Thriving with Chronic Illness Carrie Kellenberger
ANKYLOSING SPONDYLITIS,  CHRONIC ILLNESS,  FIBROMYALGIA,  MECFS - Myalgic Encephalomyelitis / Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Failing and Thriving with Chronic Illness

Thriving with Chronic Illness Carrie Kellenberger

Today, I’m writing about some prompts that were given to chronic illness bloggers at A Chronic Voice‘s monthly chronic illness link-up party. Thank you, Sheryl!

I’d like to start by observing my last post which was about receiving my Ankylosing Spondylitis diagnosis over a decade ago. I celebrated that milestone with a new article called Ankylosing Spondylitis – 10 Years After Diagnosis

I never thought about how much my life would change with just two words from a doctor. I also never thought that ten years later, I’d be in the situation I’m in right now – which is surviving.

If not for my decision to take a break and then go back into the system to find a new rheumatologist in October, I’m not sure where I’d be right now. I’d likely be worse than I was last year.

Failing with Chronic Illness 

After the madness of Christmas, New Year’s and Lunar New Year, my life basically ground to a halt. The extra holiday activity plus the depression I experience over the holiday season resulted in two massive flares in January and February 2019.

I struggle with the perfectionist in me because that tendency to pay attention to all the extra details is always my downfall. I’m trying to learn to live imperfectly. So far, I haven’t done a great job with this, but I’m working on it.

Failing to say no to certain activities or events or even to people who want something from me almost always results in flare activity from extra stress and too much extra physical activity. I’m really bad at saying no to people, and I admit that I sometimes allow people to take advantage of this with me. I’ve decided this isn’t going to happen anymore and actively set a resolution in September 2018 to just SAY NO.

As soon as I allowed myself to start saying no, I felt more empowered. It felt good not having to worry about figuring out how to get around at another event or helping people out when it’s risking my own personal health.

Additionally, I see now that I failed in 2018 to stay positive and keep my eyes on the light at the end of the tunnel. It’s very easy to get lost with yourself when you’re in never-ending pain. I know I lost myself a bit last year and turned down everything from freelance opportunities, and outings with friends. Worst of all, I didn’t give much thought to how my husband was coping with me being so sick.

Now that I’m feeling a little better, I’m working on these things and paying more attention to myself and especially to my husband, who is my best friend and also my primary caretaker.

How do I make him feel like more of a husband and less of a caretaker? I’m not sure. I’m really struggling to find a way to highlight the positives in our relationship instead of him always having to worry about the negatives of me being sick.

Succeeding with Chronic Illness

The two things I’m most proud of at succeeding at last year are my diet reset and FINALLY realizing that I must say start saying NO more often.

In regards to my diet reset, I started playing around with my diet by doing elimination diets in 2011. I can’t tell you how many books I’ve read on autoimmune diets and gut health (although this link will give you an idea if you’re interested) or how many cleanses and elimination diets I’ve tried in the past eight years.

I cut refined sugars, dairy, bread, soft cheeses, soda, and processed foods out of my diet completely in 2015, but it became clear in 2017 that I needed to take it further.

In 2017, I realized my gut health was a huge issue and resetting my gut flora became an obstacle that I needed to conquer.

In December 2017, an opportunity came my way via a local organic farmer by the name of Pierre Loisel Sr. He convinced me to move to an organic vegetable diet and I started eating his microbe-rich veggies that month.

To this day, I start every day with a smoothie and giant bowl of greens that is loaded with nuts and dressed in homemade salad dressing made from refined, cold-pressed olive oil. Pierre was convinced I’d see improvement in three months. Having had success with patients with lupus, Crohns, and strokes, he felt sure his veggies would reset my GI tract with good bacteria. By loading my gut with good bacteria, I was upsetting the bad bacteria that were thriving in my gut because of all the meds I was on. It turns out he was right!

This is what I looked like in January 2018 after spending a month eating my friend’s organic veggies. The photo in my header for this article is what I look like today.

At first, I lost weight rapidly. There is a huge difference in how I look now versus how I looked at this time last year. Within three months of staying on this diet, I started noticing less bloating, less stomach pain, less problems with constipation, and overall, a better sense of well being with my gut.

