Seven Years Later

Blood clots changed my life. Now, seven years later, I am sharing where my journey has brought me.

www.BloodClotRecovery.net

Seven years ago, a blood clot in my leg (deep vein thrombosis or DVT) that broke apart and traveled through my bloodstream to my lung (pulmonary embolism or PE) nearly ended my life. I remember this day seven years ago pretty vividly. It was a Saturday, and I got up early to meet my training group and run a few miles. I had just returned to training after running a marathon in Florida after taking some time off to let what I thought was a knee injury heal. I was dismayed to feel the familiar pain in my calf, only this time it radiated down to my ankle too. I said goodbye to my friends, went home, and took a nap.

I woke up several hours later with a really bad cramp in my left side. It hurt to take a deep breath, and I pretty much said I was done with running. I blamed the cramp on dehydration and took a hot shower. That made me feel better, but I was still tired, and didn’t feel motivated to do anything or go anywhere. I laid on the couch most of the day, barely cooked dinner when my husband got home from work and went to bed early. It crossed my mind that it was worrisome that it hurt worse to lay flat then to slightly recline.  

Sunday morning, I woke up feeling worse, only my leg hurt to put any weight on it. It felt like I couldn’t catch my breath, so I resolved to take it easy and rest before going out to dinner for my sister’s birthday later that night. By the time evening rolled around, though, I called to cancel, stating I didn’t feel well. My husband and I tried to find an open urgent care, with no luck. My family called my primary care physician out of concern – I never bailed on outings like birthdays – and he called me on my cell to ask what was going on. I explained that I pulled a muscle in my side, and I could barely breathe or talk. I told him that wasn’t my concern though, my concern was that I couldn’t walk on my leg. The next 30 seconds of silence were the longest I have heard in my life. My doctor said, “You need to go to the nearest ER and if you’re not going to go, you need to tell me where you are so I can call an ambulance.” Alarmed, I asked why.

He told me he believed I had a blood clot from my leg go to my lung, and I was in immediate danger of losing my life. Bewildered, I told him I would go. He said, “which hospital?” and I named off a small one three minutes from where I lived. “No,” he said, “I need you to go to one with a trauma center. This is serious, and I’m calling ahead.” Now completely alarmed, I hobbled down the stairs and told my husband to drive me to the ER because I was dying.

I don’t remember much of the next week of my life. I was admitted ahead of a very long line at the hospital and within a few hours, I was diagnosed with a DVT in my left calf, and a PE in my left lung. None of it meant anything to me, and I was in too much pain to ask or care. My husband was told the next few hours were uncertain, and my family came to see me – one by one – in a strange ICU room where my bed was wheeled next to a crash cart for safety. I had one nurse whose job it was to watch me for the next 24 hours. I wasn’t allowed to move or use the bathroom. I blacked in and out of consciousness for the next several days as either pain or pain medications fought for control of my body and mind.

I work up a few days later in a different ICU room with my husband sitting next to me holding a doctor’s card that said “Oncologist” on it. I asked if I had cancer, and my husband said they had no idea what was wrong with me, but they were coming to talk to us soon. I fought to stay awake, only to hear that I had a disease I couldn’t pronounce. I fell asleep that day with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in my mouth. It was the last thing I would eat for awhile aside from shakes to keep me sustained.

I was diagnosed with antiphospholipid syndrome, or APS, which is an autoimmune disease that, in simple terms, causes the body to clot when it shouldn’t. There is no cure for APS, and it can cause some pretty serious problems like blood clots, miscarriages in women, heart attack, and stroke. Doctors do not know why I have it, or what caused the disease to cause blood clots when it did. To this day, I don’t have any more answers than I did then.

Seven years later

I was discharged from the hospital about a week later in a wheelchair and with an oxygen tank. I was ecstatic to go home, but little did I know, my road to recovery would be long and winding. The next few weeks months were filled doctor’s appointments. I had my blood tested numerous times, and I had a couple follow-up scans to see if or how my clots were healing. I struggled physically with more pain than I have ever felt in my life. It hurt to do simple things like walk, talk, breathe and move. I needed help showering and getting to the restroom. The pain was unimaginable.

Emotionally, I faced more challenges in the coming months – and years – that I did not know I would face. My self-esteem was destroyed. I eventually lost the job I had then, and my personal relationships were tested and strained. Living in constant pain was miserable, and I lost all hope that things would ever get better. There were times I wanted to end my life because the pain was so bad. My dad encouraged me to keep a journal and write down what I was going through, so I could look back and tell other people what happened to me. I started writing bits and pieces of memories and days that made no sense to me or anyone else. From those journals, I started this blog, because I knew didn’t want other people to suffer like I was, even though I was suffering still. I wanted to know that I wasn’t alone, and I wanted other people to know they weren’t alone. Writing this blog helped me hang on in my darkest moments, when I often had nowhere else to turn.

Now, seven years later, I am physically healed from my blood clots, but not from APS. I take warfarin every day and have my blood monitored regularly to make sure it is working as it should, and I see my hematologist every three months or so. I am ever vigilant for signs a clot, even though I have faith in my medication that works to prevent clots. I live pain-free most days, although sitting or standing for too long can cause my leg to ache from time to time. I am also vigilant for signs of stroke and heart attack. Today, I consider myself physically healed from blood clots. Aside from medication and medication management, my life is pretty much the same as it was before.

