The Herdless Zebra: When you are too rare to fit in with the Zebras 

So we know that Zebras are rare, but what happens to those Zebras who are so rare that the other Zebras don’t even know who they are? I’ve been having a lot of medical setbacks lately, and have been struggling to get answers. We all know that the doctors aren’t always the best at understanding our rare conditions, so it is difficult to rely on them for support. Most times they simply add to the multitude of frustrations that we deal with on a daily basis anyway. We generally seek out advice and support from our peers, those who have been through exactly what we are going through. Zebras can sometimes find this a bit more difficult since we are by definition, rare. So, we tend to turn to social media outlets to find others in our situation. 
The internet and social media have made it possible for rare disease sufferers to more easily connect with others around the world who have the same condition. We can provide support for each other, discuss different treatment options, and be a soundboard for when we have to make difficult medical decisions. Online “Spoonie” communities have popped up everywhere to help people with all kinds of ailments cope. There are communities for EDS, Mitochondrial Disease, Dysautonomia, POTS, Lyme Disease, Fibromyalgia, and so many more. Many members of these communities say that without the support of their online friends they would feel isolated and misunderstood by everyone. But what do you do when you have such a rare diagnosis that even the online communities for rare diseases don’t know what it is? 
This is the situation in which I find myself. I have a metabolic disorder that inhibits my ability to process certain protiens. It also causes mitochondrial dysfunction. It’s symptoms are similar to those of mitochondrial myopathy, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, dysautonomia, gastroparesis, POTS, and many more. My disorder is what is known as an Organic Aciduria. There are many forms of organic acidurias, so I went to the Organic Aciduria Association to try to find some answers. I sent a message to the organization about my condition trying to get some answers, but the response I received in return was disappointing. I was told that my diagnosis, 3-Methylglutaconic Aciduria, is one of the rarest of the acidurias, and they had no information for me. No Information!? How could that be? I was told to reach out to the members to see if anyone had experience dealing with it. I have yet to find anyone. 
So what does a Zebra do when it doesn’t look like any of the other Zebras? Where do the rarest of the rare go when they need support? Don’t get me wrong, the other Zebras play nicely. They try to support in ways that they can, they add me to their groups and lists, and chat with me. They do their best, but when it comes down to it I am still the only one in the group who doesn’t quite belong. I don’t have a group I can call mine.  
When you have a chronic, debilitating illness you can become isolated from the rest of the world. It’s easy to fall into a depression without proper support. Having a sense of belonging to a bigger community is critical. That’s what so many “spoonies” have found through social media. I have found that although I may have people who are supportive, I have yet to find anyone who truly understands. I am the herdless Zebra, and regardless of how much support you have, without a herd you are still in this alone. 

When Medical Setbacks Change the Face of Your Chronic Illness

The thing about living with chronic illnesses is they are never static. Every day symptoms wax and wane. Some days are better than others, but the symptoms are always present. However, sometimes changes happen when you just know that it is a stage of evolution in your illness that will change how you manage each day for good. How do you handle disease progression, knowing that from this day forward things will likely not be the same again?

For me, it seems like every time I have a significant medical event, flare, or emergency my symptoms progress with more permanency. My most recent hospitalization has left me feeling as if this again is a sign of disease progression from which my strength will not fully rebound. The fatigue, weakness, and pain have increased; and although some days are still better than others, my best days are still worse than ever before. I have lived with this illness for long enough to know that this is another turning point in my life. 

How does one cope with the knowledge that you are living with a chronic, progressive illness that will continue to require alterations in how you manage life? How does one move past the pain of losing more and more control over your body? How does one manage the fear of losing more independence and requiring increased help from others? These are things that healthy people can never fully understand. 

Illness progression can evoke feelings of loss, anger, hopelessness, and fear. It causes feelings of uncertainty about how you will continue on with your life. What does my future hold? What will my level of functioning be in a year, five years, and ten years down the road? If those of us living with chronic, progressive illnesses focus on our uncertain future we miss out on our life in the present. It can result in depression, isolation, and loss of hope. We must remind ourselves that we have a choice to make. We can give up, or we can choose to accept our limitations and focus on the abilities we still have.

I still get angry at times when I cannot participate in activities I once used to enjoy. I have moments of weakness, fear of what my future holds, and thoughts evoking depression over the pain and losses I’ve endured. We all experience these feelings from time to time when living with chronic illness. It is in these moments when we are most vulnerable, and in need of the most support. I’m happy to say that regardless of my setbacks, I will still persevere. I don’t know what my medical future will look like, but with the support of my family and friends I will continue to live, love, and look to the future with strength to carry on.