Advice

Ask Ada: Help Me Deal With My Panic Attacks!

Plus: Ada reminds us all that grief takes many forms, and it's okay for anger to be one of them.

Welcome to Ask Ada, Folks’ bi-weekly advice column for people impacted by health issues or disability. Want Ada to help you with a problem? Email Ada at askada@pillpack.com or tag @folksstories on Twitter with the #askada hashtag.

Why Isn’t My Friend Sadder Over His Wife’s Suicide?

Dear Ada,

A friend of mine recently killed herself. She was in her thirties, free-spirited and full of life. Just a week or so before she took her life, she and her husband (who I was friends with first) were talking to my wife and I about their plans to soon start trying for a family. And then just as suddenly she wasn’t here any longer.

I miss her, and I don’t know how to support my friend, her husband. He doesn’t seem to be processing her death at all. If anything, he’s very angry with her and has nothing nice to say about her whenever we talk. He says he hasn’t cried about it since the week it first happened. I don’t get it. They seemed like they had a healthy relationship, and I feel like I’m grieving her more than he is. I want to be a good friend to him, but I really don’t know how. How can I get past my loss, and how can I help him through his?

A Grieving Friend

Dear Grieving Friend,

A few years ago I was in a similar situation. The husband of one of my closest friends killed himself. We all attended college together, and I had to grieve the loss of him while also learning how to be there for her.

What I learned from this situation is that grief takes all forms and does not follow any predictable patterns. There is no correct way to feel, no path through healing, and no easy way to forgive the individual for leaving you too soon.

It is also impossible for you to understand your friend’s grief. The loss of a spouse, especially from suicide, is not something someone who hasn’t experienced this can fathom. The first thing you can do to help you both is to acknowledge this as a fact.

The way I see it, your friend is consumed with anger at his wife for stripping him of the future they planned together. He’s angry about her lies of omission— that she hid her pain and sorrow so deeply that even he didn’t recognize the signs. He’s angry that she made a permanent, life-altering decision that would rock every facet of his entire world. He’s angry that he has to wake up every moment for the rest of his life without her beside him.

Grief is not always what we expect. Anger is a normal part of the process.

The anger startles you, because it feels inappropriate. If anything, you expect sorrow. But, as I mentioned earlier, grief is not always what we expect. Anger is a normal part of the process. David Kesson, co-author of two books with Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, who defined what we know of as the five stages of grief, says, “Anger is strength and it can be an anchor, giving temporary structure to the nothingness of loss.”

And while we’re discussing the stages of grief, know that your friend may cycle through denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance in a nonscripted manner. Kesson explains, “People often think of the stages as lasting weeks or months. They forget that the stages are responses to feelings that can last for minutes or hours as we flip in and out of one and then another. We do not enter and leave each individual stage in a linear fashion. We may feel one, then another and back again to the first one.”

The best way you can support your friend is to be a constant in his life. If he wants to talk, listen to him. He doesn’t need your advice or reasoning with. He just needs someone to hear him. If he wants company, but doesn’t want the conversation to revolve around his wife, then just show up. Watch a movie together. Just be. He may want to do things to get out of his house and out of his head. Try new experiences with him. Build more memories. Be there as he takes on each new day.

Whatever you do, don’t avoid him because you don’t know what to do or what to say. No one ever knows what to say. Just showing up consistently — in person, on the phone, through texts or emails — however you can make yourself available, will help.

We like to think that we have the power to help people heal, but your friend is on a very long path that only he can navigate.

And finally, it’s important to take care of yourself, too. You too just lost a person you cared about, and while the pain may not be as severe, you have every right to feel your feelings. Grieve your loss. Talk with your wife and friends when you’re feeling low. Act as each other’s support systems. Swap stories of the good times. Remember the happy moments you all shared each other. Don’t let your memory of her fade, and do what you need to stay healthy while grieving.

If you or someone you know needs support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

How Do I Keep Calm When I Have A Panic Attack?

Dear Ada,

Life is stressful! I’m currently juggling ongoing physical symptoms from multiple autoimmune diseases including rheumatoid arthritis, celiac disease and eczema. On top of physical health issues, I’m deep in the grieving process over the loss of a family member and a beloved pet. I’m discovering (with the help of a therapist) that the unpredictable nature of my physical health conditions and coping with loss, triggers tension in my body, resulting in feelings of overwhelm, panic attacks and anxiety. How do you suggest calming down quickly, in the moment, when these feelings unexpectedly pop up in public, at work or while visiting others?

Thank you,

Feeling Frazzled

There’s nothing worse than panicking in public. Not only is your body and brain reacting to whatever stimuli that is causing you severe anxiety, but you’re doing it in front of other people, which just adds embarrassment to the heightened emotional and physical response you’re already feeling.

The first step to calming down during a panic attack is to recognize that you’re having one. During one, a person may feel as if they’re having a heart attack, or worse — dying. Recognizing that this is temporary experience takes the power away from those fears. Here are a few tips to bring you back to reality when you are spinning out of control.

If there’s too much happening around you, it may help to close your eyes for a few moments or minutes as you center yourself. If that doesn’t work, identify an object you can focus on instead. Does it have a unique size, texture, color, pattern, or smell? Touch the object if possible to ground yourself in the moment and describe it to yourself. If focusing on an object is helpful in these moments, it may help to carry a few on you — keychains, for example — that you can use during any future panic or anxiety attacks.

Know your triggers, and don’t make light of the experience. Panic and anxiety attacks can feel terrifying when you are experiencing one.

Next, try repeating a mantra and deep breathing. It can be difficult to think clearly when you’re in the midst of a panic attack, and repetition and speaking calmly will help you work through it. Keep your mantra short. Tell yourself something like: “I am safe and this will pass.”  Then, take one long breath in. Hold it in for a few seconds, and slowly release it. Deep, controlled breathing is what teaches the brain that the body is actually not in danger. Then, repeat the process of mantra, breathing, mantra, breathing, until you move through the anxiety and begin to feel calmer.

Finally, know your triggers, and don’t make light of the experience. Panic and anxiety attacks can feel terrifying when you are experiencing one. If you can identify your triggers, you can put the work in to avoid them when possible. With your current situation, that might mean additional therapy appointments, making more space in your schedule for rest and recuperation, or even massages to reduce the tension in your body.

And remember, as life-altering as these events may feel in the moment, know that they are only temporary, and you will get through them.


Are you facing a problem that is being complicated by a health condition or disability? Folks’ advice columnist Erin Ollila wants to help. Email askada@pillpack.com and tell us your problem.

Advice

How To Find The Right Specialist

Whether you are trying to find a diagnosis or get better treatment, here's how to find the right doctor, from a woman who knows.

In 2011, I was diagnosed with stage four gallbladder cancer, a rare condition that’s almost always fatal within months. The reason I’m still alive is that as an experienced researcher, I was able to find experts who provided innovative care. So, from one patient to others, here are some suggestions on how to do it.

