as a family before my symptoms hit hard.

Now, I am reduced to shopping the internet for gifts, but still, I do the best I can to find something special.

I usually start out trying to help decorate, just to end up on the couch watching everyone do what I can no longer do.

I sit here and watch despite the pain I feel from the few decorations I put on the tree because I so want to stay a part of things as much as I can,
while I can, even if it’s nothing more than a shadow of what I once was.

Do they know how much I still long to be a part of it all? How much I long to be a part of them?

I sit here and as I ponder how much things have changed and all that I am now, I find myself stuck in my head.

Do they see how stuck I am?

Do they see how afraid I am, that each holiday might be the last that I have with them, and they have with me?

I’ve got to get out of my head and be present.

The best present that I can give them really is just me, fully engaged in showing them that they’re the best that has ever happened to me!

It started with a headache,
But it didn’t go away.
Soon I would find out
That it was here to stay.

They all say, ‘the sun’s out,
go out and get some air!’
But my wobbly legs ache,
not to mention every strand of my hair.

Every Doctor says, ‘You look just fine!
It must be stress. Just get some rest.
Here’s more meds to try to help,
And we’ll run a bunch of tests.’

As time went on and
the headaches got worse,
No meds would work
This felt like a curse.

I couldn’t work.
I couldn’t clean.
I couldn’t cook.
Still not knowing what this means.

I wouldn’t give up
Until I knew what was wrong.
It’s a Chiari Malformation,
So you must stay strong.

So, I have a malformation
In the back of my head.
There isn’t a cure
So I plead and I plead.

Please take this away
And I promise I’ll be the best.
I want to live my life
Please just run some more tests.

“Brain surgery may help you
But it’s not a guarantee.
We will remove part of your skull
And you should be headache free.”

As I walked into surgery
I felt a sense of peace.
I just knew I would be better
And it put my mind at ease.

Two surgeries later
And my symptoms are still here.
There’s no more options or treatments
And my pain won’t disappear.

My new life is different
And not what I had planned.
I still don’t know my purpose
And I don’t know where I stand.

One day at a time.
That’s all I can endure.
So I’ll keep raising awareness
Until Chiari Malformation has a cure.

Today is 11th April, 2019. Spring is in the air, yet I struggle to appreciate its presence. My daughters are at school, my son is at home in bed yet again. Like so many other days he is unable to get up. My son is 19 years old and looks just like any other 19 year old. You would never guess that this 19 year old is fighting a tremendously unfair battle every single day and has done so for several years.

Let me rewind.

My son was around 9 years old when he first complained of a lack of feeling on his right side and regular headaches. Doctors in Ireland, where we were living at the time, told him to drink more fluids after his daily soccer practice and put the numbness down to a trapped nerve. When he was 14 years old and living in Canada, he was told exactly the same by doctors there. However, when I finally insisted on him being referred to a neurologist, this very neurologist laughed at my son for wasting his time. He was told that it was all in his head. I vividly remember telling him off myself in the carpark on our way home.

I also remember being disappointed about his worsening school reports, blaming the onset of teenage years for his inability to concentrate and retain information. Blurred vision was also dismissed when his eye test came back just fine. Doctors didn’t grow concerned until he was 16 years old and living in France when a routine soccer medical check-up showed a sudden scoliosis deterioration from 8 degrees to 40 degrees. Subsequent MRIs showed Chiari Malformation (CM) with extensive Syringomyelia.

Neurosurgeons were quick to reassure him that all should be fine after a decompression surgery. Nevertheless, I spent hours researching these unknown rare conditions and found two experienced neurosurgeons, one in England and one in Belgium, for second opinions. Whereas surgeons in France took a more traditional approach and talked about inserting a shunt, both these surgeons warned strongly against this and so we made the decision to go to Belgium for the surgery. We felt well informed and were full of hope when my son embarked on his healing process 3 years ago.

