Spring 2018 Favorites

Spring 2018 Favorites

spring 2018 faves

Yes, you read the title of this post right. This is my spring favorites post. I know it’s a little  late for that, but as you can tell from my last post, I was kind of busy at the beginning of the summer. And because I have this strange love for favorites posts (and I already had it outlined), I decided to go ahead and write it. After all, since I started with these favorites posts, I’ve never missed one. So, read it or not; it’s up to you.

Movies & TV //

Avengers: Infinity War – I feel so confused about this movie. Like, I didn’t love it, okay? I’ll admit it. It wasn’t my most favorite movie ever, or even my most favorite Marvel movie ever, which I was kind of expecting. That being said, I went into this movie ignoring the fact that it was somewhat of a two-parter. And, regardless of how much I liked it, it completely destroyed my heart. So, yes, I believe it belongs on this list.

Forever My Girl – This was so. Cute. Yes, it was very cheesy and kind of felt like a Hallmark movie at times, but it was heartwarming and taught such a good lesson about the importance of love and family. I absolutely adored this.

Same Kind of Different as Me – First and foremost, I will see any movie with the highly underrated John Voight in it. But beyond that, this movie was fantastic. It tells the true story of a woman who volunteers regularly at a homeless shelter. When trying to mend their marriage, her husband begins coming with her. Over time, their entire family befriends one homeless man in particular. Going beyond that description would spoil what happens, but this is definitely something that will make you think, and remind you that there is no difference between you and me and that homeless person on the street corner.

The Royal Wedding – Yes. I am including this. I have no shame. Prince Harry is my favorite royal (don’t tell the others), and if he wouldn’t marry me, then I’m glad he married Meghan Markle. She is simply fantastic, and I loved the combination of traditional British and American themes in their wedding ceremony. Also, she looked fabulous.

Beauty //

Simple Replenishing Rich Moisturizer – You might have noticed the large amount of skincare products I’ve been listing in my favorites posts recently. While I do just love skincare (I think it’s connected to my makeup obsession…I have problems), the real reason I’ve been trying so many different things is because my skin is mad at me. But, never fear, I think I have finally found a moisturizer that my skin and I can agree upon.

The Body Shop body butter – I thought Bath & Body Works had good body butters; it turns out that they have okay body butters. (Also, if you’re wondering what a body butter actually is, it’s basically a super thick body moisturizer. I guess it does kind of feel like butter, but it’s not slimy and nasty.) You see, I have been deprived of the pleasure of having an actual Body Shop store near me (#smalltownprobs). I could buy Body Shop products from Ulta, but why do that when they’re way cheaper at Marshall’s/TJ Maxx? Anyways, wherever you buy them, these body butters are incredibly moisturizing and amazing, but check out the scent first, because some of them are kind of…not great.

Tarte Maneater Mascara – Yes, I am still using Black Friday deals because I have no concerns about sanitation. In almost every case, I stand by the fact that drugstore mascaras are actually better than high-end options. This mascara isn’t necessarily better than my drugstore favorites, but it’s definitely as good. It can give a nice, fluttery look, or you can build it up for something more dramatic. Cue Hannah Montana singing “Best of Both Worlds.”

CoverGirl Total Tease Mascara – Another fantastic mascara is making the list this time. This one isn’t quite as dramatic, but still really nice. However, please do not let the strange wand throw you off. It looks like some strange sort of toothbrush, but it actually works really well for catching all of your lashes, no matter how short.

Books //

100 Days to Brave by Annie F. Downs – This is a devotional book that I started earlier in the year and finally finished. Normally I’m not into the whole devotional thing, but I really love Annie Downs and how relatable she is. Also I feel like the little tasks for each day were really good. (Like, have you ever written a thesis statement for your life? Well, now I have.)

Alex & Eliza by Melissa de la Cruz – Apparently de la Cruz and her family went to see Hamilton, and her kids asked her about Alexander Hamilton and his wife Elizabeth Schuyler. She did some research to try to answer their questions, but there is very little known about them. So, she did the next best thing: she wrote a historical fiction novel with only the major, verifiable historical facts. The rest was purely fiction. But I hope that maybe, just maybe, it did happen this way.

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys – In my opinion, Sepetys is one of the most prolific young adult historical fiction authors…ever. This novel centers on a group of refugees fleeing East Prussia during World War II. But this isn’t a cute happily ever after story. It is a true testament to what happened to millions, and it is hopelessly painful. But Sepetys is perhaps one of the few authors who could inject such beauty into that pain.

