So, what; You Can Handle It Better

How it should be.

I’m probably not the only one who has heard variations of the following: “I have terrible anxiety too. But it doesn’t cripple me the way it does you. You need to find a different coping method.” Or “Wow, I have Crohn’s and mine is worse but I still work. Maybe you need different medicine?” One of my faves that I’ve heard in the past: “I have triggers too, but I don’t let them control my life.” There’s more of course, but you get the idea. These comments are frustrating and hurtful in many different ways, but for me at least, it implies that I’m not doing enough and I think that everyone who bears the particular cross of chronic illness/pain and/or mental illness, not only does absolutely everything they can to help themselves but wishes it never happened to them in the first place.

If we had a choice, we’d take healthy body option.

Maybe I am just naive, but I always thought that when you share a specific issue with someone, like an illness, disability or mental health disorder that you kind of join together and lift each other up not criticize, antagonize or bring each other down. We all begin in this place where you feel so alone with your problems and struggles. You feel like no one is seeing you or truly hearing you and without a doubt, no one out there understands. Then, you begin to reach out slowly and carefully to a community that is inhabited by others just like you, living with the same illness and daily struggles you are going through and you feel like you can open up and share things. It feels like a sledgehammer coming down on you when the people you thought would understand, the people you thought you could trust, bring you down and make comments like, “you have to be exaggerating, I have the same thing- worse- and I still run around for my five kids,” or that “you have to be doing something wrong.” I’ve even watched as people on forums intended to bring people together, instead, tear it apart with savage comments about the choice of medicine a person takes (on the advice of their doctor). “You’re going to become addicted.” “How could your doctor write a prescription for that poison.” “You’re better off just hitting the streets for drugs at this point.” This is no joke. I’ve read this and worse; my jaw just about hitting the floor or feeling so disgusted I have left groups.

I write for both the benefit of those going through chronic illness/pain/mental health and to attempt to educate those who do not have to deal with these things and perhaps don’t understand what it is like. I should not have to speak to the community I call my own and tell them that they should not discredit others’ struggles simply because they have been graced with the ability to handle them better or they think they’ve been through worse. That kind of thinking hurts everyone because we are not carbon copies of one another. We’re all uniquely and beautifully human and while there are amazing people out there (you may be one) who can handle the weight of their illness or struggles better, who might even overcome them and eventually inspire others, this does not mean I (or anyone else) is somehow less than because they are still struggling and still fighting every day. Additionally, when it comes to the medicine we are prescribed by our physician overseeing our health, there are some who rely solely on the advice of their doctor and there are others who might investigate further what is best for them. But there are far better ways to handle a conversation about medicine than telling someone they’re going to become an addict. It can cause a person to stress, trigger anxieties you may not know about and possibly abandon medication altogether. How a person decides what goes into their body to help their pain or illness is personal. Unless you have a less alarmist approach, stay out of it.

I have a mouth.

Life is so difficult, even when we are unburdened by the weight of chronic illness/pain and mental health problems. We don’t need to add to those struggles by attacking one another. Instead, we need to support one another and fight to bring awareness to illness and pain that have been ignored for too long. We can do so much good together; we can improve life for so many including ourselves, it seems like the only answer is for people to be more supportive toward each other. We’re all doing the best we can as we navigate the treacherous waters of chronic illness.

Namaste y’all, until next time.

Despite it All

And here you are living, despite it all. -Rupi Kaur

When you are struggling with mental illness and/or chronic illness and/or chronic pain, life can be overwhelming. Every day feels like a battle with mood or symptoms that keep you from feeling your best. You struggle with guilt over not being able to do the things you once did, or not being able to do them as often, or sometimes, criticism from friends/loved ones who don’t understand this seemingly new person that you’ve become, when in actuality, the imposter was that person they saw before it became too exhausting to put on a façade of wellness. Too, there’s confusion about how some days you might actually be feeling well enough to be a glimpse of that person you were, smile, be happy and people wonder, then, why you can’t be that person all the time. And if that weren’t enough, there are those who will criticize you or question the legitimacy of your illness because you have days where you are happy.