Let me tell you where we are now.

Doctors in Europe tell us that my son is one of the unlucky few as his health has drastically deteriorated. Scar tissue has attached itself to his brain tonsils but that only explains part of his deteriorated health. So I embarked on a mission to get to the bottom of these problems. Surely there was hope to be found in the health system in France, one of the best in the world! After countless appointments with multiple health professionals, we were dumbfounded by the complete lack of understanding, knowledge and pure arrogance in relation to CM and its associated conditions, which resulted in my son’s mental health being questioned yet again.

I started carrying out my own research, which clarified the distinct link between brain disorders and compromised immune/digestive systems. Whereas his doctors are reluctant to make that link, the evidence is clear. 18 months after surgery, my son got struck down by glandular fever. Again, we were hopeful that this would only be a temporary setback. Today however, my son suffers from chronic fatigue syndrome as well as dysautonomia.

At our wits end last summer, we turned to a hospital in the United States that specialized in Chiari Malformation. Our first consultation with its Managing Director turned out to be an eye opener. This neurosurgeon could literally finish our sentences. My son was finally understood. It turns out that doctors in Europe had failed to diagnose another condition, Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS), which caused craniocervical instability. This in itself can be a debilitating condition but the combination of craniocervical instability with brain decompression surgery can be a death sentence. He further explained that such patients are deemed to benefit from Occipitocervical Fixation (OC) Fusion surgery. However, this surgery has not yet received the green light for these conditions from Health Services in Europe.

Armed with a diagnosis of Complex Chiari, we faithfully returned to my son’s French doctors, only to be met, yet again, by a lack of understanding. My request for an upright flexion/extension MRI was seen as outlandish and peculiar. Turns out, an upright MRI is not yet available in France. Instead they still rely on flexion/extension X-ray images which fail to adequately detect craniocervical instability.

In recent discussions, our son’s Belgian neurosurgeon cautiously recognizes the link between CM and EDS. However, as these studies are in their infancy in Europe, doctors still carry out decompression surgeries without checking for EDS. He also questions the durability of an OC Fusion but agrees that much more extensive research needs to be carried out in Europe and that my son is extremely unfortunate this hasn’t happened yet.

So where does this leave my son? In the land of limbo. Knowing that Europe is trailing some 10 years behind the States in this field. France, with its inherent reluctance to change, probably closer to 15 years. School is no longer an option for my son as his brain fog and memory loss have become more and more of a problem, his fatigue too debilitating and his headaches too frequent.

We are tired of fighting the system, tired from having to spell out the name of his conditions to health professionals, tired of being misunderstood. There are days I avoid going out as I don’t want to answer people’s well-meant questions. There are days I am ashamed of the anger that wells up inside me when friends air their worries about their children’s school results. There are days I feel like I am being punched in the stomach when I see his friends play a soccer match. People tell me I am strong. I don’t agree. I wish I had been strong all those years ago and believed my son over his doctors.

My son is my hero. My son is a fighter. My son has generally done what health professionals told him to do, taken every medication health professionals told him to take, followed the advice health professionals told him to take, yet the system continues to let him down. When I look into my son’s eyes, I still see this steadfast determination but I now also see pain and disillusionment. My son believed me when I told him we would overcome this together. My son believed me when I told him the worst would be over soon. My son doesn’t believe me anymore. I feel that I have failed him.

Complex Chiari diagnosed so late is a life sentence. It has brought pain, sadness and isolation, not only to my son but to my entire family. My husband and I are learning to compartmentalize, enjoy moments. We live in hope that our son’s better periods will begin to lengthen and pick ourselves up every time these come to an abrupt end. We have to. We owe it, not only to our son but to our daughters too.

We continue our journey through the unknown, thankful for the sources of information coming from the United States, usually met with skepticism and resistance by French health professionals. However, one thing I have learned from our journey so far is that we cannot fight these conditions and health services alone. Surely there must be more people out there in Europe. Surely, as a group we can start making a difference. Let’s unite! Let’s educate! Let’s raise awareness! Our children deserve so much better! Our children deserve to be heard, supported, and at the very least, understood!

