fatigue

I Ignored My Fatigue, and Here’s Why You Shouldn’t

Author: Maria Pappas, Real Life Stories

My summer was, in a word, hectic. I moved, traveled to five states, and worked at three different summer camps, all while I maintained my full-time job. Naturally, when I started becoming really tired, I wasn’t too surprised or concerned. I thought that it was normal to be tired from doing all of these things. And, usually, it is. I was run down, and it just made sense. 

Fatigue, however, is not normal. And unfortunately, I learned that the hard way, by letting it get really bad before I did anything about it.

I first noticed that something was weird when I was not able to sleep through the night for a few weeks straight. Usually, I’m a pretty heavy sleeper. But even though I was so tired, my body would not shut off. It took a toll on me in every imaginable way.

 

Physically
In the past, I could run five miles a couple times a week. However, this past summer, I could barely walk half a mile to the train without my legs feeling sore for hours. My muscles always ached like I had just lifted 100-pound weights. I rarely felt “good” for more than a few hours at a time.

Socially
I’m usually a very empathetic person, and all of a sudden I felt nothing, even after hearing startling or upsetting news. I found it difficult to focus on anyone or anything except how tired I was. I didn’t remember the things that people told me, which was frustrating to both me and them when we tried to have conversations. I was often frustrated and impatient with myself and with others, and it made me think that no one wanted to hang out with me (even though I was never told or shown that outright, thankfully).

Mentally
Work was extremely difficult. Simple tasks that I would easily do daily became difficult. I craved mundane and repetitive work, when usually I do a million things at the same time. Why? Because I felt like that was all I could do.

My memory took a toll
At summer camps, I couldn’t remember my campers’ names after having spent days with them. Yes, there are lots of kids at camp, but I’ve worked at camp for years, and this was never a problem before. Even more concerning? When I looked back at the end of most days, I couldn’t remember anything that I had done that day.

Anxiety, and depressive symptoms
These were also at an all time high, and besides minor anxiety here and there, I had never felt these types of symptoms before in my life. I never wanted to get out of bed, and I constantly had anxiety about whether this would go away, or if I would ever feel okay again.

 

As you can imagine, I tried everything I could think of to fix it. I drank endless cups of coffee to make me feel less foggy, I took naps whenever I could with the vain hope of revitalization, and I spent my weekends, days off, and nights doing as little as possible. 

When I’d tried everything I could think of to no avail, I became very concerned. This wasn’t a normal tired, I eventually admitted to myself. I was sure that something was wrong. I started calling it “fatigue” instead of just “tired,” hoping that someone could give me an answer.

Well, people gave me answers all right.

“You’re not eating well. “You’re not exercising enough.” “You need to sleep more.” “Well, you’ve been doing a lot. This is totally normal.” All of these were things I heard way too often. Or, more annoyed answers: “I’m tired too, you’re not the only one working hard,” and “you’re overreacting, it’s all in your head.” I found myself Googling “symptoms of [insert malady here]” way too often. So I stopped telling people, for fear of sounding crazy or dramatic.

And I decided to do something about it: I had blood work done, and it came back positive for Lyme disease. How I felt when I got the results back was the most scared and relieved I’ve probably ever felt in my life. The diagnosis explained all of the things that I was feeling, and I’ve since started antibiotics and feel a thousand times better.

I didn’t have the tell-tale signs of Lyme disease: the bulls-eye rash or the fever. If I did have a fever, it was low-grade enough for me to work through. So really, the fatigue was the only sign that I could go on. I wish that I hadn’t ignored that sign for so long, because this problem could have been resolved much sooner.

The thing about fatigue is that it looks normal to an outsider. You walk and talk like you always have. No one really notices anything except that you’re tired, and maybe moodier than usual. But in your head, you know that something is different. It’s not dramatic. It’s necessary for your health to address fatigue.

 


For more information on Lyme disease, visit www.lymedisease.org

plane

I Traveled Out of My Comfort Zone, and it Changed My Worldview

Author: Nicole Chininis, Real Life Stories

Traveling truly does provide you with just about everything you need.

It allows you to expand your point of view, and expand your knowledge. Think of it as being completely nearsighted, and then putting on glasses for the first time in your life. You now can see not only what is in front of you, but the the things beyond what your hands can reach. Things are clearer, and you have a better understanding of what’s around you.

My time spent traveling abroad shaped who I am today because of the people I met, the food I ate, and the life that I lived. But, I felt like for a long time that I never really expanded outside of my true comfort zone. This is a big confession for a Study Abroad Advisor, but let me explain.

