Mental Health Awareness Day

Today is Mental Health Awareness Day. 1 in 5 adults in America experience a mental illness and nearly 1 in 25 live with a serious mental illness. However, there is still a significant stigma toward mental illness in our society. We’re not supposed to talk about it. People experiencing mental health conditions often face rejection, bullying, and discrimination. I myself have experienced this before. This stigma can prevent people from reaching out for help and can sometimes have fatal results; Suicide is the second leading cause of death of youth ages 15-24 and the tenth leading cause of death for all Americans.

 I live with depression and ADHD (and probably a bit of undiagnosed anxiety, tbh). Though these conditions are mostly controlled, they have had a huge impact on my life in the past and continue to do so now. They’re part of me, and I’ve chosen to embrace them and talk about them openly to help combat that stigma and help others. I’m happy to talk about these things and if you ever need someone to talk to, please reach out!



The World Health Organization also has a great video series on what you can do to help prevent suicide. 

The National Alliance on Mental Illness has a whole page on fighting stigma and helping those with mental illness; I highly suggest you read it. 

NAMI also has a whole bunch of initiative and guides on their Mental Illness Awareness week page.

A Diet App for Children? Are you Friggin Kidding me?

I just found out that the Kurbo by WW app exists from this Atlantic article (which has a great overview of the app and the issues with it) and I'm slightly horrified. It’s aimed at children 8-17. Apparently you need to sign up /with/ a parent if you’re 13, but in my experience, age restrictions on tech like that are super easy to get around. And even if a parent DOES sign you up, are they realistically going to be there with the kid at every moment supervising them on the app?

The basic idea behind the app (putting foods in green, yellow, and red categories based on nutritional value and encouraging users to eat yellow and red in moderation) isn't /terrible/ but marketing it to children as opposed to parents is pretty...awful. And to kids as young as *8*? Are you friggin kidding me? I've used the WW program before and found it pretty positive and helpful (with just a lot of caveats in there about my own depression and ADHD issues which sticking to any healthy diet long term difficult), but I'm pretty appalled they're doing this. I could /maybe/ see the idea behind marketing it to teenagers 15 and up with their own access to money, but from just a basic administration issue, the vast majority of kids don't buy or prepare their own food?

Plus this whole thing just seems really problematic and trigeringg. Even WITHOUT the 24/7 news cycle and social media of today, I remember being unhappy with my size and my weight starting at least back to age 9. I clearly remember the first time I looked at a picture of myself and hated the way I looked (it was from summer camp, I was sitting on a horse and wearing black shorts and a colorful shirt and I thought my legs looked "huge"). I am much happier and more confident with myself, my life, and my appearance than I ever was as a child, but I STILL fight disordered eating habits all the time. Aiming a weight loss app at a child is just one of the worst things I can imagine. Let. Them. Be. Children. And don’t give them a friggin complex over their appearance at an age that’s so difficult already.

It's My Fisher Wallace-versary and the Anniversary of Getting My Depression Under Control

Selfie-ing it up with the Fisher Wallace Stimulator. I tend to use a sweatband with it instead of the included Velcro headband; it just has always worked way better for me.

Selfie-ing it up with the Fisher Wallace Stimulator. I tend to use a sweatband with it instead of the included Velcro headband; it just has always worked way better for me.

A year ago today, I received my Fisher Wallace Stimulator in the mail and used it for the first time. My depression was REALLY bad then, despite being on two anti-depressants already, and I was desperate to find something that worked. The Stimulator had great reviews and a 30-day return period so I thought - why not?

Within a few days of use, it kicked in. And since then, my clinical depression has been more consistently under control and my brain has been more stable and happy than ever previously. I still do have some issues at times, but usually those relate to - me not using my Stimulator enough or me going through a particularly stressful experience. I am consistently happier, calmer, and more focused in my life. I don’t snap at my husband as much and we can talk about tough topics now without me getting overly sensitive.

And once I made space in my brain for something besides just trying to survive emotionally, I rediscovered my love for writing and started really pursuing a career in it. Since then, I’ve had numerous stories published, self published one short story myself as an experiment, and have made a ton of writing friends on twitter and in person. My writing life makes me so so happy and I am utterly delighted that the Stimulator helped me get that life.

I’ve written about my experience with the Stimulator more in depth in the past here, so I won’t repeat it all now. But I just wanted to mark this day for the important, life changing event it was. I am so so thankful that this technology exists. ❤️

FYI: you do need a prescription to purchase it. It isn’t covered by insurance and usually costs $799, but they have a sale going right now (only for TODAY, it looks like) where you can get it for $399. I highly suggest it! It doesn’t work for everyone (i mean, does any medical treatment work for anyone?), but there’s a 30-day return period where you can get your money back if it doesn’t help you.

As always, if anyone out there had questions about the Fisher Wallace Stimulator, depression, ADHD, chronic pain, or any other of my pet topics, please feel free to reach out to me here, on twitter (@rachaeldickzen), or on Facebook ( :)

I'm a ChildFree MomFriend and That's Just Fine With Me.

I used to think I really wanted kids, but over time, as I grew up and realized that I didn’t have to want the same things as everyone else, I determined that it was a lot more complicated than that.