Find A List, Then Consider How It Was Compiled

If you type keywords, such as your diagnosis or symptoms, into a search engine like Google or Bing into find a specialist, the websites that turn up are likely to provide similar information about each doctor’s education, years in practice, and board certification. They might, however, differ in how they select doctors for inclusion.

The most comprehensive list is maintained by the American Medical Association, which says that its Doctor Finder database includes “virtually every licensed physician in the United States.” With more than 814,000 listings, it’s searchable by geography and specialty… but you might find yourself drowning in options.

Insurance company websites, by contrast, are likely to list only in-network doctors, as medical center websites list only doctors who practice at that facility. Similarly, Medicare’s Physician Compare, which offers unusually detailed information about each doctor, includes only those who accept Medicare. If you need a specialist within a particular network or geographical area, you could start with these websites to identify the most promising possibilities, and then use other tips in this list to decide which of them is best for you.

Still other websites list only doctors who pay to be included. An example is  ZocDoc, which matches patients with doctors who have immediate openings.

Photo by Sarah Pflug from Burst

Be Picky!

Look, you want the best specialist you can find. The trick is how you find that person.

To find doctors selected for their accomplishments, a long-standing option is Castle Connolly’s Top Doctors list of physicians nominated by other physicians and then vetted by a review team. Although individual physicians cannot pay to be included, medical institutions can pay to allow free public access to detailed information about Top Doctors at those institutions. By contrast, only the names of other Top Doctors are available unless you pay for access to additional information. Alternatively, you can use other tips suggested here to learn more about a Top Doctor once you have the name.

You want the best specialist you can find. The trick is how to find that person.

Among newer, free-of-charge websites that use evaluative criteria is Amino, whose research includes such factors as insurance claims, medical billing records, how likely doctors are to perform certain procedures, and how many patients they see with a particular condition. Since doctor-finder websites are many and varied, it’s worth searching for something like “physician-patient matching” for a list of available websites.

Always Check The Source

There’s a lot of noise out there when it comes to finding a medical specialist. There’s also a lot of sites that are just trying to scam you. Make sure when you’re searching for a specialist, you know that the source recommending them to you is who they claim to be.

There’s a lot of sites that are just trying to scam you.

In addition to clicking the “About” tab on each website to learn how it selects doctors, you might also look at the URL. For instance, even if a website’s title includes words like “national,” “federal,” or “government,” it’s not a government source unless the URL ends in .gov.

And before relying on any website not associated with a well-respected medical center or a legitimate organization like the American Cancer Society, it’s a good idea to look for reviews of the website itself. If there are no reviews, it is, at best, not a well-substantiated source.

Photo by Matthew Henry from Burst

Don’t take Patient Ratings at Face Value

Patient ratings of physicians are widely available on websites such as Healthgrades, Vitals.com,  U.S. News Doctor Finder, Angie’s List, and RateMDs.com. Still, tempting as it may be to use consumer satisfaction to choose physicians as we do toasters or cellphones, those grades can be misleading.

Consider, for instance, a search I just did on Angie’s List for internal medicine physicians in my area. Several doctors have a grade of A, indicating their average score. Then comes someone with a B, and many patients might stop there and choose one of the A’s. But of that doctor’s eighteen reviews, seventeen are A’s, with glowing descriptions of her thoroughness and caring attitude. A single F dropped her average to a B; the reason given is that the staff didn’t answer email quickly enough.

Try to look at the big picture, not just the rating.

Of course, if patients consistently made the same serious complaint, that would be cause for concern. But as a Consumer Reports summary of a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association points out, most doctors don’t get enough reviews to provide a reliable guide. Moreover, as WebMD observes, the objectivity of ratings websites may be open to question if they accept advertising from doctors or offer paid profiles.

The lesson? Try to look at the big picture, not just the rating.

Hospital Quality Matters

Some institutions are more competitive than others, and their teams have more experience with rare conditions and procedures. Websites like Consumer Reports, Medicare’s Hospital Compare, and U.S. News Best Hospital listings can help you identify top institutions, as well as providing data on such measures as safety ratings, surgical complications, and hospital-acquired infections. These ratings aren’t as useful as they might be, since not all hospitals report all, or any, of the requested information. Still, they’re a place to start.

There’s Always Pay-To-Play

If you prefer, you can have a professional service select a specialist for you. I’ll use Grand Rounds as an example, since it’s included in the health care plans of several large employers, such as Comcast, Wal-Mart, and Costco, and is also available to the public.

Grand Rounds will connect you with a specific doctor based on such things as where they trained and where they practice, how often they’ve performed certain tests and procedures, and patient outcomes. Unless covered by your employer, the service costs $599. Grand Rounds will also commission an online second opinion by a prominent expert for $700 to $7500.

Wrapping Up: How Do You Know When to Stop?

You’ve probably heard about patients who suffered for years before finding the right diagnosis or treatment. For them, persistence paid off. But you’ve probably also heard accounts of patients, or their loved ones, prolonging terrible pain and expense by refusing to accept the limits of medical knowledge, or the futility of prolonging life in a body that’s no longer viable.

When I faced that question in 2011, I consulted eight doctors before finding the surgeon who saved my life. For me, the search was justified because I was healthy enough to live for years if the cancer could be eliminated, and because my diagnosis was so rare that much of what doctors said was based on assumptions rather than data. Under those conditions, I kept searching for a top-tier expert who’d consider my specific case with an open mind.

Whenever serious sickness or injury strikes and your body or mind breaks down, the vital questions are the same…

Photo by Sarah Pflug from Burst

I’d like to think that if I’m ever in a situation where medical intervention is useless, I’ll have the sense to choose comfort care — but no one can be sure of that. With life itself on the line, those decisions come as much from the gut as from the brain, and no formula can provide a flawless answer.

So, along with the practical suggestions offered here, I add some advice from Dr. Atul Gawande in Being Mortal.

“Whenever serious sickness or injury strikes and your body or mind breaks down, the vital questions are the same: What is your understanding of the situation and its potential outcomes? What are your fears and what are your hopes? What are the trade-offs you are willing to make and not willing to make? And what is the course of action that best serves this understanding?”

Advice

Ask Ada: Should I Tell My Daughter I Have Skin Cancer?

Plus: how do you help a family member through their grief when they prematurely lose someone?

Welcome to Ask Ada, Folks’ bi-weekly advice column for people impacted by health issues or disability. Want Ada to help you with a problem? Email Ada at askada@pillpack.com or tag @folksstories on Twitter with the #askada hashtag.

My Mom Is Isolating Herself After My Father’s Death

Hi Ada,

My father died around six months ago. Although his death was not unexpected, it took a huge toll on all of us, but especially my mother.

My mother has always kept to herself, but lately, she’s been completely isolated. She sees my brother, sister-in-law, and their son (her grandson) fairly often, and she talks to me on the phone, but I’m worried about her. She doesn’t have anyone else to talk to, she doesn’t have many hobbies, and she doesn’t have a strong community. When we talk, her affect seems flatter. Yet, she tells me she’s happy living alone and enjoys keeping to herself.

I’m worried she’s developed major social anxiety and won’t leave her house because of that. How do I help her?