I’ve spent my fair share of time across Europe and some of Latin America, visiting friends who are living abroad, or living abroad myself. In Spain, I immediately felt at home, because I spoke the language, and the culture felt familiar, thanks to my Greek heritage. Of course, the cultures are different, but there was something about being in loud, friendly groups of people that made me feel at home.

Even though I felt at home in Spain, I still experienced culture shock, which mostly came from speaking Spanish as a second language. For instance, it was difficult to not be able to find the right words I wanted to use, or not fully being able to understand things my friends said. But after some time, I was able to blend in and adapt to Spanish culture and language like it was my own. 

After my time in Spain, I was then fortunate enough to spend a couple of weeks in South Africa, immersing myself in local culture, as I did in Spain. It was an experience unlike any other I have ever had. It was one of the first times that I didn’t know what to expect. I knew about some the history of Apartheid, a system of government that required segregation by race, but I had no idea of the tremendous impact it still has on the day to day lives of the people who live there.

I also didn’t know what to expect in terms of food while traveling, as South African cuisine is not something that is as internationally common as other cuisines, and I really had no idea of what to expect in the townships. I was constantly out of my comfort zone, but at the same time, I felt like I was taking in so much.

Over the course of the trip, I spoke with everyone I could, and I really reflected on my preconceived notions, stereotypes, and misconceptions that I had about South Africa prior to my trip. Without any expectations for the country, I was able to truly see things with clarity and open eyes.  

My trip to South Africa provided my ability to take a step back in my own life, and reflect on experiences here within the United States. South Africa ended Apartheid a little over 20 years ago. But, I felt like so many of the conversations we were having about racism, segregation, and where they were as a country were so similar to the conversations we are having here. It challenged my perceptions of where we are, and how far we have to go, and it made me truly admire the South African people. As much as they have to go, South Africa is incredibly resilient, strong, and mindful of the work that is ahead. It was inspiring and eye-opening.

I wouldn’t have had this moving experience if I stayed in my comfort zone. It made me more aware of my experiences, no matter where I travel to, because it has given me a different point of view. I learned that I need to take myself out of what I think I know, focus on what I don’t know, and challenge myself to find out. I challenge you to do the same.

Living With Endometriosis From an Early Age

Author: Elizabeth Zarb, Real Life Stories

Getting a period is pretty standard for anyone with a uterus. They can be painful, they can cause a wide range of unusual emotions, and they are a great excuse to eat an extra piece of chocolate. But, these symptoms are all considered “normal” parts of having a period. 

What’s not standard for people with uteri is endometriosis. 

Endometriosis occurs when tissue that usually grows inside of the uterus grows outside and around it, putting pressure onto the uterus. Its only cure is menopause. And, it’s genetic.

My mom had endometriosis, my aunt had endometriosis, and I have endometriosis. I’ve had my period for seven years. If you do the math, I’ve had around 84 periods, each lasting almost two weeks (way longer than average). And during every single one, I was screaming and crying.

At just 11 years old, I had to leave dance class early because of how intense my cramps were. My first memories of my period were of me lying on the floor of the bathroom, crying. I would describe the pain by saying, “you could probably stab me in the uterus while I had cramps, and I wouldn’t be aware of it.” By age 13, I was missing two consecutive days of school a month in order to deal with the first two days of my period, and I was taking four Advil every four hours for ten days straight. By high school, I had a doctor’s note saying I couldn’t play gym when I was on my period. At age 14, I begged my mom every single month to put me on birth control, as I was told that would help with the pain, and after I turned 15, I was put on the pill.

I was told that birth control should help my cramps, as that’s what it does for many others. However, over the course of three years, I’ve been on eight different birth control pills, with none of them alleviating the pain. I felt so helpless that I even asked about getting a hysterectomy. I wanted the source of pain as far away from my body as possible.

Eventually, my gynecologist sent me to a pediatric gynecologist, since they’re the ones trained to look for abnormalities. I told her what my symptoms were, and she immediately diagnosed me with endometriosis, something which my old doctor had only mentioned was a possibility. I began taking continuous birth control, which is essentially the same as regular birth control — except it skips the placebo week, meaning that those who take it don’t get a period. This worked well, but it gave me severe migraines. For a while, I was okay with this, as the cramps were by far the more severe pain. But, my doctor was not happy about the fact that the pain simply moved, and suggested an IUD. 

