I’d like to introduce you to TMI Award Finalist, and Health Activist – Wendy Holcombe! Wendy is a Chronic Illness Health Activist who blogs over at Picnic With Ants. Nominated for her honest approach to blogging, Wendy chronicles all her “ants” (chronic illnesses) with a unique voice that really resonates with her readers. She openly commits to telling “some of the most embarrassing and scary moments” that come into her life and is determined to “break down the 4th wall.” Her approach helps make invisible illness not-so-invisible. Her readers (and nominators in particular) love her blog because she describes things that they, too, experience but may be too shy to say it. Her artistic flair has also been known to inspire (check out her art here and her Create To Heal blog here). Wendy’s candid approach (and humor) inspires many and I’m so happy to have learned of her blog through the HAAwards. Now – let’s learn more about Wendy in her own words…
How/why did you become a Health Activist? Tell us your Health Activist story!
After being misdiagnosed with different disorders/illnesses I realized I needed to be a better health advocate for myself. I couldn’t put all my faith in the doctors to figure out what is going on with my body. No one knows my body better than me.
Becoming a better health advocate for myself led to my wanting to help others learn to speak for themselves. To know more about their illnesses. I reached out. I started a support group, for a disorder I later found out I don’t have, it was very successful. I may not be involved any longer, but I’m happy to say the group is still going strong approximately 9 years since I founded it. I also made some life long friends from my time with this group. One thing I really took away from this group, most people feel alone in their struggles. It was then that I decided I would always be available to anyone who needs to feel like they aren’t quite so alone.
I have a number of chronic illnesses. With each new diagnosis I would dive in trying to find out as much information as possible. Again, meeting new people who felt they were so alone.
I was diagnosed with Meniere’s disease years ago. Meniere’s disease is a vestibular disorder causing fluctuating tinnitus, aural fullness, sudden and severe attacks of vertigo, and fluctuating hearing loss often leading to complete hearing loss. Meniere’s is progressive, some progress more than others. I’m in the advanced stage. In late 2009 Meniere’s took over my life. Before then I only had it in my right ear, in 2009 it started to effect my left ear. Early in 2010 I started a new blog, Picnic with Ants, detailing my journey living with chronic illnesses, and determined to live the most productive, healthy, and happy life possible.
Since that time, my blog has mostly been about living with Meniere’s disease. I talk about the good, the bad, and the very ugly. I also talk about my other illnesses, but I will admit for the past few years Meniere’s has ruled my life.
My blog is very honest, and forthcoming. I’ve found that people do not understand just what goes on with most chronic illnesses. This causes many people to feel alone, even though they’ve met others who have the same illness. We do not talk about what goes on behind closed doors. How our illnesses destroy many aspects of our lives, and how we can deal with that. I’m trying to open those doors and help people realize it’s alright to talk about the nitty gritty ugly details. If it helps one person feel less alone, it has been worth all the embarrassing stories I tell. I’ve also found that others who read these post who do not have the certain illness, like Meniere’s, or may know someone with the illness, can finally understand what we go through. After writing a very detailed post about a vertigo attack, one reader stated, “This is the most terrifying thing I’ve ever read.” This reader has many issues of her own, when I read this comment, I cried. I felt validated. This one person understands now, I hope other’s do, but just knowing one person understands means I will continue to write about it, until I can reach another and another….
To summarize, there are 3 main reasons I’m a health activist, to help people realize they are not alone, to help people understand they must be an advocate for themselves, and to help people understand more about the details behind certain illnesses.
What are your goals for 2012? Anything you’re really looking forward to?
Personally, I’m looking forward to having less vertigo. I had surgery on my left ear in December, I had the same surgery on my right ear in 2010. This surgery should reduce the vertigo by 70 – 90%. After being mostly bed bound for nearly 6 months in 2011, because of daily vertigo, I am looking forward to doing things. I want to continue my promise that I will never take a good day for granted. Everyday I feel well enough to do things I will take advantage of every moment.
My goals for being a better Health Activist in 2012:
I want to reach more people, help them learn more about certain illnesses, support those who feel alone, and (perhaps most importantly) help people accept their chronic illness and feel more positive about their future. This last point was a very hard one for me to come to terms with, I hope I can help others do the same. Including encouraging them to seek professional help to deal with the loss of independence.
I also want to give back to the caregivers. To acknowledge them and hear their stories, how we can help them and let them know how very important they are.
Due to Meniere’s I’ve lost the majority of my hearing. I plan to be more active in the deaf community, learn ASL (American Sign Language) and help others who are losing their hearing later in life.
If my health permits I hope to attend conferences for health activist, and one specific conference for the deaf and hard of hearing.
As I often say on my blog, My life may not be what I expected, so I will change my expectations. One day at a time. For example:
When I was confined to my bed I tried hard to be as productive as possible, through the vertigo attacks and the migraines. I started a second blog called Create to Heal, all about how creating can help you feel better. Accomplishing just a small thing, can make the day seem worth while. I’d like to further this venture. Trying to create something every day, even if I didn’t complete it in one day, it made me feel more productive than I have in a very long time.