Seven years later, I am emotionally healed from my blood clots, but that took a lot longer to do. It is just within the last couple of years that I can tell my story without crying, I can hear another story without crying, and I can separate what happened to me from what is happening, or will happen, to other people. My thoughts and emotions are once again safe with me, not recklessly rocketing through my mind. Now I just work to manage general anxiety about my health, stress, and try to obtain a good balance between life and work (that doesn’t always go so well). I’ve conquered some major obstacles, including a long-haul flight and vacation to Europe and several extended road trips, which are now some of the greatest memories that I have.

Seven years later, my life is nothing like what it was then. Sometimes, what happened to me feels like a very distant memory, yet with the work I do, not a day goes by where I am not reminded of how very real it all was. However, my thoughts have shifted to from “what I went through” to “what can I do.” I know that I have an important role in this community, and I know that a lot of people rely on my work here as a symbol of hope when they have no other. That is not something to take lightly, or to take for granted.  

seven years later: empathize with any difficult situation

Seven years later, I am still blogging here at Blood Clot Recovery Network. Healing from my experience, I believe, has led me to be a better blogger. Being able to acknowledge my emotions, but not let them control me, has allowed me to lend a greater empathy to you, the people who are suffering like I once was. I see you. I see that you are suffering, and I want you to know that there is hope for better days ahead. The pain, for most people, gets better. And, if it doesn’t, you can usually find ways to manage it or address it. It doesn’t make it hurt any less right now, though, if you’re stuck there in that dark, painful place.

It is true that most people do recover from blood clots and go on to live normal lives again. It just might not feel like it from where you are right now, and you might not believe it. That is okay. Healing is hard work, and it can be a long road. If you’re struggling physically, talk to your doctor about how to manage your pain, and if you’re not getting better, talk to your doctor about a plan to help you. If you’re struggling emotionally, reach out for help. You should not suffer alone, or in silence. There are people to help you, both in the medical profession and in the community. Ask for help, make a call, make an appointment, or reach out to someone that you trust.

Seven years later, I thank you and this community for everything you have done to support me, to support one another, and to help raise awareness about blood clots and clotting disorders. If you have a blood clot or clotting disorder, know someone who does, or even if you lost someone to these conditions… you are so loved. My healing has come full circle, and I am here to help others through the same journey, which I try to do each and every day. My professional work at the National Blood Clot Alliance has given me an even bigger platform to give back, but this blog retains a pretty special place in my heart, particularly for those of you that are suffering and struggling.

seven years later: give your support and love generously.

If you’re feeling better like me and are called to lend your support to others who are still healing, you can do so in several ways: Join my private Facebook Group and talk about it or connect with me on social to share my blogs. You can also support the National Blood Clot Alliance (the largest patient advocacy organization in North America). If you’re called to advocate and raise awareness, you can learn more about that here.  

seven years later: there is hope for healing, and you are not alone.

My mantra hasn’t changed seven years later: There is hope for healing from blood clots, and you are not alone. It rings true to this day, even for me. Thank you for supporting me on this journey. Whether you are here for the hundredth time or the first time, thank you for taking time to read what I have to say. Thank you for talking about your blood clot recovery with me, and with this community. It matters, you matter, and blood clot awareness matters.

There is hope for healing and you are not alone,

Reader Writes In: Where are you in your recovery journey? Has the BCRN community helped you along the way? Share in your journal, or in the comments below.

www.BloodClotRecovery.net

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Long-term blood thinners are not a life sentence.

Are you taking long-term blood thinners? It is not a life sentence.

Taking long-term blood thinners are not a life sentence, but an important part of a plan to keep me alive and healthy. Here is how a simple shift in thinking changed my entire outlook on a lifelong treatment plan.

www.BloodClotRecovery.net

I was 29 years old when a persistent and worsening pain in my calf and sharp, sudden pain in my left side lead to the diagnosis of blood clots. I thought I had overdone it running, but after rushing to the hospital late on a Sunday night, I found out my situation was much more dire. A seemingly unexplained deep vein thrombosis (DVT) in my calf and pulmonary embolism (PE) in my lung, led doctors to search for answers as to why an otherwise healthy young woman had a life-threatening blood clot. What they found was worse than the blood clots, in many ways.

While in the hospital, I was preliminary diagnosed with antiphospholipid syndrome, or APS. Later tests fully confirmed the diagnosis. APS is an acquired autoimmune disease that can cause a person’s blood to clot abnormally because the body mistakenly produces antibodies that attack phospholipids, a type of fat that plays a key role in clotting. It can lead to other problems too like miscarriages (in females, who it affects more), heart attack and stroke. There is no cure for APS, although there are people looking for one.

I was devastated by the news at first, and wondered how it would impact my life. I soon found out that primary treatment of my APS would involve taking blood thinners (for me and for right now that is warfarin) for the rest of my life. I also take aspirin to reduce my risk for stroke. While an aspirin a day sounded like no big deal to me, taking long-term blood thinners was very scary. I had a lot of questions, and I didn’t see a lot of light at the end of the tunnel. In fact, I couldn’t see an end to the tunnel at all.