Beautiful Uncertainty by Mandy Hale – Mandy Hale is better known as The Single Woman, which also happens to be the name of her popular blog. And, yes, she does discuss being single in this book. But, more than anything, this book is about waiting. As Mandy recounts a year in her life, she makes it clear that although waiting for anything in life can be difficult, God is with us through every second of it.

Quotes //

“We the survivors are not the true witnesses. The true witnesses, those in possession of the unspeakable truth, are the drowned, the dead, the disappeared.” – Primo Levi

“I am braver than I realize. And I will prove it today.” – Annie F. Downs

“of course i want to be successful / but i don’t crave success for me / i need to gain / enough milk and honey / to help those around / me succeed” – rupi kaur

“You have to allow yourself to be broken sometimes without trying to cover it up, run from it, hide from it, or conceal it from the world. You have to let the pain do its thing. Allow it to wash over you, allow the tears to fall, stop asking, ‘How do I make it stop?’ and start asking, ‘What did this come to teach me?” – Mandy Hale

Songs //

“In My Blood” by Shawn Mendes

“Butterflies” by Kacey Musgraves

“Tequila” by Dan + Shay

“No Excuses” by Meghan Traior

“Who You Say I Am” by Hillsong Worship

“Get Along” by Kenny Chesney

“Cry Pretty” by Carrie Underwood

“Found/Tonight” by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Ben Platt

“Tremble” by Mosaic MSC

“You Make it Easy” by Jason Aldean

“Queens Don’t” by RaeLynn

“I Lived It” by Blake Shelton

“Babe” by Sugarland ft. Taylor Swift

“Broken Prayers” by Riley Clemmons

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My Migraine Madness

My Migraine Madness

“I remember when your head caught flame…”

– “Buzzcut Season” by Lorde

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This is not a pretty picture – quite literally. But it is an honest one; perhaps the most honest one I have ever shared. It was taken after one of three infusions my neurologist ordered for me to have done, not at my regular infusion center, but at the hospital. It was every bit as fun as it looks.

This was after the first infusion, to be specific; after the second two even looking at my phone was out of the question.  I have no idea how long I went without looking at my phone. All of the days ran together. All I remember was pain. I experienced some of the most intense migraines I have ever had. I fell behind in my summer class (because it’s a bit difficult to work on your school work when you’re in this state, and even harder when the class is online). I only wore pajamas. Getting out of bed was an achievement, and being able to watch TV was exciting. A whole movie? I was living.

There is no way to truly explain what it is like to have a migraine every single day for at least a month (maybe more; like I said, I lost track of time). It’s happened to me before, but it hasn’t been this painful. I was begging for my neurologist to admit me to the hospital. But he is the best in the area for a reason. The treatment that I would be admitted to the hospital for was not exactly standard…it had some extreme potential side effects, side effects that would terrify me if I was in a normal mental state. Going to the emergency room was out of the question for me. Even when I was in tears from pain, even when I was asking my father for another priesthood blessing, I would not go sit in a lobby for three hours, only to be taken to a little curtained-off corner, given pain medicine that would no doubt make me ill, and be sent on my not-so-merry way.

The second and third infusions were my last option. It was the same infusion, administered over two days, and it was a medicine I had never been given before. It made me feel awful (apparently it could get worse). But it worked. Slowly. Maybe.

It still hurts some. Maybe it always will.

The only thing I can trace this horrific cycle to is a  new medicine I had just started. Its name began with the letter “p.” I will tell anyone who will listen that the “p” stands for poison.

This is where I’ve disappeared to. This is why I couldn’t celebrate the Fourth of July (and Captain America’s 100th birthday, of course), one of my favorite holidays. This is why when family came to visit I couldn’t see them. This is why I couldn’t even email my professor; my mom had to do it.

the birds

{ Image via Buzzfeed }

I’m a big fan of Alfred Hitchcock. The first movie of his that I ever watched (which remains my favorite to this day) was The Birds. No, it is not scary. The “special effects” are so basic that they are not even worthy of that term. But there is one scene towards the end when they are trying to escape – you guessed it – the birds after Tippi Hedren’s character has just been attacked by them. When she steps outside and sees them all around, she hysterically half-yells, “No, no, NO.” Perhaps I am Tippi Hedren now. Maybe whenever I feel a twinge in my forehead, I will see the birds. Or maybe I won’t. Maybe that’s just the way it is, and I have accepted it.

Who knows? Alfred isn’t here anymore, although he certainly could’ve written my horror story.

