Products I Couldn't Live Without
I am not sponsored by any of these companies. I purchased all of these products with my own money and these are my honest reviews.
Before I got sick I became a tree-hugger (I still am) who wanted to depend on as little products as possible. When I realized that I could buy a big jar of coconut oil and castile soap and replace about 20 of the products in my house with them, I was sold. I realized that mentally depending on 20 unnecessary makeup products, excessive toiletry products, and a hundred other things for comfort resulted in overweight bags at the airport and an overwhelmed soul. I didn't even want to learn about the newest makeup trend because I didn't want to be convinced that I "needed" something else.
I also loved to go on weekly spontaneous adventures. However, I often found myself saying "I can't" when he'd have a random spontaneous invite because I didn't have ____ on me. I was always jealous that my boyfriend at the time could go camping and hiking on a whim with close to no prep. He carried spare clothes, a rain jacket, hiking boots, and a tent in his trunk with him at all times in case he needed to go on a random adventure. But that's all he needed. He didn't need spare contacts, medication in case he got a migraine, cooling spray for chronic neck pain, sunglasses because or else he'd get a migraine- he didn't even care if he didn't have a spare change of clothes or access to a shower. I wanted to be more like that. It seemed so freeing.
At the time I still suffered with severe chronic migraines, heat intolerance, and neck pain (we now know to be caused by EDS and POTS) so I always had to have tylenol, advil, and cooling wipes in my purse. I also often found myself sleeping over somewhere that didn't have ice packs for pain. If I found myself without these products, I would be in for an unbearable night.
Fast forward four years and the amount of products I depend on has quadrupled at least. This has made the journey toward a more minimalistic lifestyle/simple living a tad more difficult. Those who abide by a minimalistic lifestyle often only keep and purchase what they need and what brings them joy.
I've realized though, that I need to make minimalism work for me and not the other way around or else it just becomes another measure of perfectionism.
I may not need these products like I need my medication (I'm talking about life-or-death or hospitalization 'need'), but they bring me joy in the sense that they improve my quality of life. I don't like that I'm dependent on so many products for comfort and function, but I'm so thankful I've found these products and don't know what I'd do without them. All 20 of these products I use on at least a weekly basis and are a key tool in treating my POTS (and other co-morbid conditions).
2. My TENS machine for chronic pain. My mom got me this years before I developed POTS because of my chronic neck and back pain. I've probably had it for around 8 years now and it's still going strong. Over the last year I've used my TENS machine most frequently on both calves to help strengthen them to fight against the blood pooling POTS causes and to help with the chronic pain I experience in my right leg as a result of muscle atrophy. This past week, for example, I've been recovering from gallbladder surgery and a flu and have been unable to do any of my leg strengthening exercises that often help with blood pooling, my restless leg syndrome, and the way my right leg muscles didn't heal properly after atrophying (as a result of being bedridden). I've been using my TENS machine by placing the pads on my calves and putting on compression socks over top of them (I find that this helps keep them from falling off). This has helped with blood pooling (it's like pumping your calves but requires no energy on your part) and preventing further deconditioning when I cannot work out. I use the Compact Tens machine pictured at the beginning of this article.
3. Microwavable heat pads that I keep in the freezer. Unlike gel ice packs, these won't get too cold and numb your skin. However, that means they also warm up pretty quick so I make sure to have a ton in my freezer at all times in all shapes and sizes. If needed, I can quickly put them in the microwave for an additional 1 minute than I would if they were at room temperature and use it for heat. I prefer rectangular and square shaped ones because they can be used for anything.
4. More ice packs. I strap 3 of these ice packs on my right leg almost every night while falling asleep because it helps with the pain and numbness caused by muscle atrophy. I also have many different ice packs for migraines but really love this one.
5. Cooling wipes. I've actually used pain sprays like Therapain (similar to Biofreeze) since before I got sick because I've always had really bad heat intolerance and chronic pain. I wouldn't go anywhere without it. Thankfully, I've come across a lot more convenient ways of cooling off since than that don't involve bringing around a bottle of smelly pain spray. I usually use a roller bottle of peppermint oil to cool off nowadays but sometimes nothing works as well as a good ol' cooling wipe. There are many options available both online and in drug stores (they are often advertised for women in menopause or golfers). My favourite brand was Cool Off- they worked really well and there ingredients were 100% natural. Unfortunately Amazon no longer carries this product so I've been using Be Kool's Cooling Wipes since then. I keep a couple in my purse at all times just in case and only find myself using them every once in a while but they are lifesavers.
6. Compression socks. I have so many compression socks. In fact, I hardly ever wear any other socks nowadays. Compression socks help fight against the inevitable blood pooling with POTS and helps with leg pain and restless leg syndrome. One of my favourite pairs right now is a pair I got from my mom for Christmas that you can buy here.
