The truth is that Lyme Disease or any chronic illness is no joke. It can be very intense and very exhausting on the daily. I've often found that there are many people who choose to walk in and walk out of my life because if you get too close too me, my natural fire can tend to singe your eyebrows!
Here's my response to anyone who has made comments about how I can be "a big sacrifice" or a "burden" because of my illness:
Everybody that breathes can be viewed as a sacrifice! Every single person in this life will reach a point where they will be called to go through deep adversity and trials, and the reason for that is because we do not learn the greatest of life's lesson without a little sting in the process. We cannot truly know and appreciate joy and peace if do not first pass through intense pain. As we all come to those times in our lives, it would do as all some good to take each other by the hand and offer LOVE and SUPPORT instead of criticism and fear. (Believe me, this illness gives me enough fear without other people adding to it.)
My reality is that I may cry a little more and little harder than most, but I also laugh a lot harder and a lot louder than most. I may experience intense panic and PTSD, but I've also found that it doesn't take much to get me to smile anymore. My heart may cry out in agony a little more frequently that I ever thought it would; but thankfully I've found my sparkle through it all that comes from being unique and rare.
Everything in life has it's opposite. The goal is to look for the good and focus on the immense beauty that is often found among all the ugly. And the goal in our interactions with others is to see them for who they really are and who they have the potential to be, and then to love them through this scary, intense, beautiful, and miraculous life.
This phrase is used pretty frequently in my house: "We'll take care of you, but we won't feel sorry for you!" Sounds harsh right? It may sound a bit harsh at first, but when you live in a house with only chronically ill people, you learn really fast that if you waste time feeling sorry for each other you never get ANYTHING accomplished in a day!
We all know the reaction of "I'm so sorry!" that chronically ill people commonly receive from others. I always feel minorly guilty when someone tells me how sorry they are that I suffer from chronic illness, mainly because I'm not sorry. I won't downplay how difficult chronic illness can be. I won't downplay the trauma, the dark nights, and the excruciating pain... but through it all, I've found that I just don't have the time to be sorry about it. I talk about my illnesses the same way that any other person my age would talk about college or career because it is such a big part of my life. I mention it casually in conversation because hiding it can be exhausting, and I talk about it all the time because raising awareness for such realities is SO IMPORTANT because I believe in hope for the chronically ill.
With that said, chronic illness is a PART of me. That does not mean that it defines me or makes me any less of a person or any less capable. I may have certain disabilities that can make life a little harder. I may fight every day. I may face darkness that others don't have to, but I do all of these things unapologetically because self-pity will ultimately get me nowhere.
So when someone opens up to you about their illness or deep dark sufferings, tell them you LOVE them. Tell them you BELIEVE them. Tell them you are HERE for them and you're NOT LEAVING. "I'm sorry" often silences conversation in this context. Say you're sorry when you've wronged someone. Don't say you're sorry because you don't know what else to say. Illness is for sure a tragedy. But every single one of us is currently learning to transform tragedy into beauty, and pain into healing. We are all simply looking for people that are wiling to help us along in this journey.
Comment below if you can relate and what you'd prefer people say to you when you open up about your illness!
Who feels like happiness and enjoyment that come your way are often accompanied with guilt because you're chronically ill??
I know I struggle with this REGULARLY, and so I'm here to tell you that you DO NOT have to feel guilty or ashamed during the rare moments of joy that bless your life when you're chronically ill. Lyme disease is an INVISIBLE illness, as are many chronic illnesses and disorders. We may not "look sick" 24/7, but you do not have to prove anything to anyone. What is "sick" supposed to look like anyway? I'll tell you that some days it's ugly, but some days life is good and those are the days that I must embrace in this journey. Pain and suffering do not have to be validated or believed by others in order for it to be very real, and very scary. And despite all of the pain and agony that I've faced in life, I've found that there is an awful lot of beauty and joy to be found as well; (it just may take a little longer to find than it does for the some).
So the next time you're having a moment of joy, gratitude, laughter, love, or happiness, EMBRACE IT! Don't let guilt rob you of what you are worthy of, which is immense love and happiness. Yeah, we're sick and in pain (sometimes more often than not), but chronically ill people also have a way of lighting up any room that they happen to be in.