Within eight months, I dropped my GI doctor completely along with all the meds he had me on to protect my stomach and to help with my GI issues.

My persistence with this organic veggie diet has paid off. I’ve finally found a diet that works well for me. Overall, this has meant less medications and I cannot believe the change in my stomach. As long as I start my day off on his veggies, I can even have a cheat day or two every once in a blue moon.

Lastly, in 2018, after close to five years of pestering my doctors for access to biologics, I succeeded in finding a new rheumatologist and I convinced him that the standard course of NSAIDS and DMARDS I’d been on for the past decade were no longer working and were keeping me housebound.

I was right. Once he switched me over to a biologic called Enbrel, I started feeling a little better. I’m five months in with Enbrel now and it has been life-changing so far. It has allowed me to get out a little more and I’m not in so much pain all the time. The pain is still there, but it’s bearable and my day to day life is more manageable than it has been in the past four years.

Any chronic illness patient knows how hard it is to move to a new doctor. There is fear of being judged, of not being believed, of being ridiculed, of having someone tell you, once again, that you’re depressed and anxious and this is all in your head. It’s stressful and a total nightmare to go through this.

I’m proud of myself for finally getting fed up with the doctors who were telling me I needed to try more antidepressants and for going through five new doctors before finding one who actually listened to me when I pushed him to move me to the next logical step in treatment for Ankylosing Spondylitis.

Had I not done that, I wouldn’t be where I am today, which is slightly further down the path of having a little more quality of life.

Pausing with Chronic Illness

Chronic illness is exhausting. You never get a break from it. It never goes away and it's something you have to face every single day of your life. Click To Tweet

From early 2015 to October 2018, I was hitting all my appointments hard and I knew I was burned out from being at the hospital so much.

It was affecting me on a profound level. The depression and trauma that I was experiencing just from having to drag myself into hospital appointments and sit through at least two appointments with different doctors every two weeks took a huge toll on me. I knew that I was in severe doctor burnout, but I didn’t know how to deal with it or cope with it. 

In June 2018, I decided to take a huge risk and fly home to Canada to spend time with my family. I haven’t been home in two years and the risk of going home without access to health care was scary for me.

I planned every detail I could think of, from taking advantage of the shortest flight times and delays to full disability travel assistance and insisting that I not go to my parents’ home, where I’d have to manage three flights of stairs every day.

Instead, we decided to spend the month at our family cottage in North Bay, Ontario, which is flat with no stairs. It’s a tiny cottage right on the lake and we were counting on good, clean fresh air, and no stress.

It turned out to be one the best decisions I made in 2018. I put my life on pause for a month last summer and it was exactly what I needed to recharge, rest, and save up some new energy to dive back into the system upon my return to Taiwan to resume the hunt for a new rheumatologist.

Today, I know I need to put at least two days on pause each week. These are full rest days. I don’t work or accept invites or go out. On rest days, I read, make some art, practice ikebana, or write. I’m finding that taking this time each week has helped my overall mental well-being, as well as my physical well-being.

It’s good to pause and take a breath and focus on something that is NOT related to all-consuming health issues. In my case, the combination of being with family, fresh air, good food, and being on the lake turned out to be a great way to decompress from being sick every day. I was still sick, but I didn’t have to focus on all the other things I have to focus on when I’m at home and dealing with regular hospital visits.

Deciding with Chronic Illness

This year, I decided to drop the things in my life that were causing me stress. It was a simple decision to make and it has ultimately led to my next writing prompt, which is thriving.

Thriving with Chronic Illness

I’m not sure if I can say I’m thriving yet, but I’m better than I was last year. I still have bad days and bad weeks like every other chronic illness patient has, but I’ve found hope with the new medication I’m on and it has given me back some quality of life.

Now that I have a little more energy, I’m being really careful and I’ve slowly starting opening up my work schedule a bit more. I’ve taken on a few more freelance projects again and I’m feeling good about being able to finish them without jeopardizing my health.

I’ve set my limitations and boundaries so that I can focus on the things that keep me happy and well adjusted to daily life with chronic illness. I’ve established good, healthy routines with my diet, sleep, and day to day schedule, and I can’t stress enough how much it helped to simply make a switch to focusing on activities at home that keep me happy and at peace, even in pain.