For the first several months of my diagnosis, I focused on healing from DVT and PE and the intense pain I was in. I didn’t think much about APS. A lot of what I read online scared me, and provided no clear outlook for my future. It wasn’t until I had a face-to-face conversation with my hematologist that I realized taking long-term blood thinners was not, in fact, a life sentence. As I started to feel better, I started to see that taking this medication was a very important part of a plan that was intended to keep me alive and well.

If taking long-term blood thinners is not a life sentence… what is it then?

Hearing that I would have to take blood thinners long-term was upsetting to me. I remember sitting in my hematologist’s office, and crying, when I heard the news. I blurted out, “I’ll have to take warfarin forever?” What he said next stuck with me, and framed my thinking around it from that moment forward: I don’t think we should say forever, because we never know what future treatments, or cures, will arise – and they will. This field is growing so fast, there is always something new to learn. Right now, and until something else comes along, this is what you need to stay healthy.

It wasn’t until much later, after I had time to think about it, that I realized my doctor was right. Taking long-term blood thinners are not a life sentence, but an integral part of a long-term treatment plan that is designed to keep me alive and healthy. I also realized that how I framed it in my mind could very well make the difference between long-term misery and long-term empowerment.

Long-term blood thinners are important to keep us healthy and alive.

Why we sometimes need long-term blood thinners.

Doctors use a variety of factors to determine how long someone should remain on anticoagulants, also commonly known as blood thinners. These factors can include things like why you had a clot in the first place and what your future risk for clots may be. More temporary risk factors like surgery, hospitalization or pregnancy, may mean someone has a shorter treatment plan. Risk factors that last longer, like an underlying clotting condition, or thrombophilia, or family or personal history of clots, may mean longer treatment with blood thinners is necessary. There is also more recent research that indicates people who don’t have a reason for their blood clots may benefit from extended treatment, because there is a lack of an identifiable risk factor that can be eliminated. 

My APS diagnosis makes it unlikely that I will be able to discontinue blood thinners in the foreseeable future, so I take them both to prevent blood clots, and as primary treatment for my APS.

Scientific and medical advances make long-term care – and life – possible.

Blood thinners have made life, and longer life, possible for millions and millions of people. Fairly recent introductions and availability of of new medications, also known as new or direct oral anticoagulants, provide treatment options where we once had no options. People who maybe were allergic to or not responsive to warfarin previously had no options to reduce their clotting risk. Imagine not being able to treat a condition that has a treatment available due to the medication itself. Imagine not being able to follow a treatment plan because it was overwhelming or difficult for you to manage the follow-up care. Maybe you have even experienced these situations yourself. Now, options exist where there once were none – meaning even more lives are saved and extended by anticoagulants. 

New advances in science and medicine make long-term care and longer life possible.

The field of thrombosis and thrombophilia is rapidly advancing.

There are scientists and doctors who work in this field each and every day, and who are passionate about providing the best care that they can for their patients and future patients. I think, generally speaking, doctors go into their chosen field to make a difference and to help people. The field of hematology is no different. People are actively working to better prevent and treat blood clots, and to cure clotting disorders. Just in the last decade, science and medicine have made great advancements that once were thought to be impossible (i.e. more medications to treat blood clots). It only makes sense that this field will continue to grow.

If you want to learn more about these advances, and how you can be a part of emerging research, learn more about clinical trials, or connect with patient advocacy organizations like the National Blood Clot Alliance or the medical organizations like the American Society of Hematology for current news. Updates happen all the time, and I will do my best to share them with you as I see them (Facebook is the best place to see my current posts).

Take time to evaluate your situation and talk to your doctor.

Hearing that I would have to take blood thinners until further notice was not a huge shock to me, although it was upsetting. I knew what I went through was horrible, and painful, and I had an overwhelming fear of another blood clot. I also knew APS could not be cured. Since the beginning, blood thinners have been my immediate safety net and help keep my anxiety about blood clots at a manageable level. In addition to that, I have taken thyroid medication since adolescence, so adding another pill into the weekly pill box wasn’t a big deal for me. Monitoring my blood regularly, because I take warfarin, was a little different, and took some adjusting to at first. Taking new medications for a long time could be overwhelming for someone else, though, especially someone who has never had to take medication before. What was more concerning to me were the implications of what lifelong treatment could mean. I had questions like: What were the risks? Were there any side effects? Would it impact the activities I love to do?

I soon found out that answers to my questions existed, and I talked to my doctor at length about my concerns. For any blood thinner, the biggest risk is bleeding, which could be dangerous, or even life-threatening (like in a big accident). For the most part, though, bleeding is not something that I worry about day to day, unless I am doing a high-risk activity. My side effects with warfarin were minimal (hair thinning, heavy menstrual cycles) and dissipated after a few months of starting the medication. With my doctor’s encouragement, I found I could still do every activity that I love (unless I let fear stop me).

The “what ifs” were not as bad as I was anticipating. You may find the same is true for your situation, so once you have some time to digest your treatment plan, take your questions to your healthcare team and get answers. If something won’t work for you, ask about your options, which may include different medications or different ways to prevent blood clots.

Talk to your doctors about your treatment options.

I’m not a lifer on long-term blood thinners (even though I am).