Now, I’m not anti-kids at all.My nieces are one of the best parts of my life and I really enjoy talking to children. They’re hilarious. But I also really enjoy handing them back to the parents at the end of the day and going home with my husband to a quiet house. I totally support any of my friends who want to have kids and will cheer them on and give their kids stuffed animals and personalized onesies galore, but it’s just not for me. And John agrees as well!

Me as a kid, with my dad. I was a handful, can you tell? And let’s just be honest, if John and I procreated, our child would be way too smart and mischievous for anyone’s good.

Me as a kid, with my dad. I was a handful, can you tell? And let’s just be honest, if John and I procreated, our child would be way too smart and mischievous for anyone’s good.

I DO have some very maternal qualities, and I really enjoy taking care of other people. A friend labeled me “a momfriend” not too long ago, and I loved it. I want to check in on my friends and make sure they’re doing okay; I definitely worry about them and try to help them whenever I can. I love having a house that my friends feel comfortable in and I hope they realize that they can always come over if they need to get away from their parents or roommates or boyfriends or whatever. I like feeding people! I also adore my cats and mother them ferociously. But just because I have those qualities doesn’t mean I want to be an actual parent.

First, I have lots of medical issues, y’all. Chronic neck pain from osteoarthritis, clinical depression (which is controlled and generally stable now, but still exists and is a real concern in my life), ADHD, the New Fun Unnamed Chronic Pain is still rearing its ugly head pretty regularly, bad allergies, plantar fascitis (so my feet hurt all the time, yay), occasional tendinitis in my wrists, and now I have this deviated septum thing that needs to be fixed. Have I mentioned I also have a bicuspid aortic heart valve? I literally have a valve in my heart that’s SUPPOSED to be 3-sided but is actually 2-sided. This doesn’t generally cause a problem, but it does make me more prone to infections and such. And I’m 31! Like - who knows what else is wrong with me that I just haven’t discovered yet? I may develop something new tomorrow. And pregnancy and a baby would literally make all of those issues worse. It wouldn’t improve /any/ of them.

Second, partly because of said medical issues, partly because of…just my own personal feelings, pregnancy is like one of the most terrifying things in the world to me. My body does PLENTY of things on its own already that I don’t want it to do; the thought of actually losing it to another being is really unpleasant. Every time I hear about someone’s pregnancy or what it does to them, I just….ugh, no. It sounds awful. No, thank you. I’ve already firmly decided that if I ever DO change my mind and want a child (not likely), adoption is the way we’re going. I know it’s expensive and not easy, but pregnancy is just not a thing I’m ever willing to go through. My feelings might rise to the level of an actual phobia of pregnancy, honestly; it’s called tokophobia! It sounds like it’s hellish for people who WANT kids but are terrified of pregnancy/childbirth; I feel lucky that that’s not my situation.

I did almost buy this father’s day card for John and sign it from the cats, but I just sent him a picture to save $5 instead, lol. (He HATES the entire concept of calling pets your children, hah).

I did almost buy this father’s day card for John and sign it from the cats, but I just sent him a picture to save $5 instead, lol. (He HATES the entire concept of calling pets your children, hah).

Third, from a purely practical standpoint, life is expensive and my husband and I are often struggling even just with us two. And we’re lawyers! We’re better paid than many! But our house has lots of issues that still need to be fixed and my body persists in developing new problems that require lots of money, so money is still a serious concern. I can’t even comprehend the idea of trying to fit a kid into our budget.

Finally, I just really like my life the way it is. I enjoy having time to spend with my husband and with my friends. I like being able to participate in community theater. I love that my day job is flexible enough that I can also fit in writing on this blog and creative writing! I want to travel the world and see everything out there. These things are all certainly possible with children, but they are certainly much more difficult. And it should be! I value children enough to know that having them shouldn’t be a default or an afterthought. I don’t want to have kids unless I KNOW I really want them and am wiling to put in the time and money and effort needed to being the best parent I can be for that kid (not in a pinterest perfect way but in a “I need to help this tiny human become a decent person” way). And I’m not willing to do that, so - nope! No thanks. I’ll spoil my family’s kids and friends’ kids instead. :)

An ADHDer's Guide to Chronic Pain: Daily Management Part 2

 If you haven’t read the other parts of this series yet, here they are!

An ADHDer’s Guide to Chronic Pain: Getting a Diagnosis

An ADHDer’s Guide to Chronic Pain: Daily Management Part 1

4. Make Simple Adaptations in Your Daily Life to Reduce Your Pain

If you’re still having pain issues after getting treatment from a doctor and/or a physical therapist, look at what else is going on in your life that might be exacerbating it. Even if one thing isn’t /causing/ the pain, doesn’t mean it isn’t a factor in it. There are often a lot of small changes you can make to your life to reduce your pain level.

For example, sitting on a couch can actually really make my neck pain worse. It promotes bad posture and doesn’t give me the support I need. So I pretty much never sit on couches these days. I use a floor chair, which offers me a lot more support and still allows me to “chill out” in a way that a straightback chair doesn’t. Heavy purses also can make my pain worse, so I usually use a backpack if I’m carrying anything significant around. If I do use a purse, I make sure to regularly clean out anything that could make it heavier.

If you have neck or shoulder problems, like me, make sure you’re using a mattress and a pillow that properly supports your neck and body. You spend so much time sleeping that you NEED to have a good setup or you’re going to just undo all your pain relief work every night in bed. People have different opinions on pillows; I have, gosh, probably 3 that I’ve bought specifically for my neck? One that has water in it, another that’s got microfoam beads in it, and another one that’s memory foam. I’ve tried them all and the memory foam one works best for me personally, but you should try them out and take notes on how you feel the next morning to figure out what works best for you!

