3 Ways to Stand Up for Yourself When You Have an Invisible Illness

Imagine feeling the evil eye seared into the back of your head by a half dozen people when you squeeze into a crowded elevator so you can go up 1 floor. “You couldn’t take the stairs?” You hear the person behind you mutter.

Imagine overhearing nasty, sarcastic comments about how healthy you look when you pull into a handicapped parking space: “Where’s your wheelchair?”

Or having your request for workplace or academic accommodations being questioned because “You don’t look sick.”

For people living with invisible illnesses, this is reality. Dealing with naysayers can be just as exhausting as dealing with the medical condition itself.

Some 125 million Americans are living with at least 1 chronic condition, according to the Invisible Disabilities Association.

Many chronic conditions are considered “invisible,” including:  ●     ADHD  ●     Arthritis  ●     Asthma  ●     Brain injuries  ●     Chronic pain  ●     Diabetes  ●     Epilepsy  ●     Fibromyalgia  ●     Lupus  ●     Migraines  ●     Multiple sclerosis

Here are 3 tips to remember when you have an invisible illness:

1) Know how and when to explain your condition to a naysayer

Sometimes all the naysayer deserves is a polite reminder to mind his or her own business, especially random strangers who are mad about the handicap spot.

But it gets trickier when it comes to current or potential employers.

If you’re applying for jobs, the US Department of Labor says you should disclose your disability on a “need-to-know” basis. You have the right to:

●        Expect full confidentiality and respect

●        Disclose your disability at any time during the hiring process and even after

●        Receive reasonable accommodations for interviews

●        Be considered for positions because of your skills and merit

●        Answer questions about your disability in order to determine the type of accommodations you need, if any

If you’ve decided to share your condition with someone, but you’re  having trouble explaining your condition, talk to your healthcare provider about it. She’s probably used to explaining the condition to her own patients and their families and may know what resonates and what doesn’t.

In extreme cases, particularly with employers, have documentation of your condition available. However, keep in mind that, depending on who the naysayer is, you may have no legal obligation to show this to them. Knowing who deserves proof of your condition and who doesn’t will save you time and hassle.

2) Be prepared to advocate for yourself

The sad reality is that if you have an invisible illness or disability, you may face unnecessary questions and skepticism when you ask for certain accommodations. This is unfortunately true whether you are applying for a handicapped parking pass or if you are seeking disability benefits.

That is why it is important to educate yourself on your legal rights to access and accommodations under U.S. law. That’s where the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) comes in.

The ADA aims to eliminate discrimination based on disability status


A disability is: “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.”

Source: American with Disabilities Act

If the idea of telling someone about your disability in order to receive accommodations makes you nervous, try practicing what you might say with a friend or family member. This can ease your nerves about the best way to word your case.

3) Keep calm and carry on

Remember that in most cases, the naysayer is not a medical professional or expert on your condition. They have no right to make you doubt yourself, nor do you have to prove anything to them.

Defending yourself to people who choose to deny what you’re experiencing is up to you, but allowing it to become a focus could increase your stress level about what may already be a stressful illness.

Besides, you know yourself better than anyone else.

Ask your doctor about Mountain View Hospital’s resources to help people whose conditions are not obvious.


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Stress and Back Pain: Sometimes They’re Not One Without The Other

That twinge of pain in your lower back may not be from sleeping wrong or pulling a muscle. It could very well be from stress.

If you’re stressed out all the time and the pain in your back is on-going, know that there’s a link between the two.

About 7 in 10 Americans say they have physical signs of stress, like back pain

Source: American Psychological Association


What Does Stress Have To Do With Your Back?

When stress comes, the body releases nerve chemicals and hormones that can affect how your body functions. You may experience issues with your digestive and reproductive systems, plus your immunity is often lowered, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

Unlike acute stress that occurs suddenly, the type of stress that can aggravate back pain stems from day-to-day issues that never seem to end. It can elevate your blood pressure and make your muscles tense, says the National Institutes of Health.



Source: The American Psychological Association


Dealing With Stress

Fortunately, there are ways to deal with the inevitable stressors of life, which could help with the pain and discomfort in your back, says the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

1. Take care of yourself

It’s easy to ignore your own well-being when you’re distracted by so many other things. Eating well and exercising often fall by the wayside when you’re stressed out. But that can cause weight gain.

Being overweight is associated with back pain because it adds pressure to joints in your back, according to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. A proper diet and exercise can keep the extra pounds off. Exercise will also strengthen those back muscles.

2. Talk to someone about your feelings

Talking to friends is great, but sometimes people benefit more from seeking professional counseling for stress that just seems too overwhelming. Seventy-five percent of people who get psychotherapy see a positive change in their lives, according to the American Psychological Association.

3. Don’t do drugs or drink alcohol

While drugs and alcohol may seem to help when you’re overwhelmed, it can actually become an even bigger issue, especially when you need a certain substance just to feel relaxed. Choosing healthier ways to deal with stress—like exercise and counseling—are much better.