Although I take blood thinners long-term, or potentially for the rest of my life, you will never hear me say I take them forever, or that I am a lifer on blood thinners. I take warfarin long-term as part of my treatment plan to prevent blood clots, a potentially life-threatening complication of APS. How I think about it – and talk about it – really makes a difference. It doesn’t sound hopeful, and it doesn’t feel good to say things like “I’m a lifer” with regard to pretty much anything. Thinking about my blood thinners as a treatment, and as a preventative measure, allowed me to switch my thinking to a more positive and nurturing state of mind. Taking my pills is like brushing my teeth, getting my eyes checked, or eating nutritious foods and taking a walk. It is how I stay healthy. To think of it that way is empowering, rather than discouraging. I am doing what I need to do to take care of myself.

It can be scary, and overwhelming, to have to take a medication for the rest of your life. Blood thinners are, without doubt, a serious medication. With any treatment or medication, there are risks, and they should be known and evaluated. The most serious risk that can occur with blood thinners is bleeding. Most bleeding is not life-threatening, however, and it can even be managed with over-the-counter products designed to control it. If you have bleeding that won’t stop, a severe trauma or injury, a head injury, a fall, a car accident, persistent and severe headaches, bloody stools or urine, or large, unexplained bruising, you should call your doctor, or seek immediate medical attention.

In most situation, the risks though, far outweigh the benefits of a treatment plan that keeps us all safe from clotting and alive. Blood thinners are good at preventing blood clots. Most people on blood thinners do not experience a recurrence, although about 30% will within 10 years. Keep in mind, most repeat blood clots are due to failure to adhere to a treatment plan, or take your medications as directed. If you take blood thinners, talk to your doctor before stopping them or skipping them.

Blood thinners aren’t perfect – they don’t reduce your risk of a clot to zero and they don’t come without some potential risks – but they are a solid and safe treatment for blood clots. With new medical and scientific advances, we have hope that one day perhaps a new medication will be discovered and implemented, or that new reasons for clots are discovered and addressed. Perhaps one day diseases like antiphospholipid syndrome, or other clotting disorders, will even be cured. Until that time, I rely on blood thinners as a long-term treatment to keep me safe from blood clots.

There is hope for healing and you are not alone,

Reader Writes In: Are you taking long-term blood thinners? How are you dealing with your diagnosis and your treatment plan? Have you been scared or overwhelmed? Share in the comments below, or in your journal.

www.BloodClotRecovery.net
More reading and resources about long-term blood thinners.

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Blood Clot Awareness Month 2019: Awareness Matters

March is Blood Clot Awareness Month. Find out what it is, why it matters, and how you can help make a difference.

Why Blood Clots?

It will soon be seven years since I had a blood clot in my left leg (deep vein thrombosis or DVT) that traveled to my lung (pulmonary embolism or PE), causing damage to my heart and creating a life-threatening situation. I did not know that I was at risk, both because I had an underlying autoimmune clotting disease called antiphospholipid syndrome, and because I was taking birth control pills with estrogen.

I was only 29 years old then, and for me, life had just begun. I was recently married, healthy, and contemplating a future of kids and home with my husband. I was running one day, when a horrible pain started in my left calf. It felt like a pulled muscle and progressed to feeling like my knee was in a vice. Less than two days later, I had pain in my left side, near the bottom of my ribcage that eventually felt like someone was stabbing me and all the air was deflated from my lung. Being unable to breath or speak in full sentences is why I went to the hospital, at the urging of my primary care physician, who I called on a weekend for help.

I spent ten days in the hospital, where my life hung in the balance for several days. After doctors stabilized my situation, I was sent home – with a wheelchair and an oxygen tank – where I would soon discover that I was only at the very beginning of what would be a long and grueling journey. It took me two years to recover from the blood clots that ravaged my body, and a little bit more time to deal with the emotional trauma of facing the end of my life so young, and so unexpectedly. I will forever have to manage my disease and my clotting risk with medications and follow-up appointments.   

While I am not exactly sure why my blood clots happened when they did, to the severity that they did, I do know that my experience changed the course of my life. It was only three months after my hospital discharge that I decided to start Blood Clot Recovery Network and share my story with the world.  

Blood Clot Awareness Matters

Blood clots kill more people each year than AIDS, breast cancer, and motor vehicle accidents combined, yet so many people don’t think blood clots can happen to them, or surprisingly, they don’t know they are dangerous. Blood clots can happen to anyone, at any time. I was 29 years old and an active runner when my blood clots happened to me. I never expected it, and because of that, I almost died.

If you think blood clots can’t happen to you or someone you care about – they can. Take time this month to learn – and share – more about blood clots. Nearly all of us have access to someone else. Whether it be your friends, your family, your colleagues, your social media channels, or your community – share, share, share. It seems simple, but it truly matters.   

Knowledge Saves Lives

Sometimes I think about how different my situation would have been had I known two things: That I was at risk for blood clots and what the signs and symptoms of DVT were. If I had known, perhaps I could have addressed my risk with my doctors earlier, or when I had symptoms of a blood clot in my leg (DVT), I could have got help before it turned into a life-threatening situation by traveling to my lung (PE). I didn’t know either, and I almost didn’t survive. While I can’t say for certain what might have happened then, I wish I would have known.

Knowing information about blood clots does help to save lives, and I have heard countless stories from people who have read my blog and avoided a life-threatening situation because they got help at the first sign of a problem:

Blood Clot Recovery: Snapshots of You

Information about blood clots is easier to find now than it was when I first started writing my blog here, but there is still information lacking about blood clot recovery. Although, recovery information is much more readily available than it once was, and there are great organizations and people working to share information, where once there was none.