Celebrities Speaking Out About Mental Health

Celebrities Speaking Out About Mental Health

As some of you may know, May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Two years ago, I wrote about my own struggles with mental illness. Since receiving my own diagnoses, I have been increasingly inspired by others who are willing to open up about their own struggles, especially those in the public eye. There is such a stigma surrounding mental health, and the only way to change that is to talk about it; the louder your voice, the larger your impact. Mental illness does not discriminate. Wealth, status, and power can’t stop it; but compassion and a lack of judgment can certainly help. So, here are a few of Hollywood’s finest opening up about their own personal struggles with mental illness.

 

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Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson

The Rock is probably the last person anyone expected to be affected by mental illness, but it does not discriminate. This literal giant has revealed that mental illness runs in his family (he once saved his mother from a suicide attempt), and that it has made its way to him. “I reached a point where I didn’t want to do anything or go anywhere. I was crying constantly,” Johnson said, adding that injuries that ended his football career exacerbated his depression. But, Johnson picked himself back up. He has gone on to become a successful wrestler and actor, and is quite possibly one of the most beloved people in Hollywood. His hardships may have broken him, but they did not end him.

 

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Amanda Seyfried

Star of one of the greatest and most underrated movies of all time, Letters to Juliet (and some other stuff, like Mamma Mia and Les Miserables), Seyfried is one of my favorite actresses. (Also, did you see her Met Gala look?!) But hit movies and pretty dresses don’t make you immune to mental illness. Seyfried, who acknowledges she has obsessive compulsive disorder, says, “I’m on Lexapro, and I’ll never get off of it. I’ve been on it since I was 19, so 11 years….I don’t see the point of getting off of it….I don’t want to risk it.” Seyfried is also well aware of the mental health stigma: “A mental illness is a thing that people cast in a different category, but I don’t think it is. It should be taken as seriously as anything else. You don’t see the mental illness: It’s not a mass; it’s not a cyst. But it’s there. Why do you need to prove it? If you can treat it, you treat it.” True words, indeed.

 

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Shawn Mendes

This nineteen-year-old singer-songwriter from Canada has been compared to John Mayer and Ed Sheeran, but has a Justin Bieber-esque fan following. It’s no surprise that reaching this level of fame in just a few short years has been stressful. Mendes recently opened up about attending therapy sessions and how important he feels it is to talk to those close to him about how he’s feeling. All of this has followed the release of his new song “In My Blood,” which features lyrics like, “Laying on the bathroom floor / Feeling nothing / I’m overwhelmed and insecure” and “Sometimes I feel like giving up / But I just can’t / It isn’t in my blood.” With a fan base around his age, a demographic that is increasingly affected by mental illness, being open about these challenges is important. So, what is Shawn’s ultimate reminder regarding anxiety? “All pain is temporary.”

 

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Kristen Bell

Kristen Bell seems like one of the bubbliest and most upbeat actresses ever, but even she has struggled with her mental health. Bell filmed a video for the #MyYoungerSelf campaign for the Child Mind Institute, opening up about her own challenges, saying, “I have suffered from anxiety and/or depression since I was eighteen.” Bell went on to bring up the role that comparison can play in our mental health by adding, “What I would say to [my] younger self is don’t be fooled by this game of perfection that humans play, because Instagram and magazines and TV shows, they strive for a certain aesthetic and everything looks so beautiful and people seem like they don’t have problems, but everyone’s human.” Kristen’s right – comparison is the thief of joy; so just do you – she definitely does.

 

ryan reynolds

Ryan Reynolds

I seriously love Ryan Reynolds and his wife Blake Lively. Until fairly recently, little did I know that Reynolds has been suffering from anxiety. In fact, he thinks it is something he’s dealt with since he was a child, but didn’t identify until he was working on his movie Deadpool. Reynolds said, “I literally had the shakes. I went to go see a doctor because I felt like I was suffering from a neurological problem or something. And every doctor I saw said, ‘You have anxiety.’” It can be hard to believe that Reynolds, living a seemingly perfect life with his wife and kids, constantly cracking jokes on social media, and showing up to red carpets looking perfectly polished could be feeling this way…but that’s kind of the point, isn’t it?

 

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Selena Gomez

We all know by now that I love Selena Gomez; her honesty and openness while living with a chronic illness has been a great example to me personally. Not too long ago she realized an unfortunate side effect of chronic illness: it messes with your mind. After having to cancel some tour dates and public appearances, Selena released a very real, raw statement: “As many of you know, around a year ago I revealed that I have lupus, an illness that can affect people in different ways. I’ve discovered that anxiety, panic attacks and depression can be side effects of lupus, which can present their own challenges.” Since this time, Selena has released new songs sporadically while undergoing a kidney transplant, given her first performance on television in quite some time (which was highly criticized, despite reports that she had a panic attack before or during the performance), and faced cruel headlines and online comments over how anti-rejection drugs have affected to her body. While some may feel compelled to show disdain, I am grateful for what Selena has done, and how she has taken all of this in stride.