Finally, I’ve done a lot of research on home office ergonomics and made sure that my workspace actually fits right for my body. I recently discovered that my desk and chair heights were completely wrong for me! I’m so short that the average measurements for a man just aren’t accurate, so I had to modify a few things and add in a foot rest to make it all work. I also use a headset while making or receiving phone calls so I don’t have to crane my neck in weird ways to hold a phone.

5. Massages and Home Tools for Muscle Pain

Massages have never “cured” me of my pain, but they do tend to really loosen up my muscles and prevent them from “fossilizing” or getting overly stiff. I have a Massage Envy membership and go in once a month as a maintenance measure.

I wish I could afford to go in more often, but since I can’t, I also have numerous tools at home that I use for massaging or relaxing my painful neck/shoulder muscles. I leave little reminders for myself to use these tools in a mass to-do list note I keep on my phone and in my journal. Alarms can be good for this too, but if you’re setting an alarm for medicine and stretches and pain relief tools, you might just get to the point where you have so many that it doesn’t even register for you, so be careful with that.

Me using the acupressure mat and pillow while guest cat Martok nests in my hair. He LOVES my hair.

Me using the acupressure mat and pillow while guest cat Martok nests in my hair. He LOVES my hair.

One of my favorite tools currently is an acupressure mat and pillow, which has tiny plastic spikes all over it. I don’t entirely know how it all works, but lying on this really relaxes my neck and shoulders and make them feel like they’re “melting” and less stiff. It’s a relatively cheap option, but you do need to lie on it for 30 minutes + for it to have any effect. In addition, for best results, you probably want to be shirtless. So it’s not the most convenient pain treatment.

Another cheap and easy options are tennis balls and pressure point tools. I keep a Back Buddy Jr. by my desk and pull it out to work on my neck when it’s getting really stiff. It’s great for pushing on stiff areas you can’t quite reach on your own. Lying on a tennis ball or putting it in between your pressure point and a wall can be really effective, if initially painful. With these tools, you can either just apply pressure straight on, or you can rub the tool or ball around and on the stiff point; both techniques work pretty well.

I also have a massage machine that works really well when placed between my neck and a wall, but its fabric cover has come off over time, so it’s more painful to use than it used to be. I can’t use it too often without really irritating my skin.

6. Use Over-The-Counter Medication and Treatments

If you have chronic pain, you’re probably very familiar with ibuprofen, acetaminophen, and aspirin. These can be really valuable tools in reducing your pain, but remember to watch your dosages and not overdo it; you can definitely screw up your stomach or other parts of your body. Also remember, no aspirin if you’re under 18!

Here’s another trick though: taking a pain reliever with a small amount of caffeine can actually reduce your pain further. It’s unclear how much caffeine can do on its own, but it does appear that it can reduce joint pain and headaches as well. This article on Disabled World explores that topic if you’d like to know more.

There are a few natural supplements out there that can really take the edge off pain as well. I’ve tried turmeric and capsaicin pills before and had some good results. I also take vitamins, fish oil, and probiotics, which all play different roles in keeping my body healthy and reducing inflammation. WebMD has a great overview article of different supplements and how they treat pain.

Finally, don’t forget topical treatments! Lotions or rubs containing menthol or camphor create a cooling sensation that can really distract you and make you forget the pain. Capsaicin lotions can also really help joint pain or nerve pain, although it can also irritate your skin if you’re not careful. In addition, you’ll want to use gloves to apply this, as it can be pretty difficult to wash totally off your hands. I’ve accidentally got capsaicin in my eye before and it really hurts!


Well, that’s all I’ve got for now. Thank you for reading. I hope this helps!

An ADHDer's Guide to Chronic Pain: Daily Management Part 1

If you haven’t read the other parts of this series yet, here they are!

An ADHDer’s Guide to Chronic Pain: Getting a Diagnosis

An ADHDer’s Guide to Chronic Pain: Daily Management Part 2

I wrote this whole post and then realized it was over 2,000 words and should probably be split into two parts. Oops! Here’s the first one!

I’m a young adult with both ADHD and chronic pain. These two issues can often work counter to each other and cause a lot of frustration, but over the years, I’ve learned a few tips and tricks to get better about dealing with both of them. This blog post series will hopefully help other people dealing with the same issues- the first post addressed getting a diagnosis, and the second and third posts will address day to day management. 😊

The first post also summed up my background with both ADHD and chronic pain, so this post will go ahead without recapping that much.

I tried a LOT of different things to treat my chronic pain before I actually got a diagnosis of osteoarthritis, but I’m going to focus on the time /after/ I got a diagnosis, just for simplicity’s sake. If you are having chronic pain, I do think it’s important that you get to a doctor to figure out what the underlying issue is, if at all possible. If you don’t have the insurance or money for a doctor though, there are a lot of options out there for DIY relief, which I’ll cover further down in the post.

A lot of this advice focuses mostly on painful muscle treatment, because that’s what I deal with and am most familiar with, but hopefully the general headings and tips are helpful even if you have non-muscle pain issues! I’m not going to discuss opiates in here because I personally have very little experience with it and don’t feel fully qualified to cover it in depth. I do have friends that use opiates for pain relief though, and I plan to interview them for this blog soon!