Talking about my experience has been one of the things that helped me to heal. Writing about my experience has helped me process what happened to me. I believe strongly in the power of sharing our experiences, and this March, I want to focus on how sharing our stories – whether publicly or in private – helps with healing and recovery. No one wants to feel alone in this world or feel alone when going through a difficult experience. If you’re struggling physically, you’re not alone. If you’re struggling emotionally, you’re not alone. This month, I want to share insights – or snapshots – of my recovery from blood clots with you and give you the opportunity to share with me and with one another.

Make Your Connections Count

I will be sharing new content on social media for the month of March, as well as many of my most popular posts. I will be talking about blood clot risks, signs and symptoms, and all about recovery, including anxiety, depression, lifestyle issues, treatment, and more. There will also be weekly opportunities for you to share your thoughts and experiences with your own recovery from blood clots.

My two most popular platforms are Facebook and Instagram, so if you’re not connected with me there, I look forward to seeing you. You can connect with me on Twitter too. My private Facebook Group is growing each day, and it is a great place to chat with people in real time about blood clots and blood clot recovery. I am there every day, so I would love to chat with you too.

Hope for Healing from Blood Clots

My message is this: If you are recovering from blood clots you are not alone, and while it is life-changing and even unbearable at times, it does get better. There is hope for healing from blood clots.

www.BloodClotRecovery.net

A Note of Gratitude

I would be remiss if I didn’t stop to talk about what I am grateful for since my blood clots six years ago. While I don’t often refer to myself as a survivor, I did come out alive on the other side of something that kills 100,000 people a year. I am grateful for my life, and I am grateful for the chance to help make a difference. By sharing my story – and my recovery – I hope that I can honor the lives that were lost and hopefully save lives in the future by sharing important information.  

I am grateful for my family, who supports me day after day, even when my work takes priority over them. They are: my husband, Michael; my dad, Bill; my sister, Mollie; my in-laws; and my dogs, Grace and Sadie. Thank you for believing in me, and the work I do, every single day.

I am grateful for my medical team, because without them I wouldn’t be here today. They are: my hematologist, my primary care physician, and the nurses and lab staff and my hematologist’s office. Thank you for caring about me, and for helping me live my best life with antiphospholipid syndrome.

I am grateful for the BCRN community. You all make it possible for me to carry on my work here, day after day. You inspire me, and you keep me motivated to talk about my experiences, with the hope that my sharing will continue to help you. Thank you for reading, for commenting, for sharing, and for connecting.

Where to Go for More

I hope you also connect with the National Blood Clot Alliance, if you have not already, where I work professionally in Marketing and Communications. We have several projects that we are unveiling this March that I am very excited about. To make my passion my profession has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. Additionally, my job has provided me the opportunity to reach even more people with life-saving information about blood clots. For information you can share too, please visit www.stoptheclot.org.

Get Your BCAM Bracelets

Shop for Blood Clot Awareness Bracelets through my Amazon Shop: Shop BCRN.

There is hope for healing and you are not alone,


Reader Writes In: What plans do you have for Blood Clot Awareness Month? Share in your journal or in the comments below – I would love to hear about them!


Read More: Blood Clot Advocacy and Awareness


The First 30 Days of Blood Clot Recovery: My Notes

My Recovery Notes are entries from a handwritten journal I kept for 30 days – from the time when I first thought something was wrong with my leg to the end of my first month out of the hospital. My notes start with the day I went for a short run, and I thought I injured my knee again. They end with the last day of my first month out of the hospital. You will notice there are no writings on days 6-15. This is the time I spent in the hospital, and my thoughts from that time are mostly non-existent. I don’t remember much of anything from the days spent in the intensive care unit, and only small things from the rest of my time in the hospital. My doctors believe the memory loss is a combination of severe trauma, repressed memories, and also being on pain medications for the duration of my time there. Maybe someday, I will try to write about that time. It’s still difficult for me to think about, but I also know the power of writing to heal.

Talking about what happened to me helped me to deal with the trauma I experienced in more ways than one. From the scattered thoughts and illegible writing on white pages to the clean, crisp design of this blog site, I took my words from paper to screen when I began writing my blog. I began writing about my experiences, with the hope that it could one day help someone else through a difficult recovery from blood clots, that was often isolating and overwhelming.

I have talked a lot about journaling, and how helpful it was for me. To this day, it remains a central part of the work I do here. I always share a journal prompt with you, at the end of each blog post, to encourage you to write down how you feel. It’s different than thinking about it, because by writing things down, you get them out of your head (literally or symbolically) and put them somewhere else. My journaling and writing has helped me to heal in more ways than one. I am able to get my worst thoughts about what happened to me out of my head, and onto a piece of paper or computer screen, so they can stop floating around.

I also hope that my writing helps other people who are struggling with the things that I once did. Helping people helps me heal too. I hope that by reading these notes you feel less alone, and understand just how life-changing and scary recovery from blood clots can be. I also hope that you read them and realize that there is hope for recovery from blood clots. There is hope for better days ahead, and a return to the things you love. Don’t give up. You are not fighting alone, and for the vast majority of people, it goes get better.