But this post is not about all that. It is about this:

“And here you are living, despite it all.”

If you can, take a moment and consider everything you have gone through in your life. Think about the stress and anxiety you have felt before knowing a diagnosis or the continued stress you are feeling because you have yet gone un-diagnosed; think about all the anxiety and pain your mental illness has caused you; think about all the symptoms you’ve had to deal with because of your chronic illness and think about the physical pain you’ve experienced because of your chronic pain.

You are still here, despite it all. You are alive and important to those around you, and you have gifts of your experience and perseverance that you can pass on to others. You didn’t give up, and even if you did for a while, you were able to push through and continue. These experiences can sometimes be gutting but every day you fight back you are giving yourself the opportunity to live and touch other lives by connecting with them through similar experiences. It doesn’t mean you have to start a blog or try to become an influencer on Twitter or TikTok, but just opening yourself up to the idea of sharing your experience with someone who you think might benefit from hearing it. Sometimes, it can be the simplest act that can save someone from the edge of despair, and because we have been there, we might see the signs before someone else notices.

It’s not always easy to sit down and reflect on everything that has happened to you or is still happening to you and feel good about still being here. There are times where it’s such a struggle and such a painful existence that you wish it were over and yet you fight because there’s that shred of hope that tomorrow or a month from now won’t be as bad. You look for things that bring you joy and peace and you hang on to that for dear life. And sometimes, you are lucky enough to have a few hours, or a day or a week where you feel normal and unburdened by your health. You are able to enjoy things and you are cognizant of that and you savor each and every moment. These are the things we have to pass on to people who find themselves in similar shoes. The hope that is possible. The hope that can be. The hope that despite it all, you will survive and the hope that despite it all you will thrive.

The “little” Lies We Tell Ourself

“I’m okay.” “I feel fine.” “I can power through this headache.” “I’ll just pretend my tummy doesn’t hurt.” “I’m not depressed.” “I’m not manic.” “I’m over exaggerating how much I hurt.” And so on…

These are just a few of the “little” lies we tell ourselves daily to get through the day and not feel like we’ve failed somehow, or that we tell ourselves to power through our day and not have to lay down and rest. 

“I’m normal. I can do anything anyone else can.” 

I tell this to myself repeatedly, like a mantra. I envision myself the way I was in my 20’s when I felt bad but the feeling had no name and I had little children and a house and there was no time to worry about I felt; when I was too preoccupied with making sure everyone else was cared for and that they had lunches for school and did their homework. I will sometimes wonder if I was that busy again, would I have time to dwell on all my ailments or would I just push through and not worry? I will contemplate life without knowing about my chronic illness- what if they didn’t have a name? Would I just shrug it off and pluck away at life quietly? Or would it continue to be so debilitating? 

I’m a Star Wars Nerd.

“You aren’t as bad off as some…”

Even though I advocate others to never say this to someone with chronic illness, in the back of my head I will hear it. I will see others who are chronically ill, and how they can do so much more than I can and I become frustrated. It makes me feel like I have to be comparable to them, which is something I tell people with chronic illness NOT to do because it just isn’t healthy. Don’t compete with those others you follow on Instagram or Twitter or that you know personally. Even those of us with the same illnesses will experience it differently because we are unique. It doesn’t do us any good to try to keep up with someone else and can make our life worse. Just do you. 

“Feeling pretty good- must do everything I need to get done today because tomorrow I may feel like hell.” 

Why, oh why, oh why, do I tell myself this? I could just facepalm every time I do it because I know I’m going to feel worse. But, Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ! – (who gets that reference?) it never fails that I will go crazy cleaning and then regret it afterwards. It sucks. The ramifications of overdoing it should be enough to deter anyone from overdoing it ever again, and yet, NOPE, I still do it. Am I alone? This is something else I’ve preached in my blogs because I know in my head how nonconstructive it is to do this- how much better it is for your body to do a little bit at a time, and yet when I feel good, there is this intoxicating lure to clean and make sure everything is sparkly, until I just flop. 

