Spotlight Story Program: Meet Lauren Perry

Finding your community, building your network, and boosting yourself up. These are all things that our latest Spotlight Story Program feature writer has not only incorporated into her daily life, but has projected into her activism as she empowers other young people in the disability community. And that focus on connecting with others and becoming your own best advocate stems deeply into all that Brighton, England’s very own Lauren Perry represents in her life. Living with Tourette’s Syndrome and Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, 21-year-old Lauren has needed to create power, joy and success for herself while also dealing with the journey that chronic illness can complicate.  She’s been super proactive, using social media to create her own platforms that allow for meetups with others living with chronic illness in the Brighton area, and her virtual platform with her blog and Instagram page @aticcersguidetolife, that allows her to raise awareness, connect with others, learn how to advocate even better and share about her health journey. And she also shows off her cool wheelchair with pink wheels, a must-see! Lauren’s packed so much life advice in her feature about her young adult life with health struggles and being part of InvisiYouth’s Global Brand Leaders Program that anyone can gain tips.

Hey! I’m Lauren, I’m a 21 year old disabled student living in Brighton, England. I set up my disability blog and Instagram page @aticcersguidetolife with a hope to raise awareness on life with hidden disabilities, advocate for those who are unable to do so themselves and educate people on the wider issues disabled and chronically ill people face.

Updating friends and family on my health was becoming pretty exhausting in the early stages of my illness, but I wanted to make sure they all felt included in the process as I knew they genuinely wanted to know, so starting my blog was a great way to document my journey.

My health struggles started after a coccyx injury following a fall at work when I was waitressing, coinciding with laryngitis that wouldn’t go away and at the age of 17, I became incredibly unwell.

I was sleeping for days at a time and my body was not healing properly. I struggled to get through my A Level exams and got mediocre grades. I went from a high achiever who played in bands (saxophones, clarinet, piano), ran, went to the gym 4 times a week, swam, played hockey, and partied—to the girl who had to stopped working, slept all day, and was in incredible amounts of pain in a matter of weeks. And I’ve never been the same since.

The doctors blamed my mental health initially. I struggled with panic disorder and depressive disorder, however I knew this was different. The debilitating fatigue was different. At its worst, I was sleeping 28 hours at a time. I woke up for one hour to have a drink and slept for a further 15 hours. This sleeping pattern continued till the moment I had carers at 20. I’ve had countless misdiagnosis’, painful scans, frustrating results and random symptoms- chronic illness is a journey .

Having a disability in my late teens, I noticed quickly how isolating that can be, particularly as a university student. It seemed that although there must be thousands of disabled students, I didn’t know any and I felt there must’ve been other people that felt similar to me.

I decided to set up ‘A little poorly- Brighton’ in 2019 after a year of being at university. We now have over 400 members in Brighton, England where I have founded an online community and we formed friendships and a support network for chronically ill people living in Brighton and Hove, along with their carers. Now, I regularly arrange meet ups where I have professionals run workshops such as cooking with a disability, accessing work with a disability, improving hospital experiences for chronically ill patients, self-defense classes, art therapy, just to name a few.

In addition to ‘a little poorly – Brighton,’ I also take great pride in my Instagram page and newly updated website. Accessibility is a topic incredibly close to my heart. Through my platforms, I strive to help people access the inaccessible world. InvisiYouth has inspired me to build confidence to make friendships online with people all over the world. The Pandemic has taught me that accommodations can be made for disabilities. Online learning has been incredibly accessible to me as a disabled student, I spent many months battling for more support

I started my health journey not truly identifying as a disabled woman and rather just a 17 year old girl. I saw myself with misdiagnoses and I didn’t feel confident or educated in disability. Doctors often say “I think you have this” and then leave you with so many unanswered questions surrounding this new potential diagnosis.

I’ve learned to laugh in the most unfunny moments, make the most out of bad situations and I have shown my mental strength and resilience is important above all. I think I’ve become incredibly calm. In situations where perhaps someone else may panic or be overwhelmed—for myself—relatively these things often feel ‘small’ and I’m therefore pretty good at staying calm.

I’ve sadly had to grow up a lot quicker than my peers, but I also think that I’ve become much more understanding of other people’s emotions and gained a level of emotional maturity as my priorities have had to shift being unwell.

My diagnosis list is ever growing. Tourette’s Syndrome hit me out of the blue at 19 in my first year of university. I lost my speech out the blue for two weeks when I was 20 following a hemiplegic migraine which replicated a stroke.

Nothing surprises me anymore.

Honestly, if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry and that’s the best way we’ve found to approach my illnesses. It went from “why me- it’s always me” to “only me, typical” making a positive out of a negative or light and laughter out of an awful situation is very important. As chronically ill people, we often joke that we are unqualified doctors.

I truly believe the sheer knowledge that having a chronic illness has taught me is fascinating and perhaps something I would not have delved into had I not become unwell. I like to consider myself a receptionist or admin assistant to my own body—I appreciate my disabilities for supporting my love of stationery and organization—I bet you’ve never seen paperwork as organised and colourful as mine!

As kids we always get told not to talk to strangers and to some extent, I agree. However, had I not found such an amazing online community through Instagram I wouldn’t have found InvisiYouth, its Global Brand Leaders Program, or other content creators with disabilities. I’ve spent hours messaging other people on the internet .

Speaking to people online is such a powerful tool in management of disability. I’ve found many of my consultants through Facebook groups. My Rheumatologist who diagnosed my EDS was recommended through a Facebook group. My sleep consultant was recommended by a few people on Instagram. My cardiologist similarly.

It makes me feel like there’s loads of people like me. People who just ‘get it’ but can also support me in my journey and answer any questions from the perspective of poorly people not just as medical professionals.

The feeling of bumping into people who follow me on Instagram brings me so much happiness. The few times I’ve been approached in the streets after my pink wheels have been spotted from a distance on days where I’ve been struggling or having issues with accessibility- it makes all the appointments and the hours of pain worth it.

In that moment you feel less alone and feel like what you’re doing is really important. It’s comforting to know when you have a weird symptom that your doctor has never seen before, that there’s someone on the other side of the world who has it too and has a little bit of wisdom that might help.

  • I suggest having a list of all our conditions, medication, allergies and care needs summarised to take to appointments is incredibly useful, it really helps save time in appointments too. I used to get really frustrated when I felt like most of my appointment was spent covering medical history and less on my current issue.
  • Don’t be afraid to tell doctors or medical professionals what you need! You are an expert of your own body!
  • Find your people- there are people out there for you, who will understand you, support you, and think like you. Put yourself out there! People will put effort in and people will make time if they want. No one is ever too busy for the people they want to see!
  • If you don’t laugh, you’ll cry.
  • You’re braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, smarter than you think, more loved than you’d ever know and twice as beautiful than you ever imagined

My main message to share: You can do anything you want to do. The world might not be built for disabled people, but if you find the right people and understand your own needs, you’ll be able to access the inaccessible!

Don’t worry about other people’s judgement for any step of your journey. You should be able to live life to the fullest and enjoy it like anyone else your age.

Not all wheelchair users can’t walk just like not all disabilities are visible. Society strangely seems to have taught us the opposite.

Accepting I needed to use a wheelchair in order to have fun/ live life as my peers do has honestly been the best decision I have ever made.

Spotlight Story Program: Meet Meghan Smith

April is National Donate Life in America, and it’s a critical time to raise awareness on not only to become an organ donor, but also to learn the stories of those that have received this lifesaving transplants. One of those receipts is Maryland native Meghan Smith, a marketing executive that has used Instagram for our favorite thing…raising awareness, changing misconceptions, and showing how awesome and fun life can be with any health struggles. After a few years of health issues, it was discovered Meghan had liver disease and was in need of a transplant. Luckily, her uncle was a match to donate a portion of his liver! Meghan is such a transparent advocate because she shares the realness of post-transplant life, and all the medications and adjustments you make in life to adapt and excel. There’s no singular way to look or live as a young person with health struggle, and Meghan–who’s now a Donate Life Ambassador–is using her growing platform to give a fresh look on how incredible , fun and fulfilling life can be!

