This story was told to CreakyJoints by Catina Morrison, RN, BSN, a registered nurse, chronic illness coach, patient advocate, and business consultant. Catina is the Founder and CEO of Nurse Loves Essentials, a blogger, and the host of the Inflamed Sisters Thriving Podcast.
It took over 30 years for me to get a diagnosis. From childhood I had symptoms of anemia, chronic fatigue, and chronic pain that the doctors could not explain, except for saying that it was growing pains. When it came to my endometriosis, I was told as a teenager that periods do hurt and it’ll get better with time. I was 34 years old before I was diagnosed with endometriosis.
I was diagnosed at 32 with rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia after a traumatic car accident almost took my husband’s life and mine while we were traveling in Jamaica. From 2012 to 2016, the pain that I had from that accident, and the pain on and off throughout my life, became constant.
During that time the pain was debilitating, but I had to work through that pain in order to have insurance and in order to be able to help support my family. It was a challenging time that eventually caused me to have depression, later diagnosed as high functioning depression. As a registered nurse, it was hard for me.
It was a painful journey — mentally, emotionally, and physically.
Meeting the Needs of the Chronic Illness Community
My goal is to help others to stop hiding and start thriving. That means being able to do what they are passionate about as well as to advocate for themselves and all aspects of life to achieve the goals they thought were impossible despite their illness. I also try to do that as a chronic illness warrior by being an example, which means being able to achieve my goals and juggle these things, and make sure I put my health first.
In June 2021, I decided to create a social media page to provide education and inspiration for those who live with chronic illnesses. Within two weeks, people reached out to me to be their coach, so I shifted from providing only education and inspiration to coaching. While networking and collaborating with other coaches who had chronic illnesses, I began coaching them on how to market their businesses effectively while managing their health. I never thought that this would be the direction I would take, but it grew tremendously, eventually leading to the community of the Inflamed Sisters Thriving.
I saw a need for something that didn’t exist. While there is a focus on treatment for people with chronic illnesses, there also needs to be an emphasis on how they can reach their goals. Chronic illness should not define us, or stop us from being able to achieve what we were meant to do. It should not diminish the value we bring to our own businesses or the businesses of others. How can we, as patients, continue to be a force within industries?
Wouldn’t it be amazing to have someone with lupus be coached by someone who also has lupus?
Wouldn’t it be amazing to have someone with rheumatoid arthritis be coached and assisted by someone who also has rheumatoid arthritis who is not only qualified to do so, but also understands the journey because they too have rheumatoid arthritis?
Dreams Can Come True
I developed the Chronic Illness Health Support Network to serve the purpose of coaching patients to reach their goals while managing their chronic illnesses. Many coaches in the network are not only experts, but are also certified and licensed professionals who can provide this type of assistance.
The first goal was to have coaching up and running within three to five years, but that happened in just two weeks! I told myself that by the second quarter of this year this facet of my business would be growing and it literally is where I wanted it to be before the second quarter happened. It helps me see that dreams can come true, especially when your dream is to help others and make a difference.
Today I provide one-on-one coaching, group coaching, and I partner with different companies who serve the chronic illness community. I employ people who have chronic illnesses to support others as they grow their business so that they can further support the chronically ill. It’s this circle of continued growth and support for the chronic illness community.
I dream of a world where you don’t have to hide the fact that you’re sick to be able to hold on to your job. Your job will understand because employers and colleagues have the knowledge that inclusion and diversity is not just background and culture or the color of your skin; it is also with reference to your chronic illnesses.
One Size Does Not Fit All in Medical Care
We know that health disparities exist for various reasons, such as race, economic status, or a person’s access to health insurance and benefits. As an African American woman, I am at higher risk for such disparities because of how pain presents itself to others. Often, people from my cultural background, especially women, don’t respond to pain in the same way as others do. So, if the doctor’s focus is on facial grimacing or physical ability, we are culturally taught to push through pain because that is the history of our people.
During the two years that I took the medication Hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil), I experienced less inflammation, but I also had severe itching and rashes. I was treated for eczema when, in fact, it was the Plaquenil causing the problem. The doctors did not take the time to do the research that shows Plaquenil can cause Hydroxychloroquine-induced Pruritus in African Americans.
In our society, one size does not fit all when it comes to medical care or medications. While a medication may be treating one issue, it could be causing another problem and inflicting severe harm on a person. We need to fill the gap in lack of representation in research. We cannot create medicines just for one part of the world.
Chronic illness can define us. Rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, and endometriosis don’t sound like anything powerful — they sound like something debilitating.
In 2020 after having a long battle with infertility, I went through a total hysterectomy. It’s very possible for us to live transparently and to be vulnerable and share our experiences, our journeys — not as something that has damaged us but as something that made us more resilient.
That’s the main thing I’ve learned from my illness is this path of resilience and how from resilience, if you can pivot, you can get up when you’re knocked down. Through that path of resilience, you can gain greater purpose in life, then you can use that purpose to help others to thrive as well.
I’ve learned that:
- I’m not defined by my chronic illnesses.
- I’m stronger than I ever thought I was.
- It’s possible for us to live transparently and be vulnerable.
- You can pivot and find a new path.
Advice for My Younger Self and Others
Find your voice and use it.
After decades of not knowing what was going on with my body, this is what I told my primary care provider:
If you were sick, if you had my pain, and someone was telling you that your pain was in your head and you were in debilitating pain for years, but no one could give you answers despite every test that you’re going through, who would YOU go to? I need you to refer me to that person. Who would you go to if you were in my situation?
I asked my doctor that and she referred me to one of her closest friends who diagnosed me and provided a plan of care and treatment that has helped me to thrive now.
You have a right to have a say in your health care. Find providers who are willing to provide you with the quality of care that you deserve, we all deserve kindness and compassion.
Decide on your treatment plan with your doctor.
I started using holistic methods that worked, and that my doctors also agreed with, and I now have an integrative health plan that my health team and I work together on to keep me healthy so I can continue to do the things that I’m passionate about.
Stop hiding, start thriving.
I have hidden in plain sight with chronic illness all my life, pushing through day after day by going to work, showing up for family and friends, and doing the impossible — like walking on my feet when the pain was so terrible. My podiatrist said that no one could walk on feet with the type of issues that I have, yet I would just keep going. I needed to learn to be transparent about how I felt and what was really going on with me. I had to know when to sit down but also find the strength to keep thriving.
Find a community that supports you. We often hold our problems inside ourselves, but it’s important to share your journey and connect with others on a similar journey. Do not sleep on the importance of community, especially for African American women and for people of color. Find support in a sisterhood that helps us to thrive.
That’s why I always say, “My Sisters, we may be inflamed but we’re still here, and as long as we’re here, we might as well thrive.”
Be a More Proactive Patient with ArthritisPower
ArthritisPower is a patient-led, patient-centered research registry for joint, bone, and inflammatory skin conditions. You can participate in voluntary research studies about your health conditions and use the app to track your symptoms, disease activity, and medications — and share with your doctor. Learn more and sign up here.