Suffering is inevitable in life. You cannot avoid it, for it is often what shapes and transforms us into gold. But despite it all, God wants us to be happy. And through Him, we can find that happiness even in the midst of suffering.
Comment below if you can relate and tell me about your life's happy!
No matter how old I get, it always seems that around back-to-school season I can manage to conjure up that feeling of an antsy little school girl; eager and apprehensive for her first day. It often seems like no matter how hard I attempt to avoid it, I get that strange "butterfly in your stomach" feeling, accompanied by anticipation for the new school year. Insecurity and unstable footing repeatedly accompany the nostalgia, and it often leaves me feeling sick to my stomach.
How is it possible that something as simple as everyone going back to school drudge up such ugly and unnerving feelings? Because these memories are a vicious cycle of guilt and shame that circle through my mind every fall semester... Because my life looks VERY different from all of my friends in college.
I was eighteen years old when I walked through the door of my first apartment. I was simultaneously eager and terrified for the adventure that was right at my fingertips, and everything smelled new and fresh. I was always terrified of this first step into adulthood, but feeling it painfully necessary I managed to dive headfirst into my first semester of college.
I grew up singing, and I always felt like my vocal abilities were a gift from God, something that I had great passion for, and what my future held. Music was what I was supposed to do, and all that I thought I wanted or knew how to do. I was a vocal performance major, diving into 16 credit hours of music classes. And as nervous as I was, I felt prepared and ready to delve into endless hours of vocal practice, theory, piano basics, aural skills, and performances. Music was about to consume my entire existence, and at the time I felt perfectly okay with that.
I'll never forget my first day of college as I managed to get lost seemingly dozens of times, and mentally stumbled over all the different textbooks that seemed to make my head spin! That quiet little mouse of a girl sat quietly in the back of each class with her stomach in knots, avoiding eye contact at all times and trying desperately to remember every ounce of theory and vocal technique. For the most part, I was like every other college kid: young and eager for my future to begin. But what most people don't know is that I was far from being an "average college kid."
My symptoms began long before college, but I easily managed to push them to the side in attempts to fit in with my peers and create a future for myself. When college hit, my symptoms simply spiraled downward and left me experiencing enough discomfort that before my first semester I was tested for coinfections and other possible health problems. I remember laying on a bed telling the nurse about the college I was attending as she took thirty vials of blood. No matter what, I wasn't going to let anything get in the way of my college plans.
School soon began and among all of the regular college stress, I began to experience extreme fatigue, joint pain, muscle pain, regular panic attacks, and extreme pain in my lower abdomen that would come in waves. The problem with this predicament is that I was "supposed to be in college," having the time of my life and learning all that I could for the benefit of my future, but these seemingly always lingering symptoms made it near impossible to successfully do anything. I recall coming home every day and crashing on my couch, only to wake up realizing that I was late for a tutoring session or a rehearsal, which only caused greater stress and anxiety, which then caused an increase in symptoms. With this brewing storm over my head, my grades dropped, and I found myself fighting for test accommodations that didn't even pan out to be all that helpful. I found myself crying on the floor of my apartment regularly, wondering why I seemed like the only college kid in the world that couldn't handle school in any way, and I often spent Saturdays on the couch or in bed.
I was diagnosed with chronic Lyme disease about half-way through the semester. Treatment began rapidly, and in my attempts to stay at college I decided to move forward with treatment on my own, in an apartment with roommates that probably thought I was completely nuts. Treatment added the extra stress of diet changes, sleeping with oxygen, and taking ridiculous amounts of pills and supplements every day that I hardly had time for. And at the end of every day when I would check and record all of my vitals for my doctors, nothing changed, and nothing seemed to improve.
Throughout all of the pain, anxiety, and desperately trying to stay on top of school, I prayed desperately to know if going home was the right thing to do, and I got an overwhelming and resounding yes. I found myself walking through the front door of my house and collapsing on the floor about two thirds into my first semester of college, and I never went back. And I never will.
I do not record my story of a 22 year old college drop out to claim that everyone should follow in my footsteps, or to say that those who are in college should quit now before they're ahead, for I don't actually believe that. What I do write this for is to say that college does not necessarily equal success. Those who have walked the path less taken, away from university and college life, to heal from chronic illness should be celebrating that MASSIVE victory, not feeling embarrassed or ashamed from their differing experiences.