My name is Meghan and I am a 29 year old from Baltimore, MD. I work as a marketing executive for a global affiliate marketing company, and in my spare time enjoy traveling, reading, shopping, playing with my dog and spending time with friends and family. Growing up, I had a fairly normal and typical childhood. I lived in the suburbs outside of Baltimore with my mom, dad and younger brother, was active in dance and softball, and was generally healthy.

When I was 19 years old, I was studying at the University of Maryland when I started to develop abdominal pain and severe itchiness. I spent most of my college years going to different doctors trying to figure out the cause. Finally, at 22 I met a doctor at Johns Hopkins who determined the issue was caused by my liver. Around this time, my younger brother was 19 and started developing similar symptoms. For whatever reason, his liver disease had progressed much faster and he was in liver failure with liver cancer. He was listed for liver transplant and thanks to the generosity of one of my dad’s previous co-workers, received a living donor liver transplant at the age of 21.

I continued to be monitored by my hepatology team, and while numerous genetic tests were done to try to figure out the cause of our liver disease, there was never a match. In August of 2019 it was determined that it was time for me to be listed for liver transplant. Numerous people kindly reached out about being tested to be my donor. My uncle was the first person to undergo testing, and surprisingly he was a perfect match! It is very rare for the first person to be tested to be a match.

On December 10 2019, I received the amazing gift of a second chance at life thanks to my uncle donating a part of his liver to me.

Overall surgery and recovery went very well for the both of us. I spent two weeks in the hospital and was able to go home on December 24th, just in time for Christmas.

Unfortunately, two days later I developed an infection and had to be re-admitted to the hospital. Because my brother had gone through transplant before me, I was aware that transplant recovery is a process full of ups and downs along the way.

Once I was released from the hospital, I continued to recover and adjust to my new post-transplant life. This included taking a large number of medications multiple times a day to avoid rejection and infections, monitoring my vitals every day, and getting blood work multiple times a week.

I gradually built up to walking more often and getting out of the house more frequently. I was able to return to work at the end of February 2020 on a part-time basis, working up to full-time over the following months. I am incredibly lucky to work for a company that has been so supportive throughout my entire transplant process, and makes the health of their employees a priority.

Post-transplant I became a Donate Life Ambassador to help educate others on organ donation and encourage them to register to be an organ donor.

I’ve found that there are still many myths and misconceptions around organ donation and it is not discussed nearly enough, especially within my age group.

Almost 114,000 people in the United States are currently on the waiting list for a life-saving organ transplant, and on average 20 people die a day every day from the lack of available organs for transplant. I’m one of the lucky ones who received a transplant, and am inspired to help make the waiting list smaller and smaller until it is eventually 0.  

I’ve been using Instagram as a platform to share my transplant story and educate others on what it is like being an immunocompromised person during the COVID-19 pandemic. I think it is helpful to see that while someone may look “young and healthy” this may not always be the case, and to put a face to the people whose lives can be saved from following social-distancing measures and flattening the curve of the spread of coronavirus.

Throughout my transplant and now the COVID-19 pandemic, I’m often asked how I remain so positive given the circumstances.

My answer is pretty simple – I do what I can to protect myself and keep myself safe, but don’t worry over the things that are out of my control. I would offer the same advice to anyone who is feeling anxious during this time of unprecedented illness and uncertainty; do the things that have been recommended – wash your hands, stay inside as much as possible, practice social-distancing – but don’t let the thought of contracting the coronavirus consume you.

Take comfort in knowing you are doing everything you can to protect yourself and others, and use this time to practice self-care, pick up a new hobby, or do something you enjoy.

 

Spotlight Story Program: Meet Abbie Stapleton

In honor of Endometriosis Awareness Month, we are honored to have one of our GBL Ambassadors from England, Abbie Stapleton, sharing her health journey and some major life tips that will be fueling you to bring kindness into your life. Founder of the blog and Instagram platform, Cheerfully Live, Abbie has fused her personal experience going through the long diagnosis process with her joyful content that’s uniquely styled to provide relatable advice with empowering young adults in this chronic illness community. You will not only learn a lot about Abbie’s diagnosis journey with Endometriosis as a teen dealing with medical professionals not taking her symptoms seriously, but you will also learn how Abbie has preserved and uses her experiences to motivate in this empowered community of wonderful women around the world!  Now living with other diagnoses like Fibromyalgia and Costochondritis and Interstitial Cystitis, Abbie’s wide range of life experience lets her connect with many, and her platform truly is unique and joyful all her own.

Hi I’m Abbie, the founder of the Cheerfully Live blog and Instagram.

When I was 14, I experienced my first episode of excruciating pain, little did I know that I would have debilitating pain for the rest of my life. Every month, my periods would come and I would be bed-bound, unable to walk, fainting, with nothing working to ease my pain. I was back and forth seeing healthcare professionals month after month.

Every time I was told nothing was wrong.

My tests would come back clear and I was always dismissed as being the “unlucky one”, told I had a “low pain threshold” and that it was “part of being a woman”. I was even once asked by a doctor “are you sure you are not over-exaggerating?”. It wasn’t until my pain became chronic in December 2018, that Endometriosis started being investigated. I was sent from urology at first as they thought I was having urine and kidney infections that just wouldn’t clear, but then they realised my pain was more likely related to Endometriosis.

But when I saw a gynecologist, I was told that I could “never have severe Endometriosis because I was too young”. I pushed for an MRI to rule that out and to her surprise, my scans showed severe, deep-infiltrating Endometriosis. The relief I received after I got my results was huge! After years of gaslighting from healthcare professionals and feeling like the pain was all in my head, I realised my pain was real!

I was immediately referred to an Endometriosis specialist who tried me on the mini pill for 6 months, but unfortunately my pain only got worse. I finally had Endometriosis excision surgery with an Endometriosis specialist in December 2020, a year after being put on the waiting list. They found Endometriosis all over my uterus, left ovary, my bowel, bladder and both my kidney ureters.

During all of this I was also diagnosed with Fibromyalgia and Costochondritis and during my Endometriosis surgery I had a cystoscopy which revealed my bladder was chronically inflamed and that I had Interstitial Cystitis (also known as Bladder Pain Syndrome). Thankfully I’m now on the road to recovery and feeling some relief from my excision surgery, however I’m also now undergoing investigations for possible Fowler’s Syndrome and PoTS (Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome).

When I was being investigated for Endometriosis, I needed a place where I could speak to others who were also going through the same thing, it was an incredibly challenging time, not only on my physical health but also my mental health. So that’s when I set up my blog and Instagram Cheerfully Live. I used my platform to document my journey, chat to others who were going through the same as me and share any advice which had helped me whilst going through the diagnosis process.

I’m so thankful for this community and my little platform – I’ve not only been able to support so many women in getting an Endometriosis diagnosis, I’ve encouraged them throughout their journey and shared helpful advice. I’ve also found comfort through everyone’s kind words and knowledge.

I’ve learnt so much about many different chronic illnesses and how best to support others, which has been invaluable!

There’s been so many amazing opportunities since starting Cheerfully Live such as becoming a GBL for InvisiYouth, speaking on the radio to share my story and collaborating with many amazing brands, charities and companies on raising further awareness for chronic illness!

And lastly, living with Endometriosis or any chronic illness is hard and so I wanted to share with you a few top tips that I’ve learnt along the way that have helped me cope living with my illnesses, both when advocating for yourself in medical settings and just in general life:

  1. The biggest piece of advice I could give is to get yourself invested into the chronic illness community! There is such a wonderful presence online of people sharing the realities of living with chronic illnesses on Instagram, but Facebook is also amazing for joining different groups that share lots of helpful advice. Also, Endometriosis UK offers face-to-face support groups, as well as lots of accurate information, so I’d definitely recommend their website, it’s a great resource.
  2. Research and really understand your condition, so that you are best able to advocate for yourself.
  3. Be honest and open with those you trust around you. Allow people to really see what it’s like living with your chronic illness, let people in, allow them to help and support you!
  4. If you are struggling to get healthcare professionals to listen or feel like you aren’t able to get answers – keep going and trust your instincts! If you know what you are experiencing is not normal, please keep fighting and advocating for yourself.