While types of birth control were being sorted out, another discussion came about. You see, endometriosis doesn’t show up on sonograms, so even though my doctor diagnosed me and began treating me for endometriosis, there was no 100% guarantee that I had it. The only way to know for sure was to do an exploratory laparoscopy, which is doctors sticking a camera through your belly button — and if doctors were to find any endometriosis, they remove it. Sounds easy, right?

I came out of the surgery in generic surgery related pain but otherwise okay. Sure there were cramps, but the cramps were considered a normal side effect (and yes, I realize the irony of how the surgery that was to prevent period cramps caused period cramps).

Right now, I’m hopeful. I went through seven years of unbelievable pain, and I’ve exhausted all possible options to help my endometriosis. Yes, it can grow back, but hopefully, the IUD will stop that from happening. The most important thing to me is spreading awareness about endometriosis, because it is something that 10-20% of people with uteri suffer from silently. It’s considered “taboo” to talk publicly about periods, but because of this taboo, many people don’t know what endometriosis is — and therefore, don’t know if they have it. Celebrities like Halsey and Julianne Hough have spoken openly about their struggles with it, and it’s opened up the conversation for other people.

And hey, if Julianne Hough can film an entire season of Dancing With The Stars while suffering from endometriosis, then at the very least, I can get out of bed in the morning.

 


For more information about endometriosis, visit endometriosis.org

service

I Chaperoned a Service Trip, and it Changed My Life

Author: Maria Pappas, Real Life Stories

In 2013, when I was a sophomore in college, I participated in a life-changing trip to Tupelo, Mississippi, through a program called Global Outreach.

For a Global Outreach trip, you’re placed on a team of ten students, a leader (who is also a student), and a chaperone. These 12 team members get to know each other throughout the semester via weekly meetings, and this culminates in the service project. 

The trip I went on allowed me to serve as a counselor at a summer camp for Catholic children, called Camp Friendship. The experience was, in a word, transformative.

Participating in Global Outreach Mississippi changed the way I viewed the country I’ve lived in my entire life, my faith, summer camp, and my relationships, just to name a few. The campers were the sweetest, and my team members were amazing individuals who I still look up to long after our trip ended.

So, naturally, when I got the chance to chaperone the same trip, for a new group of students, I jumped at the chance (actual jumping may or may not have been involved).

As a chaperone instead of a participant, though, the team-building process leading up to the trip was much more difficult than I expected. It involved trekking to the Bronx once a week on a Sunday night and arriving home after midnight (like, way after) before work on Monday. It was a huge time commitment and a test of patience as well. Like, “how many times can I hear the same question about what to pack for Mississippi without rolling my eyes” test of my patience.

It of course was all worth it when we got to Camp Friendship. I was ecstatic to find that the magic that had made me fall in love with the camp the first time was still there. Yes, the beds were still glorified pieces of foam, and the bugs were way larger than I remember (or could ever imagine).

But, being a counselor at the camp was also just as fun as I remembered, if not more so. The campers were just as sweet and hysterical, and each one of them took a small piece of my heart when they went home at the end of the week. I’d have to say that watching my team members be transformed in their faiths, relationships, and world views- the same ways in which I was transformed four years ago — was probably the most rewarding part. I learned a lot from my team, and was able to grow from working with them. 

I think it’s important to give back to what shaped you.

Global Outreach Mississippi 2013 made me into the person that I am today, and I wanted to give some students that experience by chaperoning the 2017 trip. It made me love summer camp and working with kids. As I continue on in my life, it’s nice to know that I can have these experiences any time I’d like, by doing some kind of service. I can continue to serve without wanting to change anything, and without expecting anything back. 

As a chaperone, my goal was to give students that same opportunity that I had to experience something new with an open heart, to fall in love with something, and to change their lives. 

So, instead of a glamorous beach vacation, or traipsing around Europe, my memories consist of tie-dying shirts and making up songs about fried chicken with nine year olds. And I absolutely think that I made the right decision — and returned with a slightly fuller heart.

body positive

Overcoming a Culture of Ideal Body Types

Author: Mary Grace Donaldson, Real Life Stories

We all know the feeling. You’re looking through a magazine, or watching footage of New York Fashion Week wondering just how a model’s body can “look like that.” It defies all logic, and what you know to be healthy, but you still wonder if this is the person you “should” want to look like.