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When a Chiari woman passes away it changes so much for so many.

It leaves a hole in the hearts of the Chiari community because, even as dysfunctional as we are sometimes, we know we’re all in this together!

  • We know what it’s like to have conditions that so few understand, including our doctors.
  • We know how humiliating it is to watch our bodies change and our muscles deteriorate as we fight just to hold up our heads, even for just a few hours a day.
  • We know what it’s like to have our symptoms and pain consistently dismissed as psychosomatic.
  • We know what it’s like for doctors to say how easy the surgery will be only to find out that they had no clue of what they were talking about.
  • We know the heartbreak we feel when those we love the most choose to believe our doctors instead of us.
  • We know what it’s like to be told that the surgery cured us, while everything in our heads and necks seemingly rebel in disagreement.
  • We know what it’s like to have to fight for every aspect of our treatment, from imaging to specialist, and still have help denied to us.
  • We know what it’s like to have to find strength through the pain each day and still try and carry on the best that we can for those that we love so much. We long more than anything to get back to who and what we once were. To run and jump and enjoy life with those we love most, but the pain is too overwhelming. The truth is that those times that we did try left us in even more pain; so, we are forced to learn to choose what we do wisely.
  • We know the genetic nature of what we have, even if our doctors don’t, and we all long to figure it all out and fix this very broken medical system that relies on information that is centuries old, before our children and their children are forced to face what we face.
  • We know what it’s like to live in fear of leaving all those we love, as they are our reason for living.

It leaves a hole in the hearts of her family that should be respected.

To them she is so much more than a Chiari Woman, she is my wife, my mother, my daughter, my grandma, my sister, my aunt, and the love of my life.

Chiari didn’t just rob their loved one, it’s robbed the entire family for years.

They too have longed for what was and often cried behind closed doors for all that likely would never again be.

Her husband has had days where he was so petrified at the thought of losing her. Sometimes that fear manifested as anger and frustration, but it wasn’t her that he was really mad at; He was mad at the Chiari that was taking his wife from him. He regretted those words from the very minute that he gazed upon her eyes as she heard them. He couldn’t make her forget those words, they pierced her soul too deeply, so he internally committed to just try and show her why he loves her. Despite his frustrations with the situation, he admired this amazingly strong woman who was facing more pain than he could ever understand. He’s cried out to God privately for this soul mate that he committed to so many years ago. He feared losing her and he did not know how he could ever hold everything together like she did, but he had to try because there was so much was on his shoulders. He never talked much about the weight he carried in it all, because he knew what she was facing was already more than she could handle. So, he learned to grieve as silently as he could – to understand what he could, to empathize as he could, to remain as strong for her and the family as best as he could.

Her children have learned to grieve in silence as well. They learned to face life and all the obstacles they faced without making waves at home. How could they? They saw the pain that flared when things had stressed her in the past. They didn’t want to cause that again. They longed having the mom that they used to have, the mom with the strength to climb every mountain with them, the mom that made every challenge in life seem conquerable. They admired her strength and never understood how they could admire so much in her yet hate the fact that she wasn’t always there for them anymore. Even when she so desperately tried to be there the brain fog often dominated and took over the conversation entirely, this conversation that she probably wouldn’t remember for long. They resented her for it but knew that it wasn’t her fault. Like everyone else that loved her the most, they said so many things that they regretted. They knew that they often came across like they hated her, but the real truth was there was no one in the world that they longed for more. They’ve always hated seeing her in pain, yet her pain served as a constant reminder of the future that they feared in their future. They remember when she told them about the hereditary nature of the genes passed on to them, with tears in her eyes. Would they have what she had? Would they become as symptomatic? Would they have the courage to fight it as valiantly as she did? Should they have children one day? The reasons for concern were endless.