Being diagnosed with many different chronic illnesses has definitely made me the person I am today and in a way I’m grateful for the experiences and resilience that having a chronic illness has given me! I’m a much stronger person than I used to be 3 years ago, I am more empathetic and understanding of people’s situations. I fully understand now how debilitating fatigue and living with pain every day can be, but also now realise that you can’t always see on the surface that people are struggling.

So the main message of this piece is to remind you to be kind (especially to yourself) – you never know what someone might be struggling with under the surface. Your kindness and empathy might just change someone’s day, maybe even their life! So don’t wait to be kind, be kind today!

Founder Dominique’s Blog Presents … Podcast Master Class Miniseries

September 8th, 2020

It’s not an understatement to say 2020 has been anything but calming or as-planned. Rather it gave room for quite the opposite emotions.  A global health pandemic resulted in many being in quarantine, especially those that are immunosuppressed like myself in the chronic illness and disability communities. As we all have transitioned to being home—many working or studying from home—and we enter the last quarter of the year, lots of people have been searching for new content to bring a boost of energy into their days. Streaming TV series, finding those books we ‘haven’t had time to read’ and adding more fun activities have become part of our new daily regime. And what’s one thing that has been considerably boosted during quarantine and new hybrid work-from-home/schooling-from-home models?

Finding new podcast series to binge or jump into listening!

When the quarantine hit the InvisiYouth HQ of the NYC area, it definitely rocked our nonprofit’s team and we had to not only reevaluate a lot of our programs and plans for the years ahead, but also had to switch to all things virtual and work-from-home. When our video podcast series, InvisiYouth Chat Sessions, had to be put on hiatus (and we just started our third season, so we cannot wait to get back into film-recording!) we switched to creating an Instagram Live miniseries that ran for almost four months!

If you haven’t checked out the InvisiYouth Quarantine Coffee Break miniseries, you must do so ASAP as some of our episodes are on our IGTV.

But something we were thankful for was a project we actually started last year that is all about our love of podcasts and the incredible hosts that lead them! Seeing the wonderful impact podcast shows can have on the young adult community has made us want to highlight some of our most supportive and loved hosts, but also let them share their advice for this generation!

So many of you have asked us what it takes to start a podcast, the advice that we have gotten from our different empowered special guests on InvisiYouth Chat Sessions, and what are some of the dreams that many podcast hosts have for their future shows and community. We wanted to give you advice and tips to podcasting, some life lessons these hosts have gain from their guests, and give you an opportunity to learn more!

I am so excited to share these five incredible podcast series and their wonderful hosts!

Plus, at the end, I’m also going to give you some of the most memorable moments from the InvisiYouth team as we look back on all our episodes of InvisiYouth Chat Sessions.

Please give a listen to all these podcasts, and make sure to subscribe to them too because their shows are so much fun!

Uninvisible Podcast, hosted by Lauren Freeman

Website        Spotify       Apple Podcasts       Instagram        Twitter       Facebook

• What’s your podcast’s description/all about? 

A: Uninvisible Pod is a show about chronic and invisible illness – from the perspective of patients, caregivers, and practitioners across the spectrum of healing modalities.

• What inspired you to make this podcast? 

A: Like so many others in the Spoonie community and beyond, I got inspired…when I got sick. In 2017, I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s disease and sleep apnea; I’ve also lived with depression and anxiety since I was a teen. I’d been working in the women’s health activism space, and it shocked me how many people in my network started coming out of the woodwork with thyroid disorders and various invisible conditions – that we’d NEVER talked about – when I went public with my news. My background is in acting and voice work – so it felt incredibly natural to give these enlightening conversations a platform, or a soapbox, if you will – by way of recording them. And I haven’t looked back!

• What is a favorite or memorable episode so far?

A: Too many – these episodes have become so personally meaningful and fostered amazing new relationships that have enriched my life in so many ways. I definitely fangirled HARD over Ilana Jacqueline (ep 43), laughed out loud with Karyn Buxman (ep 37), and learned amazing things from Sascha Alexander (eps 25, and 19) and Ariel of @carpe_that__diem (eps 40 and 41… but perhaps most meaningful to me have been the episodes when longtime friends allowed me to help them share their stories. Because of my interviews with Katie Georgiou (ep 10) and Dr. Harold Kraft (ep 7), Katie’s been offered free treatment for her MS and will be here in LA receiving it by the time this writing goes live; my friend Dayna Schaaf has been my rock, and decided to join the Spoonie club with an undiagnosed condition she talks about in ep 8; and one of my oldest friends, Clare Stafford, talked about surviving breast cancer – twice – in her 30s! – in ep 44. Also – my friend and former America’s Next Top Model contestant Mercedes Shorte (ep 1) was not only my first subject on the show…but also the first interview I recorded! Having InvisiYouth founder Dominique on the show (ep 18) was also an amazing experience. Her story is…WOW! This show is the best kind of rollercoaster!

• What’s a piece of advice you’ve gained from a guest on an episode? 

A: I always ask my guests for tips, so there are a lot of great answers to this question. But I think my favorite is: be open to trying something new – start thinking outside the box. This also means – seek second opinions, ask questions, and know that there is hope. Be curious, and be prepared not only to learn from yourself – but to be surprised.

• What’s something you’ve learned from being a podcast host?

A: Not a single one of us is alone. It doesn’t matter how complicated or weird or taboo or tough your condition is – you’re not the only one out there. Even with a super rare disease. There are others like you – you just need to look for them.

• What’s some advice you’ve gotten to pass along to new podcasters?

A: Have fun. At the end of the day, this is an investment of your time and resources – so make sure you’re finding joy in it. But also: be a responsible host. Ask the tough questions. Take the reins. Dig deep. It’s your journalistic duty in a post-truth world.

• If you could set a dream episode for your show, who would be part of it? What would it cover? 

A: JAMEELA JAMIL! She’s my Spoonie hero…but also I want to be her best friend! Not only is she blazing trails because of her outspokenness, but her relatability is exactly what makes her appealing. You don’t even have to be a Spoonie to dig what she’s about! I’d want to delve into the overlapping elements of invisibility not only in her experience as a WOC with invisible illness…but also those layers in the lives of individuals she’s met since starting @i_weigh, and how they’ve expanded her perspective. And I’d want to talk about the role of empathy in the future of healthcare, and how she sees that concept developing into…something, perhaps?…more functional for both doctors and patients.

 

Headcase Podcast, hosted by Stephanie Hoffmann

Website        Apple Podcasts        Spotify        Pippa        Instagram

•  What’s your podcast’s description/all about?

A: My podcast surrounds mental health, awareness and wellness. My goal is breaks down the boundaries of this taboo subject by diving deep into the world of mental health and all that relates to it. This show establishes real and honest mental health conversation through stories and discussions straight from the people who’ve experienced them. HeadCase’s purpose is to spread awareness and end the stigma by enlightening audiences on the lack of education, information and options for those who suffer through or are directly affected by it. HeadCase is the podcast you’ve been ANXIOUSLY waiting for.

• What inspired you to make this podcast?

A: What inspired me to make this podcast initially was a concussion I suffered that unleashed many side effects from beneath the surface. Primarily anxiety and depression and it stopped my life in my tracks and to this day is something I struggle with. I wanted a place where everyone could discuss whatever it is they’re going through without judgement, fear or hesitation.

•  Favorite/A memorable episode so far?

A: One of my most memorable episodes, although all of them are unique, would have to be the episode titles Sensitive to a Fault with Hannah Blum. It was the first time I got any real understanding of Bipolar 2 disorder and a raw explanation of of her experience in a mental institution.

• What’s a piece of advice you gained from a guest on an episode?

A: I’ve learned so much from all my guests. I think the main thing I gain is that no matter how bad things may seem or get, there truly is a light at the end, even if it doesn’t shine every day, doesn’t mean you give up on yourself or your life.

•  What’s something you’ve learned as a podcast host?

A: I’ve learned what it is to truly listen, not just hear. It’s made me a more empathetic person than I already was! And ongoing, I’m learning to speak better publicly.

• What’s some advice you’ve gotten that you’d pass along to new podcast hosts?