The First 30 Days of Blood Clot Recovery

Here are my personal entries from a handwritten journal I kept right after my DVT and PE.

There is hope for healing and you are not alone,


Reader Writes In: Journal your thoughts, or share in the comments below. What were the most significant challenges during your first month of blood clot recovery?


Read More: Resources for people who have been recently diagnosed with blood clots.


How to Handle Anxiety After Blood Clots

I’m frequently asked, “does the anxiety after blood clots ever go away?” My answer is, “usually it gets better, but it takes time – sometimes it takes a long time.” Health-related anxiety after a blood clot is something that many people experience, and it is something that I have dealt with – and still deal with – six years after a DVT and PE changed my life forever. While I still face anxiety from time to time, it does not completely rule my life. That is what I hope for you too, and that is what I mean when I say, “it does get better in time.”

A blood clot in my lung is one of the scariest things I have ever experienced. If you’re feeling that too, you’re not alone. The anxiety I felt after my blood clot was debilitating, and healing from it was just as hard as – if not harder than – healing from the physical problems I faced. For me, the anxiety would start with a small ripple, just the smallest thought thrown into the pool of my mind, like a stone: What if that tight muscle isn’t just a tight muscle? The stone would sink, and the ripples would spread out: What if it’s a blood clot? I think it hurts to put pressure on my leg. Farther and farther: I’m not sure if I can breathe. I must have a blood clot. I can’t go through this pain again. I won’t survive this one. My thoughts would escalate until there was nothing else on my mind, except what might be wrong with me.

No one doubted that I believed I had a reason to be afraid, but no one in my personal life really understood what I was going through. On the outside, I looked fine. My initial days, weeks and months after my blood clot were filled with frantic phone calls to my doctor – and his nursing staff – to ask about a current pain, feeling, sign or symptom of something that was, without doubt, going to be the end of me. My doctor was supportive and listened to my concerns. He told me I was normal for being worried. He usually instructed me in one of three ways: Watch something for a progression of symptoms and call back, make an appointment to come see him as soon as possible, or head to the ER to get checked out. I have done them all. Through this (repeated) process, I have since learned what I can watch myself, when I need to make a phone call, or when I need to go to the hospital.

It has been six years since my blood clots, and I don’t focus on the fear from day to day anymore. It took me a long time to heal, though, and it wasn’t always easy. While I was recovering, I spent months and months wondering if my health would improve, or if something else would happen that would leave me with more problems, or worse yet, dead. Living with antiphospholipid syndrome – or APS, which is the autoimmune clotting disorder responsible for blood clots – makes it hard for me to go back to the way I was. APS could progress, or create more serious problems, such as problems with my organs or stroke, so I can’t ignore changes in my health. Taking warfarin – an anticoagulant to prevent future blood clots – has changed my life in several significant ways. I get my blood tested regularly, and I take some extra precautions – like calling my doctor – if I hurt myself or notice anything unusual, such as bleeding or bruising when or where I shouldn’t be bleeding or bruising.

Even though my daily life is not consumed by “what ifs” with regard to my health, there are times when it still gets to me, and there are times when my anxiety still takes over. I have always been an anxious person, especially about my health, but my blood clot experience – and my APS diagnosis – has added another layer to my anxiety. When I was a child, I always thought I would have the “worst-case scenario” disease or injury, when in reality, I was a pretty healthy child (except for an underactive thyroid). When the worst-case scenario did happen to me – a life-threatening blood clot at just 29 years old and diagnosis of a disease that no one had ever heard of (or that no one could pronounce) – it seemed that all of my childhood fears had come true.

Sometimes these deeply embedded fears, combined with what I went through with my blood clots, get the best of me. Last Monday, I woke up with a pain in my stomach that felt a little bit like bloating, but it wouldn’t go away. It lasted two days, during which time I convinced myself it was massive internal bleeding. So, I had my INR checked and found out it was within my normal range. Given that I had no other symptoms besides pain, I made an appointment with my primary care physician who ran some tests and concluded that it was one of two things: indigestion or the start of my menstrual cycle. The latter proved to be true – within hours of leaving my doctor’s office – and I felt relief from my stomach pain. I relaxed, confident that I had talked to my doctor and everything pointed to my period.

The next day, I had a strange sensation in my head and some weird anomalies in my vision, which worried me. Vision changes can be a concern for people on certain medications and for people with APS. I believe I experienced on ocular migraine, which the Internet said (thank you, Internet) could be a result of disrupted blood flow in the brain. I panicked – and ran with blurred vision – to tell my husband. In my heightened state of fear, I managed to trip and fall halfway down the staircase, twisting my ankle and banging my back on the bottom step. Now, I knew I was bleeding internally and would need ankle surgery too.

I wasn’t bleeding – thankfully – and my ankle pain resolved after ice and rest. I decided to live out the week – and maybe the rest of the year – in a bubble. In all seriousness, though, I am concerned about what happened with my vision, and wondering about it sent my anxiety into overdrive. An appointment with my eye doctor didn’t reveal any immediate problems, but we’re keeping an eye on my symptoms.

