Friday, April 8, 2016

Facing Forward: Kristin

Facing Forward is a series that shares the lives of people living with arthritis and other invisible chronic illnesses. The goal of the series is to see how we are similar and how we are different - and to remind us to keep moving forward because we aren't alone!

Name: Kristin
Location: Grand Rapids, Michigan
Diagnosis: Ankylosing Spondylitis, Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Depression, Rhinitis, Chronic Costochondritis, Anxiety
Age at Diagnosis: 24

How are you currently treating your condition?
Although my treatments have changed and ebbed/flowed over the past few years, I'm currently on a routine that is the best one I've found so far. That's not to say I'm completely satisfied with it - I still have a long way to go to get as managed as I would like to be. I am currently on the following medications: Remicade (infusion every 6 weeks), Cymbalta, Methotrexate (injection once per week), Trazodone, Flexeril, and Folic Acid. I also try to include vitamins in my daily routine, especially since the medications wipe out my immune system even further. I'll be competently honest, I don't do as well with the diet and exercise as I need to be doing. However, when I am in a regular routine with those two things, I try to walk, bike, swim, and/or do yoga weekly, and i also try to eat the most natural and unprocessed foods available while maintaining a balanced diet. Another huge benefit to my treatment is regular deep tissue massages. Although I can't afford to go as often as would be 100% beneficial, I try to fit in a massage once per month.
What are the biggest challenges you have faced since your diagnosis?
The biggest challenge is the fatigue and lack of energy. Also the side effects of medications can be tough. Most days it can be all I can do to get through the day and go back to bed. However, I work 50-60 hours a week, and have a very busy freelance and advocacy schedule on top of that. I can make it through, but it's exhausting and eventually I do experience burnout on a regular basis throughout the year. 

What are your favorite tips and tricks for managing everyday tasks?
My biggest tip? Sleep. Sleep enough and then sleep some more. I am useless when I don't get enough sleep, and even then it is still a struggle sometimes. Another tip is to be kind to yourself. Your body is working overtime to fight your diseases, so be understanding of that and cut yourself a break. 

How do you manage to keep facing forward every day?
My biggest motivator is my career and sharing my story. I love my job - my illnesses don't always love it, and my work/life balance could use some adjusting, but I feel the best when I am able to put my digital communications and marketing skills to the test. In the same breath, my health advocacy has become my calling. The work that I do to share my story and provide 100% transparency into my journey is rewarding in so many ways. The biggest reward is to hopefully help one other person feel less alone in their chronic illness journey.

If you could go back to diagnosis day and tell your past self one thing, what would it be?
I would tell myself that the world is not ending. I would tell myself that not only will this not break you, but it will make you the strongest person you know. On diagnosis day I would want to tell myself that this experience, this whirlwind will introduce you to the strongest and most supportive tribe of people you'll ever meet, and you will find your calling.

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