A: I would say, try not to talk over or interrupt your guest, pace yourself so you don’t step on your own words and be calm! Let your personality shine through that microphone— (which you should never have more or less than 4 inches from your mouth.

• If you could set a dream episode for your show, who would be on it? What would it cover?

A: I have so many dream guests I’d like to talk to. Lately, I’ve been noticing how active Justin Bieber has been in the mental health world and I’d love to hear his whole story as told from a real, raw and honest place that people may not have heard yet. Other guests I always think about having on are Jay Shetty, Russell Brand, Kevin Love and Pete Davidson. The list truly goes on but I’m thankful for all the guests I get because being candidly open is extremely brave, famous or not.

 

The Women Wave, hosted by Sterling Cates and Tricia Cleppes

Website          Apple Podcasts          Spotify          Instagram

  • What’s your podcast’s description/all about?

A: The Women Wave is a multimedia creative house that produces empowered content for women. At TWW, we encourage women to authentically connect and get involved in the world around them. In addition to an online community of women and IRL events, we have a weekly podcast that comes out every Thursday that covers everything from personal experiences, to politics, pop culture, and more. Each week, you can expect a bold, inspiring, and unfiltered conversation.

  • What inspired you to make this podcast?

A: The Women Wave came to be when we realized we weren’t the only women craving authentic conversations about our experiences. As long distance best friends in constant communication (bless you, FaceTime) about our lives and the world around us, we decided to make our private conversations public, creating space for other women to be just as vulnerable and supported. With so much going on right now, we figured we couldn’t be the only ones trying to figure it all out. We were right — and the best thing happened, now we get to do it with all of YOU!

  • What’s a favorite or memorable episode so far?

A: It’s so hard to choose a favorite because every week is so incredibly different! Over the past 106+ episodes, we’ve laughed (a lot), cried (a lot), and really explored topical stories in ways we didn’t know possible. One great thing about having this platform is we get to express our civic duty and rights, like protest and organizing. When there were families being separated at the border, we had a platform to spread awareness, research, and resources in the form of an emergency minisode.

On weeks where we may be traveling or can’t cover that week’s news, we’ll pre-record episodes where we take deep dives in to 1-2 topics or answer listener questions — which gives us a rare opportunity to dig deep, discover some gems and help our audience get to know us more. Here are a couple of our favorites. Do The Work (Episode 98) and No One Asked, We Answered (Episode 96).

  • What’s a piece of advice you’ve gained from a guest on an episode?

A: We have a bi-monthly series on our website called Women Making Waves, where we feature badass women who are playing active roles in making waves in their communities (which is how we connected with Dominique and InvisiYouth!). We have learned SO MUCH from each and every woman we’ve had the privilege of interviewing. We recapped some of the highlights on Episode 96, Lessons in Boldness from Women Making Waves. To point a quote out in particular, we refer back to this one a lot from Gender Equity Now’s Executive Director, Sara Sanford: “I’ve acted out of fear and I’ve acted out of bravery. I can’t think of a single time in which I acted out of fear that I would look back on and say, “I’m so glad I was timid. I’m glad I dimmed my light.” Whatever the thing is that you fear, it still comes for you. Wouldn’t you rather it came for you knowing you were true to yourself, that you had acted with integrity? Aren’t you coming out of that fire with your head held higher? I’ve endured consequences for being bold, and I don’t regret a single one of those decisions. If a job or a relationship doesn’t thrive in the midst of your strength, it means it’s not right for you; it doesn’t have enough to offer back to you. If you act boldly, you will find the people and the work that honor your strength – but you won’t get to that place by acting out of fear.” FIRE TWEET.

• What’s something you’ve learned from being a podcast host?

A: The nature of our podcast keeps us accountable for doing the work and doing the research. Each week we challenge ourselves by keeping up with the news and what’s going on in the world around us. It can be exhausting, yes, but ultimately it fuels our curiosity and desire to spark similar dialogue in our listeners own lives. We’ve also learned that vulnerability breeds vulnerability. By being willing to come to the table as we are, we’re creating a space for others to do the same. We’ve gotten so many wonderful messages from our community members who have similar stories or who were inspired to do something by something we said – and that’s an extremely humbling and motivating feeling. That connection keeps us going!

• What’s some advice you’ve gotten that you would pass along to new podcast hosts? 

A: Start. We didn’t have it all figured out when we decided we wanted to start a podcast – we just started. This whole thing has been through so many phases (#same), and ultimately hasn’t been the most by-the-book journey, but it’s been ours and it’s been beautiful. We are all works in progress, and that includes our expressions of creativity. Aside from that, don’t allow all the blogs out there to intimidate you – you don’t need the fanciest equipment or millions of dollars behind your podcast. You don’t need sponsorships to have a platform. If you’re committed to consistency and have a desire to use your voice in this way, just do it! And yes, do your research. 😉 Go in with a vision and a why. Our vision was to make our private conversations public. Why? We believe women are craving authentic connection and reassurance that they are not alone. Despite having gone through a rebrand and the natural evolution of this project, our vision and our why has never wavered.

If you could set a dream episode for your show, who would be part of it? What would it cover?

A: We sometimes lovingly say that our podcast is just a recap our Oprah’s Super Soul Conversations, so we think we’d have to say the obvious answer here: Oprah. There would be birds chirping as we sit with her on her Maui estate’s lawn. We would talk honestly about fear, resilience, purpose and the power of being a woman.  After we finish up she’d call Gayle and Stedman and we’d all make dinner using ingredients hand-harvested from Oprah’s famous garden. Then she would turn to us and say, “You know, after our interview today you’ve convinced me: I am running for President. Oh and also, you can live here if you want.” …Oh sorry, did we go too far?

In Visibility  Today, hosted by Laura Elliot

SoundCloud     Apple Podcasts    Patreon     Twitter Podcast     Twitter for Laura

  • What’s your podcast’s description/all about?

A: In Visibility Today is a (usually!) monthly podcast featuring an extended interview between me and another disabled or chronically ill guest, covering topics ranging from politics, culture, activism, art, and everything in between. The tag line is: sharing who and what’s visible in disability, and every month (my own health allowing), I aim to provide a platform for someone with a chronic illness or disability to share the work they’re doing within and outside of the community.

• What inspired you to make this podcast?

A: Before I became disabled, I completed my MA in Broadcast Journalism, so when I became housebound in 2016 one of the things I really missed was working in a radio newsroom. I decided to use the skills I still had to provide a platform for people like me to share their work and experiences outside of the mainstream media. As well as offering that platform, it’s also been a valuable way for me to learn about disability and chronic illness as a newcomer to this community. I intended the podcast to help other people learn about disability and other topics, and to understand that life doesn’t stop with disability, but actually, I think I’ve ended up learning more than anyone from my guests!

• What is a favorite or memorable episode from your podcast so far?

A: There have been so many it’s very hard to pick! Some highlights include speaking to Eugene Grant about compiling his own library of dwarfism history (his preferred phrasing), and interviewing Gail Ward from Disabled People Against Cuts in the UK, who have been fundamental in challenging the current government on the impact of their austerity measures on disabled people. I’ve also loved talking to author Lydia Ruffles about how chronic migraine lead to her writing her first YA novel, and writer and performer Sabrina Richmond about incorporating British Sign Language into her theatrical work.

• What’s a piece of advice you’ve gained from a guest on an episode?

A: I think the best piece of advice I got was from Sabrina, who spoke very eloquently about making autobiographical work, and the importance of defining how much of yourself you’re willing to share with an audience. She said she always tried to find that balance between honesty and vulnerability, and protecting her own privacy and the important parts of herself that aren’t for public consumption, by asking: will I still feel comfortable with this three months from now, when the adrenaline has faded and the work has already been shared?

• What’s something you’ve learned from being a podcast host?

A: I’ve learnt just how many incredible disabled people there are out there doing so much awesome work! Coming from mainstream media into a much more niche, homebound format has narrowed my focus, and it’s been a privilege to learn about various topics more in-depth than I’d ever have been able to do in a newsroom. Also, the importance of letting a conversation flow naturally, and not being afraid of the mic!

• What is some advice you’ve gotten to pass along to new podcast hosts? 