-Arielle

Hi Arielle,

There’s two ways of looking at this. First, your mother says she is happy keeping her own company. If she has always been introverted and avoided social affairs, then she’s likely coping as to be expected. As you well know, grief has no set trajectory, so one moment she may be fine and enjoying the quiet of her home and the next she’ll exhibit normal signs of grief, such low energy and a flatter affect.

However, if the isolation began to manifest after your father passed away, you may have something to worry about. You’ve already picked up on a few changes, so continue to be on the lookout for signs that she’s really distancing herself from the outside world.

Grief has no set trajectory.

Has she stopped shopping and instead gets food or groceries delivered? Does she cancel doctor appointments or other commitments? Has she stopped going to church or an activity she once enjoyed? Does she seem afraid to drive or visit enclosed places, like a mall, or wide open spaces, like a park? These changes in her life and behavior tend to point to something more serious, such as anxiety, depression, or even potentially agoraphobia.

Now is an important time to increase communication with your mother. And you don’t have to do it all alone. Call in backup. Enlist your brother and his family to help. Teach her how to video chat, so she can see your face during your regular chats. Suggest your brother initiate a weekly family dinner, so your mom has access to others at least once a week.

I know you said she doesn’t have a strong community, but any positive social interaction will help at this point. If she’s religious, she may enjoy a house call from a priest or church leader.  Contact friends of hers and your fathers and encourage them to check in on her. You don’t have to make a big deal about it to them if you’re concerned your mother would be upset by your meddling — just mention that you want her to socialize a little more now that she’s alone, and you’d love for them to keep in touch with her.

If she is truly avoiding the outside world and becoming recluse, the best thing you can do to help her is to encourage her to talk to a therapist and calmly attempt to get her out of her home. The more isolation she has, the more her social phobia is encouraged. Get her outside, even if it’s in her backyard or for a short walk in her neighborhood. Attend appointments with her as a support who will ease her anxieties of being alone.

It may even be a good idea to dedicate a space to your father, such as a park bench or a brick in a new building. This will give her a special place to honor his memory and extra initiative to spend time out of her home.

Photo by Matthew Henry from Burst

Should I Tell My Daughter About My Cancer Diagnosis?

Hi Ada,

I’m lucky to exist in a teeny tiny family. It’s just me, my husband, our eleven year old daughter and both of our parents. There are no aunts, uncles or cousins, so we’re all extremely close. Well, that’s how it was last year. Almost a year ago we lost my mother and my father-in-law to late stage cancers. It was extremely sudden and they both deteriorated quickly and almost at the same time. My daughter was devastated. She went from being a vibrant little girl to a quiet, anxious one.

Here’s the problem. I just found out that my biopsies were abnormal. I have skin cancer now. It isn’t advanced, and my doctor seems very hopeful, but everything I read online scares me. I’m terrified how my daughter will react. Should I keep this from her and only tell her if treatment progresses and things get more serious? If not, how do I tell her? I’m afraid this will crush her.

Sincerely, Small Family Mom

Dear Mom —

I’m so sorry for everything you’ve experienced — and will experience — in this immensely turbulent year of your life.

I’m not sure this question has a straightforward answer. You know your daughter best, and I have limited information about her here to go on. But based simply on how she handled the death of her grandparents, my advice would be to temporarily hold off from telling her about your cancer, until you ascertain how serious treatment is going to be. My instinct is that if you only need a little outpatient surgery to treat your skin cancer, and if your oncologist doesn’t believe this incident to be much more than a blip, you’re better off sparing your daughter an unnecessary emotional trauma.

If you decide to tell her about your diagnosis, the key thing to focus on is making sure you present the information in a manner which she’s able to understand. Be calm, explain what’s happening, and tell her that you have a plan for how you’ll treat it. Reassure her that your diagnosis won’t have the same outcome as her grandparents. Then, continue to check in with her to monitor how she’s processing the news. By presenting the information in a calm, confident, and unconcerned manner, you’re projecting that everyone is safe and everything will be okay, even if you may not feel that way on the inside.

Most importantly, explain to her that nothing she did caused this.

And most importantly, explain to her that nothing she did caused this. Children often blame themselves or feel guilty after learning their parent—one of the most important people in their world—has something wrong with them, like cancer. Her world has already been turned upside down with the loss of her grandparents, and news like this may make her lose her footing.

If you haven’t already done so, find a counselor that can help your child work through her losses and process your diagnosis—if you do choose to tell her. It doesn’t matter if she is three or thirteen, the loss of integral loved ones at such an early age is something very difficult to cope with, and she likely doesn’t have the skills to do it on her own.


Are you facing a problem that is being complicated by a health condition or disability? Folks’ advice columnist Erin Ollila wants to help. Email askada@pillpack.com and tell us your problem.

Advice

How To Job Hunt When You’re Disabled

Finding a job when you're chronically ill can be a challenge. So we spoke to an expert who has placed hundreds of disabled jobseekers for tips.

When my chronic illness started in the the winter of 2012, I tried to shrug off my symptoms. Desperate to keep my job at a small public relations firm, I ignored my growing fatigue and unexplained nausea and forced myself out of bed every morning… until I collapsed. I was hospitalized, and I eventually learned my illness was never going to go away – but it would take several more weeks before I would accept I couldn’t work like I had before. My illness required creative thinking.

I’ve had difficulty working full-time since. Nor am I alone: in the United States, only 22% of people with disabilities are employed, while only 4% of them were not in the market for work. Given that a billion people are disabled worldwide, that’s a huge pool of talent being ignored by employers, who can be reticent to hire people with unpredictable chronic illnesses, or limited capacities in other ways.

So what can a chronically ill or disabled jobseeker do to increase their chances of being employed?

Workbridge, a national recruitment agency based in New Zealand, works with both employers and jobseekers to help people with physical or mental health conditions find the right fit. They fill more than 3,500 positions a year, and are “inundated with employers” looking to advertise and work with them, according to Employment Consultant Nicola Zielinski.

Zielinski, who’s been working in this sector for fifteen years both in New Zealand and the United Kingdom, says that Workbridge places 90% of the people they work with. But when you’re chronically ill or disabled,

“It’s very rare that there’s not a job out there for someone,” says Zielinski, who says Workbridge places 90% of the people who come to them.  “I get asked what sort of sectors we work in, and I say: anything. People with disabilities can do all types of jobs.” You just need to maximize your chances.

Be Patient, And Think Outside The Box

Finding the right job can take time. Zielinski encourages jobseekers to find a way to connect with others first, like volunteering.

“It’s easy to look at it and see the end goal of paid employment, far away,” But you can break it down into steps. Volunteering or very part-time work can test your skills, give you new ones, and give a sense of routine and purpose that many people need.”

Paul Hoverd, a 50-year-old stroke sufferer, is a perfect example. Paul had extensive experience in many fields, including as police officer and a teacher. Feeling unable to do that sort of role following his stroke, he went through six months of job rejections. What finally got his foot in the door was when Workbridge discovered Paul’s love of animals and photography, and suggested a first step: volunteering with the local SPCA (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals).