  1. Follow the Treatment Your Doctor Prescribes.

radiofrequency ablation 1.JPG

I currently undergo radiofrequency ablation about once or twice a year; this burns off my arthritic neck nerves and really reduces my pain. However, 1. this procedure never COMPLETELY erases my pain, 2. the procedure itself is very painful and expensive (even with insurance) and 3. the nerves grow back and I have to go through it all again.

But it’s still the best option I have for actually treating the root cause of my chronic pain, so I undergo it. Don’t let yourself feel guilty for using what’s available to you. A lot of people out there say “Oh why don’t you just do X?” or try essential oils or whatever and downplay your pain; ignore them. You, as the owner of your body, get to decide what’s best for treating its pain (in conjunction with your doctors)

If the treatment you’re getting isn’t helping as much as you thought it would, or if it’s giving you bad side effects, let your doctor know! A lot of times you can follow up with your doctor without actually coming in for an appointment. My pain doctor actually is cool with me emailing her, which can be VERY helpful, as I’m bad about remembering to call her office and setting follow-up appointments.

2. Try Physical Therapy and/or Daily Exercises/Stretches!

physical therapy worksheet.jpg

So after I told my pain doctor that the radiofrequency ablation wasn’t completely getting rid of my pain, she wrote me a referral for physical therapy. I then ignored that referral for like, a year and a half, because I had some strange idea in my head that PT wouldn’t help me. I had gone through some basic stretches with a chiropractor years before and that didn’t seem to do much, so I didn’t believe it would help this time either.

However, earlier this year, I managed to pull a muscle in my leg badly enough that I was still in pain a few months after the initial injury. I did actually go to PT then (after getting a referral) and it REALLY helped me. I was out of pain before my second appointment. That made me a believer and encouraged me to finally sign up for physical therapy for my neck! I did about a month-ish of PT and it made SUCH A HUGE IMPACT on my pain. It really reduced my every day pain level and reduced how many tools I had to use to manage the pain. My therapists taught me various exercises and stretches and had me do them daily; they also did a few dry needling spots, massages, and manipulations on them. I’m now capable of treating a lot of my own issues at home. It’s pretty awesome.

So I highly suggest Physical Therapy - when you get that referral, set up an appointment with a PT right away so you don’t forget it or lose the script! And once you start doing the exercises and stretches, put an alert on your phone or computer so you remember to do them daily. I’ve got a “neck stretches” one that goes off every night at 9 pm. And if you’re not as connected to your phone as I am and need a different reminder method, a post it note on your bathroom mirror or by your daily medicines can be a good method.

3. Pay Attention to Your Mental Health Too

walk outside.jpg

Honestly, chronic pain can be incredibly disheartening and it can really mess your brain up. For a while when I was younger, I developed a certain fatalism and would often say things like “oh I don’t think I’m going to live past 30,” because no one I knew had the same pain problems I did. I clearly remember asking my parents at one point if they had chronic pain issues. They said no, and I was seriously so depressed by that. I was 24 and having more pain problems than my almost 60-year-old parents.

When you have chronic pain issues, that does become the focus of a lot of your medical visits. However, be sure to talk to your doctor about your mental health as well. If you’re experiencing mood swings, feelings of guilt, worthlessness or helplessness, irritability, persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” feelings, a loss of interest in things that were once pleasurable to you, and/or major changes in your sleeping or eating habits, get to a therapist as soon as possible. Talk Therapy can be incredibly helpful for sorting through a lot of these thoughts and you may be able to get a prescription that could help you as well.  

Walking outside can also be a great tool for helping your mental health. It’s low-level exercise that gets you moving and makes your brain release serotonin, which can be a mood lifter and a pain reliever. There are also studies that show that just being outside under the sun can have a huge impact, so if you’re not up for walking or doing anything else, just sitting or standing outside for a bit can be helpful as well.

Don’t forget to read Daily Management Part 2 as well!

An ADHDer’s Guide to Chronic Pain: Daily Management Part 2

How I Got Back Into Writing Seriously

The Lifelong Dream

Honestly, I cannot remember a time when I have not wanted to write and be an author. Some of my earliest dreams and goals as a child involved writing as a career. My family LOVES books; literally every room in my parents’ house except the bathrooms have bookshelves and books in them. It was a wonderful place for a child to grow up. I eagerly read as many books as I could; they fascinated me and brought me to a whole other world. I wanted to make those worlds myself.

And in elementary school I did. I was always writing stories or poetry or songs or whatever. My output turned into mostly just poetry over time, as I discovered journalism and imposter syndrome. For a long time, I felt that nonfiction journalistic writing was the only thing I could do. Fiction seemed too hard. I tried doing National Novel Writing Month several times and never managed to finish; this made me feel like a failure. I had lots and lots of ideas written down in various places, but none of them ever came to fruition. I’d start and stop and get distracted and frustrated. For a while I had resigned myself to not really being a writer. I did do some writing and research on marital surnames, and had an inkling to turn it into a nonfiction book, but I wasn’t following through on any of it.

I usually write at the kitchen table these days, surrounded by books and journals.

I usually write at the kitchen table these days, surrounded by books and journals.

The Turning Point

So fast forward to my 30th year of life, when I finally got on a combination of treatments that actually treated my depression successfully. This really changed my life in so many ways. I had a focus and a determination that I hadn’t had previously; my depression was no longer a barrier dropping in front of me, but a curtain pulled to the side. I could see it and respect it and treat it carefully, but I could walk through it without a problem.

