My Mental Health

It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves.

William Shakespeare

I have struggled with my mental health for my entire life, my mom always said that I was born anxious. I honestly don’t know what it feels like to not be anxious, because I deal with anxiety in some capacity every single day. For the most part, I’ve been able to handle my anxiety, so I can get through the day, but everything changed so quickly. After I was diagnosed with Lupus, Crest, and MCTD, my anxiety went from bad to worse, and for the first time in my life, I was dealing with severe depression. For the entire summer and fall of 2017, right after my medical journey started, my anxiety was the worst it had ever been. The nights were the hardest for me. I was having a panic attack every single night, and my anxiety was making me so paranoid that I would sit at the top of the stairs in the middle of the night because I didn’t want to be alone in my room with my thoughts. And thank god for my mom, because on the nights I wasn’t sitting in the hallway, I would wake her up crying hysterically and end up sleeping in her bed. Finally after months of panic attacks and serious sleep deprivation, my mom convinced my doctor to put me on a sleep medication. Since starting that medication over a year ago, I haven’t woken up with a panic attack once, and I’m so incredibly grateful. After I got my anxiety under control, I realized how bad my depression was getting. I started going downhill in October of 2018, for 3 months I didn’t want to get out of bed in the morning, I didn’t smile anymore, let alone laugh at the things that I used to find funny, hockey didn’t make me happy anymore, and I was only showering once a week. The constant thought in my head was, I don’t know how I can live this way forever. I didn’t see a light at the end of the tunnel, even though everyone was telling me that it was there. In the middle of December, we were in Pennsylvania for a hockey tournament. I remember sitting at a table in the snack bar of a rink, across from my mom. I was crying so hard, telling her how bad I felt, and how I just wanted to be better. She promised me that I would get through this. At this point, my depression was so bad that it was making my physical health so much worse. My doctor finally decided it was time for me to see a psychiatrist, and I’m so thankful that I did. Since January, I’ve been on Zoloft, which is an antidepressant. It has honestly changed my life, and along with Methotrexate, it’s the reason I’m still here, they have 100% saved my life, and they are the reason why I can be a diver again. Because my mental health has gotten better, my physical health has gotten so much better as well. I have never felt this good. I want everyone who is suffering from depression to know that it does get better, and even though it doesn’t seem like it, there IS a light at the end of the tunnel, I’m living proof of it. When my mom and I were sitting at that snack bar table in December, she told me that I wouldn’t realize how bad I was until I felt better, and it is so true. I am honestly overwhelmed by how much better I feel, and I really can’t believe how bad it was. I’m so thankful for my family, I’m so thankful for my friends, and I’m so thankful for my doctors. It’s okay to not be okay, and it’s okay to need help. I promise that it does get better, because I wouldn’t be here today if it didn’t.

An Athlete Forever

The pain you feel today, is the strength you feel tomorrow.

Anonymous

I’ve been an athlete my whole life. I was a competitive gymnast for 8 years, and a competitive diver for 5 years. A back injury ended both of my careers way too soon. It’s taken me a long time to heal mentally and emotionally from my early retirements, which happened before I was ready. Gymnastics is a sport that you can never really go back to, so I chose to coach, and now I’m back in the gym. I have always wanted to go back to diving. I dove for 5 years, I was the high school Rookie of the Year, a Town of Hempstead champion, I had an undefeated season, and I was All-Conference. I had to stop right before my junior year of high school, because I fractured my back. I was upset, but I always had the thought of eventually going back in my head. When I was finally ready to start diving again, my crazy medical journey started. Everything was pushed aside, and it wasn’t thought about again for a long time. I went through a grieving process in the months after my diagnosis, I grieved the person that I was before all of this, and I grieved the thought of the person that I was supposed to become, the person that I was supposed to be in a life where I was healthy. I was so angry, so frustrated, so sad. I thought that I would never be myself again, and I felt that way for a really long time, then everything changed. When I was put on Methotrexate in September, I never expected the way that it would make me feel, the way that it would change my life for the better. It’s the reason that my symptoms are under control right now, and for that I will be forever grateful. One week ago, I went back to diving. I became a diver again, and more than that I became myself again. I never thought I would step onto a board again, and it was surreal standing up there. My dives weren’t the prettiest, but they were perfect to me. I was diving with Lupus, CREST Syndrome, and MCTD. I was so proud of myself, and so thankful for the support of my family, friends, coach, and fellow divers. I’m going to dive once a week, and hopefully the dives will get better, and the bruises on my legs from getting out of the pool will grow lighter. I’m often asked if I knew what I know now about how my life would turn out, would I go back and change it. In the months following my initial diagnosis, I would have 100% said yes, but today, I say no. I wouldn’t go back and change it, because it’s made me the person that I am today, and in an odd way, I’m thankful for that. I don’t think that I would have gotten back up on that diving board, if it wasn’t for the Lupus, CREST, and MCTD that made me strong, that made me want to prove to myself that I could do it. I don’t want to be the person that I thought I was supposed to be, because it wouldn’t be me. I’m strong because of the pain, sadness, and heartbreak I’ve felt over the last 2 years. And I will be an athlete forever, no matter what.