“Opportunity could look different to what you thought.”

The unpaid gig gave Paul the opportunity to rebuild confidence, get back into his routine post-stroke, and practice his pup photography. Soon, he was working at a canine kennel, and is now trying to take his work to a new level by attaining his Bachelor of Visual Arts and Design.

Making a plan is great, but be prepared to deviate from it, Zielinski says. “Opportunity could look different to what you thought.”

Be Upfront With Your Prospective Employers

Disclosing the nature of your disability early on means both you and your employer know your abilities and skill levels. Many companies are eager to hire qualified people with chronic illnesses and disabilities, but they are afraid of uncertainty. Being crystal clear at the outset about what your capabilities are can go a long way to removing that uncertainty from the hiring equation.

“Often people have been living with their condition for a long time, so they know exactly what their abilities are,” says Zielinski. But a lot of times, what they can or can’t do because of their illness is the elephant in the room, which no one wants to directly address. It’s understandable that a job-seeker who is feeling sensitive about their limitations might want to avoid the subject, but it’s best to just tackle the issue head on.

“It’s important to establish those so everyone feels informed. Recently I worked with someone who has Cerebral Palsy, whose speech is affected. Other than that his disability is invisible, so someone hearing that can make assumptions. He’s learned to let people know what’s going on.”

Remember: You’re Worth Hiring. 

While it’s important to let people know if you have any limitations, Zielinski says it’s still critical to keep the focus of the interview on what you can do, not what you can’t. And a big part of that is being positive.

“People will be keen to work with you if you’re positive and committed, and clear about your limitations so they know all the information from the start,” she says. “Attitude is the number one key ingredient to getting a job. Most people can learn how to do a job, but what goes a long way is someone’s willingness, honesty and openness.”

“[Getting a job is] much more about ability than disability.”

Many disabled people can understandably feel defeated by the jobseeking process even before it starts. But it’s important to go in believing in yourself, and remember that you are worth hiring. Because if you’re not going to advocate for yourself as the best person for the job, who will?

At the end of the day, most employers want the most qualified and confident person for a job. Illness or disability doesn’t necessarily factor into that. “It’s much more about ability than disability,” Zielinski says.

Employment Is A Two-Way Street

Zielinski’s advice gels with my own experience. Though I never went back to my old job full-time, I have, in the years since, been able to reclaim a lot of my sense of purpose through volunteering my PR skills to a local women’s organization, as well as freelance writing, which lets me work around my illness and set a lot of my own deadlines.

And as for community: it’s just as key as Zielinski suggested. Isolation is an issue for many people with chronic illness and disabilities. Luckily for us, we live in a world where we can get connected even if we can’t leave the house. And we can get work that way too.

The statistics don’t lie. Disability is an ever-growing challenge, and people living with it are vastly underrepresented in the workforce. But all of us have something to offer. And our best efforts should be met by employers who recognize just how much talent is going untapped.

Advice

Ask Ada: Social Media Is Triggering My Grief At Being Chronically Ill

Ada helps a son come to terms with his relationship with his mother after her stroke. Plus, how to deal with jealousy and grief after PCOS.

Welcome to Ask Ada, Folks’ bi-weekly advice column for people impacted by health issues or disability. Want Ada to help you with a problem? Email Ada at askada@pillpack.com or tag @folksstories on Twitter with the #askada hashtag.

How Can I Find Closure With My Mother After Her Stroke?

Dear Ada —

I’m an only child, with a mother in a nursing home after a severe stroke, which diminished her greatly. Before her stroke, my mother was a very difficult woman whom I loved very much, but spent a lot of my time in conflict with, especially after my father died. She would constantly accuse me of not doing enough or spending enough time with her, and blame me for everything bad that happened to her, even though I was doing everything I could to help her.

I tried a lot of things over the years to try to have a better relationship with Mom, because I knew I was all she had. Nothing worked though, and I finally just decided that nothing would improve our relationship: my mother was a malignant narcissist, and there was nothing about that I could change.

But then the stroke happened. Since then, my mother is a totally different person. Although her cognition is severely impaired and she rarely speaks, she is much sweeter now than she once was. She also seems much more grateful for the things I do for her, and more likely to tell me I’m a good son, and that she loves me.

You’d think I’d be grateful for this, but instead, I’m conflicted. I keep on asking myself: Could I have misjudged my mother all these years? Is it only now that I’m seeing the sweet person she is at heart? But then I think to myself, no, it’s a personality change due to the brain damage.  But that just makes me feel even worse, because the truth is, I prefer Mom this way.

Can you offer any advice on how to come to terms with the toxic history my mother and I share, post-stroke? Thanks.

 Guilty Son

Let me start by saying something which may be obvious to you: your mother isn’t the same person anymore.  She can’t address any of the previous toxicity in your relationship.  The stroke your mother had permanently altered her personality, and if you are going to rebuild your relationship with her, it has to be with the person she is now, not the person she was.

Looking forward means accepting that, for all intents and purposes, the stroke has given you a new mother. One who is loving and grateful for your presence. It also means understanding that you won’t find closure to the past you experienced.

The stroke has given you a new mother. One who is loving and grateful for your presence. It also means understanding that you won’t find closure to the past you experienced.

Of course, this all seems easier said than done though, doesn’t it? If you’re looking for instructions on how to move forward start here: write a letter to the former version of your mother. Tell her exactly how you feel. Let her know how she let you down, held you back, or made your life unbearable. Get everything out there and on the page. Then, once you’re confident you’ve let loose, destroy your letter. Burn it. Rip it up. Shred it. You have this opportunity to let your voice be heard.

As for whether you misjudged your mother, it’s important to remember that people are multifaceted. Just because someone is full of bile doesn’t mean there isn’t sweetness there; just because someone resents their child doesn’t mean they aren’t also grateful for them. Traumatic brain injuries like a stroke have a way of reorganizing those facets, and sometimes stripping them away. Instead of doubting yourself because the gentler facets of your mother’s personality are now more obvious, try to practice gratitude instead.

 

Photo by Lisa Johnson from Burst

After PCOS, Facebook Posts About My Friends’ Kids Are Making Me Sad

Dear Ada,

I have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), and the scope of my condition means my partner and I can’t conceive. This alone has been a lot to come to terms with, but it’s made worse by the fact that all of my friends have had children in the past two years. Our lives are on different tracks now; I feel isolated from the emotional understanding they all seem to share.

I have good friends. They were hugely supportive of me when I learned pregnancy wasn’t an option for us. But lately, I’ve been feeling bitterness and resentment toward their lives, and this club they’re all a part of. I’ve been withdrawn, and have shut off all social media because their posts cause me pain.

Should I step away? My friends would likely respond graciously if I told them my feelings, but I don’t know if I can let go of the way I feel.

— Lonely Laura

Oh, my heart hurts for you. Not only has PCOS stripped you from the opportunity to have children, but it is also threatening to rob you of your friendships.

Because you’re still mourning, it’s important to protect yourself from things that trigger you. If you know that social media is one of them — like it is for so many people — continue to avoid it.

