Be Your Own Hero!

Warning: This post contains spoilers and lots and lots of references to Harry Potter, the Divergent and Hunger Games series, and Marvel Comics. If you are completely in the dark about any of these topics, RUN, do not walk, to your local library and catch up on your Pop Culture Heroes pronto, mmmkay? –Nic

Harry Potter is a Gryffindor.

Tris is Dauntless (technically, she’s Divergent, but she chooses Dauntless, so let’s go with that for right now…).

Katniss is rough and tough, no nonsense.

Captain America goes from being a scrawny nobody to a pumped up superhero.

Ditto the Hulk.

And Spider Man.

Really any Marvel hero, for that matter.

What do they all have in common?

Courage. Bravery. Strength. Fearlessness.

All top qualities of heroes.

But what about those Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs? Or the Amity and the Abnegation? Or Peeta? Or Charles Xavier? Why are they sideline characters in the stories we read? Why can’t they be just as extraordinary?

I am all for the Gryffindor model of a Hero: “You might belong in Gryffindor/Where dwell the brave at heart/Their daring, nerve, and chivalry/Set Gryffindors apart,” (J.K. Rowling, The Sorcerer’s Stone, 1999) That’s traditionally what we see, whether we are sitting through the latest summer blockbuster or reading ancient Greek myths for our Classics 101 course. A hero is supposed to have big muscles, a big sword, and an even bigger personality, right?

Superhero paint

This is what comes up when you Google “hero”

Um, not always.

My friends, as a Self-Sorted Ravenclaw, I feel this is a limited approach. “…In wise old Ravenclaw/If you’ve a ready mind/Where those of wit and learning/Will always find their kind,” (J.K. Rowling, The Sorcerer’s Stone, 1999). If Harry had been a Ravenclaw, he would have read every book on the history of magic, have a passing familiarity of horcruxes, figured out WAY QUICKER that Voldemort was coming for him, drawn up a map of recent Voldemort sightings, used that map and his knowledge of history to anticipate his next move, found all the horcruxes really quickly (those riddles weren’t that hard to figure out), and destroyed Voldemort while he was still a weird floating mist of spirit inhabiting other people’s bodies. Harry would still be a hero, but it would probably take just one book, and that’s not really the stuff of literary world domination and theme parks, now is it?

There is no right way to be a hero. People have different skills and different strengths, which lead them to handling things differently. Not everyone is meant to be a Gryffindor, but that’s ok. In fact, that’s a really good thing.

There is nowhere this is more clear than in the life of a Chronic. We can’t all be big and strong. We have to learn to gather our strength from other sources besides our bodies, as our bodies more often than not are our own worst enemies.

Like Tris in Divergent, I wanted to be Dauntless, too. Who wouldn’t? It seems really awesome to be a thrill seeker who jumps from trains and knows martial arts and can handle weapons, with multiple tattoos and a penchant for wearing black clothing in order to appear mysterious.

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This is what Pinterest thinks when you say “Dauntless”

I didn’t just want to be Dauntless, I planned on being Dauntless. Dauntless is fearlessness, it’s being kick-ass while remaining totally cool. I had Dauntless plans for my life. But Chronic Illness came a-knocking, and it knocked me down quicker than a roundhouse kick to the gut from Four. Being POTSy, fainting, not recovering well from injury, widespread pain and general fatigue are just not the characteristics of a Dauntless.

However, they could totally mesh well with being an Amity (who value working together peacefully), an Abnegation (who value selflessness), or dare-I-say-it, an Erudite (who value learning and knowledge). And you know what? Getting along with difficult people, loving others more than you love yourself, and nurturing love of learning (use it for good, though, people!) are all heroic. You don’t have to shoot a gun or throw a punch to make a difference.

In addition, while I am a fan of the Hunger Games, I have always been disappointed in the description and treatment of Peeta as a character. I LOVED that that kid bakes stuff and decorates cakes, and that he could do camouflage better than anyone because of it. I really felt like he was always being underestimated or undervalued. He had so much untapped potential! While everyone focused on Katniss and her ability to hunt and otherwise be a “strong female” archetype, I continually waited for her to have a less obvious talent the way Peeta did. Even little Rue knew which plants were the antidote to the Tracker Jacker stings in Book 1- she didn’t need six pack abs to be heroic in that situation.