4. Take a break from the stress

Sometimes people need to remove themselves from stress altogether. That could mean reserving a weekend, a day—or even just a few hours—where you unplug from the rest of the world. Turn off the tv, the phone, the laptop and just focus on doing something that you enjoy. That could even mean taking a short vacation to clear your head from stressful thoughts.

5. Address the root of the problem

There are times when people are stressed about issues that can be fixed. That means planning how to make a change. If poor finances are the problem, set up a budget that can put you in a better financial position or seek advice from a financial adviser or a friend who seems to be doing great with personal finance.

If your job is the source of your stress, then it might be time to plot your next move. That could mean talking to your boss about making changes or changing jobs altogether.

Regardless of the source, if you can clearly identify how to alleviate stress, then the next step is to take action. In the meantime, if your back pain continues, one of Mountain View’s orthopedic specialists can work with you to manage your pain.


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7 Tips for Managing Chronic Conditions in College

Packing, planning, saying goodbyes—preparing to leave for college is difficult.

But for first-time college students who have heart conditions, mental health concerns, diabetes  or other chronic health issues, figuring out how to manage the illness on their own adds another level of stress.

Here are 7 tips for managing chronic illnesses in college.

1) Managing Medications

The biggest issue you want to avoid with managing medications is running out. Making sure that doesn’t happen depends on a number of factors, including:

●        How far away your school is from a pharmacy that carries what you need

●        How prepared you are to manage your medications solo

●        The availability of medical assistance, in case of emergency

A tracking system, like a smartphone app or calendar, can help you remember when it’s almost time for a refill. You definitely  don’t want to wait till you’re down to your last dosage to get refills. The pharmacy could be out of stock; your car could break down or some other unexpected obstacle could prevent you from filling your prescription on time.

2) Filling Prescriptions

Some schools have physicians on staff who will write and fill prescriptions, while some will only write them. Find out what, if any, prescription services your school offers before you get settled on campus.

If you have to fill a prescription off campus, look into where the local pharmacy is and physically visit the pharmacy so you don’t get lost when there’s an emergency.

Additionally, consider mail ordering your medication or requesting that your doctor write a 90-day prescription rather than a 30-day prescription. That way you don’t have to worry about remembering to fill it as often.

3) Taking Medications


Talk to your doctor about the best way to make the most of your medication. This may mean taking it regularly or only taking it as needed.

Since mom and dad are not there to remind you, and your schedule may vary from day to day, it’s up to you to remember to take your medications.

Even with having different classes on different days, there are some things that are constant, like brushing your teeth in the morning.

As much as possible, try to put your new medication regimen on autopilot as well so you don’t forget.

4) Finding Available Services

Get familiar with the medical and psychological services available at your school. Know where and when you can access them. Keep a list on your phone and make sure your roommate has access to the list as well.

Keep in mind that there may be a limit to the amount of appointments you can have during each academic term. There may also be a limit to when you can see a specialist, such as only during the terms when you are registered for classes, but not during breaks.

Find that out and make the proper arrangements in advance. You don’t want to wait until something urgent arises to find out you can’t get the medical care you need.

5)  Seeing Your Doctor Back Home

Should you continue to see your doctor at home once you’ve transitioned to college?

This question depends on several key factors:

●        Whether your insurance covers medical care closer to campus

●        How far from home your school is

●        How often you need to see a health professional

●        Whether you need continuing treatment year-round

Think carefully about these factors before making a final decision.

6) Managing Your Medical Records

If you’re used to seeing half a dozen different specialists back home, it’s important to have copies—either digital or physical—of your medical records.

That way, you won’t have to worry about waiting for your home-based doctor to find and send your records to your new provider who is located closer to campus.

If the records you get are paper-based, make sure you keep the originals for yourself before handing over copies to your new provider.



7) Keeping Your Parents In the Loop

Even though you’re transitioning to independence, it’s important to keep your parents up-to-date. They still might have to step in, so keeping them in the loop will make sure they’re not completely taken by surprise.

The level of involvement you want them to have depends on how comfortable you feel.

You may want to let them know about every appointment you have scheduled, or you may just want to let them know if anything changes.

It’s perfectly okay to admit that you need help at the beginning of this next stage of your life. Be sure to thank them for their continued support, and show them that you can manage on your own.

As you prepare to leave for school, keep in mind that this transition is temporary. Over time you’ll figure out what works to take charge of your own health.


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3 Ways to Research Reliable Health Information After a Diagnosis

Your diagnosis is in. Now what?

For a lot of patients, the first step is a feverish search for information. But where should you start your search? And how do you weed out the facts from the fiction?

Knowing where to go for reliable health information is crucial. Not only will you better understand what’s happening to your body if the information comes from a good source, but you’ll also likely have a better mindset for how you process and react to the information you find.

Doing your own research can also make your doctor’s visits more insightful, because you can ask more informed questions.

Read on for three good sources of information for health research.

The Internet
Nearly 3 out of every 4 American internet users have looked online for health-related information, according to the Pew Research Center. And 77% of those people started at a search engine, such as Google.

Clearly this means that the internet is a frequently used source of health information. But how reliable is the information out there? That depends.

The MountainStar website has a thorough health library with fact sheets and videos explaining the basics of most health conditions. That’s a good place to start.