Things just get on my nerves and I have to do it. It’s like Satan whispering in my ear.

“I’m FINE

Or as my husband will tell me, “Fucked up, Insecure, Neurotic and Emotional?” To which I will just give him the side-eye and huff. He knows I’m not “fine” and I know I’m not “fine” but I continue with the pretence because surely if I say it enough I will “will to be true.” I’ve done this repeatedly, with regards not only to my physical health but my mental health too. “I’m fine. I’m not depressed.” Or “I’m fine, I’m not manic.” But that “little” lie can do BIG damage, especially with regards to our mental health and trying to deceive yourself that you are okay and don’t need to ask for help or tweak your meds. In the long run, it’s just safer, to be honest about how you are feeling. Talk to your doc about feeling worse because of new symptoms, while it may make us feel “low-key hypochondriac”, new symptoms or feeling worse could be a real sign something else is wrong. 

Still a favourite movie. Love Melman.

It’s not easy being chronically ill. We want to be like everyone else, normal, even though that is an illusion. Normal truly doesn’t exist and everyone out there has their own, personal struggle. We tell ourselves the lies because we want to get through our day; because we need to get through work, we want to have enough energy to advocate; we want to give other people (friends and family) hope and reduce their worry about how we are feeling and we want to have fun. The list of reasons we may lie to ourselves and others goes on. Everyone has a different motivation for what they do, but I feel much of it stems from guilt. Guilt about not being who we once were, for letting people down when we can’t go somewhere, or when we can’t clean or cook the way we once did. There’s a lot of guilt because we remember ourselves before chronic illness- even if it’s just a glimmer- and we wish we could be that person. And if some has spent the entirety of their lives with chronic illness and can’t remember a day when they weren’t sick, they watch people who live their lives in healthy bodies and want to be them. They will even pretend they are not sick so they can do the things their friends are doing and not be left out. It’s difficult being a prisoner in your own body because we have our minds that are vital and healthy and allow us to imagine life without sickness- and that imagining can almost be cruel. 

Hahaha! Couldn’t help myself. I always think, “Here’s your lasagna and a nice helping of guilt!”

I’m not telling you not to tell those “little lies” to yourself. We’re going to do it, but try to recognise it when you do- acknowledge it and move on. Try to carve out time when you can be honest to yourself about how you are feeling and what is going on in your health that should be brought to your doctor’s attention and then, go back to life. Your health is the most important thing and if you continue a habit of taking advantage of yourself and asking your body to do more than it’s capable of, you may end up in worse shape than you originally started. No matter what you may think, you are important.

Yes, you are.