 

prince harry

Prince Harry

You would think if you’ve got “His Royal Highness” sitting in front of your name, life would be pretty peachy. We all know this hasn’t been true for Prince Harry, but until he opened up recently, we had no idea to what extent this went. The Prince says he went through twenty years of not properly handling his emotions following the death of his mother, which eventually led to a period of “total chaos” and “aggression.”“My way of dealing with it was sticking my head in the sand, refusing to ever think about my mum, because why would that help?” Prince Harry is certainly one of the most well-connected people in the world, and he’s used this and his experiences for good. He, along with his brother and sister-in-law, have started the mental health organization Heads Together, and his personal challenges have made a way for him to further connect with veterans through the extensive work he does with them.

 

Sources:
Blackburn, Pete. “Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson discusses his battle with depression, mental-health issues.” CBS Sports. 2 April 2018. Web. 17 May 2018.
Denicolo, David. “Amanda Seyfried on Her Mental Health, Her Dog, and Those Eyes.” Allure. 18 October 2016. Web. 17 May 2018.
Weiss, Suzannah. “Shawn Mendes Shares How He Copes With Anxiety.” Teen Vogue. 21 April 2018. Web. 17 May 2018.
Bode, Lucy. “Kristen Bell Shares Moving Video About Her Battle With Depression And Anxiety.” Women’s Health Australia. N.d. Web. 29 May 2018.
Harvey, Olivia. “Ryan Reynolds opens up about how he’s struggled with anxiety for years — and how Blake Lively helped him through it.” Hello Giggles. 4 January 2017. Web. 17 May 2018.
Chiu, Melody. “Selena Gomez Taking Time Off After Dealing with ‘Anxiety, Panic Attacks and Depression’ Due to Her Lupus Diagnosis.” People. 30 August 2016. Web. 17 May 2017.
Furness, Hannah. “Prince Harry: I sought counselling after 20 years of not thinking about the death of my mother, Diana, and two years of total chaos in my life.” The Telegraph. 19 April 2017. Web. 17 May 2018.
Images:
Pizzello, Chris. Photograph of Dwayne Johnson. Rolling Stone. Invision/AP/REX Shutterstock. 6 April 2018.
Trindale, Scott. Photograph of Amanda Seyfried. Allure. 18 October 2016.
Photograph of Shawn Mendes. Billboard. Twitter. 20 May 2018.
Photograph of Kristen Bell. Twitter. N.d.
Weiss, Angela. Photograph of Ryan Reynolds. Forbes. AFP/Getty Images. 7 December 2017.
Kempin, Jason. Photograph of Selena Gomez. Insider. Getty Images. 11 May 2018.
Jackson, Chris. Photograph of Prince Harry. Town & Country. Getty Images. 18 May 2018.
My Winter Favorites

My Winter Favorites

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{ image via Donna on Unsplash }

It may be a little late to be talking about winter, but spring came very late this year. In fact, I’m fairly certain we’ve only had about two weeks of it. So, late or not, here are some of my favorite things from the months of winter…

Movies & TV //

The Greatest Showman – Oh my goodness. I cannot put my love for this movie into words. It is joy and magic and acceptance and love personified. The story, the cast, the music…everything is simply perfect. If you haven’t seen this yet, you are missing out. Big time.

Wonder – I pretty much never use this word, but this movie was a delight. Taking the message of accepting people’s differences and not judging them down to the level of middle schoolers was fantastic. This is one of the few instances when I believe the movie actually was better than the book.

The Resident – If there’s one thing that I obviously needed, it’s another drama to watch. (But, this is a medical drama, and usually I stick to crime, so there’s that!) This new show tells the story of senior resident Dr. Conrad Hawkins, who is assigned to train first-year resident Dr. Devon Pravesh. With the help of surgery resident Dr. Mina Okafor and nurse practitioner Nic Nevin, they basically become hospital vigilantes. Two of the most important physicians at the hospital, as well as the hospital CEO seem to be involved in some shady stuff, and being the awesome people they are, they just aren’t going to stand for it. This show actually takes on a lot of important issues ranging from immigration to medical insurance issues and shows the dark side of hospital administration.