And get out there and make new friends who understand what you’re experiencing. There are so many support groups, locally and online, with women and couples who are also unable to conceive. Open up. Be vulnerable. Build a tribe who gets you.

Open up. Be vulnerable. Build a tribe who gets you.

But should you also avoid your friends at the same time?

No. Absolutely not.

The best friendships are flexible, allowing each of you to cling more or retreat slightly from the relationship as life happens around you. At this moment, you may not be able to fully immerse yourself in your relationships, but that doesn’t mean you should abandon them.

For friendships to really work, they require open communication and honesty. You know your friends want to support you, but you’re not giving them an opportunity to do so, and you need support right now, not distance.

Avoidance isn’t going to help you move through this. What will help is the love and support of your friends, both old and new.


Are you facing a problem that is being complicated by a health condition or disability? Folks’ advice columnist Erin Ollila wants to help. Email askada@pillpack.com and tell us your problem.

Advice

Ask Ada: How Can I Help My Husband With Erectile Dysfunction?

This week, Ada helps a couple address a sensitive marital issue with patience and understanding. Plus: are peanut allergies really worth taking seriously? (Yes.)

Welcome to Ask Ada, Folks’ bi-weekly advice column for people impacted by health issues or disability. Want Ada to help you with a problem? Email Ada at askada@pillpack.com or tag @folksstories on Twitter with the #askada hashtag.

How Can I Help My Husband With Erectile Dysfunction?

Dear Ada,

My husband and I are having problems with intimacy. He used to be the person to initiate sex, but now I find that I’m the one encouraging it–and he rarely wants to participate. When we do have sex, he seems to have trouble getting or keeping an erection. At first I started to worry that he just wasn’t interested in me anymore, but lately I’ve noticed that whenever this happens, he seems more and more frustrated. Now I’m wondering if this could actually be a medical issue, like erectile dysfunction. I want him to talk to his doctor about it, but I can tell he’s embarrassed to even talk about it with me. I’m not sure how to give him the confidence and support he needs to set up an appointment. What should I do?

Sincerely, Ellen R.

Hi Ellen,

While it’s understandable to worry that you may be the cause of his condition, know that you aren’t to blame. There’s more to arousal than simple attraction — hormones, emotions, blood vessels, and the brain all play a factor. When something is off with one or more of those areas, the potential for erectile dysfunction is high.

It’s also something that’s extremely common. Various research studies report about 50% of men over the age of 40 have some issues with erectile dysfunctions. Though as prevalent as it may be, it frequently goes untreated, as some individuals feel uncomfortable discussing sexual health issues with their doctors–just like you’re concerned about.

Because you’re still interested in being intimate, it’s important for you to broach the conversation with him when he’s available to talk and not likely to be distracted. Before doing so, do some research into the condition that you can share with him. Let him know that you’d love to nurture the sexual part of your relationship, and you hope he’ll talk with his physician. Then, let him sit with the information, and make the decision on his own, making sure he knows you’ll be there with him every step of the way.

It’s like anything else about being in a partnership: sometimes it’s easy, and sometimes you have to work on it.

If the anxiety is holding him back, know that there are lifestyle changes that may help. Exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, and quitting smoking have shown to greatly improve ED problems. In addition, dealing with any psychological issues, like stress, anxiety, or depression may help with both interest in sex and the ability to perform.

There’s another factor here to consider too. Performance anxiety can be self-perpetuating. Every man will fail to achieve an erection when he wants to once in his life, but depending on how much it bothers him, it might kick off a cycle of erectile dysfunction, even when there’s nothing otherwise wrong.

All of which is to say that what your husband needs is your love, compassion, good humor, and support, and encourage him to see a doctor if the problem persists. Learning to deal with sexual dysfunction as a couple is, to a greater or lesser extent, part of every successful relationship. It’s like anything else about being in a partnership: sometimes it’s easy, and sometimes you have to work on it.

Photo by Sarah Pflug from Burst

My Kid’s Classmates Are Driving Me Nuts

Dear Ada,

My son is in kindergarten. At the beginning of the year, he got sent home with a letter letting us know the class was a peanut-free zone, so I made sure not to make any PB&Js and check labels. However, after a couple months, my son told me that some of the other students were bringing in peanut butter crackers and other snacks that I probably wouldn’t have sent him with. What gives? I’ll admit to not knowing much about allergies. Is it okay to send my son to school with nut snacks so long as he doesn’t sit near the allergic child?

– Worried Mom in MA

Hi Worried Mom,

Trust your gut. Don’t send your kid to school with food that contains peanuts.

Please trust your gut, and don’t send any food to school that contains peanuts.

If your son’s school deemed his class a peanut-free zone, then there is a child with access to that classroom who is allergic to peanuts, and exposure to it could cause a severe—potentially fatal—reaction.

Let’s put it this way. If a kid in that class goes into anaphylactic shock, and you’ve been sending your kids in with peanuts, is the fact that everyone was ignoring that child’s needs really going to soothe your conscience?

While it’s difficult to estimate how many children suffer with food allergies, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that four to six percent of U.S. children are affected, and that number is growing.

Unless you have a child with a food allergy, it’s difficult to understand the severity of a reaction.

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases reports that “allergic reactions to foods can range from mild gastrointestinal symptoms or skin rashes to severe reactions that can be fatal.” In fact, according to the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, “Allergy to peanuts and tree nuts is the leading cause of fatal allergic reactions in the United States.”

There’s no snack special enough to risk making another child suffer with painful rashes, anaphylaxis, or any other reaction.

There’s no snack special enough to risk making another child suffer with painful rashes, anaphylaxis, or any other reaction.

If students are bringing peanut butter snacks to school, my best guess is the teacher isn’t aware that it’s happening. Take a moment today and send her an email or call her at school to let her know what your son told you.

This is also an excellent opportunity to teach your child to be an advocate for others. Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE) reports that “about one-third of kids with food allergies report that they have been bullied because of their allergies.” Encourage him to support his classmate, and speak up if he notices anyone not taking the allergy seriously.

School should be a safe environment for children to learn and grow. To make that happen, we all need to do our part to keep the children safe, and ensuring no peanut products enter the classroom is one way you can help.


Are you facing a problem that is being complicated by a health condition or disability? Folks’ advice columnist Erin Ollila wants to help. Email askada@pillpack.com and tell us your problem.

Advice

Ask Ada: Where’s My Chronic Illness Crystal Ball?

How can you fit the demands of chronic illness into a busy schedule? Also: what are some good books to read your kids about disability?

Welcome to Ask Ada, Folks’ bi-weekly advice column for people impacted by health issues or disability. Want Ada to help you with a problem? Email Ada at askada@pillpack.com or tag @folksstories on Twitter with the #askada hashtag.

How Can I Fit Chronic Illness Into My Schedule?

Dear Ada,

I’m no stranger to chronic health conditions that require daily maintenance and attention. Over the years I’ve devised a work schedule with equal parts rest and productivity that truly works for me. On the well-managed days, I meet my goals with a smile and feel content with life. Then come the curve balls. Do you have any suggestions for handling the unpredictable nature of chronic illness? For example, on Christmas morning rheumatoid arthritis joint pain left my hands weak and limp, erythema multiforme (EM) lesions erupted in my mouth causing pain when eating or talking and a healthy dose of fatigue topped it all off, just hours before hosting a holiday lunch. Maybe I just need a crystal ball?