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He really could have just done this at the beginning of the Games, and won the whole thing himself. #Hindsight #20-20

This brings me to Charles Xavier, Professor X of the X-Men. Although he is wheelchair bound, Professor X has one of the best (and most powerful) mutations: he can read your mind, control your mind, move things with his mind, etc. He doesn’t have to be able to walk in order to use his powers to help the common good. But you know what? There is rarely a time (in the comic books at least) where Professor X is out there fighting alongside the other X-Men. They routinely leave this guy at home! Can you believe that? Sure, he can communicate with anyone from anywhere, but really. Wolverine is the one who gets all the glory. Cyclops gets to be in charge of everyone “out in the field” even though his leadership skills tend to vary along with his moods (he is one moody dude).

Why is it so hard for us to see heroism in qualities that aren’t directly related to brawn? Why aren’t we celebrating a greater diversity of characteristics in our hero stories?

This is, of course, a much bigger societal question. But what does it mean for us, on a smaller, every day scale?

If you’re NOT a Chronic: First of all, thanks for being an awesome supporter of Chronics! That’s pretty heroic right there =)

Secondly, the most important thing you can do is celebrate people for the traits they do possess, and stop focusing on what they can’t do. It may take some extra effort, as not everyone’s talents are obvious, but they are there, and they deserve to be noticed.

(Chronics should take note to do this too! We are not immune to focusing on people’s perceived faults, just because we ourselves are often marginalized. Everyone, Chronic or not, has value. Everyone, Chronic or not, has some way they can contribute to the world)

If you are a Chronic: Instead of lamenting how you would be the first cannon blast in the Hunger Games due to your Chronic lack of muscle tone, is there a way you could figure out how to survive with your cunning and smarts? Those kids from Districts 1 & 2 may have trained their bodies since birth, but didn’t you know the island was a clock WAY before Katniss figured it out in Catching Fire? I bet you could figure out a lot of solutions to a lot of problems, from how to unclog the kitchen sink to how to plan an awesome fundraising bake sale.

Hufflepuffs are just, loyal, and patient- does this make you a hero when you are waiting forEVER in your doctor’s waiting room and instead of losing your cool like a Slytherin might, you take a moment to put yourself in the over-worked receptionist’s shoes and cut her some slack? You will definitely be her hero if you do!

Instead of believing you can’t contribute to your society because your run-in with a radioactive spider left you housebound instead of swinging from the skyscrapers of New York City a la SpiderMan, can you print flyers for the local animal shelter’s fundraiser on your computer or join an online peer support network to help others in similar situations?

You have to believe in your own heroic worth before anyone else can.

Please know that I believe in you! I believe that there is more way than one to be a Hero. Now, go out there and save the world, in your own unique and special way! And when you do, take a minute to post a comment here or on my facebook page @ www.facebook.com/iamchronicallywell to let me know how you did!

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The Crafty Chronic (1)

This is going to be the first in a series.

I do a LOT of crafts.

A Chronic has got to keep herself busy somehow!

This is the story of how I learned to crochet…

Once upon a time, there was a little girl named Nic who was sick all the time. Her tummy hurt, her head hurt, she had just a touch of a fever, and she could sleep entire days away. Fourth grade wasn’t a hard year and Nic was smart, so she was able to keep up with her classmates even though she missed a whopping 40 days of school that year.

Nic’s mommy and step-daddy both worked, and though she was a plucky and resourceful 10 year old, she wasn’t allowed to stay home by herself (Nor would she have wanted to). Where was she to go?

Enter Yia Yia’s couch.

Yia Yia is the Greek name for Grandma, and she had come into Little Nic’s life along with her son, Nic’s step-dad. Yia Yia was an expert crochet-er, and could whip up an afghan the way some grandmas whip up cookies (Yia Yia made baklava at the holidays, weekday cookies not so much…). She was also known for making these funny little clown dolls that went along with the delicate multicolored baby blankets she sent to family and friends.

In addition to being a crocheting maven, Yia Yia was a big fan of the Soaps. As in Soap Operas, daytime television’s melodramatic, over-acted gift to stay at home moms, retirees and home-sick-from-school kids everywhere. Little Nic’s mom happened to think that the thematic elements present in soap operas were a little heavy for her cherubic young Chronic’s viewing. Yia Yia was not about to miss what was happening on the Days of Our Lives or As the World Turns just because she had a repeat visitor on her couch (really, I was there enough to claim squatter’s rights…). Pretending to be asleep and not listening to whose long lost twin brother was showing up to reek havoc in fictional Salem for a nearly 3 hour block of time got old quick, so it became apparent that I needed Something To Do.