This is Us – I have watched maybe five episodes of this show. I’m not kidding – that’s it. I started with the infamous Super Bowl episode, because everyone was talking about that thing that was going to happen and it was on TV so why not? Now this show is basically my life and I needed season three to start yesterday. Also, JACK PEARSON HOW DARE YOU?

Gilmore Girls – When I picked out a new show to binge-watch, I had no idea that I was picking a show that would become a way of life. I am a Gilmore Girl. I can identify if you are a Gilmore Girl. I am basically Rory, with a little bit of Lorelai and Paris mixed in. In case you couldn’t tell, this show has taken over my life…but I’m happy it has. (Also, just so we’re clear, I’m #TeamJess.)

Beauty //

Mario Badescu Rosewater Facial Spray – Okay, I kind of used to think these sprays were fake news. Like, what do they actually do for your face? While I have not noticed any benefits from all of the vitamins, etc. this supposedly contains, and while I don’t really notice a difference in the way my face looks when I use it without putting any makeup over it, it feels really nice. Mainly, I have come to love using this before doing my makeup. I honestly do feel like it works a bit like a primer and helps keep things from looking too dry.

Milani Make it Last Setting Spray – Setting sprays: another thing that we must question the function of. Do they really work? This one does. I truly do notice a difference in my makeup’s longevity. So, for that, I give it my approval.

Philosophy Fresh Winter Morning shower gel and lotion – I got this as a set at Ulta on Black Friday, and I absolutely love it. I had never previously considered what a winter morning smells like, but I think this is actually it. It’s crisp, it’s snowy, and it’s bright. (How awesome am I at describing scents?!)

Elizabeth & James Nirvana Black perfume – My sister gave this to me for Christmas, and it has become my confidence perfume. (Really. I wear this when I give speeches in my Public Speaking class.) The scent is a bit darker, making it good for the colder months, but I think it’ll work for any time of year. Also, it gives me flashbacks to my Mary Kate and Ashley fangirl days. (Elizabeth & James is their brand.)

Books //

Wonder by R.J. Palacio – As I said above, I liked the movie better. But, this book was still great. I enjoyed the multiple perspectives it was told through, and I found myself loving all of the characters. Plus, I think the book drives home the message of acceptance and love even better than the movie.

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle – I read this for the first time for school in fifth grade. I had never read anything remotely science fiction before (those were my Nancy Drew days), so I was hopelessly confused and eventually gave up on trying to understand what was happening at all. Re-reading it now when I’ve got a bit more experience with the genre under my belt, I adored it. The message, the symbolism – it was all so beautiful, and L’Engle’s writing style is nothing short of stunning.

Champion by Marie Lu – This is the conclusion to a dystopian trilogy, and I cried for three days over it. That is not an exaggeration. Dystopian books are, of course, about some sort of power struggle and battle, but this one packed so much emotion in with it. It was absolutely fantastic.

Quotes & Scriptures //

“The question isn’t who is going to let me; it’s who is going to stop me.” – Ayn Rand

“Your crown has been bought and paid for. Put it on your head and wear it.” – Maya Angelou

“I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart.” – Psalm 40:8

Songs //

The Greatest Showman soundtrack

“I Won’t Let Go” by Switchfoot & Lauren Daigle

“The Middle” by Zedd ft. Maren Morris

“Greatest Love Story” by LANCO

“Different” by Micah Tyler

“Woman, Amen” by Dierks Bentley

“Wild Hearts Can’t be Broken” by P!nk

“The Champion” by Carrie Underwood ft. Ludacris

“Broken Prayers” by Riley Clemmons

“Parallel Line” by Keith Urban

“Still the Same” by Sugarland

“Consequences” by Camila Cabello

“You Broke Up with Me” by Walker Hayes

“I Do” by Morgan Evans

20 Facts for 20 Years

20 Facts for 20 Years

In honor of officially entering my twenties recently (what???), I thought I would share twenty random facts about myself with you all – one for each year. I hope you all enjoy getting to know my strange self better. 😉