~ Melancholy in the Midwest

Dear Melancholy,

I wish that I could give you a crystal ball. Short of that, though, all anyone can do to manage the unpredictable nature of chronic illness is this: focus on being proactive, and manage your stress.

Because you’ve adapted a work schedule that fits around your health conditions, my guess is you’re familiar with my first suggestion. Being proactive with every possible task in your life gives you the freedom to take downtime when unexpected symptoms and side effects derail your days. This means kicking to the curb any “Why do today what can be put off till tomorrow” instincts you might have, and developing habits that allow you to address everything immediately, so nothing is lingering in your mind or holding you back from resting as much as possible if pain or illness suddenly strikes. Carpe diem, in other words.

There’s another reason it’s important to get things off your plate as soon as you can: long to-do lists stress us out, and according to the National Center for Health Research (NCHR) says that stress actually increases the likelihood of becoming ill. So when you’re chronically ill and you’re behind on what needs to be done, there’s a knock-on effect: you get stressed out, which makes it more likely that you’ll get sick, falling further behind, which will just stress you out more, and so on. 

Which brings us to stress management. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to calming yourself down when stressed out: exercise, meditation, yoga, sleep, hanging out with friends, journaling, swimming, painting, Netflix-and-chilling are all equally valid methods of calming yourself when stress creeps in. The important thing is to find what works for you, and then make sure to find time for it every day… even (or perhaps especially) when you feel like you’re falling behind what you need to do in other areas of your life, or coming on stressful times, like holidays. Remember: self-care is the most important responsibility any of us have, because from it, everything else follows.

There’s no such thing as crystal balls, and none of us can see the future. All we can do is do our best to take care of ourselves in the here-and-now.

Photo by Matthew Henry from Burst

What Books Should I Read My Kids So They Can Understand Disability?

Dear Ada,

I love to read and I want to instill that same love in my children. However, I can’t seem to find any good books that showcase a wide range of children from different ethnicities to abilities. My niece is reliant on a wheelchair and my nephew has autism and ADHD. I’d love to find kids books with characters of different abilities so my children can see characters similar to their family members on the pages. The books don’t have to be about health issues or disability per say, but I’d love to have my children read those too. Any ideas?

~ Mom Loves To Read

Hello Mom,

Congratulations on being so intentional in your parenting! Reading is just so important for children, not just so they can see and identify with characters like themselves, but also so they can be exposed to the vast and beautiful spectrum of human diversity. Here are four books I’d particularly recommend as a jumping-off point, because they feature characters similar to your niece and nephew.

In both it’s Hard to be a Verb and My Mouth is a Volcano, written by Julia Cook and illustrated by Carrie Hartman, the main character, Louis, has ADHD. Because of that, he often can’t control his impulses very well, helping kids gain a more empathetic understanding of what kids living with ADHD are going through. 

Hello Goodbye Dog, written by Maria Gianferrari and illustrated by Patrice Barton, is a great book featuring a young girl in a wheelchair, which focuses less on her abilities, than on her dog, who can’t seem to stay away from her while she’s at school. It’s a lovely introduction not just to what life is like for kids with mobility-impairments, but also introduces the concept of service animals to young readers.

Since We’re Friends, written by Celeste Shally and illustrated David Harrington, gives neurotypical children a chance to understand their peers with autism. A surprising number of children’s books with autistic characters focus on those character’s efforts to be “normal.” What’s great about Since We’re Friends is that it flips the script, showing ways in which a neurotypical kid adjusts his behavior to make his autistic friend more comfortable. 

Looking for more? There’s no shortage of suggestions online for children’s books talking about chronic illness or disability. The important thing is to keep reading to your kids, since it’s been proven to improve empathy skills and emotional intelligence. Keep exposing your children to lots of good books, and I promise you, they’ll grow up to be inclusive humans.


Are you facing a problem that is being complicated by a health condition or disability? Folks’ advice columnist Erin Ollila wants to help. Email askada@pillpack.com and tell us your problem.

Advice

Ask Ada: Should I Protect My Son From His Chronically Ill Best Friend?

This week, Ada helps a mother teach her son about illness in the face of a friend's cancer. Plus: advice on not feeling bad about your fitness lifestyle!

Welcome to Ask Ada, Folks’ bi-weekly advice column for people impacted by health issues or disability. Want Ada to help you with a problem? Email Ada at askada@pillpack.com or tag @folksstories on Twitter with the #askada hashtag.

How Do I Stop Feeling Jealous Of My Friends’ More Active Lifestyles?

Dear Ada,

I have been sadly triggered by feelings of exercise inadequacy. Eighty-year-old friends brag on their expensive far flung daily classes in faraway places.

I don’t drive but I walk with my cane now as far as I can daily. Carcinoid syndrome causes neuropathy and balance problems and all the dancing and yoga poses in the world cannot bring me peace this year.

What does is still doing housework, walking to local thrift stores and perambulating to shop with my husband in all the long corridors of all our local malls. Love the trees and kids with boundless energy. Thanks for letting me share.

Carolyn

Carolyn,

What you’re experiencing is something that people of all ages go through — the comparison trap. The people in your life boast about their experiences, and you hold these stories like a mirror to your own. Know that there’s no one “right” way to move your body, so long as you move it. Their fancy yoga and dancing classes aren’t any better than your walking and light activity.

While you may feel inadequate on occasion, I want to point out how positive your overall attitude is. You know your limitations, and yet you’ve found activities to keep you active without pushing yourself into pain or discomfort. And not only are you getting out there and getting exercise, but you’re noticing and cherishing all the joy around you — all while spending quality time with the people you love the most. This is something to celebrate.

Know that there’s no one “right” way to move your body, so long as you move it. Their fancy yoga and dancing classes aren’t any better than your walking and light activity.

Your friends may have no clue that their stories are making you feel inadequate. The next time you catch yourself in this situation, invite them into your world instead. Start the conversation by saying, “I wish I were able to participate in dance classes like you do, but my Carcinoid syndrome causes neuropathy and balance problems for me. I spend my exercise time walking, and found the perfect thrift shop. Would you like to walk there with me one day for a little retail therapy?” I’ll bet they’ll be honored to receive the invitation.

One more thing. If you’re looking for ways to conquer these brief moments of feeling less-than, consider repeating affirmations to yourself. It doesn’t matter whether you write them yourself or borrow someone else’s words. You can memorize them or keep a few written ones nearby to read in the moments you need a pick me up. Affirm yourself while looking in a mirror for some extra effectiveness.

To get you started, here are a few affirmations from Louise Hay that are quick to repeat and simple to remember.

“My happy thoughts help create my healthy body.”

“I listen with love to my body’s messages.”

“My body appreciates how I take care of it.”

Remind yourself that you are perfect exactly as you are, and you’ll never have to live up to someone else’s experiences again.