Depending on when she became symptomatic, her parents have likely spent endless days and nights in hospitals and emergency rooms. They’ve spent years learning all they could and even learned to recite her diagnoses with detailed explanations because they’d became so accustomed to these conditions that so few doctors could pronounce, much less treat. For years they made sure to always have her complete medical chart in hand with official documentation, in case they were challenged by a medical professional or anyone dared to call their daughter “a drug seeker” or “psychosomatic.” They spent countless hours trying to dull the tortuous pain they saw her go through, and spent many more hours researching creative home remedies to give her a sense of relief, even if it was only momentary. There were times they prayed for God to just go ahead and take her, so she wouldn’t be in anymore pain; and then felt guilty for even thinking it. Then one day the screaming stopped, the pain was gone, but with it so went their daughter.

As Chiarians, we all deal with thoughts of death more than “normal” people and “normal” families. We go from surgery to surgery knowing that this might be the surgery that ends our fight altogether, yet we hold on to hope that it will be the surgery that helps us to be all that we’ve yearned to be once again. Our community has found strength in our unity. As we remember those we’ve lost and face our fears about our morbidity, let us continue to unite to change this for us and our future generations that we love so much.

*This article is dedicated to all the Chiari Angels and their families, as well as those that are still fighting the fight. Hold your families close; forgive quickly and as often as necessary. We never know how much time we have and we usually never really know how much we’re truly loved until it’s too late.

**Note: This article was not to leave out all of our valiant Chiari brothers fighting the fight, it was just easier to write from one point of view.

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Like any marriage, we’ve had our rocky moments. We’ve both showed our ugly sides more than we like to admit. I’m not sure when he changed, but somehow along the way in our 27 years of marriage, my husband morphed into this amazing man who is EXACTLY what I need in every way!

My husband doesn’t have the same responsibilities that most husbands have. He works full-time to provide for his family and does more than his fair share of household chores. But my husband has a wife with several chronic conditions. He has a wife that has been in some level of pain almost every day for over 18 years! He’s seen me through ten surgeries since we’ve been married, eight of them being in a five-year period. That is enough to exhaust the strongest of men, but exhausted or not he has stood by my side through all of it.

I first became symptomatic following a car accident. We were both 29 with three young kids (ages 2, 5 and 8). I was initially diagnosed with double whiplash, but when that failed to get better, I was left with no reason for why I couldn’t hold up my head. It felt like my neck lacked the strength to hold up my head for more than an hour at a time and on some days, not even that. To add insult to injury, I went without a diagnosis for over a decade. It couldn’t have been easy to stay by my side when all the doctors were saying that they couldn’t find anything wrong with me.

Over our decade without answers, I continued to decline. I started having severe cognitive decline and memory loss. I’d have periods of time where I lost my ability to walk and use fine motor skills (so I couldn’t write or pick up small things). He helped me walk to my classes and even helped me do my homework when I couldn’t write. He didn’t have the answers, but he knew that I desperately needed them, and he was determined to stay by my side even though by doing so it was putting an unfair burden on him. He didn’t have the help-meet that he needed in life. He just had this sick, scared wife, with no means to any end to her suffering.

When I was finally diagnosed, the choice for decompression was an easy one. It was 2010 and I was now 39 years old. I had lost 10 years and the possibility of getting my life back and engaging as a wife and mother again was something that I couldn’t pass up. We never expected this “easy surgery” to take the turn that it did. We knew that there was a chance that it would be unsuccessful at relieving all of my symptoms, but never in a million years did we think that decompression would open Pandora’s Box on my need for surgeries. From 2012-2015 I needed seven additional surgeries. Each surgery had its own recovery and complications. And with each additional surgery, I became increasingly dependent on my husband for help, but not once did he complain. This was affecting his life too, but not once did he concentrate on that. Not once did he think of it as being unfair to him to have to care for me, even though it really was. I’m now covered with scars on my left side from my neck to my groin, one night he raised my pajama shirt and gazed intensely upon them. He started kissing them. When he got to the scars covering my stomach, I pushed him away and with tears in my eyes, I told him that I wasn’t comfortable with him touching me there. He looked me in the eyes and told me that he didn’t see me the way that I see myself. He said that when he sees my scars, he’s reminded of all that I’ve had to fight through and what a strong woman he’s married to. “I wish that you could see yourself the way that I see you,” he exclaimed. All my insecurities just melted with his words of affirmation.