When my beloved Shakespeare troupe Britches and Hose announced that they were holding a New Works Festival and needed submissions of original one acts, I decided that it was time to take one of my favorite ideas and turn it into a play. That’s how “Most Horrible,” a one-act prequel to Hamlet set in Purgatory began. I was so excited and motivated by this success that I continued on - and turned the play into a project for National Novel Writing Month in November. I finished up the novel by the end of January (I have, of course, decided to add in a whole new historical context and many more subplots, so I have major edits and revising coming up, but that’s another issue).

Since NaNoWriMo had worked so well for non-depressed Me, I decided to set monthly goals for myself. January’s was finishing the novel, February’s was working on my nonfiction book proposal. I didn’t really have any plans to write short stories until I came across a fascinating writing prompt on the Internet - calling for short stories about Grumpy Old Gods, gods that in some way were shirking their duty. I was so excited about this concept that I outlined and wrote “Purr Like an Egyptian” fairly quickly, in only a week or two! And it felt so good to have a project wrapped up and submitted so quickly, that I decided I’d dedicate March to writing more short stories and poetry to submit to various magazines and publications. That’s how I also wrote “Big Dave’s Goliath” and “The Caterer.”


So here we are now. “Purr Like an Egyptian” was just accepted for publication in Grumpy Old Gods Vol. 2 and will be coming out later this month. “Big Dave’s Goliath” was published recently in Gypsum Sound Tales’ Colp: Big. I’ve also had a few literary nonfiction pieces published as well - on Talking Soup and The Drabble.

I also tend to write with my own personal demigod in my lap. (I’m writing a lot about ancient Egyptians lately- cats WERE their demigods)

I also tend to write with my own personal demigod in my lap. (I’m writing a lot about ancient Egyptians lately- cats WERE their demigods)

“The Caterer” was rejected, but I invested a lot of time into revamping and revising it to make it better, and then published it myself on Kindle Direct Publishing as an experiment. I’ve enjoyed the writing and promoting process for my own ebook so much that I am now writing another story in the series, with plans for more! Once I finish and publish my second volume (“The Vanguard”), I plan to get back to “Most Horrible” and revise it to add in the Danish reformation (no biggie, right?).

It’s a lot of work, as of course I have a full time job as a trademark examining attorney at the USPTO, participate in Shakespeare plays with my friends, and occasionally like to have some downtime to spend with my husband, but it’s been so worth it. I don’t know if I’ll ever make much money from it or if it will ever be my full-time career, but writing brings me so much joy on a regular basis that I don’t know if I even care anymore. I love coming up with titles for my stories. I love outlining a plot. I love all the research - from Egyptian goddesses to drones, to Ancient Persia and the Tower of London.

I just love writing. And I won’t let myself forget that again.

Taking Medicine with ADHD: My Attempts to Remember

The evil steroid pack

The evil steroid pack

I’ve had a pretty bad case of sinusitis the last two weeks and finally broke down and went to my doctor on Tuesday. He prescribed some antibiotics and steroids.

The nice friendly purpley-pink pill planner that usually helps me remember all my meds.

The nice friendly purpley-pink pill planner that usually helps me remember all my meds.

When I picked it up, I was dismayed to see that my steroid pack required me to take several doses throughout the day! AND the dose changes every day! Curses! With the help of a weekly pill planner, I’ve finally gotten to the point where I consistently remember to take my meds daily in the morning, but I hardly ever remember to take doses throughout the day. It’s my ADHD kryptonite! (The pills themselves also taste godawful and like, stick in the throat. I’m trying to drink and eat different things to remove the taste but it’s still hanging about. Ick.).

My medicine alarms for the day! Hopefully these work. If I actually do force myself to stop what I’m working on and immediately go take my meds when i hear the alarm, it should.

My medicine alarms for the day! Hopefully these work. If I actually do force myself to stop what I’m working on and immediately go take my meds when i hear the alarm, it should.

I’ve set alarms throughout the day to remind me to take my meds, and will place my steroid pack right by my pill planner so I remember to set new alarms each day to account for the adjusting doses. Hopefully that does the trick.

An ADHDer's Guide to Chronic Pain: Getting a Diagnosis

If you haven’t read the other parts of this series yet, here they are!

An ADHDer’s Guide to Chronic Pain: Daily Management Part 1

An ADHDer’s Guide to Chronic Pain: Daily Management Part 2

I’m a young adult with both ADHD and chronic pain. These two issues can often work counter to each other and cause a lot of frustration, but over the years, I’ve learned a few tips and tricks to get better about dealing with both of them. This two-part blog post series will hopefully help other people dealing with the same issues- the first one will address getting a diagnosis, and the second will address day to day management. 😊

First, a little background.

ADHD: I was diagnosed with ADD (now referred to as ADHD) in my junior year of high school when I basically had a depressive breakdown due to stress from my undiagnosed focus issues. I went on ADHD meds at that time (Concerta) and remained on them through college. I eventually stopped taking them for a couple of years, not really for any good reason that I can recall. I went without them for probably 5-6 years, but got back on them after about 8 months into my current job. My job can often be repetitive and unexciting, and these things set my ADHD off like crazy, so I really needed to have the meds to function. I’ve been at my job at just over 2.5 years now, so clearly they’ve helped! My main ADHD symptoms are forgetfulness, time blindness, focus issues, and impulsivity. I use a lot of different techniques to keep focused at work, which I blogged about here.