7. Compression tights. Compression tights help in the same way compression socks do except they're even better at preventing blood pooling because they go all the way up to your abdomen. When I am really symptomatic or know I will be standing for an extended period of time, I wear compression tights to help me do so. My favourite are black 20-30mmHg compression with open crotch. The most recent pair she bought me was a size "III" and I'm a 130lb woman who is 5'3". Apparently the idea of an open crotch is to promote a fresher environment..down there. I haven't had this issue with regular compression tights (and have many that aren't crotchless) but apparently the tight, restricted, and humid environment compression tights create underneath are the perfect breeding grounds for a yeast infection. When my mom read this she started buying me crotchless tights. The reason I like them, though, is because for the most part I've actually noticed the same brand and tightness of compression tights that are crotchless tend to stay tighter for longer than the not-crotchless ones. I have no idea why this is. My mom buys my compression tights from Juzo Compression and CompressionStockings.com
8. A trigger point therapy ball. My ex-boyfriend worked as a personal trainer who was training to become a Kinesiologist so he let me use all his muscle rolling balls and foam rollers. My favourite trigger pint therapy ball is actually an old Rugby ball of his that I still use in between my shoulder blades. I also use this spiked trigger point therapy ball to get in between my ribs. I hurt a rib in grade 8 from playing baseball that my family doctor said should heal on it's own (10+ years later and it still causes me issues when I sit up straight for too long). This ball is the only thing that helps me. I'm in love with anything from "Fitness Town" though (a gem my ex introduced me to).
9. A foam roller. I use a version of this foam roller (I got a cheaper one from Home Sense Canada) for my back and my leg muscles. If you don't know the science behind foam rollers, I'd totally recommend that you look it up! Using that foam roller and this one have been really helpful for my muscle atrophy and becoming reconditioned. My ex first bought me this muscle roller (that's similar to the second one I attached above but is made of plastic) but I had a MCAD reaction on my skin to the material. I haven't had an issue with this one that I replaced it with though.
10. A recumbent bike/a set of desk pedals. My mom bought me a set of desk pedals to use when I was trying to get reconditioned. They were helpful but unfortunately weren't heavy enough so they wouldn't move in a smooth way. She ended up needing them for physiotherapy on her knee and has enjoyed them. I ended up taking the recumbent bike we had at my family home with me to use as part of Dr. Levine's POTS exercise protocol.
11. A stool in my kitchen. My mom got me this stool (but any one that's the right height will do) so that I could sit down to cut up veggies and prepare meals instead of stand up and easily get exhausted while preparing nutritious food.
12. A blue light for insomnia and depression. The one my mom got me is SunTouch Plus "Nature Bright." It's hard to tell how much this has helped me but I need all the help I can get for fighting insomnia and depression. My depression and sleep schedule are better than they have been for years but it's hard to tell if they're related. I do often feel the need to turn this thing on multiple times a day, though. I think it's also helpful when we are stuck inside all day long and don't get to see sunshine when we're housebound/bedridden.
13. An essential oil diffuser. In 2015 I bought a starter kit from Young Living that included the essential oil diffuser above. I really love this diffuser and it has been working perfectly ever since I got it (with no signs of slowing down!). Unfortunately this exact diffuser does not seem to be sold on their website anymore but if there other diffusers work as well as this one, I'd recommend getting one! I also bought this essential oil diffuser from Saje Wellness for my bedroom. The one from Saje is quieter and diffuses at a less intense/fast rate. I use my Young Living one for by my computer where I diffuse essential oils for brain fog and fatigue while I use the one from Saje in my bedroom to diffuse oils for sleep.
If you have a pet please educate yourself on the potential risks and benefits to diffusing essential oils around your pet. Diffusing oils can cause toxicity for cats as their liver does not metabolize it properly. Diffusing certain oils around dogs can be helpful in very diluted amounts, while others can be harmful.
14. Peppermint essential oil. If you're new to essential oils and don't know where to start, Peppermint and Lavender essential oils are great because they have so many possible uses. Peppermint can be diffused for improved concentration and to fight fatigue and nausea (all are common POTS symptoms) or put in a roller bottle with a carrier oil (fractioned coconut oil, olive oil, etc.) and rolled on for pain relief and relief from heat intolerance in addition to the other benefits already listed. I use peppermint most often for chronic pain, heat intolerance, and to fight brain fog. I don't use Lavender as much anymore but I used to when I had anxiety. You can get Peppermint essential oil from any reputable company but for some reason I prefer getting single-ingredient oils from Doterra. I feel like I'm getting the most for my buck whether or not that's actually true.
15. Panaway essential oil from YoungLiving. I mix this in a roller bottle with some fractioned coconut oil I get from DoTerra (you can use any carrier oil though) and rub it all over my head when I have head pain. If you are not a Young Living member you can sometimes find their essential oils cheaper on Amazon.