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  1. My favorite celebrity couples are Tom Hanks & Rita Wilson and Ryan Reynolds & Blake Lively.
  2. My favorite Taylor Swift song from each album of hers (in chronological order) is “Stay Beautiful,” “White Horse,” “Mine,” “All Too Well,” “Out of the Woods,” and “New Years Day.”
  3. I am somewhat of a quote collector and have a ton of favorites, but one that I always remember is: “The question isn’t who is going to let me; it’s who is going to stop me.” – Ayn Rand
  4. I’ve been interested in politics for several years now, but I’ve become very passionate about several social issues within the past year.
  5. My dream job is writing about politics for The Washington Post while doing some political commentary for NBC.
  6. Sometimes I get freaked out watching Gilmore Girls because I literally am Rory Gilmore, so it feels a little bit like I’m watching a TV show about my life.
  7. I read. Every genre (especially fantasy). All the time.
  8. My favorite colors are pink, gold, and mauve.
  9. I might have a slight make-up buying problem. And I strongly believe that you should do your make-up the way that you want and not let anyone else’s thoughts bother you! Wear the bold lip color! (At least that’s what I do.)
  10. My favorite scripture is Romans 1:16: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.”
  11. I’d rather write five English essays than do one science lab.
  12. Ronald Reagan is one of my heroes, and is absolutely one of the reasons I have come to love politics and conservatism so much.
  13. I am so grateful that I have such a close relationship with both of my parents, especially my mom (#besties).
  14. I was pretty much born in the wrong era. I love old music (Frank Sinatra is my favorite) and movies. Audrey Hepburn is flawless and I will never not love Sabrina.
  15. I love true crime shows, especially Dateline. Not to brag, but one of their correspondents, Josh Mankiewicz, has replied to my tweets multiple times. And I would like for one of their other correspondents, Keith Morrison, to follow me around and narrate my life.
  16. I was diagnosed with my first chronic illness when I was three years old.
  17. My all-time favorite albums are Rivers in the Wasteland by Needtobreathe, Where I Find You by Kari Jobe, and Red by Taylor Swift.
  18. I love going to concerts. Some of my favorites that I’ve been to are Needtobreathe, Luke Bryan, and Ben Rector. My concert bucketlist includes Rachel Platten, Carrie Underwood, Keith Urban, and U2 (you gotta aim high).
  19. The first job that I was seriously interested in was being a defense attorney. I think it’s because I used to watch way too many Matlock episodes. I also thought that this would be a very dangerous job, because of those same Matlock episodes.
  20. Although I love politics, I truly believe that art can change more than legislation ever could. We look to music, film, and books for inspiration, not Washington.
My Chronic Illness Story

My Chronic Illness Story

I did not write this for pity. I don’t want anyone’s pity. The purpose of this post is two-fold. First, it explains why I’ve been MIA recently. Second, it explains things that I often briefly reference in other posts in full detail. I have written and re-written and struggled with this post, but it is important to me to share this story, my story, with you.

Lao Tzu said, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” My journey began when I was three. And, because it began with a swollen ankle, I suppose it did begin with one step.

Yes, it was at the tender age of three that the first of my chronic illnesses was discovered. It took seeing multiple doctors and undergoing multiple tests, but I was finally diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. Since my initial diagnosis, the name has been changed to juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA), “idiopathic” meaning that the cause is unknown. I was a toddler living with an illness commonly associated with the elderly. My ankles and knees would swell to huge sizes, feel painful and stiff, and sometimes require drainages and steroid injections. At the time, there was no pediatric rheumatologist anywhere near me, so my family had to travel nearly three hours, and later four hours, to see my physician. I don’t remember much from this time, and I’m glad.

During my childhood, I also dealt with asthma, though not on a very extreme scale. I did have some wheezing issues, and used an inhaler and a nebulizer, but I did not ever have severe attacks, nor was I ever really in danger of having one. It was more of a nuisance. A nuisance that got worse when the winter came and I got sick, which was fairly frequent considering the medication I took for my arthritis was immune-suppressing.

This might sound bad. It might make you frown and say, “Aw, poor Mary-Faith.” But to me it was not all that terrible. I was proud to tell my classmates that I was not afraid of needles because I got weekly shots and frequent blood tests. I went to school just like every other kid, and I was at the age and stage in school when if you missed a lot of time, you just made up your work and everybody missed you and got excited when you were back. It was normal for me, and it did not bother me. I was happy. I did not see myself as disabled or disadvantaged.

Then things changed.

It was the beginning of the sixth grade, the start of middle school; I was already freaked out enough. But just a few weeks into the school year, I noticed that I had hives. I had had hives before when I had gotten sick, so it didn’t seem like an incredibly big deal at first, all things considered. But then the hives got worse. I was covered (literally covered) head-to-toe. (I actually had hives in my scalp. They were so bad that I had to put anti-itch cream in my hair.) Not long after the hives appeared, I noticed a startling new symptom: violent stomach pain. It soon became clear that this was no run-of-the-mill stomach virus. My diet was reduced to only the blandest food options, and even those would cause me pain. We stayed in touch with my pediatrician, and it became clear to all of us that something was wrong with me. We just didn’t know what, or how to treat it. So I suffered through my enigmatic stomach pain for a bit longer.