Chronic Pain: I have experienced some degree of stiffness and pain in my neck since at least high school. I cannot recall exactly when it started. I was officially diagnosed with osteoarthritis in my cervical joints (neck joints) in 2017 shortly after I turned 29. I’ve tried a TON of different things to help my pain, but currently, I get my arthritic nerves burned off with radiofrequency ablation 1-2 times a year, I get massages at least once a month, and I do daily physical therapy exercises and stretches. The PT is a really recent addition, but it’s been WONDERFUL; these exercises have really improved my symptoms!

I have also had some other recent chronic pain issues that are of a slightly more private nature that I’d rather not discuss in too much detail. However, I handled getting the diagnosis of this pain MUCH better than I ever handled my osteoarthritis pain, so I’m going to use that process as an example for a lot of my tips here.

Getting a diagnosis of your chronic pain can be a complicated and frustrating process even if you DON’T have a mental condition that reduces your ability to remember symptoms and advocate for yourself. But hopefully this guide helps!*

(*Quick note: this guide doesn’t address money and insurance issues because that’s a whole complicated issue on its own that I’ll try to discuss in the future.)

1.     Pay attention to your pain. Don’t ignore it; your body is telling you that something is wrong! It almost certainly won’t go away on its own, and ignoring pain can lead to exacerbated symptoms over time.

I ignored my chronic neck/shoulder pain for YEARS, to the point that I literally can’t remember when exactly it started. Part of this was ADHD forgetfulness – I’d intend to go to a doctor and forget to put it on the calendar and part of this was just not wanting to make a fuss. Women in particular in our society are often taught to just grin and bear it, and I think I honestly took that too much to heart. I didn’t want to be annoying or a burden. In addition, when something is chronic, you often get so used to it that you don’t even consider it something abnormal or worth reporting. So I said nothing and I did nothing about it until it became too painful for me to ignore. And that’s sad, because honestly, if I had received treatment and physical therapy years ago, I probably wouldn’t have developed the level of osteoarthritis I have now. This is not a reversable condition, so it’s just something I have to manage from here on out.

Let me emphasize something here. Chronic pain is not normal. I don’t care if the pain isn’t too bad or if it’s manageable. It needs to be addressed.
Fortunately, when I developed New Fun chronic pain this past year, I started addressing it much more quickly and scheduled a visit with a doctor right away.

2.     Document Everything. As someone with ADHD, I’m really bad at remembering things. This led to some trouble when I tried getting my neck pain diagnosed, as I’d get asked if there was any inciting incident, or exactly when it started, and I had to say that I genuinely didn’t remember. That was fun.

When I developed my New Fun chronic pain, I started writing down when my pain appeared and where it appeared. I initially chronicled this (unintentional pun!) in the notes app on my iPhone. Eventually I downloaded the Cara app, which allows me to track a LOT of different things and symptoms – pain but also what food I was eating, when I was working out, etc. This was really helpful in tracking down what my actual issue was.

3.     Persist in Advocating for Yourself. The first doctor you see for your chronic pain may not be the right one. Pain in any one area can originate from several different places! And the doctors or health professionals you see may not be terribly helpful in giving you next steps to take in figuring out your diagnosis, so you’ll have to keep working on your own to get there.

In my 20s, I talked to my primary care doctors several times about my neck pain. One of them thought it might be just due to stress, and told me to stress out less (that was helpful). She also briefly put me on anxiety medication, which didn’t help my pain at all, and made me feel like I was losing control entirely (I got off it really quickly). I saw a pain doctor in Chicago who put me on some prescription strength NSAIDs, but said he couldn’t do anything more for me without an MRI, which I couldn’t afford at the time (my insurance was….really bad at the time and my deductible was sky high). So I had some pain relief for a while, but then I ran out of refills and went through minor withdrawal. I also saw masseuses, a chiropractor, an acupuncturist, etc. – nothing worked. This was over the course of YEARS. Once I got my current job and got good insurance, I went to my current pain doctor, who diagnosed my arthritis with one X-ray and started getting me treated immediately with radiofrequency ablation. After a couple years of that, I was still having more pain than I liked, so I went to physical therapy this last May, and finally got my pain really reduced!

A screenshot of the Cara app I used to track my symptoms.

A screenshot of the Cara app I used to track my symptoms.

For my New Fun chronic pain, I initially thought it was due to one specific issue, and went to specialist A for it. Twice. Specialist A ran tests on me twice and said they were clear, but didn’t give me any idea what else it could be or any guidance on what to do next. She DID however help me, because she made an off-hand remark about “oh there are thousands of things that can cause X,” which made me realize I really needed to go to my primary care doctor next. I went to PCP, he ran some tests, those tests were also clear. By that time, I had done a decent amount of research online and talked to my family about their various medical histories and come up with a hypothesis as to what was causing the pain; so after the third test came up without any problems, I went to specialist B, he ran a test, and FINALLY, I got a diagnosis and got put on some meds to get rid of the problem.