Photo by Samantha Hurley from Burst

Should I Protect My Son From Watching His Friend Get Sick?

Dear Ada —

My son is eight, and one of his friends was just diagnosed with leukemia, and will have to start treatment in the New Year. My son doesn’t know this, but my sister (his aunt) died of leukemia when she was around the same age, which was extremely traumatizing to me as a little girl. Because of this, I want to distance my son from his friend, so he doesn’t have to go through the same kind of pain, but my friends say that’s selfish, and my husband thinks it would send the wrong message. What should I do? How do I protect my son from seeing his friend get sick… and possibly die?

From,

Sharon S.

Sharon,

It’s obvious that you’re a great mom who loves her son and wants to protect him from all the hardships of the world. That being said, your husband and friends are right. Sheltering your son from sickness and death isn’t a good idea. At some point in his life, he’s going to experience both with people that he loves, and it’s best for him to learn and prepare now while he has you to lean on.

Allowing your son to stay close to his friend with leukemia is good for many reasons. It teaches your child compassion and gives him the skills to learn how to support others in their times of need. It introduces both illness and death in a manner that you can control — as much as it’s possible to control these kinds of things — based on the amount of access he has to his friend.

Allowing your son to stay close to his friend with leukemia teaches your child compassion and gives him the skills to learn how to support others in their times of need.

It also benefits his friend, who will definitely lose touch with his social circle in a time he needs support the most. While you may be the only parent with a sibling who passed away from the same illness, you aren’t the only parent considering distancing your son from his friend — and that child certainly could use one now.

At eight years old, your son is developmentally able to understand the concept of death, and he’s likely been exposed to it in movies, video games, and television shows, even if he’s been fortunate to avoid it in his circle of family and friends. However, you don’t want his introduction to morbidity to be what pop culture teaches him. You have the opportunity to guide him, especially with your intimate experience of having gone through this and losing your sister at a young age.

While that moment in your life may have been traumatizing, my hope is that you’ll find some healing in being able to talk about it with your son. It will help him understand this experience better and also make him feel like he knows his aunt better.

While your sister’s death may have been traumatizing, my hope is that you’ll find some healing in being able to talk about it with your son.

One more thing to consider is that your son’s friend’s illness will naturally keep the children away from each other. The child will be immunocompromised or may feel too sick from treatment to take any visitors. Encourage your son to write letters to his friend. Send funny cards. Take pictures of all of the child’s favorite places and activities put the picture in a small scrapbook they can page through when they’re feeling homesick in the hospital. Oh, and when the child is feeling pretty good — spoil them by dropping by with his favorite treat.


Are you facing a problem that is being complicated by a health condition or disability? Folks’ advice columnist Erin Ollila wants to help. Email askada@pillpack.com and tell us your problem.

Advice

Ask Ada: How Do I Have The Perfect Chronically Ill Christmas?

This week, Ada gives advice on how to deal with Christmas when you're newly diagnosed, and how to navigate the New Year's fitness resolutions of your friends when you struggle with an eating disorder.

Welcome to Ask Ada, Folks’ bi-weekly advice column for people impacted by health issues or disability. Want Ada to help you with a problem? Email Ada at askada@pillpack.com or tag @folksstories on Twitter with the #askada hashtag.

Advice On Making My First Chronically Ill Christmas Great?

Dear Ada – This year, after months of fatigue, aching joints, and mysterious rashes, I got an early Christmas present: My doctor told me I have lupus. Since then, when I’m not dealing with symptoms, I’ve been super depressed: most days, it’s a win if I can even get out of bed before nightfall. But Christmas is a big deal in my family, and I’m feeling a lot of pressure to get it together for the holidays. What can I do? I’m in constant pain and have zero energy to get out of bed, let alone go out and shop or do traditional Christmas activities like trim the tree or make gingerbread houses–but my family has been great helping me through this year, and I don’t want to let them down. How can I give them a great Christmas when I’m feeling like this?

Thanks, Lupus the Red-Rashed Reindeer

Reindeer, while this certainly isn’t the type of Christmas present you were hoping for, I’m so glad to hear that after months of suffering you were able to get a diagnosis, so you can begin to treat and manage your symptoms.

Know that it’s OK to feel out of the holiday spirit. There’s a lot happening in your life, and unfortunately, there’s no way to turn on a happy switch just because it’s the holidays.

You say your family has been “great” helping you through this year, which tells me they will probably understand what you’re going through. Sit down with your loved ones—or do a video call if they aren’t close—and be honest. Tell them how much you appreciate their support, but that you’re really floundering right now. Let them know you need some time to rest your body and process this recent news. By sharing your needs with your loved ones and taking care of yourself, you’re actually giving them a great gift: The self-care you need to be present with them throughout the year.

The ultimate gift any person in your family can get this holiday is another year of your love. So take care of yourself this Christmas, and don’t do anything you don’t have the strength to do.

But it sounds like you really want to be able to share in the Christmas spirit with your family, even in this difficult time. So consider adapting some holiday activities to match your current abilities. Maybe, instead of trimming the Christmas tree with your family, you’re the official videographer, capturing memories to look back at with fondness for years to come. Or if you have young children at home, have your partner or another family member lead the gingerbread-house making this year. Everyone can compete against each other as you rest, and then you can judge whose house wins (Pro tip: Make a different award for each child, such as “best use of candy” and “best theme.”)

The ultimate gift any person in your family can get this holiday is another year of your love. So take care of yourself this Christmas, and don’t do anything you don’t have the strength to do.

Remember: Your loved ones want nothing more than your health and happiness. Talking with them or inviting them over to your home will maintain that community you’ve felt with your family all year long–through Christmas and into the future.

How Do I Get Through The Holidays With Anorexia?

Dear Ada,

I am currently in recovery from anorexia. In recovery, we’re asked to do things that run counter to societal norms: cut down on exercise, gain weight, enjoy the occasional dessert. The process leaves me steeped in guilt and shame.

A handful of my friends are actively working on their diets and exercise plans, and share all their fitness schedules and results with me on a regular basis. None of them know I am struggling with an eating disorder. I am very happy for them, and at the same time, I find these conversations triggering. I want to support my friends and maintain my privacy without losing my mind. What can I say to help cut back on the body talk?

Love, Ella

Ella — The world seems to have a hyper-obsession with food and fitness, which, as someone with anorexia, you understand all too well. At their best, conversations about food and fitness can drive conversations and build connections between people, but if you’re struggling with body dysphoria, these conversations can have the opposite effect, and trigger unhealthy thoughts and behaviors. And with the New Year just around the corner, weight-loss resolutions are sure to spill across dinner tables and over the group texts you and your friends share.

Which brings us to your current situation. Your friends don’t understand that sharing their weight loss resolutions with you is triggering. How could they? If you’ve been managing your eating disorder privately, your friends won’t know you’re struggling. In their eyes, they probably see a woman who’s inspiring to them: a friend who put forth an effort to lose weight and achieved results. It’s an incorrect assumption, but perhaps a natural one in a culture which glorifies fitness and weight loss: they aren’t seeing your internal struggle with an eating disorder.