This man who vowed to love me for better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness or in health, really meant it, and those vows were continually put to the test every day of his life. And he wasn’t seeing the polished-up version of me that others tend to see. He saw the frustrated me, the defeated me, the hopeless me. The me that went from one pair of pajamas to another. The me that gained over a hundred pounds on nerve meds that ultimately made me worse. The me that started to stutter and slur and hated myself for it. The me that drooled in front of people and whose nose ran uncontrollably when I sat down to eat. The me that lost control of both her bladder and bowels and that had to wear a diaper for years. The me that no longer could wipe herself or shower without his help. The me that took so much of my pain and frustrations out on him, when he’d take all of it upon himself in an instant if he could save me from it. Not only does he not complain or criticize, but he became my biggest cheerleader in life!

He listened to me as I read studies to increase my knowledge on what I’m facing. He lets me yell to him about the incompetency of doctors. He’d make small jokes to help me make light of the seriousness at hand. When he forgot things, he’d say that he was having a “Chiari moment.” I’d remind him that he wasn’t the one with Chiari and he insisted that it was sympathy pains. When he developed a herniated cervical disc and we looked at his MRIs together, the first words that came out of his mouth were, “well, I don’t have a Chiari Malformation,” as he pointed at the cerebellar tonsils. I often feel so unworthy of his love, yet if you talked to him, he’d tell you how unworthy he is of my love.

There’s no denying his real role in my life; he’s my hero!

*This article is dedicated to my husband, Johnny (my hero and the love of my life) and to all the other couples trying to hold a marriage together through this crazy fight we face.  

They keep telling me I’m a blessing.

That I’m lucky to be alive.

That although I’m sick I’m blessed to be here every day.

I’m blessed to spend time with my kids.

And although people tell me this everyday like it is some sort of affirmation, I don’t feel blessed.

I don’t feel blessed when I walk to my car and my heart beats so hard and so fast that I feel like I’m the star of the movie Blow.

But I am always reminded at least my heart beats… a blessing.

I don’t feel blessed when my five-year-old rubs my back every day as I throw up every speck of food I ingest.

But at least I have food…. blessed.

I don’t feel blessed that I can no longer provide for myself financially because even getting dressed is a chore.

But at least I have people whose lives I can greatly burden with my illness…. blessing?

I don’t feel blessed when I hear my beautiful kids playing and I can’t drag my body out of bed to play with them.

But at least I have my hearing so I can listen…. blessing?

I’m often frustrated that I have to take 9-15 pills a day, as I throw up the sour taste of the meds.

I don’t feel blessed, but I’m told I am because I have access to health care.

I’m supposed to feel blessed when my angels fall asleep in the car, but I don’t because I’m 99% sure carrying them in the house will kill me.

All these blessings but everyday feels like hell.

I’m alive. I’m breathing. But I can’t touch any of the things that make me happy.

All these blessings and all I can think is that I’d trade all these blessings in for one last day.

Give them all up, just for one last day that I can feel normal.

That I wake up and I don’t want to scoop out my eye balls and pull out my brain just for a little relief.

That I wake up and feel energized. That I can cook my kids’ breakfast and smile and laugh.

That I live just one more day without this sickness.

I’ll trade all my blessings just for one day of no disease.