I learned fairly quickly that when you choose not to attend school in your young adult years, everyone and their dog will try to convince you of all the reasons why you should be in school. It's important to remember that those people do not know the battles that you are fighting and SUCCEEDING at, and you do not have to allow uneducated comments even an ounce of your ground. For your ground is one of blood, sweat, and tears that we often face by ourselves. For our arena is often unseen and unrecognized, yet very real, and very scary.
When I first left school, I wanted desperately to go back. I craved the need to fit in with my peers, and I felt like an utter failure because for the first two years of my Lyme battle school what absolutely impossible. What I wish I knew back then was that life does not end when school does, and there are often things in life that can educate you in ways that a college education possibly never will.
God has been my personal mentor and tutor for five years now, and I couldn't be more happy with my decision to leave and not go back. I have now attended an online school where I received my health coaching certification. I'm well enough to work, and am starting my own business. I find joy on the days that I feel good. And on the days that I don't, I have room to breathe and recuperate. Life is very different than what I ever envisioned it to be when I was a freshman in college, but I am proud of my battles that I have walked out of broken and scarred, but still held together by God's grace and enabling power.
There are two ways that you can look at an experience like this: call me a college drop out, or call me thriving in the Lyme life. Either way, I'm happier than I've ever been as I seek for success and happiness. I no longer believe that success comes from a degree, as big as an accomplishment as it may be. The greatest success we can experience in this life lies within our hearts, our relationships, and our ability to endure and conquer the afflictions of life. Your worth or intelligence is not based on your college education. Quality of life is more likely measured by your heart and your spirit and how they propel you to whatever beautiful destination is in store for you.
Let's talk about dating for just a minute. Dating, relationships, friendships, social outings, you name it; I guarantee that anyone can relate to feeling like their illness is CONSTANTLY third-wheeling it with them!
It's normal to feel different and want to spend most of your energy on hiding your differing lifestyle from your friends, dates, or even family at times. I've found that it's best to just be yourself, and if your illness happens to rear it's ugly head into a conversation or situation and people don't response well, then those people are not worth having in your life anyway. Illness and disability do NOT define you. It may make my life look a little unique. It may add a little sparkle to the conversation, but in no way does it determine your worth or your power in life.
Every single person on this planet has baggage and problems. Everyone has things that we are working on. Everyone has that something that third wheels it with them. I used to have to work on getting out of bed and walking across the room. Now I work on not letting PTSD run my life. Whatever it is, the important thing is that I keep aiming for healing, improvement, and joy. Chronic illness may be something that is often accompanied by stigma and fear in the eyes of many, but the truth is that chronic illness has a way of bringing out the strength and beauty in those who carry that cross. I may have Lyme disease, but Lyme does not take away the strength and spunk that comes with it. As is with all chronic illness warriors.
Comment below if you relate and tell me what character qualities you have that your illness will never take away from!
We live in a world of LABELS! We label EVERYTHING based on what we can see on the surface, and the reality is that the true depth of most people is found in their heart, which is something that takes time to see.
I've recently been having a difficult time navigating talking about (or not talking about) Lyme with healthy people. I've had so many experiences where it seems like the second I mention Lyme in a friendship or relationship, then the massive brick wall of Lyme disease is now placed between me and that person. This phenomenon of a Lymie's social life can often leave those of us who are suffering feeling alone and misunderstood.
While it's true that Lyme disease plays a huge role in my life and has sculpted me into the person that I am today, I promise that I live for more than just dozens of pills, treatment protocols, and eating organic. I'm not just the "sick girl" that needs help. I'm a girl that loves writing and singing. I'm a girl with the big heart that laughs a lot and has this deep need inside her to help those who are suffering. I'm the girl who's been beaten and broken down by the storms of life, but is in every way healing and striving every day to keep a smile on her face (even if some days I totally fail at it.)
The truth is that I will proudly wear the title of "Lymie" on my sleeve, but that doesn't mean that I'm not still 100% Claire. There is so much more to people who suffer from chronic illness and disability. You simply have to give them a chance. You are not the sum of your trauma, and you are not your illness. Most of the souls inside of these broken-down bodies are absolutely beautiful, and we must remember that as we interact with those who have walked different paths and traveled difficult roads.
Comment below if you can relate to having a hard time getting through the "chronic illness wall" with people, and what you do to remedy the negative labels that people can place on the chronically ill!