I know, though, that I will be okay. What I have learned since my blood clots is that healing is a process – and it is something that I constantly work to obtain. My healing wasn’t linear, it didn’t happen overnight. I didn’t heal in all aspects of my life all at once. My journey to healing was filled with twists and turns, ups and downs, and bumps in the road. At times, I would take three steps forward and eight steps back to a place where I had just come from. It took me years to repair my physical health, my financial health, my self-esteem, and my relationships. I am still working on healing my emotional health.

Over the years – and since I have gained some distance from the time when my blood clot happened – I have learned a few simple things that have helped me deal with anxiety after blood clots. Ignoring it was not helpful. Wishing it would go away – and not doing anything about it – was not helpful. Telling myself to suck it up – and get over it – was not helpful.

Here is how to handle your health-related anxiety after a blood clot:
Trust yourself – and be kind to yourself.

If you think something is wrong – or different – you’re probably right. Give yourself some credit after everything you have been through. If you have a question or a concern – whether physical or emotional – allow yourself to feel that. Your body has a way of telling you when something is wrong. Honor that relationship and get it checked out.

Talk to your doctor.

Your doctor should be your number one go-to when you have a concern about your health. No matter how small – or big – you think your concern is, communicate with your healthcare team. Sometimes, even the smallest symptom or problem might be a sign of something serious. Or, it may turn out to be something insignificant, but at least you know. You have to nurture your physical and emotional health. There is no sense in worrying about something, if you can get it checked out instead. Take your trust in your body’s signals and contact a medical professional to help you figure out what may – or may not – be going on. Both outcomes are okay!

Keep a journal or log of your symptoms.

I love journaling a lot of different aspects of my life – work tasks, travels, stories, blog posts, recipes – so this comes easy to me. If journaling doesn’t come easy for you, that’s okay. Start by getting a notebook – or the notepad on your phone – and just make a list of what is happening to you. If you have a question or a concern, write it down. Write the date, what occurred, how long it lasted, how you felt, and what you did about it. This is helpful because when your doctor asks if anything is new, you have it all right there in front of you. If you make an appointment to see your doctor for an issue, your doctor will ask for details. Be prepared ahead of time and pull out your notes.

Seek help for the emotional aspect of recovery.

Sometimes, we can’t do it all alone, even if we try. Often times, people wouldn’t find it unusual to contact a physical therapist for help with movement and motion after surgery, for example, but they are afraid to contact a counselor or psychologist for help with emotional healing. Do not be afraid. Just like our bodies, our minds may need help to heal. You would never expect to heal physically from a blood clot without medical intervention from a doctor. Equally, if you are struggling on your own, you should not expect to heal emotionally without assistance from a professional. If you need help, talk to your doctor. He or she can direct you to these services.

Have patience with the process.

I was not patient during my recovery from blood clots. Looking back, though, I can see that time was perhaps the most critical factor in my recovery. It took time to heal physically – and it is taking time to heal emotionally. There was nothing I could have done to speed it along. Blood clots are life-changing and traumatic for many people. Trauma is not healed in a day, a week, or even a month or two. It can take a very long time to heal. It is so hard to be patient when you want to desperately to feel better, but sometimes, time is what it takes to get to where you want to be. Your body – and your mind – have been through a lot. Allow them to take the time they need to heal.

Don’t forget, it’s important to talk to people who understand what you are going through – because they have been there too. Join my private Facebook Group for more peer support.

There is hope for healing, and you are not alone.

 

 


Reader Writes In: Do you struggle with health-related anxiety? If so, what are your thoughts for dealing with it? Share in the comments. I would love to hear from you, and your comments are so helpful to the other people who read this blog.


Get my resources for emotional healing from blood clots here.


You are not alone. Connect with the private BCRN Facebook community for more inspiration and encouragement.

Happy 36th Birthday to Me

I don’t know what I had planned for this post, but I think it was something different. I wanted to talk about my birthday – I’m 36 today – and I started working on this post like all of my other ones, by looking for images and artwork that inspire and motivate me. In doing that, I came to the sudden and very dramatic realization that I don’t think anyone cares about the big 36. If I was turning 21, 25, 30, or even 40, there seemed to be plenty of images to choose from, but not a single one for 36.

So, I started thinking about it, and against my better judgement, I decided to take inventory of what 36 looks like. I have grey hair at my temples. I have wrinkles around my eyes and around my lips. My upper arms are flabby. My thighs rub together – and jiggle – when I walk. My stomach flab is flabbier than I would like. I pulled a longer-than-I-would-like-to-admit hair off of my neck the other day. For the first time in my life, I purchased skin firming lotion. I think it fights the seven signs of aging, but I’m hoping it fights fat too.

I decided to take inventory of what 36 feels like, because I thought it felt the same. It doesn’t. Most days, I feel pretty good, but little things occur every once in a while, that never used to. I can’t wear contacts anymore without my eyes feeling like sandpaper. I’m much more sensitive to hot and cold temperatures than I ever used to be. My stomach no longer appreciates the hottest hot peppers on the planet. I can barely finish a half a glass of red wine or a half a bottle of beer. If I don’t get enough sleep, I get angry, really angry.

I guess I got old.

I let that thought sink in for quite some time, and I realized, I don’t like it at all.

I still have a lot of living to do. I want to see more of the world, continue to help people through my career, and maybe even have a family one day.

I survived something that many people do not, and on second thought, I realized I was thinking about this all wrong. My body – and my mind – have been through a lot of changes these past six years.