Being Chronically “Elle”

“Come what come may, time and the hour runs through the roughest day.”

William Shakespeare

My name is Eleanor Ciampi, and I’m 20 years old. In March of 2017, I was in a car accident. I was okay, a few bumps and bruises, a mark from my seatbelt, and a separated shoulder. It was nothing that I couldn’t heal from, or so I thought. Two months later in May, fully healed from the accident, my arm no longer in a sling, a whole new set of symptoms started. My joints hurt so bad I had trouble going up and down stairs, and I was so tired that I felt the intense urge to sleep all day, the kind of tired that you could feel in your bones. My mom made an appointment with my pediatrician for the end of the month. I remember sitting on the exam table, waiting for my doctor, I was hoping, praying that I would be okay, that I would be believed, that my joint pain was nothing more than the wear and tear from all my years as a competitive gymnast that has bothered me for half of my life. My doctor thought that I was just tired, or maybe I could be depressed. Because apparently depression is the only reason that someone could be in physical pain, according to the medical community. She sent me for blood work, just “a precaution” she said. My mom got a call a week later saying I had titers for Lupus, and that I needed to see a rheumatologist as soon as possible. I had to wait for 2 months for my appointment, the longest, scariest, most stressful 2 months of my life. I cried in the office of the rheumatologist, that first appointment. I was so scared, so vulnerable. I don’t know what I would have done without my mom and sister. A lot of blood work, tests, and a colonoscopy later, I was diagnosed with Lupus in October of 2017. I’m one of the lucky ones, as crazy as that sounds. Most people suffer for years before being diagnosed, the average time is 3-5 years. I was diagnosed in less than 6 months. I was so relieved, I was started on a simple immunosuppressant, and I felt so hopeful. In January of 2018, I was diagnosed with CREST Syndrome, a very rare autoimmune disease. I tried to stay positive, but the medicine wasn’t working, and I was losing hope quickly. In May of 2018, I was diagnosed with Mixed Connective Tissue Disease, another very rare autoimmune/connective tissue disease. The doctors kept telling me to give the medicine time, “you have to be patient” they said. It’s hard to be patient when your pain is affecting every single aspect of your life. In July 2018, I ended up in the hospital with the worst flare I have ever had. I’ve never felt more defeated than I did that day sitting in the hospital bed. I spent the entire month of July in a flare, with no answers from any doctor. In September I started a new immunosuppressant, Methotrexate, which is a chemo drug. The first month I felt horrible, the side effects were so bad I couldn’t pick my head up off of the couch. As my body became used to it, so did I. In the worst flares of my life, I wasn’t able to use my hands, the joints were so swollen. I couldn’t write, brush my hair, or get dressed without help. After 6 months of Methotrexate, my hands have never felt or looked better, and I’m truly lucky. It’s not easy to be chronically ill. It’s frustrating, scary, sad, and hard. But I will never let my illnesses win, I will never let them stop me. This is my journey, my messy, imperfect, different-from-everyone-else journey. This is my beautiful life, and I’m living it everyday chronically “elle”.

Purple is the color for Lupus awareness.