16. Deep Blue essential oil from DoTerra. I also mix this in a roller bottle with some fractioned coconut oil from DoTerra. I apply it topically for pain just like I do with Panaway's oil. I find that Deep Blue helps me personally more with temporary relief of muscle pain while Panaway has actually stopped a few headaches in their tracks. Panaway doesn't always work to rid me of my headaches though and when it doesn't work, I find Deep Blue more comforting. If you are not a DoTerra member you can sometimes find their essential oils cheaper on Amazon.
17. Roller bottles to make my own blends. Before I finally got around to getting some roller bottles, I would mix coconut oil and essential oils in a little Ziploc container and apply it when needed. It wasn't the end of the world but I found it inconvenient because I would normally apply it to my head and it would roll down and get near my eyes. I also like being able to carry around the mixes I make in my purse in case I need them.
18. Electrolyte drink mixes. My favourites are Nuuns (which I get from Mountain Equipment Co-op), Dr. Price's Electrolyte Mix, Recoverors, and Banana Bag Oral Solution. I use Nuuns most frequently because of the conveniency of their tubes, Dr. Price's Electrolyte Mix second as they have a great amount of sodium for those with POTS and are cheaper than Recoverors or Banana Bag Oral Solution. Recoverors and Banana Bag Oral Solution are great options but pricey so I keep them handy for flares.
19. An electric heat pad. I use this most for stomach pain.
20. Comfortable eye masks. Ever since I got sick with POTS I've developed a lot of eye/around my eye pain from dry eyes, headaches, and straining. Eye masks that aren't too loose (or too tight of course) actually help press into my eyes a normal amount to minimize this pain and help me fall asleep. Unfortunately all eye masks I've tried (whether or not they have an elastic strap, an adjustable strap, or a velcro strap) eventually lose their tightness eventually. For this reason, I once bought 10 cheap eye masks from 2 different companies (so I'd have 20 eye masks in total) on my mom's Amazon prime account and it was the best purchase ever. Since then, my mom spoiled me with this Christmas gift from Saje wellness (a Canadian essential oil company) that included a padded eye mask. It's been my favourite one and I've used it every night (it has a velcro strap) but unfortunately is just now losing it's tightness. I love it so much that I'm thinking of ways to replace the strap. Unfortunately you can't tell in any picture I've seen online, but the bottom half of the inside of the eye mask is padded which makes it incredibly comfortable.
21. Ear plugs. Since I became sick with POTS, I became a lot more sensitive to sensory stimulation. I can't use my blender without putting these in first! I live alone and have fans going on at night so that's enough white noise for me but if I'm travelling or staying the night at someone else's, ear plugs also help me from waking up with every sound.
22. A small shelving tower on wheels. It's an easy way to store all of your medical supplies and move it from room to room when needed. You can buy a cheap plastic one or one like this from Ikea.
23. This wedge pillow my mom bought me. If you have POTS, you've probably heard that raising the head of your bead increases blood volume. Apparently you can't just raise the mattress though, you have to raise the entire head of the bed (i'm not sure why). When I was bedridden we tried this and actually snapped the bed frame! We kept it risen but we didn't feel like it made any noticeable improvements. My mom bought me this pillow that although probably doesn't do the same thing, I haven't woken up with the kind of headaches I used to wake up with everyday! I use a regular pillow on top of this pillow wedge and find it a lot more comfortable than just a regular pillow for some reason.
24. An air purifier. If you live at home with someone, you're going to want an air humidifier to protect you from all the germs you both bring home. We had one going 24/7 when I first became sick and bedridden and caught every bug my brothers brought home from school.
25. A portable AC unit. My mom got this for me for my birthday and it's perfect if you live in an apartment or to bring to your office job.
26. My Ninja Bullet. I make smoothies for almost every meal so I'm obsessed with my Ninja Bullet. I love that it only fills 1 cup because it easily fits in the dishwasher and isn't as heavy and bulky as a regular blender.
27. Gold Bond's Anti-Itch Lotion. EDS and MCAD both cause a wide range of skin issues for me. This causes me to be really itchy on my arms and legs most of the time. Nothing has helped as much as this cream. I often put it on my legs before putting on my compression tights or socks which helps prevent general itchiness in the first place sometimes.
28. My USB fan. I bought this fan from my University's bookstore and have been in love with it ever since. Unfortunately I cannot find it available anywhere online but there are a ton of USB powered fans to choose from online. I spend a lot of time at my desk watching Netflix, using my biofeedback program, doing homework, and working on this blog and this cheap fan has been super helpful when I'm overheating or have a headache (I'm using it at this very moment).
29. More fans. Tall, small, thin, or wide, I have fans all over my house to help with heat intolerance. I can't sleep without a fan on my face or I will wake up sweating and with a headache.
30. Microwavable slippers. I never knew these existed until my mom received them as a gift. When I moved back home when I first became sick, I think I used these things more than she did! When I moved back home I bought myself a pair like these from HomeSense Canada. These are so great when you can't seem to warm up your feet. Mine are definitely not for walking around on though as they have microwaveable beads on the soles of the feet like most heat pads.
If you have any products you couldn't live without and would like to recommend to other spoonies, please comment below!