I had to do a lot of work by myself. I had to continue booking appointments with doctors until I got a diagnosis, google a lot about my symptoms, gather information from my family, come up with ideas as to what the issue might be, and keep track of what it definitely was NOT so I could relay that to my doctors throughout the process. It was kind of exhausting, and not cheap (even with my very good health insurance). I highly suggest ZocDoc for finding doctors in your area that take your insurance and setting up appointments; I know my ADHD brain always procrastinates making a phone call, and just being able to book an appointment online was a huge weight off my back.

 So that’s what I have for getting a diagnosis. Next blog posts in this series will deal with pain management for ADHDers. You can read those here:

An ADHDer’s Guide to Chronic Pain: Daily Management Part 1

An ADHDer’s Guide to Chronic Pain: Daily Management Part 2

Inexpensive Sponge Replacements for the Fisher-Wallace Stimulator

I wrote recently about my experience with the Fisher-Wallace Stimulator; in that post, I mentioned a cheaper source for the sponges for the electrodes. Here’s how that works!

The Fisher-Wallace Stimulator has significantly improved my life, but it’s not exactly cheap. For me, it’s totally been worth it, but I wanted to find a way to continue using it without spending a ton of money. The sponges in the electrodes have to be changed every week or two or they lose their effectiveness (believe me, I know. I’ve tracked this and my depression symptoms definitely get worse if my sponges are old). However, the sponges they sell on the FW website are…hideously expensive. Like $1 a sponge. No.

Sponge detritus, the sponges cut out to size (they’re thin and compact before they get wet), and the finished product in the electrode for the Fisher-Wallace Stimulator.

Sponge detritus, the sponges cut out to size (they’re thin and compact before they get wet), and the finished product in the electrode for the Fisher-Wallace Stimulator.

So I set out looking for replacement sponges that were cheaper. I couldn’t find ones that were exactly made to fit the stimulator, but I found these on Amazon for $19, coming out to under 40 cents apiece. They’re intended for cosmetic use, but they work great with the stimulator! You do have to cut them down to size to fit, but I’m totally willing to spend 10 minutes cutting down sponges to save so much money!

Here’s the price breakdown - if I used the FW sponges for a year and replaced them weekly like you’re supposed to, I’d be spending $104 just on sponges. However, with these, I end up spending under $40 per year on sponges, and I can spend that extra money on pretty much anything else. 😁😁😁


My Experience with the Fisher Wallace Stimulator for Treating My Depression

You can buy the Fisher Wallace Stimulator here (after you get a prescription for it; you can get a script online if you’re ADD like me and can’t get your shit together enough to go to a doctor for one).

*Note: There’s a $200 off sale on June 30.  

Here’s a much cheaper source for sponges for the stimulator. You have to cut them down to size but I think that’s a small price to pay considering how much money you save (like $19 for 50 sponges instead of $48 for 48 sponges like it is on the FW website). 

(I get NOTHING for praising or recommending the Fisher Wallace Stimulator. I paid full price for my own stimulator and they don’t have any referral program or anything. It’s just worked well enough for me that I want to spread the news of it to others!) 

The Fisher Wallace Stimulator. My sponge holders are slightly blue because of my continued hair dye experiments.

The Fisher Wallace Stimulator. My sponge holders are slightly blue because of my continued hair dye experiments.

TL;DR VERDICT: The Fisher Wallace Stimulator has been the only depression treatment I’ve tied that has ever made me feel “cured” for an extended length of time. I do use this on top of two depression meds (bupropion and duloxetine) though, and it does take daily use to work (and don’t forget to change those sponges weekly! The effectiveness goes down if you don’t. I do have a much cheaper source for these sponges at the top of this page though). It also isn’t a miracle worker, so my depression does get a little worse if I’m like, sick, or feeling unusually stressed or lonely. But overall, my depression incidences have gone down from probably at least once a week to more like once every two months or so, and when those incidences happen, there’s usually a traceable and fixable reason. 


The whole story:  

I have clinical depression and have struggled with it at least once a week probably most of my adult life (that is a guess because I’ve never tracked the incidents that much, but that seems like a good ballpark range). Summer 2018 in particular was very difficult for me, which was distressing since I literally had just got married and bought a house. Everythinf on the surface was going really well for me, but I felt miserable an awful lot of the time. This was how I felt despite being on two different depression medication and doing lots of (near daily) walks outside in the sun!

After my legal fraternity’s convention in August, which I loved but struggled with intensely, I decided enough was enough and something needed to change. So I started researching different depression treatments. I looked seriously into biofeedback, but my insurance doesn’t cover it and the necessary sessions can run into several thousand dollars. I ended up buying the Fisher Wallace Stimulator for $700 instead, reasoning that it was cheaper than biofeedback (oh, yeah, my insurance didn’t cover this either) AND it had a 30-day return policy if it didn’t work for me.

So what is this thing? It’s a stimulator that basically makes your brain produce less cortisol (stress hormones) and more serotonin (happy hormones). I started using it twice a day for 20 minutes when I first received it on August 21, 2018. It took a couple days to kick in, but once I hit August 25, I felt....amazing. The misery, fatigue, inattention, and self hatred I constantly feel when in a depression fog had left me. Suddenly, I felt happy, focused, energetic, and stable.

I accomplished SO MUCH that weekend, and when I got back to work that Monday, I found that the benefits stuck with me. The euphoria did actually wear off after a few days (because no one can live like that all the time) but the device continued to really work for me.

The stimulator came with an adjustable white headband to hold the sponges to your head, but I use exercise headbands instead, as they give a much tighter and more comfortable fit that doesn’t catch on my hair like the FW one does.