8 Confessions of Living With a Chronic Illness

Me confessing to you.
  • I Always Feel Guilty: Yes, always. I feel guilty because I don’t visit with people I care about. I feel guilty because I rely on so many people for so many different things. I feel guilty when I don’t cook a decent dinner. I feel guilty because my house isn’t clean enough. I feel guilty because I can’t walk my dogs as much as I would like to. I feel guilty because I can’t do as much yoga as I would like and sometimes, I need 3-4 days to recover from one 30-minute class and that class isn’t hard-core yoga. I feel guilty because my specialised diet forces my husband and family to go without things they enjoy. After all, it would wreck me to cook two meals. I feel guilty because I can’t work. I feel guilty because I can never say to someone that I feel 100% wonderful. I feel guilty because my mental health sucks. I feel guilty and sad because I have passed so many of these genes to my children and they suffer because of it. I feel guilty because I often lie about how I feel, so I won’t worry people. I feel guilty. This only covers a small portion of my feelings, but it can become overwhelming. 
  • I Am Frightened of My Future: My husband is getting close to retirement age. We are steady planning out the future; where we want to live, what kind of house we will purchase and how we’d like to decorate (OK, how I would like to decorate.) We’re both so excited about it and doing things we like to do together, without the children. But when he brings things up, I realise I am terrified. What if I can’t do all the things we’ve been dreaming of? What if I am not there? These are things that could happen to anyone; these are things that have happened to people and I know I can’t predict the future, but I still find the thoughts of my future terrifying. I am a chronic pain patient and with “opioid hysteria” and yes, I will concede there is a problem with certain drugs and those who have abused them because they were misguided by a doctor, there are still those of us who very much need them. But we’re being punished and many have died because they have been left defenseless against their pain and quickly over-run by it. Our resources for pain management because more scarce and I find it as much a tragedy when someone is left to suffer in pain as when someone becomes addicted to the drugs that were supposed to help them. 
  • I Feel Like I am Alone: Logically, I know this isn’t the case. I have friends and loved ones who care about me. I have a truly amazing husband, who I adore and I know adores me. But no one truly gets it. And, while I have many on social media who do understand because they are in the same situation, sometimes you wish you could hang out with someone in that very same place, so you can feel at ease. It’s difficult for me to make plans with people (family or not) because I can’t predict how I am going to feel in the future. It’s always a day-to-day thing and you end up feeling bad when you can’t go somewhere you promised you’d go, or have to cancel plans. Funny thing is, you end up not having to worry too much about it because most people just get tired of it and stop calling and hanging out. 
Me lonely
  • I Feel Like People Don’t Believe I am Sick, Because I Don’t Look Sick: I wish, sometimes, that I looked as sick as I feel- sometimes. The only thing I have going for me is that I don’t look sick or my age. The downside is that no one can see the crumbling immune system that is mine, and no one can see the pain I am in daily, which gives people the false idea that I am just fine. When I remind people that I hurt, or can’t do it because I don’t feel well, I feel like there is a tiny part of them that doesn’t believe me or thinks I am doing it just so I can get out of something. This generally leads me to go on a sporadic flurry of doing chores until I fall over dead because I want to feel useful, despite knowing that my body just can’t keep up sometimes. It’s a vicious cycle that while I have even preached on my blog about moderation and doing what you can, I’m terrible and almost incapable of following myself. 
  • Not All Doctors Understand (but I am grateful for the ones who do): We’ve all been there with doctors ignoring our pleas for help and giving us a litany of excuses as to why we feel the way we do, which can range from “it’s all in our head” to “you need to exercise more.” It can leave us feeling like we are crazy. We know our body and no one should make us doubt our gut. It makes me so angry that I wasted so much time with so many doctors because I chose to believe them blindly. After all, they wore the white coat and had all that schooling. Surely, they have to know, right? Having been writing now for a few years and learning how little “schooling” doctors receive on autoimmune illness, rare illnesses and chronic pain issues, it makes a lot of sense as to why they don’t always pick up on the signs. However, you have to do your due diligence and fight for yourself until you find a doctor who is willing to listen and take the time to figure out what is going on with you. That may mean a rheumatologist, it may mean a neurologist, it may mean a gastroenterologist for you. When you find that doctor, don’t let them go and be grateful that they chose to listen. 
Doctors
  • I Feel Like a Failure: Sometimes, I do. I knew this isn’t an exclusive feeling to those with chronic illness/pain, but the reason I feel like a failure is directly related to those things. I feel like a failure because I haven’t finished school. I feel like a failure because I can’t do many of the things that those in my age group are doing or have done because of my chronic illness. I watch their feeds on Facebook or Imagine Chat and I see these amazing vacations or doing marathons, going hiking, excelling at their job, and it hurts a little. I try to look at those things I have been able to accomplish and feel proud of myself. I remind myself that we are all on a different journey. But it’s still difficult. 
  • I Almost Always Feel Judged Because I Take Opioids: Ugh. This is huge for me. I’ve written about it before here: https://lovekarmafood.com/2019/06/25/i-am-an-un-apologetic-opioid-patient/ However, it’s difficult being a chronic patient who takes opioids in this age of “opioid addiction and hysteria.” I don’t like to feel judged and look on with disdain because I take opioids, and I don’t like to feel like I am contributing to an epidemic that was never my fault. Everyone is different and, unfortunately, there are people whose body chemistry make them more vulnerable to addiction. I am grateful that I am not predisposed to that vulnerability and in the 4 years that I have been using opioids to help me manage my pain I’ve never had a problem. I know I am lucky. What I don’t think, is that I should be judged as though addiction is lurking behind some future door; without opioids, I would not be here.
Opioids
  • I Am Almost Always in Pain: This is not an over-exaggeration of my situation or the situation of many of us with chronic illness/pain. Pain is ever-present. Even with the medication, I am given I am still in pain. There is a reason they call it “pain management.” Every day finds me with some amount of pain and with the meds, I am given it is managed, somewhat. There are days where there is a perfect storm of symptoms and my pain crosses that threshold of managed to unmanageable, but gratefully, those days are fewer because of the pain meds I am given. There is an idea that because I am in pain every day that I should be used to it, but that is wholly untrue. People don’t get used to being poor or hungry or abused. Each day remains a struggle. 
Ouchie Pain