One day for my children to remember me laughing and hugging. Not vomiting. Not crying. Not laying on the floor asking them to quietly play around me because my head will explode.

I don’t want my blessings anymore.

They’re supposed to be some beautiful gift from God.

I can still see and hear all the things and people I love. But I cannot participate.

And somehow that’s a gift.

And I cannot be appreciative of them while they rob me of who I am.

I’m sick of this disease called a blessing.

 

I’m in an abusive relationship. It’s not a romantic one at least, not in the traditional sense of the word.

When I fell in love with her, she reminded me of a goddess. She was beautiful and kind. She never took no for an answer. She was unstoppable. She was an inspiration. To me and to everyone around her. She made me feel the highest high.

As time went on, I watched my goddess like creature slowly turn to stone. She suddenly became cold. She wanted me to stop caring about everything: my friends, my family, my hobbies, my career. She just wanted me to stay inside with her and listen to her. She wanted all my attention.

It started with bashing other people. Telling me why they didn’t deserve my time. She blanketed her insecurities by saying I was better than dealing with other people’s problems and to put myself first which really meant her and her illnesses.

Once I isolated myself from the people that I once would have laid my life down for, she turned it on me. There was no more self-love. Instead she instilled self-doubt. I wasn’t good enough to have friends and family, and love and happiness. I deserved her miserable and toxic company. All this emptiness was my fault and now I must live with it and her forever.

After she attacked my mind she started on my body. I had bruises everywhere. She’d trip me and push me into the walls. I was so sore and tired. I couldn’t eat. I lost so much weight.

All the confidence she once gave me was gone. I didn’t care anymore what I looked like. I didn’t do my makeup or change my clothes for days. Why should I? She is the only one who loved me and now she’s turned on me. I’ll stay in my sweat stained shirt forever. Maybe it will keep her away from me so I can be in peace.

It didn’t. Clothed or unclothed, it didn’t matter where I was, what time it was, or who I was with. She was always in my ear whispering about how much I’ve changed and how ashamed of me she was. Her presence made me vomit. She gave me headaches that lasted for days. I wanted to kill her.

I started to hate her. I hated her for making me hate myself. And every time I would get close to telling her to stay away from me forever, I would get flashbacks of that goddess. The girl who laughed in the face of fear. The girl who made me feel the best I’ve ever felt. I know she’s still there. I can’t give up on her.

When did she get so callous? Maybe if I can track down what triggered her abrupt change, I can help her get back to herself. What made her so abusive?

I need her to get back to who she really is. Who is she anyways? She is me. I am her. She is the reflection in the mirror that I refuse to look in the eye. She is my body before and after this disease. She is my greatest love and my mortal enemy. But can I live without her? How can I end this cycle? I can’t. I can’t walk away. I must continue to be destroyed and only hope that goddess will reappear. That her glow will radiate into my soul and warm me. That I can look at her and see love and not despair; that I can love this broken diseased soul that makes me who I am.

 

FOR ALL MY NON-CHIARI FAMILY MEMBERS AND FRIENDS… I’m going to cuss, but I really NEED you to listen to this and just try to understand:

I know there’s absolutely NOTHING I can say to help you understand the pain that I go through; what it feels like to have pain all the time, in places that I didn’t even know that I could have pain in. To feel like someone is grabbing the back of your skull at your neck and literally trying to pull your skull right off of your head. I know there’s NOTHING I can say or do, to tell you how discouraging it is to have doctors tell you that they have “no idea why you’re hurting so bad,” and suggest that you should see a therapist, because obviously, if they don’t see it, it must be just psychological. And while I know your intentions are good and I know that you love me, I CANNOT think of anything to say to help you understand how incredibly hurtful it is to have those that are supposed to love you the most, those shoulders that are supposed to be there for you to lean on, tell you that you’re having a pity party, or  how they “wish you wouldn’t talk about it all the time” (and sometimes it’s not said that nicely either). And for MY KIDS and HUSBAND to have to carry so much on their shoulders and to feel like they have nobody to talk to about it, because everyone’s “tired of hearing about it.” And worse, since it’s genetic, for them to see how you treat me in my pain, and fear that if they’re diagnosed, that you will treat them the same.