The stimulator came with an adjustable white headband to hold the sponges to your head, but I use exercise headbands instead, as they give a much tighter and more comfortable fit that doesn’t catch on my hair like the FW one does.

Positive effects of getting my depression under control:  

Here’s what I wrote about my FW Stimulator Experience last September: 

- I feel happier at my job than I have...basically ever. I procrastinate less and find it significantly easier to focus and churn out work. I do sometimes still have focus issues (I do have ADD after all!) and occasionally get bored, but those issues are much more manageable using basic time management and work techniques, as opposed to previously, when I struggled with focus, boredom, and serious misery almost all day, every day. It’s amazing how much easier it is to do your job when your brain is working the way it should!

- Tasks at home are easier for me to accomplish too, and it’s easier for me to stick to good habits and health. I actually managed to break the weight loss plateau I’ve been on since January 2016! Because fun fact- it’s a lot easier to stick to a diet when you’re emotionally stable.

-I feel like I’ve gotten better at sticking to social commitments once I make them; in the past, I’ve backed out of plans with friends a lot due to just plain feeling miserable and fatigued for reasons I couldn’t explain. I haven’t done that since I started this treatment.

It’s not like I never feel sad or mad or frustrated, but it’s all manageable now;  these are all emotions that I’m experiencing within their healthy range. They’re not overwhelming me. I have, however, had to start really working to figure out exactly what I need to be happy when I’m not seriously depressed, because I’ve had depression for long that like, I really don’t know. I’ve discovered for example, that when I’m not hampered by depression, I want and need to be around friends more often to be happy! But these are fixable problems. :)

I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop but so far, it seems like this treatment is actually sticking and working for me. I haven’t had a depression incident since the effects of the stimulator kicked in (i did come close, but it ends up that was just because i ignored the instructions about changing the sponges in the applicators every week. Once I changed it, it immediately started working as well for me again.). If I go 6 months without a recurrence of depression, I plan to talk to my doctors about weaning myself off depression meds altogether.

It was expensive, but honestly, this feels like the best money I’ve ever spent on anything ever and I honestly cannot friggin believe more people don’t know about it. I am in SUCH a better mental place than I was 30 days ago. And that’s why I wrote that novel of a status. 


Me writing about my experience in October:

1. I enjoy talking to pro se applicants over the phone SO much more than I previously did. I also really enjoyed the trademark picnic today and had an easy time talking to numerous people, when in the past, I've definitely struggled to start up conversations. It hasn't totally erased my focus issues, because I still have ADD, but it is generally much much easier for me to concentrate on conversations and while working.

2. I have managed to move forward with several long term goals in the past MONTH that I've been stalled on for a longggg time. I wrote a one act play I was happy with and submitted it to a new works festival! I can't remember the last time I actually finished a creative writing project I started (longer than a blog post anyway)! I broke through my weight loss plateau/rollercoaster and as of this morning have lost 31 pounds. I've started meditating every morning and working out every morning! These habits have been so hard for me to build and I am delighted they are happening.

I still totally suck at getting anywhere on time ever. ADD Tip: If you can get a job that doesn't care /when/ you work as long as you get your hours in, it is the best thing for someone with time blindness ever.

3. I have a few credit card issues I've been working on for a while (because law school taught me terrible financial habits, medical bills, etc.). These money issues used to /really/ stress me out and upset me, and John was scared to talk to me about them, but today we had a conversation about it and realized that actually, I haven't freaked out over money at all since the treatment kicked in. This is a delightful effect that is totally making my marriage better and John's life a little easier.

5. In general, dealing with problems is much much easier for me, and I'm more of a macgyver at finding creative solutions. This has come up several times lately, but the only example i can think of right now - John's welder is 300 pounds and can only sit in one open closet on the main floor in the entryway, as it would damage the floor anywhere else. You can't even close the door and it's just...not tidy or nice looking at all. I managed to hide it by hanging up a curtain and now our front entryway looks much better!

6. My extroversion is much more apparent now and I basically want to hang out with my friends alllll the time. My weekends are much more full of activities and I'm committing more time toward seeing friends during the week as well! Poor introvert John is slightly overwhelmed by this, but we're slowly finding a happy medium for the two of us.


 These days: 

Almost a year after trying it, I still use my happy zappy (as I affectionately call it) daily. I usually only need to use it once a day now, but if I’m having a tougher time than usual, I’ll use it twice daily. I am still on my depression meds (I tried removing one in the winter without actually talking to my doctor about it and it didn’t work so well). I firmly believe I wouldn’t be where I am as an author today without getting my depression under control. I won NaNoWriMo, finished that novel, and am revising it currently. I’ve written numerous short stories and essays and submitted them to literary publications; i’ve had three accepted. I published one of my short stories as an ebook and am turning that into a short story series, with a new volume released each month! I really don’t think any of that would be possible for me personally without the Fisher Wallace Stimulator. It has actually changed my life and made it significantly better. It’s not for everyone; it’s helped most of my friends I’ve recommended it to, but it just gave one of them headaches and nightmares. Given the high cost and the fact that insurance doesn’t cover it, I understand why people would be hesitant to buy it. Personally though, it’s one of the best decisions of my life. 


If you have any questions, please ask away! I’d be happy to talk to you more. :) 

#mentalhealth #depression #endthestigma