A: Try not to be too performative when you’re running the show. It’s tempting to over-compensate because obviously you’re relying purely on audio, but the best podcasts feel like being invited into someone’s living room for a chat, so just relax, and enjoy the conversation as you’re recording. Oh – and make sure you actually hit “record”!

 

• If you could set a dream episode for your show, who would be part of it? What would it cover?

A: I have two dream guests that I’d love to have on, and they are Frances Ryan, a journalist at The Guardian, and Jack Monroe, an author, cookbook writer, and campaigner in the UK. I’d love to talk to Frances about working as a disabled freelance journalist with a focus on disability rights and austerity, and how she manages her health and her investigative work. And I’d love to talk to Jack about their adaptive techniques cooking and writing, and their extensive knowledge of diet and health.

Made Visible, hosted by Harper Spero

Website       Apple Podcast        Spotify        Stitcher        Overcast        Google Play

Instagram for Podcast        Twitter for Harper        Instagram for Harper

• What’s your podcast’s description/all about?

A: Made Visible is a podcast that gives a voice to people with invisible illnesses. This podcast aims to change the conversation around invisible illnesses, helping those who experience them–whether as patients, caregivers, or friends or family members–feel more seen and heard. There’s no blueprint about how to live with an invisible illness, or how to be there for someone who has one. The goal of Made Visible is to help people living with invisible illnesses feel less alone as they strive to create a “normal” life, while also creating a new awareness of how we can be sensitive and supportive to people who are navigating these conditions. We never truly know what another person is going through unless we ask, listen, and do our best to understand.

• What inspired you to make this podcast?

A: I spent the first 27 years of my life hiding my invisible illness because I felt so much shame about it, and wanted to fit in. After undergoing a major surgery in 2012 where I could no longer hide my health, I started sharing my story and health challenges with friends and family and felt like I peeled off a layer that had been protecting me. Additionally, I started writing about it and found that my story and experiences resonated with others. But, as I searched for outlets and stories that were focused on invisible illness, I felt like I couldn’t always find content I related to. As an avid podcast listener, I decided to create the content I wanted to consume in podcast form. Thus, in July 2018, Made Visible was born!

• What’s your most memorable or favorite episode so far?

A: There are so many! I don’t play favorites. An episode I enjoyed was with Jaime Walden (Episode 56) who lives with Crohn’s disease. What I loved most about Jaime was that she didn’t hold back–she shared so much of her life, her health and the real struggles she faces while managing this illness…many of which are not so fun to talk about. She brought a lot of humor into our conversation.

• What’s a piece of advice you’ve gained from a guest on an episode?

A: Letty Cottin Pogrebin (Episode 30) talked about the importance of treating people like humans, not as patients. If you’re looking to support someone who is managing an invisible condition, it’s important to identify the things they love and how you can continue to make those things part of their life. Offer to bring them their favorite meal (or just show up with it!) instead of assuming they want soup.

• What’s something you’ve learned from being a podcast host?

A: I’ve been listening to podcasts for a while and when I started this I wanted to ensure that the content did not get stale. Over time, I have worked really hard to make sure I come up with unique questions, listen intently to my guests, and create diverse content so it never becomes repetitive. I never want someone to feel the way I have with other shows and get bored and stop listening.

• What’s some advice you’ve gotten you would pass along to new podcast hosts? 

A: Screen your guests in advance. Ensure they are media trained and good storytellers. Also, if you’re going through an assistant, publicist or manager, ensure the guest you’re recording with knows the premise of the show. This seems obvious but I’ve had a guest record and then ask me what the theme of the show is.

• If you could set a dream episode for your show, who would be part of it? What would it cover?

A: I have been watching Selma Blair’s journey with multiple sclerosis over the last year and am so thrilled to see her willingness to share so much of her day-to-day challenges. It’s important for people of influence to share their stories and help others know they’re not alone. I would love to interview her and talk about the process of deciding to share, how she chooses what she shares and when, and what it’s like to be a mother living with an invisible illness that’s becoming increasingly less invisible.

* * * * * * * * * *

Want to know another special addition to this epic InvisiYouth Podcast MasterClass Mini Series?? It’s my selection of some of my favorite episodes of InvisiYouth Chat Sessions!! And this was TOO HARD because we love something about every episode and each wonderful guest! But here are some of my MUST-WATCH and MUST-LISTEN episode from our podcast series!

Season One, Episode 14

For forever, my favorite is our tribute episode to my friend, and one of the best cystic fibrosis activists, Claire Wineland. I was planning with Claire her guest appearance for Season One before she passed away, and I decided to switch around and create a memory episode filled with Claire’s best YouTube moments. Highlight: getting to have Claire’s mom, Melissa, as the special guest because she’s one of the kindest souls I have met. It’s been two years since Claire passed away, and still to this day, I will watch this episode and feel the love Claire was always able to bring into the room.

YouTube        Apple Podcasts        Spotify        Google Play

Season Two Episode 26

Season Two ended with a dream guest, Diversability’s CEO and founder Tiffany Yu. In the early stages of InvisiYouth Chat Sessions development, we made a wishlist of powerful women in the chronic illness and disability space we’d love to have as a guest and Tiffany was on the top of that list. Her episode has an impactful discussion on the importance of good allyship and life lessons we still get comments about from people finding our series with E26.

YouTube        Apple Podcasts        Spotify        Google Play

Season Two Episode 24

Fun Fact: This episode is our most viewed YouTube video AND most popular audio podcast! And with the Kowlessars chatting about relationships with chronic illness, I know why! Anna (founder of People Hope) and her husband Randy have a a dynamic of fun, love, and passion that makes them guests you’ll be hooked to listen to from the first minute. I had the most laughs filming with them, and every listener will share this podcast to friends, it’s so good! Also BTS: we had technical difficulties and had to re-record the episode entirely again, so I got to experience two completely different episodes with Anna and Randy!

YouTube        Apple Podcasts        Spotify        Google Play

Season One Episode 7 and Season Two Episode 25

Our only returning podcast guest of InvisiYouth Chat Sessions is also one of my greatest friends and BOTH of his episodes are podcast gems! Cystic fibrosis activist, producer, and author Travis Flores brought two completely different tones to both episodes and that diversity makes him a standout guest. The friendship with me and Travis is such fun and clear in both E7 and E25 so you feel like you’re just hanging out with some new friends!

YouTube Epi7        Apple Podcasts  Epi7      Spotify Epi7        Google Play Epi7

YouTube Epi25        Apple Podcasts  Epi25      Spotify Epi25        Google Play Epi25

* * * * * * * * * *

When I decided to create this Podcast MasterClass, there were a ton of series that our team immediately mentioned that they were huge fans of too. It started when I began developing the premise of InvisiYouth Chat Sessions being the vocal point of our virtual programming. I was finding all these wonderful podcasts, hosted by these talented and diverse people and I was being inspired about the show I was creating for InvisiYouth Charity that I knew could hopefully become an addition to this list of shows I love.

And now InvisiYouth’s team has created our honorable mentions of top podcast picks.

*fun fact: I’ve been a special guest on some of these shows too!

Bit Different Pod        Chronic But Iconic        What Fulfills You?        Hey, Girl

Two Disabled Dudes     Call Your Girlfriend     Sickboy     The Gurls Talk Podcast

Disabled to Enabled    Point of Pain    Gentler Pod     This is Not What I Ordered

Please give a listen to all these podcasts that I am chatting about because they are AMAZING, their hosts are BADASSES, and I am a mega fan of all of them, and feel like I grow as a podcast host because of them too. Make sure to subscribe to their series, AND SUBSCRIBE TO INVISIYOUTH CHAT SESSIONS TOO too because their shows are so much fun!  We learn when we are open-minded, curious and eager to become better people, so when you listen to podcasts, you are truly getting to become a student again, be entertained, and feel that human connection. It’s why I love podcasting, and why I love that InvisiYouth Chat Sessions gets to be the focal point of our virtual programming. Lots of love!

