Do not judge this blog post by its title, for this will be more than mourning our prior self, but rejoicing in whom we are now. I know many of you are staring at the screen possibly a little speechless, wondering how in the world we can rejoice in who we are now as compared to the self left behind, but trust me, there’s a lot to rejoice and with Thanksgiving around the corner I think it’s something we should think about.
My health has never been stellar. I was always sick as a kid with allergies and asthma and constant bronchitis and migraines. As I grew up it didn’t get much better. Once we moved to Texas, my allergies eased back and so did constantly being sick but other things reared their ugly head. I discovered shortly after the birth of my second daughter that I am bipolar. I had always been bipolar, as I reflected on my childhood and especially my teen years, but it took a certain set of circumstances to bring it to light. Along with the bipolar came the side-kicks, anxiety and OCD. Compared to others I do well and spent a very long time off meds under continued doctor care and even now meds are minimal.
In my 30’s my health began to give me trouble. It started with herniated discs which evolved into degenerative disc disease and quite by accident found I had avascular necrosis. Eventually that would lead to total left hip replacement right around 35yrs of age and because everything comes in two’s, I also ended up having spinal fusion in my lumbar region [L5, S1]. Once that was all said and done I enjoyed quite a number of years of body harmony. I felt like I had emerged from quite the nightmare and was finally onto brighter days. That ended about 3.5 years ago, and ultimately I would have the additional diagnoses of IBS-d, Fibromyalgia, Seizure Disorder, Rheumatoid Arthritis and Sacroiliac Joint Disorder. I stopped working outside the home about a year ago, and I have had two surgeries in the past 3 months and it has been a struggle. I miss the woman I used to be.
Grieving the Death of Old-Self
Chronic illness and chronic pain changes you. It alters how you live from day to day and how you experience your life. It changes how you engage in relationships and how you interact with everyone from spouse to kids to friends. There is a palpable weight of chronic illness/pain that exhausts you and makes even the most mundane task difficult to accomplish. These tasks are not limited to those of chores or work or even hobbies, but those tasks that compel us to engage with people. The effort we make to explain to people how we feel and their not understanding. The apologies we make to friends when we can’t make that lunch date planned for weeks, and they’re not understanding. We watch our old-self slowly wither away and die right before our eyes and there is nothing we can do to stop it. We have to take time to grieve our old-self. This is someone we knew all our life and spent every waking minute with and we loved who we were. We would not hesitate to grieve the loss of a friend and this is no different. If you do not grieve you will not heal and be able to usher in a new self, and this is vitally important to your future and how you handle your illness. So mourn that loss of self, grieve for the person you were and then let go. When you let go you will be able to welcome someone new. Write down a list of what you will miss.
5 Things I miss about my Old-Self:
1.) I was adventurous and spontaneous.
2.) I laughed a lot.
3.) I was active and did yoga.
4.) I slept really well.
5.) I could anything I wanted.
Ushering in New-Self
This is the part where you are probably thinking: Okay, you name one thing I should be happy about now that chronic illness/pain has wrecked my life! Trust me, this is not something I go around being grateful to have. Neither, is it always easy for me to find that silver lining and more times than I would like to admit, I have found myself crying and lamenting still, about why me. This is not something that you grieve over and forget all about. Just like grieving the loss of a friend or parent or animal, you never forget them and some days are better than others.
Everyone will discover something about their new-self and new life that they will come to love. We are all different, however, so those things I am grateful for and those things I love about myself might be different for you. You will have to sit down and be reflective and I am sure you will discover something about this new you and this new life that you can appreciate. I think it is important to try and find things you can be happy about because it helps with frame of mind and the more positive you can be the better quality of life you will have. A wonderful woman I used to work with, who survived cancer 4 times and is still fighting it a 5th, taught me that. Through every chemo, every lousy day, she always found a reason to smile. I will never be as bright and unfailingly cheerful as she was through her illness, but I think it is worth it to ourselves to try.
Here we go:
1.) I love that my chronic illness/pain has made me more compassionate toward others. When people talk to me and share their experiences, I really and truly do understand and empathize with them. It has given me a whole new perspective on those who have been struggling with chronic pain and it allows me to do my job better because I can write about things that are important and meaningful to their lives.
2.) Though I miss being able to go to work I am very grateful that I can stay home. It has given me the ability to be here when my kids need me. I have been able to keep an eye on them, help them in school and be there when they need me. On that same note, being home has allowed me to venture into something I probably wouldn’t have had I not become ill, and that is writing. I write freelance and I do mean free-but I love it and I hope one day to write a book and generate income with my writing.
3.) I love how my chronic illness has changed my perception of myself and I am far less critical of myself. I will admit that this is still a struggle for me however, there are far more things I am less critical of myself than I have been in the past. I am still rather demanding, and I work very hard to accomplish my goals for the day or week but if I can’t I try to take a deep breath and be okay. I forgive myself for not being glamorous. Not that I was ever much more than a jeans and t-shirt girl, but it goes deeper than that.
4.) I love that chronic illness has made me okay with being make-up free. I do not try to hide how I feel under make-up but sometimes make-up is just about looking pretty and that is okay too. I guess what it means for me is that this illness has really made me see who I am beneath everything, from clothes to hair and despite how crappy I feel most days, I like what I see and I don’t mind others seeing it too.
5.) This last one is not about how chronic illness has changed me, but how it has changed my children that I think is beautiful and worth noting as something joyful that may not have occurred if I was well. This illness has made my children much more compassionate toward everyone, especially those who are sick. They look to help those who need it, offer kindnesses to strangers and they never make me feel guilty for being unable to do something with them that we had planned. I have heard some woman say they feel guilty that their kids never knew them before they were ill. But I think that children see beyond that and they become stronger and more compassionate toward everyone because of you.
Everything I have said here is a work in progress. I have bad days just like you where I cry and lament about the things I have lost. It is imperative to remind yourself on a daily basis what you have gained. Stick post it notes on places in your house that you pass by, so you can have a physical reminder of the joy still in your life. It is so very easy when we are in pain to become lost in the void of that pain and not be able to see the silver lining. And sometimes, silver linings are the thoughts which tether us to our sanity.
As always, thank you for reading and allowing me to share my thoughts with you. I hope it helps as all of us need to stick together and support one another.