Dear New York Times,
It pains me to know that journalism has diminished to the point where fact and fiction are so tightly entwined that the people can no longer decipher truth from error.
I recently read your article entitled "Me Son Got Lyme Disease. He's Totally Fine" by Apoorva Mandavilli which stated many falsehoods about a disease that plagues thousands of people and destroys hundreds of lives to which everyone seems to turn a blind eye too. While I am so happy for this family and that her son found an easy solution, this is not the case for hundreds and thousands of Lyme families all over the world. It seems to me that while people are slowly being tortured to death, everyone else seems to be running around screaming that "it's not a big deal," and that is a tragedy that needs to be reevaluated at it's finest.
But at this time I won't speak for the hundreds and thousands, I'll speak for myself. Because coming from the girl who came home from high school every day to her mother in seizures and screams due to insufferable pain, and then found herself in that place just a couple of years later, Lyme disease is nothing to downplay, and nothing to claim that we're all crying wolf when the wolf in this story is 100% real.
Late-stage neurological Lyme disease destroys lives, disables bodies, kills people, and is one of the most painful and complex diseases that a human being could be forced to experience. I wouldn't wish Lyme disease on my worse enemy because when I was eighteen, my world stopped in a black hole of pain and agony, while everyone else's world seemed to keep going.
Sauna Detox Protocols
Endless Pills and Supplements
Lyme disease is far from "easily treatable" and seemingly impossible to cure as seven years later, although we've seen improvements, our battle with Lyme is far from over. For without constant vigilance, Lyme returns and it returns with a vengeance.
I was diagnosed with Lyme. My blood test came back positive. Lyme disease is real. And to silence a community of people who have worked so desperately to be heard so that others do not have to suffer the same battle alone is not something that is ever okay. We will not be silenced, because the silence that is forced upon the Lyme community every day is insufferably loud. Because if you actually had to hear it, it would break your heart.
Lyme disease can be a debilitating chronic illness, just like it is for me. In the case of chronic Lyme, there is no room for fiction, because these are the facts.
You can write your own letter using the #NYTIMESTHISISLYME to spread real awareness for this disease, and you can read the original New York times article here.
I'm a young single adult and I should be having the time of my life, right!? Not exactly...
I always find myself at a loss for words whenever someone asks me what I've been doing "for fun" lately! Not that juice cleansing, resting a lot, and Lyme treatment isn't fun or anything, but I'm pretty sure that's not the answer that most people are looking for.
The reality of chronic illness is that a lot of those who suffer in this manner do not have the energy or stamina to go out and have the kind of "fun" that everyone else is having. The reality is that a lot of us are homebound and we've spent countless time coming to terms with the fact that having fun simply means not being in pain for a day, or even for a minute or an hour. Lyme disease has often had its way of making me feel like "the flaky friend" or the "friend who never wants to go out." Almost every chronic illness warrior shares the same story which results in dozens of friendships lost and insufferable loneliness because so many refuse to just love a person in pain and stillness.
Let me get to the main point here: It's easy to be the "fair-weather friend." It's easy to stick around when things are good. It's easy to artificially love someone who always seems to be in the middle of an "epic adventure." But in life, there will ALWAYS be fire. And when that fire comes, those friends who only want you around without your burns and scars are really not your friends at all.
So here's a friendly tip to all my healthy friends: When you have a friend who is suffering from the heat of chronic illness, the BEST thing you can do for them is to sit with them in that painful space and JUST BE THERE. LISTEN. And offer LOVE and SUPPORT. You may not always be able to douse the flames of their life fire, but you can always help them bear the burden so they are not left to do it alone.
I am always amazed at the level of compassion that chronic illness warriors have for those who suffer because they've felt the burn themselves. May we all strive to have that deep compassion and love for the sick and afflicted.
Comment below if you've experienced the loss of friendships because of your illness and what you need when you're in YOUR life fire.
I always find it minorly amusing when people express to me how happy they are for me that "all my dreams are coming true." I must have developed the art of appearing to be successful on social media the past few years because the truth is that I often find myself on my bedroom floor in tears because my life seems so drastically different than I imagined it to be in my younger years.