You don’t understand, but my brothers and sisters with Chiari do. They understand it all, because they’re living it too. I know you don’t understand the bond that we have, but even though we’ve never met face-to-face, we’ve cried so many tears, and prayed through so many surgeries together; we’ve lost friends together while doctors still try and claim that Chiari can’t kill you (even with death certificates that say Chiari in hand). We’ve lost friends that just couldn’t take the pain anymore, and we cry together because we know that those thoughts have been our own and we struggle to find a way to keep pressing on, together! I know you don’t understand the bond, but it’s real.

I’m not saying all this to make you feel bad, God forbid you feel bad, I’m saying this because I STILL NEED YOU. You weren’t put in my life by mistake and what I’m going through physically and mentally is frightening and heart-breaking and I need you here by my side. You think you don’t have time to see me through all these surgeries and diagnoses, I don’t either. There’s so much more that I wanted to do with my life and now I just want to hold my head up without pain. I NEED you to change your heart towards me and all that I’m going through. I need you to call me, and just love on me. I need you to remind me of all that I am, despite my pain – that I’m stronger than I often feel like I am. I need you to remind me that there is still value to me still being here on earth. Because in those dark moments, when I look at all I’ve lost and everything that my family has lost through this fight, I need to hear it in someone’s voice besides my own. I need you to remind me how important it is that I fight this vigilantly, so that if God forbid one of my kids have to fight this fight, I will be the best possible advocate I can be for them. They’ve missed out on so much with me being sick. And should my fight on earth come to an end, I need you to stick to them like glue, and help them know how fantastic they are and that they’re not alone. Remind them that their stronger than they think, just like their warrior mom! Remind them that they have a purpose and a destiny to fulfill on earth, and to not to let anything stand in the way of that. If they get knocked down, pull them up again, every single time! Don’t worry, I’m not planning on going anywhere, this isn’t a suicide note or anything. I still have every intention of changing this fight of mine and winning it. But it’s hard sometimes and I really need you to fully understand how much I NEED YOU! Help me win this!

***Michelle originally wrote this on Facebook in 2016 and the response from the Chiari community was astounding. What was astounding was not that so many liked it, but that so many Chiarians resonated with the heartbreak of it. It has been slightly edited for publishing. It was originally written with explicit language, that we at Chiari Bridges felt was a “most accurate” representation of the raw emotions that so many of us feel when we encounter these types of struggles in our family dynamics. However, this “clean” version is being created, for those to that are not comfortable sharing content with “strong language,” but still relate to the article and wish to share it.

 


FOR ALL MY NON-CHIARI FAMILY MEMBERS AND FRIENDS… I’m going to cuss, but I really NEED you to listen to this and just try to understand:

I know there’s absolutely NOTHING I can say to help you understand the pain that I go through; what it feels like to have pain all the time, in places that I didn’t even know that I could have pain in. To feel like someone is grabbing the back of your skull at your neck and literally trying to pull your skull right off of your head. I know there’s NOTHING I can say or do, to tell you how discouraging it is to have doctors tell you that they have “no idea why you’re hurting so bad,” and suggest that you should see a therapist, because obviously, if they don’t see it, it must be just psychological. And while I know your intentions are good and I know that you love me, I CANNOT think of anything to say to help you understand how fucking incredibly hurtful it is to have those that are supposed to love you the most, those shoulders that are supposed to be there for you to lean on, tell you that you’re having a pity party, or  how they “wish you wouldn’t talk about it all the time” (and sometimes it’s not said that nicely either). And for MY KIDS and HUSBAND to have to carry so much on their shoulders and to feel like they have nobody to talk to about it, because everyone’s “tired of hearing about it.” And worse, since it’s genetic, for them to see how you treat me in my pain, and fear that if they’re diagnosed, that you will treat them the same.