The first thing I ever made was ridiculous. Yia Yia had a bit of leftover yarn in this horrible mustard yellow color, and she gave me that to use. She showed me how to wrap the yarn around my fingers, just so, while explaining that lots of people will just hold it willy-nilly but it’s much more efficient to do it her way. I’ve yet to meet anyone else who holds the yarn the way she taught me, but I will vouch for its effectiveness.

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the Yia Yia way

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the Willy-Nilly Way

Being the precocious 4th grader I was, I immediately took my project, by this time a few VERY CROOKED rows of single crochet, to school to show off at recess. I announced to anyone who would listen that the 12 inch wide strip was the beginning of a blanket I would put on my bed. I apparently started a frenzy, and the next thing you knew, all my friends wanted to try, and some went home and asked their grandmas to teach them to knit or crochet themselves. #TrendSetter As with anything 4th graders are interested in, everyone got bored with it about 2 weeks later.

Except for me.

Yia Yia may have laughed at my delusional declaration of afghan grandeur, explaining that my mustard yellow tangle of stitches was simply a sampler meant to help me learn, but I kept at it. Pretty soon, crooked hats and scarves were popping up under the Christmas tree for all of my immediate family members. Eventually, they got slightly straighter once I realized that counting stitches MATTERS. (I used to cry when I had to take stitches out. It’s really heartbreaking to do 42 rows and then realize the mistake was in row 3.)

Yia Yia died suddenly in when I was in 8th grade, right around the same time I started fainting all the time. I didn’t crochet for eons, whether from sadness or lack of time, I’m not sure. But the foundation was laid, and those stitches imprinted themselves on the back of my brain somewhere. Even now, I can go for a year (or two) of not making anything, and then pick it back up, no problem.

I love to make a good scarf- they are easy to sit down and make in the course of a few days. One year I made a bunch for some POTSie friends, and it was such a rush to send them out and say “I made this for you!”

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My current project. I’ve added cables to my pattern repertoire. #fancy

I make hats too, often that match the scarves. Why buy some generic thing at Target when you can make yourself something fantastic at home?

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Occasionally, I get ambitious. For instance, I once made a sweater. It was quite a laugh when it was all done. The sleeves were about 5 inches too long, the front was 5 inches too short. I’m not sure if there is anyone in the world who would have fit in my disproportionate concoction. I sure didn’t! Now I know that a “gauge” (a sample you make to ensure that your stitch size-everyone’s tension is slightly different- matches up with the pattern’s expectations) is not merely a suggestion. I wish I had a picture to show you, but alas, no evidence of my crime of fashion exists.

Slightly lower on the ambition scale (though still pretty up there) would be baby blankets. I have officially completed 3 of them. The knotted beginnings of fluffy pink matching blankets for my twin cousins are still in my closet, unfinished and a mess. Those twin girls are now in grade school and have no need for baby blankets. Unfortunately, good intentions don’t actually a blanket make. Their older brother was the happy recipient of my first ever baby blanket, which I finished as we were driving to his christening. Clearly, I have an issue with timing.

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Blanket for Baby C

Finally, finally, I did hunker down and make myself a blanket. It’s not mustard yellow or 12 inches wide (as yellow really isn’t my color, and let’s face it, no blanket that’s meant to cover humans has ever been 12 inches wide #MeasurementIssues #NoSenseOfScale). I started it in 2011 and finished it in 2014, as I start-stop-start-stopped it over and over again. I can’t tell you how AWESOME I felt when I finished. I admit I am that over zealous Crafty chick who’s like, “Oh, you like this? Yeah, I MADE IT!” to anyone who will listen. Now I have a blog and I can tell the world:

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Sprawled out on the floor so you can see it clearly =)

Oh, you like this? Yeah, I made it!

So yes, although she isn’t here to hear it, I am sending out a great big thank you to the universe for my Yia Yia, for giving me the gift that keeps on giving, the ability to be a Crafty Chronic. It’s made many a sick day on the couch go by faster, and has often given me Something To Do while I “avoid” the thematic elements of daytime TV.

Please don’t feed the POTSie

Or let your dog or cat rub against my leg.

Or lend me your wool-blend sweater.

I’ve got allergies, everyone.

What is an allergy? According to Wikipedia, it is a hypersensitivity disorder of the immune system.

Did you know that 80% of your immune system is believed to be located in your digestive tract?

Remember how your digestion is an automatic process, and is therefore ruled by your autonomic nervous system?

