The 30 Day Chronic Illness Challenge is something that I found on Tumblr.  It appears to have been created by @cfs_zombie, who has compiled 30 writing prompts.  Each one focuses on something specific to chronic illness.  The challenge is to complete each of the 30 blog posts in 30 days.

Day 1: Introduce yourself.  What illnesses do you have?  How long have you had them?

Hi, I’m Jen. I’m a freelance writer (who is constantly looking for more work). I also do quite a bit of podcasting and gaming. That will do for the “introduction” portion of today’s challenge.

Explaining what illnesses I have, and how long I have had them, will require a lot more effort than the “introduction” portion did. Here goes! (Some of what follows might be considered an “overshare”. You have been warned!)

I have borderline anemia.
I was diagnosed with borderline anemia when I was 17 years old. (I am 40 years old now). My best guess is that this chronic illness started when I was 12 and began menstruating. Blood loss pushed me into anemia, and I spent a few years where I would randomly pass out.

Other symptoms include extreme fatigue and (for me) a loss of appetite. I tend to not feel hungry, which causes me to actually forget to eat, which makes the anemia symptoms worse. I also have difficulty clotting when I am anemic. This means that a small paper cut can result in much more blood than one would expect. (I can, eventually, clot on my own, but it takes longer than it should.)

When I was 17, a doctor told me to take iron pills whenever I felt anemic. He also told me to “remember to eat”. Typically, I will begin feeling anemic when I begin menstruating and symptoms of anemia will continue until about a week or two after the cycle stops. Then, it starts all over again. Skipping a meal can sometimes push me into anemia as well (even when it isn’t “that time of the month”). I am constantly tired.

There is no cure for borderline anemia. The best that one can do is try and manage the symptoms when they appear.

I have severe, chronic, allergies.
There is some research that indicates that allergies are linked to autoimmune diseases. I was first diagnosed with allergies when I was 17, but it is clear that I’ve had them for my entire life. It took a long time before I was able to identify all of them.

Food allergies include: gluten (allergic to wheat, rye, and barley), oranges, coconut, pine nuts, olives and olive oil, monosodium glutamate (MSG), honey, maple syrup, aspartame, citric acid, lettuce (all its varieties) and white or green tea. (Black tea is safe – so far). I am also lactose intolerant (but can handle a very small amount of dairy on days when the rest of my allergies aren’t so bad).

UPDATE: I am also severely allergic to strawberries. Somehow, I forgot to add that to the list.

Environmental allergies include: dust, mold, pine/fir, animal dander (dogs, cats, etc), feathers (down pillows and comforters, birds) pollen, bees, most scented products (candles, Glade plug-ins, scented soaps, perfumes), smoke from cigarettes or barbecues or the random fires that my neighbors like to burn in their yard.

Contact allergies include: wool, coconut (in lotions and soaps), and latex

I should probably point out that I do not have celiac disease. Instead, what I experience is one part allergy (to wheat, rye, and barley) and another part intolerance to gluten. A small amount of any of those will make me really sick. Symptoms from exposure include: extreme fatigue (that comes on very quickly), itchy skin, and.. let’s say “digestive issues” as my body tries desperately to digest something that it is unable to. Once I ingest gluten, it can take days before the symptoms go away.

Exposure to any of the contact allergies will cause a rash that can turn into hives. Latex is especially scary because that one also causes me to have difficultly breathing. Exposure to pine/fir, lettuce, or bees (potentially including pollen or honey) can make me go into anaphylaxis. Exposure to dust, mold, pollen, and other airborne allergens will make my eyes itch, turn red, and swell. They also make me sneeze and need to blow my nose a lot.

They also make me cough and wheeze (and probably need either my inhaler or other medication). Healthy people may not realize it, but wheezing for long periods of time causes exhaustion. It also hurts after about two or three hours.

There is no cure for chronic, severe, allergies like mine. The best I can do is try and avoid all those allergens, take my medications as directed, and try not to push myself past what I am physically able to handle on days when I am especially sick.

I suspect I have rheumotoid arthritis.
This is something that runs in my family. My father has it. His mother had it. Some of my aunts did, too. My relatives said the symptoms would likely begin showing up around the time I reached 30. Some did, but I was able to convince myself that the symptoms were due to the very physical work I did while employed at a book store.

I’m 40 now, and haven’t worked for a book store in a years. The symptoms are still here, and have gotten more noticeable.

Symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis include:

* tender, warm, swollen joints – check!
* Morning stiffness that may last for hours – check!
* Firm bumps of tissue under the skin on your arms (rheumatoid nodules) – not yet
* Fatigue, fever, and weight loss – check!

It has been said that rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease. There appears to be a genetic component (but more study is needed about that). It causes your immune system to attack the lining membranes of your joints, and this causes inflammation.

Over time, tendons and ligaments can weaken and stretch (and be further harmed), and the joint can lose its shape. My grandmother couldn’t straighten the first knuckles on some of her fingers.

The joints in my hands and feet ache often. I wake up with stiff joints, and have recently noticed that cold weather (or cold environment due to excessive air conditioning) causes my joints to stiffen and not want to bend. Walking around outside, and being exposed to airborne allergens, seems to make the rheumatoid arthritis worse.

I experience some pain from this almost ever day, usually in the joints in my hands, and sometimes in my feet. From what I have read, this will get worse over time. Some days I also experience stiffness and pain in the joints in my shoulders, hips, and knees as well.

There is no cure for rheumatoid arthritis. Symptoms can be managed (to some degree). Most of what I have read indicates that doctors want to prescribe steroids for treatment, but I have no interest in taking steroids. Those who have had their joints deteriorate can require surgical treatments. Some suggest taking naps to help recharge energy and/or resting when you get too tired. This is a coping mechanism, not a cure.

Ok, I think I have sufficiently completed the topic for Day 1 of the 30 Day Chronic Illness Challenge. More information will be covered in the other days of the challenge.

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