Maybe I have grey hair at my temples because I have been through, and come out on top of, a lot of health-related stress. I have wrinkles around my eyes and around my lips, because I try to spend a lot of time laughing. My upper arms are flabby, my thighs rub together – and jiggle – when I walk, my stomach flab is flabbier than I would like, and my husband still thinks I’m sexy. I pulled a longer-than-I-would-like-to-admit hair off of my neck the other day, and now it’s gone. For the first time in my life, I purchased skin firming lotion, and if it makes me feel good, why not?

I can’t wear contacts anymore without my eyes feeling like sandpaper, but I can rock a great pair of glasses. I’m much more sensitive to hot and cold temperatures than I ever used to be, so thank goodness for tank tops and super-soft wraps. My stomach no longer appreciates the hottest hot peppers on the planet, and to be fair, they were the hottest peppers on the planet. I can barely finish a half a glass of red wine or a half a bottle of beer, but I never really drank a lot any way. If I don’t get enough sleep, I get angry, really angry, so I need to make sure I get sleep.

Then, I came to another realization: None of my complaints about myself have to do with my blood clot, my recovery, or my long-term treatment. Taking blood thinners, going to monthly doctor’s appointments, and seeing four or five specialists are not things that make me feel old. If those things don’t make me feel old, what reasons do I have to feel old? The things I have survived, and the things that I do to take care of myself now, remind me of where I have been, how far I have come, and what I need to do to live a long life.

It has been six years since my DVT, and life-threatening PE. Now, as many of you know if you read my blog, I consider myself recovered. I still take anticoagulants (warfarin) and will for the foreseeable future. I get my INR tested about once a month to ensure my medication is keeping me safe from clotting and unwanted bleeding. I go to follow-up appointments with my hematologist every three months. I stay alert for signs and symptoms of blood clots, or changes to my health because of antiphospholipid syndrome. Physically, I am doing well. I don’t have regular pain or ongoing swelling in my leg. My breathing is back to normal, and I have been walking and jogging again without too much of a struggle. Emotionally, I am also doing well. My experiences – and my worry about future experiences – no longer plague my every thought. I will always struggle with anxiety (particularly related to my health), fear of the unknown, and fear of pain. I deal with it as it comes, and I try to treat myself with the same kindness and understanding that I show to others.

I don’t blog as much as I used to — and maybe I will change that now that I am 36 – but that doesn’t mean I’m not continuing my work. Nearly all of my time is spent providing information and support to people who are recovering from blood clots, both on a professional and personal level. This is the work that I do every day, and I am grateful for the love, support, and encouragement that I receive from you each day. Thank you for making the work that I do possible. I’m a real person on the other side of this platform, and your encouragement for me means just as much to me as my encouragement for you means to you. As always, if you need immediate support, the best place to connect with me is in my private group on Facebook: BCRN Facebook Support.

Birthdays are to be celebrated, and I am heading into my 36th year with a lot of expectations for the future. I have a lot left to do, experience, say and share. I want to share my travels, more about my daily life with antiphospholipid syndrome, and more about my life with blood thinners. If I do have a family in the future, I want to share that experience with all of you too. I want to write about some of the things that have happened to me, that I just haven’t had time to do yet. I want to build a life – and a legacy – with my husband. We are not meant to live this life alone, afraid, or in the dark. If sharing my experiences can continue to help someone else, that is what I choose to do. I have been given the experience, the tools, and the determination to do so, and I won’t stop here.

So, let the celebration begin. In honor of my birthday, I am giving you a gift. You read that right! One lucky blog follower will receive a silver “Not Alone” Mantraband for my birthday. Mantrabands are simple, elegant bracelets with an uplifting message; promoting a lifestyle of optimism, positivity, mindfulness. Mantras got me through some of my hardest days in recovery. Wear this bracelet as your daily reminder that you are not alone in what you are going through. You are not alone in your recovery from blood clots. There is hope for healing.

My 36th Birthday Giveaway Details

9/4/18: This giveaway has ended. Congratulations to Anita Jude! Please check your inbox for an email from me, or email sara@bloodclotrecovery.net to claim your Mantraband. 

Use the Rafflecopter widget below to enter. Only entries through Rafflecopter will be eligible. This is a service that I use to keep track of entries, and to ensure a fair contest. Giveaway runs from August 30, 2018 – September 3, 2018. BCRN will randomly select one (1) winner on Tuesday, September 4, 2018. Winner will be notified on social media and via email, and will have until Thursday, September 6, 2018 to claim his/her prize. A new winner will be selected on Friday, September 7, 2018, if original winner does not respond.

Although this is a gift to you in honor of my 36th birthday, the cost of the Mantraband plus shipping is coming out of my own funds. Please, U.S. shipping/delivery addresses only. Thank you! Silver “Not Alone” Mantraband is valued at $25, plus shipping.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Good luck!

There is hope for healing, and you are not alone.

 

 


Reader Writes In: What is your favorite mantra, phrase or quote? If you want to enter the Mantraband giveaway, click on the Rafflecopter above to leave your comment. If you choose not to enter, or if the giveaway has ended, please share your favorite mantra in a comment below.


Hope for healing after blood clots is a gift that you all have access to right now. Find out how I did it, and how you can too.


You are not alone. Connect with the private BCRN Facebook community for more inspiration and encouragement.