~Dominique, founder and executive director

Spotlight Story Program: Devri Velazquez’s Story

Meet Devri Velazquez

Our latest Spotlight Story comes from someone we’ve adored for over a year now.  She’s not only got one of the best Instagram aesthetics we’ve ever seen, but she also has found a real niche for combining artistry with health activism. It is beauty and wellness editor and writer, Devri Velazquez.  Whether she is in Texas, New York City (where our founder, Dominique got to meet her), or Chicago, Devri has maintained her constant push for awareness on the life of a becoming an adult while living with chronic illness, specifically when you’re becoming your own person with invisible illness.

At 20 years old, Devri was diagnosed with a rare autoimmune vascular disease called Takayasu’s Disease. This is “a rare type of vasculitis, a group of disorders that cause blood vessel inflammation. In Takayasu’s, the inflammation damages the aorta—the large artery that carries blood from your heart to the rest of your body—and its main branches. For Devri, it took a series of strange flu-like symptoms and within a few weeks, her diagnosis was found.

Like thousands of the InvisiYouth community, Devri was diagnosed as a young adult, and that is a time in life when you are still discovering so much of who you are, and where you’d like your life to go.

I was 20 when I was diagnosed, so I feel like I had to grow up and mature soon than a lot of people I knew,” Devri said. “I had to quit taking certain risks that young people around me weren’t anywhere close to stopping. I take my self-care seriously, as my life depends on setting healthy boundaries.”

This is an experience that so many older youth have to deal with when maintaining their friendships while taking care of their health needs.

Self-care needs to be a requirement when you’re living with chronic illness instead of just a personal motivator.

Devri’s health journey has absolutely not only shaped the way she lives her daily life, but also how she does her work as a writer and editor on beauty and wellness, which everyone can experience on her website.  “I live and breathe survival everyday, in the places I go and the people I meet,” she said. “This is my lifestyle, learning everyday how to cope with constant pain that fluctuates by the hour. I pour my heart and passion into everything I do because I try not to take a single moment for granted.

Living with chronic illness takes so much daily energy, so when you’re able to achieve your goals, there is an extra large dose of enjoyment that can be felt. Like Devri points out, it completely alters the way you adapt to each and every day based on how your body is feeling and what you are capable of doing. And while that could be a focus of negativity at the challenges life with chronic illness presents, Devri is also able to see how her diagnosis has also given her new perspectives on life.

I always knew I was strong, but this has made me feel unbreakable. Nothing on this Earth and no person’s words or actions could ever hurt me as much as my body does on a daily basis, so I have learned to be more open-minded to a lot of things and not take certain situations as seriously. Everything is temporary, nothing is permanent, so relish the good moments, and know that the bad ones will pass.

There is so much to get empowered with from Devri’s mentality on her health journey. She’s right: no external factors in life can be as damaging as chronic illness is to your health, so you are actually a lot stronger than you think. Devri makes such a fantastic point: when you are having bad health days, you need to remember everything is temporary and with inner strength and willpower, you can to push those bad health days.

This is something we definitely get to experience through Devri’s social media activism on her Instagram account. Another trait of Devri’s that we all adore at InvisiYouth Charity is her complete vulnerability and belief that by sharing her medical journey, she can not only help others but also learn and grow herself.

Vulnerability is something that has help me accept and embrace the illness that my body carries,” Devri said. “I don’t feel defined by it, but it’s a part of my story now, and I’m not ashamed. I’m actually pretty proud of how well I carry this burden. Being open to your community—family, friends, colleagues—is so important, for your own mental health as well as their understanding and compassion in your journey.

What Devri touches on a couple of critical factors every young adult with chronic illness needs to know.  First, is the understanding that we are never defined by our illnesses or disability, but rather they are part of our description. Our health is not who we are, but rather it is part of the way we view our life and world around us, and that is not anything we should be ashamed of.

Second, Devri mentions something InvisiYouth always promotes, and that is the fact that a support network is critical to our daily success in life. Our family, friends and coworkers/classmates, they are all the people that help us get through the bad days, and celebrate the good ones.

This amazing young woman is filled with knowledge, realness and motivation. Not to mention, some of the best writing and photography we ever see! So when we asked Devri what her main message in life for other with chronic illness would be, it is no surprise that Devri would give the best.

Be your biggest advocate,” Devri said. “Learn how to say ‘no’ with confidence. If something doesn’t feel right—an interaction with another person, an environment, a job—it is okay to walk away from it. Do what your gut instinct tells you to do, just trust it with everything and then respond accordingly. That’s your mind, body and soul aligning to work in the favor of your higher self.”

When You’ve Got Health Hindsight: My 10-Year Anniversary with Chronic Illness

December 30, 2018

Well hello again, long time, no blog! It has clearly been a while since my last founder’s blog, but that’s just because InvisiYouth Charity has been keeping me so damn busy. (*and if you’ve been keeping up with InvisiYouth, you’ve gotten to know the reason for that is our new video podcast series, InvisiYouth Chat Sessions, which I am the hostwhich will be continuing throughout 2019*)

So, let’s get real for a minute.

One thing I’m a firm believer in is to always celebrate your small victories, and especially while you live with chronic illness/disability. You should be proud of all you achieve, regardless of the scale. But one of our volunteers reminded me of a milestone I just reached—10 years since the injury that caused the snowball of chronic illness into my life.

I’m aware it may see odd to celebrate my chronic illnesses. And yes, they really did take my life from me while my illnesses were a daily torture, but living with health struggles has also given me a life, a new normality, that I am incredibly proud of. While that’s my optimism trying to stay in focus, I refuse to stay in a mindset of resentment for my life.

As a resident “oldie” of my illness for a decade, I wanted to share my hindsight of life with chronic illnesses and the top 10 things I’ve learned after these 10 years:

#1 Diagnosis Won’t Be a Magic Wand, But It Sure Feels Nice

This is probably one of the biggest things I’ve gained hindsight on, while also being the most controversial.  It took me years to get proper diagnosis, years with mistreatment that could have improved my now-quality of life, but there’s something anyone that reads my work will notice. I rarely write down my diagnoses, and there’s a reason. Still to this day, I have had diagnoses given to me and taken away, some putting “undiagnosed” in front new diagnoses in my medical charts while others were certain. I used to put so much pressure on getting the name, getting the diagnosis and THEN I would be able to go through recovery and my new way of living. I wanted some claim of community for what I experienced. But even when I got one, it didn’t change much for me.  I still heard from doctors “well, this isn’t an illness we can cure, so we can just help you cope with it.”  The longer I lived without diagnosis, the longer I realized that it would not ‘fix’ what I was experiencing in my daily life.  Now yes, I am very aware some illnesses have amazing treatment which you get from a proper diagnosis, and that a diagnosis can really validate the patient experience because it allows them to belong and justify their health struggles. But for so many, the diagnosis isn’t the “cure it” pill, but rather the name we get to identify with. In hindsight, I learned that a diagnosis was less of a magic wand, and more of an identity helper and validation tool. I know I relate to a few different chronic illness communities, and my doctors are doing all they can to help with my health’s symptomatic issues, so a word doesn’t hold as much weight to me anymore.

#2 Celebrate the Small Daily Wins, Not Your “Literal” Falls

So often, we focus on what our bodies limit us from doing, what our chronic illnesses have taken away from our lives.  And that Negative-Nancy mindset can do a lot of damage on your emotional wellbeing when all your mental energy is focused on what goes wrong in your day and your health. When one thing goes wrong, it can feel like a domino-effect, or in my case, my own literal falls (since that tends to happen a lot). But when you’ve lived with a chronic illness for years, you gain a retrospective mindset because you’re able to look back on the periods of bad and good health. It makes you realize that if you celebrated those wins, all those days—or even hours—of stable, good health, then you’d be able to feel achievement and pride.

You’d be able to realize the focus of your energy is better served on those good moments, instead of all the setbacks and bad days.  I remember hearing the notion “every day may not be a great day, but you can find something great in each day” and that was what I began to live by a few years into my health journey.  Even if the best thing that happened was that I got out of bed, it was at least one thing I did well that day. When I gave full over-the-top celebration on each of my little wins with my health, it made my mentality more positive. It would start to feel oddly annoying when I had health setbacks because I wasn’t focused on the bad it caused in my life for most each year. The goal was to never give my chronic illnesses more power than they already had, so daily mini-winning parties for me.