All that itching and gut-wrenching (literally) pain came to a head one day. I do not remember much. I just remember that I had gotten to the point that I could not stay home by myself. I was sitting in the recliner, my father next to me. I was nauseated and cramping and itching and basically falling apart. Through contorting my body to try to find some comfort and trying to ignore the pain, I remember my father giving me a priesthood blessing. That, and the fact that he was voluntarily watching Say Yes to the Dress with me, is how I knew he was very, very worried. Sometime after my mother got home from work that day, I tried to eat a piece of toast with nothing on it. That piece of toast caused some of the most brutal pain I have ever experienced in my life. That was when we knew I needed to be admitted to the hospital.

Thankfully, my pediatrician was on call and was able to set everything up so I wouldn’t have to go through the emergency room (which was full of H1N1-infected patients at the time). At first, the group of residents treating me didn’t believe me. In fact, the head resident thought I was trying to get attention and tried to bribe me with Chick-Fil-A. But after much testing, it was discovered that I had helicobacter pylori (h. pylori), a bacterial infection of the stomach. My allergist said that I was only the third case she had seen with both h. pylori and hives simultaneously.

During my h. pylori stint, I had to stop many of my medications, including what I took for JIA. This led to joint swelling like I had never seen. It took multiple joint drainages and injections to get things back to normal. But “normal” was a relative term for what I was about to experience.

On the heels of my hospital stay, I got a bad viral respiratory infection. During this infection, I got one of the worst headaches of my life (that I thankfully have no memory of). My doctor assured me that it was a result of the infection, and it would subside. But the headaches kept coming, over and over again, to the point that I had to see a neurologist. My dear pediatric neurologist (who I swear is one of the best in his field and I absolutely adore) treated me for my new migraines. But he noticed something else. My heart rate was abnormal. It would spike upon standing by over thirty beats per minute. This is when he introduced the idea of dysautonomia to me. This is when my life changed.

The autonomic nervous system is a pretty important part of your body, in the sense that it controls many of your organs and all of the functions that you don’t have to think about, like breathing. But sometimes it doesn’t work right. Sometimes it causes your blood to not flow quickly enough to your head when you stand. In other words, sometimes it causes you to pass out.

I took this whole dysautonomia thing in stride. It wasn’t really a problem for me, at least in my mind. I was more focused on my chronic migraines – that is, until I almost lost consciousness when I was a high school freshman. Thankfully, I was at home. My father was able to half-carry me to a chair. That was when things became real to me. I had a problem (well, another one).

My official form of dysautonomia is called Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome, or POTS. It’s not a common disease, and rarely diagnosed properly. It is characterized by a heart rate that jumps more than thirty beats per minute upon standing. It causes shortness of breath, chest pain, dizziness, and severe fatigue. It is treated in a multitude of ways, none of which are very effective. Today I am on two different medications for POTS. Without these two pills, I would probably be unable to remain upright for more than .02 seconds. I now also receive twice weekly IV infusions of sodium chloride, which I have found helpful. In addition to medical treatments, I also have to drink insane amounts of water to stay hydrated, as well as eat a high sodium diet to help with fluid retention. This is my life now. This is my normal. But it’s not normal. All of this keeps me from needing to go to the emergency room. But I still spend most of my time at home (or, more accurately, in bed), I still have low energy and high fatigue, I still have severe heat intolerance, and I still have chronic migraines.

Chronic illness has plagued my life since my early years, but nothing has compared to POTS. It is like a prison warden standing over me, watching my every move. It has taken away my life and given me a new one.

blooming

{ Image via Pinterest }

Recently, my rheumatologist confirmed something I had suspected for some time now: I have Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS). EDS is commonly seen in POTS patients. In my case, I have Type 3, which is the hypermobility type. This means that I am insanely flexible and can actually turn my arm three hundred sixty degrees. (Maybe I should go on America’s Got Talent with that.) My joints pop, and I feel strange twinges of pain that are different from what I feel from arthritis. I will be seeing a geneticist soon for further testing to ensure that my EDS is not more serious.

And in all of this I am grateful. I am grateful for the tender mercies of the Lord. I am grateful for the beautiful souls I have met on this journey. Above all, I am grateful that my Heavenly Father has allowed me to live with this long- (perhaps life-) lasting trial. I see Him teach me through it every day. I see Him lead me to greater compassion and understanding, for myself and for others. And I hear Him remind me of the words of 2 Corinthians 12:9-10:

“And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake:  for when I am weak, then am I strong.”