Dreams are funny things. Funny in that when I was younger I often thought I could make my dreams come true by wishing on a star, dropping a coin into a quaint little fountain, or blowing out birthday candles. The unlikelihood of dreams coming from those simple acts of belief are slim to none, and when I was diagnosed with Lyme disease I learned that hard lesson fairly quick.
Through the Lyme battle, I've been blessed to learn a few things that have shaped me into a completely different person. This odd transformation hit me not too long ago when I realized that I often don't recognize myself when I look in the mirror anymore. This fighter that was stripped of all of her dreams was once a young girl with her head in the clouds. And it turns out that this dreadful disease has compelled me to see life in a whole new way; a way that I never before would have thought possible. I've rolled this one over in my head multiple times in an attempt to discover whether or not that fact is a blessing or a curse.
It has been five years since I have felt like I have done anything worthwhile, and five years since I received my diagnosis and returned home from my first semester of college. I remember leaving before the semester ended, and feeling like a complete failure because my body could not physically handle being in college for one minute longer.
Since then I have spent lots of time doing things that always seemed useless and often ended in failure. For the first two years, I watched seasons of my favorite shows dozens of times over while I often felt like I was drowning in supplements and protocols, and yet saw no results as the pain relentlessly persisted. I went to three different colleges (and dropped all of them.) I picked up every hobby I could find and quit many of them after I realized that I couldn't keep my brain fog away enough to even finish what I started. I couldn't hold a job due to Lyme crippling my abilities. I planned a wedding; only to call it off and find myself right back where I started (single and still sick). And in my head, all of these failures made up the sum of me as I continuously was forced to fight Lyme every step of the way.
But I did something recently that made me realize that a person is not the sum of their failures. It is often when you stand back and look at your life as a whole that you realize that most of those seemingly big failures were stepping stones to successes, and Olympic moments weren't meant to occur every day.
I recently had the opportunity to participate in a vendor event where I was able to sell laser engraved products that I've been working hard to design and produce. Learning something new is always scary and can often seem like a large task when you begin to glare it in the face. I had many a moment where I was ready to give up. Moments when I butchered an entire basket of products while I was learning to use the laser (to which I now call the basket of misfit items!), moments when the wind and rain would destroy my entire display after I had just barely set it all up, and moments when I would spend the morning in discomfort and pain from Lyme, only to get up and buckle down for the busy evening and rush of busy customers. But despite it all, I persisted and pushed myself harder than my Lyme disease has ever allowed me to before.
Many may not realize this, but this vendor event was a huge victory in the life of Lymie like myself. I spent eight days on my feet and overworking my body in ways I haven't done in years. I spent eight days around huge crowds while my Lyme riddled nerves burned with anxiety. I spend eight days surrounded by food vendors that were a constant reminder to me that I don't eat what "normal" people eat because I'm sick. And I spent eight days smiling and rarely ever mentioning my illness because every time I mention Lyme to the average person, it is rarely graciously received.
My overall response to the crazy week I just lived is pure victory. Victory that I set a goal, saw it through to the end, and it was a success. Victory that people liked and bought a product that I made and that I just had a whole new start to a business that I'm hoping will grow and be a success. And victory in that I was able to interact with hundreds of random people and my nervous system was strong enough to hold its ground and not put me in a panic.
Although the experience was far from perfect, and there were days that I fought through pain and Lyme symptoms, I feel like I just broke through a massive wall in my Lyme journey. And that wall was the big fat lie that Lyme disease makes me a failure. Lyme disease in no way made this event easy as I found myself fighting symptoms all along the way (and now paying for the overworking of my body), but it made it worth it because that wall in now broken and never again will stand tall.
The fact of the matter is that I learned some things through this experience, and they're things I'll hold with me for life.
The first lesson being that people with chronic illness and disability can still do wonderful and amazing things. The fact that they fight through debilitating life challenges makes them all the more strong for being able to do all of the great things that they accomplish. A great victory for someone who is sick may seem minuscule to the average person, but when a child is learning how to walk we never complain and tell them how they should be talking by now. So when my biggest victory was managing the pain just enough that I could manage to take a shower by myself again, that was something to celebrate. And now my biggest victory is starting a small business that may go absolutely nowhere, but that isn't going to stop me from trying.