None of which is to say you should tell them you struggle with anorexia if you don’t feel comfortable doing so. You have a right to your privacy. So here are some other options.

Say that there are many different healthy body types, and that you’re uncomfortable with the way our society assumes that a woman can not be beautiful or healthy if they aren’t thin.

First, you could try being honest with them about how you feel, without going into detail about your anorexia. Say that there are many different healthy body types, and that you’re uncomfortable with the way our society assumes that a woman can not be beautiful or healthy if they aren’t thin. Say something like: “Let’s make a resolution that we’ll only share positive thoughts about our bodies with each other, okay?” And if that doesn’t work, there’s always the good ol’ standby of aggressively changing the topic.

That all said, ultimately, the only way your friends are really going to understand what you’re going through is if you let them in. You say you’re struggling with guilt and shame in your recovery. It might feel hard to be vulnerable and open up—it requires a leap of faith–but vulnerabilty and honesty is what ultimately separates real friendships from mere acquaintanceship.

This isn’t to say you need to open up to everyone, but consider telling a few of your closest loved ones. Take a look at the people who are triggering you the most right now, and ask yourself if their friendship is worth investing more into. If it is, consider telling them the truth about what you’re going through, so that you both can be better friends to one another? Or are you comfortable where your friendship already is, in which case, maybe you should distance yourself for awhile if they keep on bringing up triggering subjects.

Either way, whether by opening up to your friends or by redirecting the conversation toward more productive, body-positive topics, be proud: you are acting as an agent of change. Not only will these efforts help bolster your own well-being, but you’ll be setting the stage for your friends to think differently about body talk, too. Soon, they may stop conflating weight loss with health, and encouraging those around them to find more interesting challenges than step counts and lost pounds.

Let’s be real: We’re all a little tired of putting our bodies on display as the topic du jour. This might just be the refreshment (and resolution) your friends need as they head into the New Year.


Are you facing a problem that is being complicated by a health condition or disability? Folks’ advice columnist Erin Ollila wants to help. Email askada@pillpack.com and tell us your problem.

Advice Explainers

Ask Ada: ‘When Should I Tell A Date I’m Disabled?’

In our new advice column, Ada explains the best way to reveal an invisible disability when dating, and helps a husband understand his wife's decision to undergo a life-changing surgical procedure.

Welcome to Ask Ada, Folks’ bi-weekly advice column for people impacted by health issues or disability. Want Ada to help you with a problem? Email Ada at askada@pillpack.com or tag @folksstories on Twitter with the #askada hashtag.

How Do I Tell My Date About My Invisible Disability?

“Dear Ada—Reentering the dating world with an invisible disability is difficult. I’ve had mixed results: scaring people off by revealing it too early on or “being manipulative” by not disclosing it for what they perceived as a long time (~2 months, casually seeing each other). Any advice on navigating this situation?” – Sincerely, Brooke

Dating is one decision after another: What should you wear? Where should you go? How long should you wait to follow up for a second date? An invisible disability forces an additional question on you: When should you mention your diagnosis?

I wish I could tell you that there was a formula: for example, if you’re set up with your date through a friend, disclose your disability on the second date, but if you meet online, wait until at least the fifth. But unfortunately, there’s not, just like there’s no clear formula in most dating dilemmas.

I can, however, tell you that you’re wasting your time by keeping the information to yourself. This isn’t to say you should introduce yourself by saying something like: “Hi, I’m Emily and I suffer from Endometriosis!” But bringing up the topic early helps you weed the good dates from the bad ones.

Disclosing your disability shouldn’t feel like a confession. There’s nothing you need to be ashamed of.

I’d recommend disclosing your disability as soon as you’re sure that you’d like to continue getting to know the person you’re out with. You’re not determining if you want to marry them, just whether they’re worth the disclosure.

That answers the ‘when’ but what about the ‘how’? How should you reveal an invisible disability to your date?

Well, the truth is that disability shouldn’t be some shameful secret. It’s a regular part of your life, and that means the best way to disclose it is for it to come up naturally. So if, for example, you have Crohn’s disease, a good time to disclose that would be after you described your food allergies to the server. You could then follow-up by mentioning to your date how much you’ve learned about food since your diagnosis, then let them ask questions, guiding the conversation along when need be.

The bottom line is that disclosing your disability shouldn’t feel like a confession. There’s nothing you need to be ashamed of. Presenting your truth early and earnestly allows your date to process the news with understanding and compassion. If they don’t, then kick ‘em to the curb and try again.

My Wife Wants To Undergo A Double Mastectomy. Help!

Dear Ada—Recently, my wife of three years discovered that she had the BRCAI mutation, which makes it statistically much more likely that she will get breast cancer. Her mother and grandmother died of breast cancer, so my wife wants to get a preventive double mastectomy. But I’m not so sure. I’ve tried to talk to my wife about it, but she’s adamant there’s nothing to talk about: even though she doesn’t have cancer yet, she’s made up her mind, and it doesn’t matter what I say.

Suffice to say, I’m struggling to accept her decision. It’s not that I’ll love her any less without breasts, and obviously, I don’t want to lose her to cancer. I also know that it’s her body, and ultimately, that makes it her decision. But choosing to go through such an extreme surgical procedure without really asking me how I feel about it hurts, and makes me concerned about our future. What other extreme measures might she choose without talking to me first?

What should I do? What is the right way for us to approach this?” – Sincerely, Sam

It seems as if your issue is less about the double mastectomy and more about the fact that your wife made this major decision on her own and isn’t listening to your concerns. It also sounds like you think she came to this conclusion too suddenly.

But I think the truth is that your wife has probably been weighing this decision for years. When your wife’s grandmother and mother died of breast cancer, she probably began researching her options, including mastectomy. When it was confirmed that he was a carrier of the BRCA1 mutation, your wife’s decision became clear. It isn’t that she’s taking this decision lightly, it’s that she’s had a lot more time to come to terms with the emotional and physical transformation that will follow removing her breasts.

This isn’t about your wife’s breasts: it’s about navigating a difficult time together while fully supporting the other person.

Meanwhile, you’re only processing all of this for the first time. You don’t have the intimate knowledge she’s gained about breast cancer over the years, and because of that, you’re having a hard time grasping her train of thought. It’s not that she is trying to shut you out of the decision-making process, it’s that you are both literally at different stages of processing the news, without realizing where the other person is at.

While your wife is ultimately the only person who can make a decision about her own body, you both still need to try to come to a common understanding as to why she’s making this choice. So ask her to educate you, and explain how how she came to her decision. Tell her you love her, and accept her decision, but be honest about feeling left out, and concerned about what a failure to communicate productively about major life-decisions might mean in the future.

And then, once she explains? Respect her decision, and support her however you can. Because like you said, this isn’t about your wife’s breasts: it’s about navigating a difficult time together while fully supporting the other person.


Are you facing a problem that is being complicated by a health condition or disability? Folks’ advice columnist Erin Ollila wants to help. Email askada@pillpack.com and tell us your problem.