2017 Highlights & 2018 Goals

2017 Highlights & 2018 Goals

persisted

{ Image from Tradlands }

I won’t say 2017 was a good year, because it wasn’t. In fact, I think it was a pretty bad year. I’m not going to miss it. And while I don’t think you necessarily need a new year for a new start, that’s how we act, isn’t it? We tend to reflect back on what we went through the last year, so here we go – my list of highlights of 2017…

  • My trip to Nashville. If it weren’t for my chronic illnesses, I never would have gone to Nashville at all. My real reason for going was to go to the dysautonomia clinic at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center. (You can read about that here.) That was not the best experience in the world, and I ended up getting sick from some of the testing they did. But, after I got over this insanity, I was able to visit the Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum, the Grand Ole Opry, and, of course, a couple of stores that we don’t have here in the middle of nowhere. (Shoutout to the ladies at Lush at the Green Hills Mall! They are the sweetest employees ever.)
  • I went to a Luke Bryan concert. My sisters were sweet enough to give me tickets to a concert I desperately wanted to go to for my birthday – Luke Bryan, Brett Eldredge, and Brett Young. I become a huge Brett Young fan, I cried over Brett Eldredge (I don’t have a problem…), and I screamed the lyrics to every Luke Bryan song (and maybe cried some more). Other than an acoustic jam sponsored by a local radio station, this was my first country concert, and it was beyond what I could have hoped for.
  • I was a bridesmaid in my cousin’s wedding. This year, my cousin got married, and I had the honor of being one of her bridesmaids. I also got to help throw her bridal shower, which was beyond fun. Being a part of her bride tribe is a memory I will hold onto forever. Also, if you missed our bridesmaids dance, I’m sorry you’ll never get to witness that beautiful moment in time. (JK, people are probably having nightmares about it still.)
  • I saw the solar eclipse. I live right in the path of totality, and I saw it all. I saw the sun covered. Then I saw it uncovered. It was all great. (Although maybe slightly less of a bigger deal than people made it out to be. Also I got bitten by approximately twelve [not exaggerating] mosquitoes.) Other than that, it was great.

And, now, a few favorites…

My Top 10 Most Played Songs of the Year:

  1. “Better Man” by Little Big Town
  2. “Legends” by Kelsea Ballerini
  3. “Broken Glass” by Rachel Platten
  4. “Every Little Thing” by Carly Pearce
  5. “I’ll Find You” by Lecrae ft. Tori Kelly
  6. “How Far I’ll Go” by Auli’i Cravalho
  7. “Can I Be Him” by James Arthur
  8. “Perfect” by Ed Sheeran
  9. “In Case You Didn’t Know” by Brett Young
  10. “Road Less Traveled” by Lauren Alaina

My Top 5 Favorite Albums of the Year:

  1. Unapologetically by Kelsea Ballerini
  2. Flicker by Niall Horan (clean version, y’all)
  3. Wonder by Hillsong United
  4. Waves by Rachel Platten
  5. Brett Eldredge by (you guessed it) Brett Eldredge

My Top 5 Favorite Movies of the Year:

  1. Wonder Woman
  2. The Greatest Showman
  3. Beauty & the Beast
  4. Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them
  5. Hidden Figures

My Top 5 Favorite Books of the Year:

  1. Carve the Mark by Veronica Roth
  2. Between Shades of Grey by Ruta Sepetys
  3. Caraval by Stephanie Garber
  4. These Vicious Masks by Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas
  5. A Shadow Bright and Burning by Jessica Cluess

2018

{ Image from Pinterest }

And now, we’re in 2018. I can’t say that I have very many New Year’s resolutions; I’ve just never really gotten into that kind of thing. I forget them in two weeks and then feel guilty about it later. But, this year, I’m making more of an effort here. I picked a word for the year: Grace. Not just the kind of grace we receive from God, but the kind of grace we should give to ourselves. So I guess that’s one of my goals: to be a little bit easier on myself. To remember that I’m human, and God expects me to be worthy now, not perfect. And, I have a scripture picked out; it’s Doctrine and Covenants 82:10: “I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise.” So, English translation: When we do what the Lord says when we are obedient to His commands, he is bound to His promises. He will do what He has told us to do. But, if we don’t obey him, then he is not required to give us his promised blessings. So trust him in the waiting, and do what He says in the meantime. You’ll get your blessings in His time.

I don’t know what’s coming this year. It could be great. It could be horrible. But I’m here, and I’m ready for it.