That phrase sounds familiar. Why does it sound familiar? Oh right, because I’ve told you already that my autonomic nervous system is broken. (See What’s POTS?)

See where I’m going with this?

If your autonomic nervous system is broken (wonky, variable, improperly functioning…), it will affect your autonomic processes like digestion (which will become broken, wonky, variable, and improperly functioning). If your digestion is impaired, you can bet that your immune system will be too.

It is not hyperbolic of me to say I have a reactive system. As in, I will have a reaction to that yummy looking shrimp cocktail, that beautiful cashmere sweater, or to your super friendly kitty cat’s pleas for attention.

So please get them away from me Right Now!

I mainly have sensitivities, which are the non-life threatening cousin of allergies. Personally, I use the two words interchangeably. I know this makes some people cranky-sorry anaphylactic folks!- because a sensitivity is not considered a “true allergy” by the medical community.

If something triggers a reaction- itching, hives, swelling, difficulty breathing, gastrointestinal distress of any kind, causes a migraine, etc.- I call it an allergy.

Want to know why?

Because very few people take the term sensitivities seriously. At the very least it’s annoying, and at the very worst, it can be dangerous as Susie Q didn’t mention that the secret ingredient in her mashed potatoes is rosemary, because 1) it’s a secret and 2) you’re only sensitive to it, so you can have a little bit, right?

Wrong!

Cue the tingling of my lips, the discomfort in my digestion. Sure I am still breathing and no one is stabbing me in my fleshy bits with an Epi-Pen, but it has made me not feel well. Very suddenly and intensely.

I do not appreciate your lack of concern for my well being, Susie Q.

Having reactions to foods, materials, chemicals, scents and some animals can be really isolating. It’s bad enough that they make you feel crummy (Why do you hate me when I love you so much, dairy products??) but it can also create an uncomfortable wedge socially.

For instance, I really don’t eat in restaurants. I know of only a few “safe” places, but even then, mistakes can happen. Picking out the broccoli (strangely, my most severe allergy) from the salad I ordered does not make it better. That plate is contaminated and I ain’t eatin’ from it. #SorryI’mNotSorry I don’t go to coffee houses, as I am intolerant (another way of saying sensitive without saying allergy) of caffeine. I bring my own food to the movie theater (Shh! Don’t tell!). No one will ever be able to buy me a drink at a bar because checking to make sure that that alcohol wasn’t grain-distilled takes too long (plus I don’t drink because of my meds anyway). Right there, I’ve knocked out the most popular first date destination options. Good thing none of those medical students have asked me out yet (See Don’t you want to buy me dinner first? June)…

Food is very social, and often a way of showing someone you care. Nothing is worse than when someone brings me something with the happy declaration “It’s gluten-free so you can eat it!” and I have to be like “That’s so great, but does it have nuts, dairy, or soy in it?” while cringing. Because they don’t know, there’s no ingredient list, and most likely the people at the bakery/grocery store/wherever don’t know either. But it’s gluten-free! So you can eat it!

Um…no…but thanks! Thanks so much, it was really sweet of you to think of me!

(If you really, really want to bring me a food present, it would be friendliest to ask first. This may defeat the purpose of your Surprise! But I choose being healthy and therefore happy over being surprised any day. Plus this way you won’t be disappointed and I won’t feel guilty.)

On a related note, it is not that I don’t think that Fido is the cutest, wutest, widdle doggie in the whole wide world, yes he is! It’s that if I pet him, most likely my hand will break out in hives. Even if I go to the bathroom to wash my hands right after, chances are you will have fancy rosemary-basil soap, which will make my hands swell even more. Plus you wash your bath towels in lavender scented detergent, so even just rinsing with water won’t work because I have to dry my hands somewhere. So then I will just stand there, hands red and puffy, trying not to cry (or maybe that’s just my eyes watering because you have a cat too), because NO WHERE IN YOUR HOUSE IS SAFE FOR ME.

So let’s save our relationship and just hang out at my house, with my dog (I am not allergic to bichons, poodles, malteses, shih tzus, or wheaton terriers. Please don’t ask me why, it’s just how it is, they are different, ok? I have nothing against your overly friendly golden retriever. It’s not personal, promise.), where we can eat my food while watching Netflix under my blankets that have been washed in my fragrance-free detergent. Sound good?

I did not set out to be this high maintenance. I really didn’t.

It just kind of happened.

At least I’m not as bad as this guy:

"I'm allergic to ice."