#3 Become Your Best Researcher, Advocate and Nurse (knowledge=EMpowerED)

Knowledge is power. You need to be able to fight for your rights, for what you need to best help your life with health struggles.  So much was bounced over me, especially when I was a teenager and still a minor in the eyes of the medical community. That may have been the case, but it was still my body, my health, and my life.  I was lucky…my mom is an incredible nurse and has instilled in me the idea that no one will be a better advocate than YOU, so ask all the questions, inquire and research anything that may be done for you, and always get a second opinion on major medical decisions. I was taught how to advocate for my medical needs, how to research on the treatment options, to ask accurate questions, and have intelligent discussions with my doctors.  But this is not something everyone knows right when their health declines, it’s a trait to learn and sharpen.  With hindsight, I know that my health deserved my research and support to improve. I hear from lots of young adults that work with InvisiYouth “I’m the best researcher and nurse for my chronic illnesses, because I know my health and life better than anyone.”

#4 Reminiscing About the Past Can Hurt Sometimes

We can always learn from our past, but when you have a specific marker that defines “before I got sick” and “after I got injured” your past can feel bittersweet. I used to always focus on my past and feel like I wasn’t progressing enough with my health, that my chronic illnesses had done so much damage to my life.  And in a way, that could be true. The dream of playing tennis competitively on the pro-circuit died, my social network diminished, and my physical health deteriorated. But it didn’t mean I wasn’t still living my life or I wasn’t proud of the life I was building. So, when I constantly was looking at what my illnesses had taken from me, I was damaging my emotional wellbeing, and that began to hurt. My past with pristine health is something I love, and now I look at it with a great deal of fondness. But the way I’ve handled it is to look at it in those two separate parts: the before and after. If I stay in a mindset of “what ifs” then I lose my positivity, and that is not something I am willing to do. I have learned over the years since my injury, I have learned to have respect for all the years of my life, and to never feel bad or ashamed of my illnesses. By doing that, I don’t focus on what my past looked like, but rather how I have strengthened into the woman I am, how I’ve become more empathic and how I have been able to thrive in my life. I focus on the now, while giving importance to the past and future when it relates to my memories and my dreams, or my medical history, of course!

#5 Let Yourself WallowBut You Only Get One Hour

People have this ideal notion that you’ve got to be happy all the time. That if you feel sadness as a direct effect of your chronic illness/disability, you are not fighting hard enough for your health. I started to feel like I needed to be positive, to always find the goodness in my struggles, because people were “inspired” by my inner fight and “motivated” by my positive outlook.  And while that is true, that is because I let myself grieve my old life and feel for the literal pain and discomfort I have each day.  I can be strong and positive because I know when to let myself feel bad.  With a decade of chronic illness-life under my belt, I can see it was a great decision to let myself wallow for all my chronic illnesses have pained me. But what I learned is now the advice I give: allow yourself time to wallow, but make sure it only maxs out at one hour. I give myself this time limit for a reason.  If I let myself continue to feel bad about my health struggles, it will fester and to climb out of that depressive dark hole is a huge challenge. But you should be allowed to experience all the emotions of life with health struggles. You are a human being and that spectrum of emotions deserves to be felt. It is something that has worked so well for me because I allow myself to feel all the sadness and mourning and pain that is physically tortuous on my health, but I never let it overtake me.  Sit in your emotions, but know you are in just as much control of your life as your chronic illness/disability is of your physical health. When I realized my own strength, but also allowed myself to feel bad, it allowed that positive mindset to shine, so let that positive focus to thrive be your superior emotion.

#6 Be Fearless to Help Yourself in Public. You Won’t See those Judgy Strangers Again

To this day, my friends will say they know the minimum about my health struggles—many of them not even knowing the extent till they came to InvisiYouth fundraisers or my public speaking engagements. But that decision was because I was always a private person, and never felt the details needed to be shared.  I relied on the invisible nature of my chronic illnesses so it would never be the first thing people noticed about me. But when my symptoms and health struggles expanded into the physical, everyone would notice, feel pity, or ask prying questions. After a couple years of worrying about what others thought, I spoke with my mom and she got real with me. “Why are you worrying about people’s opinions? You never see them again, and it’s just stressing you out unnecessarily.” I flipped a switch and stopped caring about the wandering eyes and whispered comments. We’ve got lots to worry about with chronic illness, so worrying about what other people are judging us for when they pass by should NOT be on the list. They are strangers and not substance to what makes you who you are. And let’s get real…even I fall victim to worrying about what others think on occasion.

Recently, I went into NYC for a brunch with this lovely British blogger while she, her older brother and her boyfriend were celebrating her brother’s birthday. At that time, I had to use a cane and on my commute, I used it and got lots of stares that it didn’t faze me. But the moment I got to the restaurant, I put the cane away to make sure they did not know my medical status. I hid the cane in my bag, suffered the few steps to our table and back outside without these three new friends knowing anything. And the second I was out of sight, I grabbed my cane. Even I have moments of self-doubt, but I don’t let them define me. I could have used my cane in front of them (her brother has one of the same chronic illnesses I do) but for that 20% of my day, I concealed my reality. That is okay…because 80% is greater than 20% and I made it a point to use my cane for all my meetings, family gatherings and shopping trips in the days after. Because I am fearlessly confident with my chronic illnesses, and moments don’t define a life!

#7 Even in the Hard Days, Just Try to Laugh Because It Helps You Cope

With InvisiYouth and in my daily life, I firmly believe that laughter is the best medicine. For me, I have truly seen the way my humor, or blunt sarcasm, has helped me cope with my chronic illnesses. When things get bad medically and you’re told your limitations, I found humor was not just a cushion from my harsh reality, but a way I could look at life.  Humor supports your emotions. And sometimes with all life can throw at you when you’re living with chronic illness, you just want to laugh so you don’t cry. But I also view laughter not just as literal laughing at my medical problems, but experiencing humorous moments too! When I wasn’t as mobile or active in my past, I would find TV shows, YouTube channels or movies that would make me laugh.  Even if it was as basic as TV show review podcasts, if it got me to laugh while my health struggles were tragic, then all was being done well.  Sometimes we need to take our chronic illnesses/ disability seriously, focus on how our bodies can manage hour-by-hour, handle new treatments or hospital stays. The need for humor in our lives should to be prominent too. How else can you handle diagnosis, setbacks and side effects unless you laugh at your bad days? In hindsight, I can easily say my dark humor is one of the largest factors that got me through my lowest lows, and got me to the stage of my new normal ten years later!

#8 Body Positivity ≠ 24/7 Body Confidence

It used to feel like such a challenge to remain confident about my body for a couple reasons. Firstly, I have a distinct “pre-illness” life I can remember before the injury. And I had a competitive athlete’s teenager physique, so there had to be a deep acceptance my body may never look that way again. Secondly, my health struggles are physically taxing, so I go from living with an invisible illness to an illness that morphed, damaged and scarred parts of my body. It’s literally painful to use my entire left side, and even though a decade into it, I’ve learned how to live this new normality with quality, it means I “workout to be in shape” more uniquely than most. But the truest way I’ve gained confidence with my body is finding an appreciation that it does work for me. I’m grateful when I can climb a flight of stairs because I remember when that wasn’t possible. I am the only one that must live in my skin, so if I’m not going to find my body beautiful, it won’t matter if anyone else does. So, I have learned over these 10 years to find confidence in the functional body I have to work with, instead of desperately desiring more toned legs or smaller hips and a slimmer face. And now, I have such a respect for what this body of mine is capable of, the battle scars I find sexy and the imperfections that make me the woman I am. This body has fought my chronic illnesses with me, and that helps with my body positive mindset.

#9 Ask for Help When You Need it and That Will Make You Stronger

How I wish I accepted this earlier! When I was in the early stages of health struggles, I hated asking for help. It felt like a defeat or failure. Like my hours of physical therapy, focus on treatments and doctor visits hadn’t worked and I wasn’t doing enough. But what took me years to realize was a simple fact: Even my friends without chronic illness/disability needed to ask for help at times. Now granted, my requests and needs are a bit more major and frequent, but looking back, I made my daily life harder than necessary to live without asking for help. I physically struggled walking and interacting in classes because I didn’t want anyone to know it was hard for me.