You don’t understand, but my brothers and sisters with Chiari do. They understand it all, because they’re living it too. I know you don’t understand the bond that we have, but even though we’ve never met face-to-face, we’ve cried so many tears, and prayed through so many surgeries together; we’ve lost friends together while doctors still try and claim that Chiari can’t kill you (even with death certificates that say Chiari in hand). We’ve lost friends that just couldn’t take the pain anymore, and we cry together because we know that those thoughts have been our own and we struggle to find a way to keep pressing on, together! I know you don’t understand the bond, but it’s real.

I’m not saying all this to make you feel bad, God forbid you feel bad, I’m saying this because I STILL NEED YOU. You weren’t put in my life by mistake and what I’m going through physically and mentally is frightening and heart-breaking and I need you here by my side. You think you don’t have time to see me through all these surgeries and diagnoses, I don’t either. There’s so much more that I wanted to do with my life and now I just want to hold my head up without pain. I NEED you to change your heart towards me and all that I’m going through. I need you to call me, and just love on me. I need you to remind me of all that I am, despite my pain – that I’m stronger than I often feel like I am. I need you to remind me that there is still value to me still being here on earth. Because in those dark moments, when I look at all I’ve lost and everything that my family has lost through this fight, I need to hear it in someone’s voice besides my own. I need you to remind me how important it is that I fight this vigilantly, so that if God forbid one of my kids have to fight this fight, I will be the best possible advocate I can be for them. They’ve missed out on so much with me being sick. And should my fight on earth come to an end, I need you to stick to them like glue, and help them know how fantastic they are and that they’re not alone. Remind them that their stronger than they think, just like their badass mom! Remind them that they have a purpose and a destiny to fulfill on earth, and to not to let anything stand in the way of that. If they get knocked down, pull them up again, every single time! Don’t worry, I’m not planning on going anywhere, this isn’t a suicide note or anything. I still have every intention of changing this fight of mine and winning it. But it’s hard sometimes and I really need you to fully understand how much I NEED YOU! Help me win this!

***Michelle originally wrote this on Facebook in 2016 and the response from the Chiari community was astounding. What was astounding was not that so many liked it, but that so many Chiarians resonated with the heartbreak of it. It has been slightly edited for publishing. What was astounding was not that so many liked it, but that so many Chiarians resonated with the heartbreak of it. It has been slightly edited for publishing. It was written with explicit language that we at Chiari Bridges felt was a “most accurate” representation of the raw emotions that so many of us feel when we encounter these types of struggles in our family dynamics, and therefore the decision was made to publish it in its raw form.

 


Bridges are built as a means to assist people in getting over the things that obstruct their path. We are constantly facing obstacles when it comes to our health, so we decided to build a bridge! Chiari Bridges is a non-profit network built by Chiarians for Chiarians. Our goal is to provide information, substantiated by published studies, in a way that is easy to understand. We encourage readers, to not only read our articles, but look up every study for themselves and read that too. Print it out and sit down with a highlighter; read it as many times as necessary until you understand; then use it to talk to your doctors. Our doctors are under no obligation to read our articles, but they should be willing to read officially published studies from journals, especially those specific to their profession. As many of our authors are patients as well, all authors sharing original pieces will be writing under pseudo-ghost names, to protect them from being black-listed by their doctors. Chiari Bridges is not affiliated with any physician or medical group. You should in no way use this site as a replacement for diagnosis, treatment, or medical from a qualified medical professional. The information provided on our website is strictly for educational purposes, in order to help further the understanding of Chiari, and its associated conditions. Our goal is to share our collective experiences and the information we have gathered, with those in need of answers, that it may increase your knowledge and guide you in conversations with your doctors.