In today’s world, where we are bombarded with images of seemingly “ideal bodies” — on magazines, on billboards, on television, you name it, — there’s no sugar-coating the fact that it’s tough to be a size that doesn’t fit the mold, whether you’re “too fat” or “too skinny.” And while this issue is stereotypically associated with women, men are not immune to criticisms about their bodies from those who have no idea what it’s like to be inside their bodies.

I’ve always had a body that didn’t, and still doesn’t, fit that “ideal,” and like many of my peers I spent some of my formative years wondering what I “should” look like. Why the pants that were sold at Limited Too fit me, but the tops never seemed to work. And why no matter how much I wished to, I’d just never have a body like Britney Spears… my body is just not made that way.

Overall, we live in a society that discourages body positivity and encourages going after that ideal, even if it’s through what could be perceived as subliminal messages transmitted via advertising and even through clothes that aren’t accommodating to certain sizes.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Today there are activists out there fighting for body positivity. Reality TV star and highly empowered feminist millennial Whitney Way Thore won’t rest until her voice is heard, and she’s granted the same rights and privileges as her thinner counterparts. Plus-size supermodel Tess Holliday inspires fashion-forward thinking in the hopes of bringing a more “fun” wardrobe to plus-sized women, particularly through her clothing line. And plus-size model Ashley Graham has appeared on the covers of Sports Illustrated, Vogue, SELF, and Cosmopolitan magazines, just to name a few.

But even those with star power aren’t immune either. Social media critics who think they’re doctors take every opportunity to remind Thore and Holliday about just how much they “need” to lose weight. Graham couldn’t even find someone to design a dress for for the 2016 Met Gala. And if you’ve ever read any interview with any of these women, they encourage loving your body, and not “being unhealthy.” They work out on a regular basis. And they would never stop or discourage their fans from losing weight if that’s what they decided to do.

If those with some degree of star power aren’t immune to seemingly unfounded criticism (in some ways they’re more liable but in other ways they’re less so), those of us who are living their lives in bodies that are not deemed acceptable by society are by no means immune to the remarks, stares, and microaggressions.

Retail stores
Upon entering stores that are geared toward thinner people, I can feel the confused stares from the sales clerks, as though I set off an alarm. As though I’m stepping on a rug that activated an alarm I could only title the “Fat Person Alert.” It’s important that I don’t let the hostile, confused stares rattle me in the moment — but these are experiences I’m not going to forget quickly, and I know I’m not alone in such experiences. But it’s also important to remember that a person of any size has a right to enter any store. News flash: the stares are completely unnecessary. Most of us with non-conventional body types know which stores carry clothes that fit us, and which ones don’t.

Dating sites
Almost all dating sites ask for your body type. Who cares? If you truly have a connection with someone, what does it matter what your body type is? They also try to create euphemisms for “overweight,” a la MySpace’s “More to Love!” option. We don’t need a euphemism for “not acceptable,” if that’s what you’re trying to say. But you shouldn’t let the euphemisms stop you from joining sites if that’s what you want to do. And if the right person is meant to find you on a dating site, the right person won’t care if you have “more to love” (or less, for that matter).

The workplace
If you’re overweight, no one’s surprised when you take the elevator instead of the stairs. When you’re sweaty. When you’re tired. When you pick a lunch that’s less than healthy. Your weight is clearly the reason — it can’t possibly be for a different reason altogether. While it’s difficult to not be self-conscious in that spot, your work ethic, however, will take the spotlight away from your size — whatever that size is. And if your size does take away from earning that respect that you do in fact deserve, it’s probably time to find a new workplace.

The media
You’re “not supposed to care” what the media portrays, right? But if we’re being honest, it’s easier said than done, and it’s unfortunately natural for us to compare ourselves to these unreasonable ideals set forth by Hollywood — in fact, it’s downright difficult not to. Do whatever you have to not to give in, and to be happy with yourself, even if that means going on a “media fast,” in which you purposely don’t expose yourself to images of ideal bodies.

Well-meaning friends and family members
Sometimes, your friends and family truly mean to encourage you with passive-aggressive comments about your body. Spoiler alert: they don’t help, even though they are not delivered with bad intent. “Imagine what you could look like if you lost weight!” Because I’ve never thought of that. How original! While it’s truly difficult not to care what others (especially others who play an important role in your life) think of you or your size (hello, size 22 over here), they are toxic to you if they don’t understand that there’s more to you than a number on a tag hidden in your clothes. You could be any size and be a great person, or you could be any size and be a horrible person. What ultimately matters is how you treat people.