I strained my limitations to meet deadlines, which caused medical setbacks that left me weeks to recover.  But asking for help is not a sign of weakness, but rather, it is a sign of strength. You are so connected with your medical needs that you are willing to gain support to achieve goals. That makes you stronger than anyone because you know what your goals are and have passion to get things done, and those are signs of an independent and successful person. I started to become less afraid of saying “Can you help me?” or “Do you know how to adapt this to what I can do?” Word of advice: ask for help because you want to live your life with purpose, and while it’s totally normal to feel like you’re bothering people, realize each supporter will make you stronger.

#10 Don’t Fake Smile to Pacify Others. YOU are the Only One Living This Life

I could not have picked a better piece of reflection on my ten years of chronic illness life than this one. As I began to live my life with chronic illness longer and longer, my health became my identifier. I was no longer just Dominique, but the ‘sick’ friend. I wasn’t part of the conversation, but the full medical dictionary to the questions thrown at me. And the more I interacted with “healthy/able-bodied” people, the more I ‘put on’ a happy face. I felt guilty if other people knew how bad things were medically because it felt like they were going to start pitying me more too. I pacified others constantly being “the happy, strong girl with health struggles” who never complained and always said “it’s okay.” But the only person that it was affecting was me.  It was me who had to put extra energy into “feeling as healthy as I looked” and that wasn’t fair. I learned since I was the one person that had to live inside this body all year-round, I had to find ways to adapt to it.  And if my illness struggles bothered people, if my realness was too much, then that had to be okay, and they were not the right people to have in my life. Don’t hide how you are feeling from other people. Life isn’t perfect, it is multi-faceted and messy at times, and don’t make everyone around you comfortable when you are not. Live your life the way you want to live it. And the people that love and respect you, the people that are the most compassionate are the same people that will stick around during all your “faces of emotions” and will open their minds and hearts to empathize with your experiences.

When you were not born with a disability or chronic illness, 10 years of health struggles is a long time.  It takes up such a part of way you live and view the world and yourself.  And that lets you take a step back, and learn and appreciate all you’ve experienced. Dig deep and you will be proud of the thriving life you make for yourself with all its medical quirks and adaptations, trust me!

~Dominique

Spotlight Story Program: Louise’s Story

Meet Louise Cooper

We’ve gotten to know Louise first as one of the cool British health and lifestyle bloggers that followed InvisiYouth, but we are getting to know her even better as a member of the InvisiYouth team for this winter’s Superhero Series Winter Games this December!  She’s an Ehlers Danlos Syndrome warrior that’s found ways to balance her love of sport and travel with her illnesses, and her open honestly makes her one to watch in our book.

My name is Louise, I’m originally from Essex, England. I was diagnosed with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, PoTS, Chiari and a whole host of other conditions in 2015 and am still under investigation for a variety of things!

I have always been a “sporty” person, I didn’t find out about my EDS (a connective tissue disorder that can affect the skin, joints, muscles and vascular system with hyper-mobility and hyperelasticity) until three years ago when I was 25, but have been in and out of hospital my whole life and had a back brace for scoliosis at the age of 12 for a few years. The only time I didn’t have to wear my back brace was when I was exercising, so, if there was a sport – I did it! I was also a competitive swimmer throughout my teens, I even made it to nationals (albeit in a relay team by HEY, it still counts!). Unfortunately, after various immune issues and bouts of glandular fever and CMV my exercise started to tail off in my late teens and early 20s.

I held down a full-time job for 5 years, bought my own apartment and car, I had everything I needed! Things came to a head around 18 months ago and my body just said ENOUGH, I was working ridiculous hours at a job in London with the commute, and not looking after myself much. The average person would burn out, let alone someone with a chronic illness, but I guess that’s just the fight in me.

So I started back with physio, some days I’m fine, some days I’m not! I like someone who gives me physio exercises based around the gym – I just respond better that way, I like to be challenged and push myself further however it is SO important to do this correctly and under supervision. Physio will always be a part of my life as I will always have ups and downs in my health but I dont see this as a negative, I learn each time what I can do to strengthen or protect my body in order to prevent or minimize thedisruptionto my body for the next time.

I have found it’s important to use supports, straps and anything else for your physio exercises and gym routines. This will always give you the confidence to know you are safe while exercising! I currently wear, finger, x 2 wrist, knee and back supports when working out. While there’s not an awful lot I can do about my ligaments and tendons, I can strengthen and tone the muscles around my body to get them performing as best as possible! Being back in the gym the last two years hasn’t always been easy. I’ve a fair share of blips along the way with disc tears, bulges and tarlov cysts now appearing, but this has only made me more determined to keep going! Keeping mobile and active reduces my pain, but there is a very careful balance, I have to make sure I dont overdo it and listen to my body!

I also have to make sure that I listen to my health not just through exercise, but through my diet and medications as well.

By health, I mean nutrition, taking my tablets and everything in between. I’ve always had food intolerances, but recently these have become a lot worse. I don’t believe in cutting out EVERYTHING from your diet, it’s everything in moderation and finding out what works for you.

My motto is – listen to yourself. I find my body tells me what I need but generally, I’ll eat meat, fresh veg and a small portion of carbs. Its about trial and error and finding what works for you, and you really, really do have to persevere, it won’t change in a week, it has to be a lifestyle change in order for it to work.

Possibly most importantly – Take your medication!! They are prescribed for a reason – and I know this can be hard, I am forgetful, this is something I’ve really had to work on! It sounds SO easy and its not that I don’t want to take them it just becomes – I’ll do it in a minute! How do I manage it now? I leave my tablets in my room and kitchen, if there staring at me, I can’t avoid them!

When living with chronic illness, it not only can take a toll on your physical health but also your mental health. My mental health impacts on my ability to participate in my exercise plans and my dietary programs. If I am feeling pessimistic (which we are all entitled to at times) or having a bad day, I am less likely to want to go to the gym or look after myself as well or cook my dinner.

Now this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, nobody in the world is 100% positive all day everyday, but for the most part, I think it is important to have a Positive Mental Attitude (PMA). Even on my bad days, I always try and find a positive. For this reason, I usually have flowers around the house – if I can’t think of anything else nice about my day or if I’m feeling low, I can always look at flowers to give me a “pick me up.”  Negative thoughts cannot change what has happened or the current situation you may be in or what your future may hold. But, what can change it? Trying.

Trying everything, and anything thrown your way.

I moved/travelled to New Zealand, started promotional modeling, made a great group of friends, went on adventures, hiked 4 hours in a bush, appeared on TV (albeit an extra!), my health was the best it had ever been! I’ve recently started a forum along with some Chronic Illness friends and we will be uploading beginners home workouts and basic physio (all are qualified, I will just be performing the routines).

But one day I woke up unable to move and spent the next 2-3 weeks in and out of hospital and have since, pack up my room and sold my furniture in New Zealand and returned to Essex to give my best chance of recover and further testing on what we believe may be neurological.

One thing that I’ve always found incredibly hard – and still do – is I look totally “normal”. I don’t have a cast on my leg or have visible scars so I often hear the phrase “but you don’t look sick”. I’m quite open about my health and try and raise as much awareness as possible, by posting “normal” pictures and trying to change the way illnesses are perceived – just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean it’s not there!

Am I nervous, anxious and scared? Of course! But I’ll keep trying and determined to keep going, if I’ve learnt anything its that were a lot stronger than we realize and give ourselves credit for.

That is why I’m so appreciative of being asked by InvisiYouth to be a part of their Charity Team for this past Superhero Series Triathlon for disability adaptive sports.  And while I couldn’t compete that day, I am thrilled to be part of the new InvisiYouth Charity Team for the upcoming Superhero Series Event this December, Superhero Winter Games. The work they do is very close to my heart and something I’m so passionate about – I wish I would have had this connection to the community in my teens – before the days of social media!! I cannot wait to support InvisiYouth in the Superhero Winter Games run and hopefully raise a bit of awareness too!