The second lesson learned came to me the last day of the event when I thought to myself how I wish I could go back to that sixteen-year-old girl who had dreams of being a vocal performance major, opening her own vocal studio, getting married and raising a family. I wish I could go back to that girl and tell her that all of those dreams were going to be utterly smashed to pieces by a disease that can manage to strip you of everything. But I also wish that I could go back and tell that girl that through all of the rubble and scattered pieces of her broken dreams, she would find beauty, peace, and great joy in her renewed view of life and the endless possibilities that it holds. Life is not easy. And it isn't supposed to be. For if life were consistently easy, we would miss out on some of our greatest victories.
My third and perhaps most important lesson I have learned from this experience is that it is the little things in life that bring us the greatest joy. Little things like laughing so hard your stomach hurts, and crying tears of joy for the first time in forever. Things like stopping to smell the flowers or walking barefoot in the grass. I often missed the little things in life that give depth and meaning, and I often gave too much of my attention to things in life that are artificial and temporary. For I have found that the only thing that can strip a person of their artificiality is great trial and affliction that burns the artificiality out of us and compels us to look a little deeper and take note of the little things that the average person misses. And although I sometimes question that deep sensitivity I've developed in the past five years, I am also deeply thankful for it, for I have come to see the world in a completely different manner than what I saw it before.
The reality of life is that the cure for broken dreams is to dream again and to dream deeper. And as you walk the painful path that's lined with seemingly shattered dreams, you will find new dreams among the rubble and the ashes, and I guarantee you that you may grasp some of your dreams past as well. Whatever you do, just don't step off the path no matter how painful it may be. Because walking the path of your broken dreams can lead to the most beautiful of destinations.
"What is Lyme Disease?"
I've come to know that the MOST common question that any Lymie receives is the aforementioned question above. I've found myself answering this question dozens of times, and I am quickly reminded how tragic the Lyme epidemic is due to the lack of information and education that the average person has on the topic. There is nothing "rare" about Lyme disease, as there are 27,000 new cases of Lyme disease in the United States every MONTH! And yet those who do not suffer from it often seem to turn a blind eye to it because the medical system has caused society to believe that it "doesn't exist." As a Lyme survivor myself, I can attest that it does exist, and it is one of the most challenging adversities that I believe a human being can suffer from.
So what is Lyme disease? Lyme disease is a bacterial infection that can spread to virtually any organ system in the body due to its spiral shape that easily can drill into any tissue, cell, muscle, or organ. Lyme disease and its co-infections can attack its victim and leave it completely paralyzed or in severe and unbearable pain for years, and Lyme disease is a constant battle to fight and the chances of beating it are slim to none. And yet there are thousands who fight every day, despite the harsh reality that is Lyme disease. Lyme disease is science, and yet it is so much more.
Lyme disease is pain. More pain than I ever believed a single human being could bear on their own until I was forced to bear it myself and watch many of my loved ones bear it as well. Lyme disease is loneliness, isolation, and insufferable boredom as you spend a lot of the time waiting for a treatment to work (or not work), waiting to feel better, waiting on doctors and support that never comes, and waiting to be well enough to be able to live life like anyone else. Lyme disease is blowing all your money on treatment that you don't even know will work, trying anything and everything to feel better, and crying in prayer during many dark nights because it's impossible to endure on your own. Lyme disease is hoping. Because sometimes when you've been stripped of everything, hope is the only thing you have left. And let's not forget that Lyme disease is resilience, patience, perseverance, and at times its just pure grit. Lyme leaks into everything, and it changed my life. And it is currently changing the lives of thousands and millions of others who are fighting the good fight every day of their lives.
Why is it important that we seek to crush Lyme? Because with so many suffering, we have to fight to crush the disease before it crushes us. And if we all ban together on this issue, we may find that doctors, friends, mothers, fathers, brothers, and sisters will start to listen to us. And once that happens we can change the world. We can offer more help and hope for the hands that hang down by the crushing the grip of Lyme.
So the next time you find yourself talking to a fellow Lymie, take time to LISTEN and offer love and compassion. That small act can truly be one big step into crushing Lyme disease and the stigma that comes with it. Lyme disease may try to crush us, but it never will because we do not intend to quit anytime soon.
This post was inspired by Splash of Lyme's "Crushing Lyme" campaign. You can follow this amazing Lyme warrior by following @splashoflyme on Instagram and checking out her amazing blog here. Thanks so much to Courtney for starting this and for sending love to all the Lymies this Lyme Disease Awareness month!