Thriving, surviving, succeeding, and failing with chronic illness – it’s all part of my journey and I’m learning from it every day.

I'm a chronically ill Canadian who has been living in Taiwan since 2006. I'm a bit of a jack of all trades! I love art, gardening, flower arranging, reading (that's an understatement if you've seen my GoodReads profile), and snuggling with my cats. Animal videos make me cry. I hate cooking. Nothing makes me happier than seeing my garden bloom! Learning about new cultures and exploring the world has been my thing since I started traveling at age 19. A self-professed autodidact, I can speak comfortably on many different subjects and hold a special place in my heart for science, technology, law, health and medicine, and history. You can find me nerding out at home most of the time due to being chronically ill and housebound. If I'm not engaged in one of the activities listed above, I'm probably building websites. Check my About page under Carrie Kellenberger to learn why I'm taking you on this journey with me through My Several Worlds. I can't wait to get to know you better!


  • Alison

    Thank you so much for sharing! Finding the right doctors and the right treatments can be exhausting and can make all the difference!
    I’m also so glad that the diet change helped you so much! There are so many foods available now that just aren’t good for anybody’s health that it’s really hard to make the best choices on the food front.
    It is hard to feel like you’re thriving, it’s taken me years to feel enough better to contemplate the thought. But if you can, take some time to look back at where you were years ago, and you may find that you are thriving at least by comparison! Wishing you the best!

    • Carrie Kellenberger

      Hi Alison,

      It was such a pleasure to take some time last night and explore your site! Thank you so much for stopping by.

      Yes, I feel the same way. I don’t do our grocery shopping any more, but my husband calls me on video chat so I can see what’s there and it just seems like there is more and more junk and processed foods every day. I am still amazed it took 9 years to find the right diet for me, and while it hasn’t helped with pain from AS and Fibro overall, at least the pain in my stomach is gone. One is better than nothing! I think if Sheryl had used ‘thriving’ as a writing prompt last year, I wouldn’t have had a thing to say about it. I’m very grateful for my new medication and that is does seem to be helping. Thanks again so much for stopping by and I’ll be back to your site to visit soon!

  • Rhiann

    Hi Carrie, it’s lovely to see you again taking part in the link-up party, thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences.

    I am so glad that you had the time to pause and take a break. As much as I often find travelling to be exhausting I have found that I feel recharged and refreshed after taking some time out from everyday life with chronic illness and everyday routines that come along with it.

    Wishing you all the best

    Rhiann xx

    • Carrie Kellenberger

      Hi Rhiann! I took a break in January and February, so the PAUSE prompt was most apt for this link-up. I’ve just booked my flight home this summer to Canada and I’ll be spending the next few months making sure I’ve got everything ready to go for another lovely, quiet vacation up at our family cottage. It’s always good to hear from you! Thank you for stopping by. xoxo

  • Niamh

    Thank you for sharing your story this month Carrie! I am so inspired by your advocacy for your own health thank God you pushed for a new rheumy, those meds sound like life changers! I’m really interested in organic diets I lived 100% organic in New Zealand before I got very sick and had to return to Ireland. Hopefully when I can increase freelance gigs I can resume an organic diet. I look forward to reading your next linkup post x

  • Ruby

    I have just recently changed doctors – that was certainly a difficult thing to do! It’s exciting to hear what a difference dietary changes made for you, and that you have been able to have such a great holiday without access to everything you would usually have.

    • Carrie Kellenberger

      Hi Ruby,

      Thanks so much for stopping by. Yes, I was really excited too. I searched for close to a decade before I found what works for me, and even after I started it, it took close to nine months to see the changes with my stomach. Ah, I wish it worked everywhere, but at least I don’t have to see a GI anymore!

  • Shruti Chopra

    I can never understand why, when people construct new places, they don’t consider accessibility and even if they do, it doesn’t match the guidelines, there is no practical testing of it. I think it all comes down to valuing every customer, which sadly isn’t the case. Also, if only they’d realise that if they made places accessible, they’d see more disabled people around. Hmmppff… I guess before I go into a long rant, I’ll stop here and say – Thank you for sharing this Carrie. I hope our cities develop some sensibility soon.

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