I’m Not Used to It

There are some out there in the land of healthy who believe that because we’ve been in chronic pain and chronically ill (or perhaps one or the other), for X- amount of time, that we should be used to the constant torment. I’m here to tell you that this is a false-hood. We don’t become used to our situation simply because we have been in the same situation for years- we adapt. Adapting here means that we do things to make our lives easier; we adjust how we sleep in order to attempt a restful night, we shorten our work-days in order to ease the stress of long days on bodies that are already stressed from illness or pain; we change our diets to attempt to quiet the wrath of symptoms for digestive disorders; we take supplements in attempt to strengthen our weakened immune systems; we do so many things in a futile attempt to lessen the wrath of pain and illness, but we never, ever get used to it.

I envy this kind of sleep.

In some ways I can understand the logic behind that particular thinking. When we do things over and over again, for example exercise, we become accustom to how it feels. Eventually, we aren’t as sore as we were the first time, we hit the gym or when we attempted yoga for the first time. Our muscles become accustomed to the rigors of lifting weights or doing planks or squats. But chronic illness and chronic pain are just not the same. It doesn’t matter how many times I get a migraine, it’s always like the first time. It doesn’t matter how often my Crohn’s flares up; it always feels like an assault on my intestines. I am in chronic pain all the time from the fibro and back issues I have, not to mention the pain from the rheumatoid arthritis and while some days might be a little easier, it’s never something I get used to. It’s frustrating and painful and it simply takes so much out of you to just try and function every day. I am always finding myself lamenting the body I used to have (and no, I don’t mean figure-wise), and wishing that I could do the things and be the person I was.

Yoga is great, but does come with consequences, no matter how much I do.

I want people who don’t suffer from chronic illness and chronic pain to know that we never become used to this state of being. That every day is a challenge to simply function on a semi-normal basis. That you don’t have pain and symptoms from your chronic illness for 15 years and just become used to it over time. Our bodies are not static and every day presents new challenges and sometimes, new symptoms and frustrations. Pain medicine is something that doesn’t always work or only takes the edge off the pain leaving you at a seven rather than at a nine. It’s having side effects from the medication that is supposed to be helping you, or having to determine if it’s worth trying certain medications because of the side effects associated with that drug. It’s missing out on going out with friends (if we have any at all, because most people become tired with waiting around for us to feel better), it’s missing on going to events because we suddenly flare up, it’s the anxiety that we have because of our illness and pain (which exacerbates anxiety that we may have already), and it’s the surgeries that we may have in order to try and help our situation that sometimes ends up making us worse. No, we do not ever get used to it.

Oh the reality…

In finality, I offer this: if you are a family member or friend to someone suffering from chronic illness or chronic pain, try to understand them better; try to understand what it is they are going through better; be a better friend or sister, brother, mom or dad. Our lives are complicated and messy and we didn’t ask for this.

Sadly, so very true!

Thank you for reading, sharing and following my blog. It really means the world to me.