Three other types of reliable online sources for healthcare information include:

●     Government websites (ending in .gov)

●     University or medical school websites (ending in .edu)

●     Medical associations (ending in .org), such as American Heart Association

Just about every health condition has a medical association dedicated to educating patients. However, just because a website’s URL ends in .org does not necessarily mean that it is a reputable source, the Federal Trade Commission warns. Make sure you do some background research on the organization before relying on them for information.

There are also online databases for medical research journals—such as the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA)—that can provide a wealth of good information. Keep in mind that these searchable databases may not be available for free, however, and you may need your doctor to help you translate some of the medical jargon.

Your Doctor
Speaking of your doctor, she’s probably your best bet for personalized advice. She’s also someone who can calm your fears because she’s probably cared for patients with similar conditions.

Some of what you read online may worry you. Create a list of questions and concerns for your doctor based on what you find, and ask her to explain what you’ve read.

She can help you sort through the facts that apply to you and those that do not.

You may also want to take a friend or relative with you to your appointments to help you take notes on what your doctor says and ask questions that slip your mind, recommends the National Committee for Quality Assurance.

In addition to taking notes at doctor’s appointments, your friend or relative can also help with internet research as well.

Other Patients and Survivors

Nearly 1 in 4 U.S. adults talked with people who have been there and done that, according to the Pew Research Center. Fellow cancer patients, for example, are a wonderful source of not only information, but also support.

The Internet is a great place to meet fellow patients, says the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO). ASCO also has tips on how to find local support groups:

●     Ask your doctor, nurse or hospital social worker for recommendations

●     Look on social media sites like Facebook for online communities

●     Use the library to search for support groups near you



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Does Seasonal Affective Disorder Only Happen In the Winter?

As the winter months get colder, maybe you notice that you feel tired more often. You start to overeat—even when it’s not Thanksgiving or Christmas. And most importantly, you feel down, but you can’t quite put your finger on what caused your depressed mood.

These are typical symptoms of a type of depression called seasonal affective disorder, or SAD.

Most people who have heard of SAD think that it is a type of depression triggered during the winter months, when there is less natural sunlight, as the National Institutes of Health (NIH) explains.

Fewer people are aware that SAD can happen in the summer as well.


What is the Difference Between SAD in the Winter and SAD in the Summer?

In fact, 10% of people diagnosed with SAD have the lesser-known summertime variety, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Its symptoms—and their causes—are essentially the opposite of winter depression. Just as the lack of sunlight triggers winter SAD, some doctors believe that the sun’s abundance and the heat that comes with it triggers summer depression, according to Dr. Norman Rosenthal, one of the first doctors to identify SAD.

Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder

Winter SAD Summer SAD
Overeating Loss of appetite
Unexplained weight gain Unexplained weight loss
Sleeping more than usual Insomnia
Depression Irritability

Sources: National Institutes of Health, Dr. Norman Rosenthal


How is SAD Treated?

Winter SAD

Shorter days in the fall and winter month cause winter SAD, and treatment for winter SAD can come in the form of prescription antidepressants.

4 ways Seasonal Affective Disorder can be harmful:

  1. Decreases productivity at work
  2. Reduces your desire to socialize
  3. Can increase the risk of suicidal thoughts
  4. Can worsen symptoms for those who are already depressed

Source: American Psychiatric Association

Light therapy can be an effective treatment for people with winter SAD, according to the July 2009 study in the International Journal on Disability and Human Development. The idea is to imitate lighting conditions of sunnier months by regularly basking under a high-brightness light.

Summer SAD

People with summer SAD tend to be set off by the heat and the extended daylight hours of summer’s longer days. That means people with summer SAD don’t typically benefit from light therapy.

Dr. Rosenthal suggests via his blog that instead people with summer SAD reduce their exposure to daylight and spend time indoors with air-conditioning to curb symptoms. Also, beginning antidepressant medications early in the season is another course of action that can help.

An older study published in August 2007 in the Journal of Affective Disorders, pointed to allergies and high pollen count as another factor that may contribute to developing summer SAD.


4 Tips For Dealing With SAD

1) Inform friends and family of your condition

Social isolation can make depression worse, which is why having a support network aware of your condition matters so much.

Friends and loved ones can get you to stay active and social. Be open to having someone to confide in during your tougher months.

2) Exercise

Physical activity is a great mood booster. Whether your SAD hits in winter or summer, there are plenty of exercises you can do indoors without having to pay a hefty fee to join a gym.

Do a quick YouTube search for videos of yoga routines, make some space in your living room, and enjoy the double benefits of getting exercise and practicing relaxation techniques at the same time.

3) Remember that SAD is temporary

There’s hope around the bend, and in a few months the weather will change in your favor. Hang in there and remind yourself it’s only temporary, but also know when to get help.

4) Talk to your doctor about treatment options

Admitting that your feelings of sadness are more than just the blues is a great first step. The second step: Get help. Talk to a doctor or therapist to see therapies will work for you. There is no need to suffer in silence this season.

If you are struggling with seasonal affective disorder, schedule an appointment with a physician at Mountain View Hospital.


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