COVID-19

PLS2

The Realities of COVID-19 for You and the Same Realities for Me

We interrupt this regularly scheduled blog with a word from our author:

During this COVID-19 madness, which has become the New World Order for at least for the foreseeable few weeks and which feels like we’re all living out some surreal, Quentin Tarantino movie, there are still those among us who feel that this is all a wild over-reaction to something no more worrisome than a cold. I’m here to tell you that for me, COVID-19 is something much more worrisome than a simple cold.

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As an immunocompromised person, with several autoimmune disorders, I fit within that 20% high-risk group that would find themselves in danger should they develop this illness. I’ve considered this deeply from both an intellectual perspective and an emotional one. I’ve accepted that if I were to get sick I might not be able to beat it and that’s okay. I know you’re reading that right now thinking “What the actual fuck? What do you mean you wouldn’t fight? You would just give up?” No. That’s not what I mean. What I mean is that my body is not equipped to fight this virus and gives a whole new perspective to “Survival of the Fittest” for me, and others like me. The kind of perspective that forces a wife to choose to tell her husband, “Please understand darling, I may not get through this.”

 

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I am not a soldier, but I am a soldier’s wife. And I remember when he prepared me for his deployment into a war-zone; all the potential disaster entailed and how my mind exploded with worry about a life that could potentially include one without him. How all of our future dreams could be snuffed out, and at every turn where I had always seen him by my side, he could be gone in a puff of smoke. All of this, in a cruel bit of irony, was now in reverse, and I saw that haunted look in his eyes instead and it killed me. I’m not a soldier. I wasn’t trained to go into battle; I wasn’t trained to expect or be willing to die and I wasn’t trained to potentially have to say goodbye. Having to look into my husband’s eyes and tell him that I might not make it was the most difficult, most gut-wrenching thing I’d ever had to do. But I certainly realized that day his job was much more difficult than I ever gave him credit for. I realized that no one can teach you to be ready to say goodbye.

 

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If you don’t have to be worried about Covid-19, you should count yourself lucky. If all you have to be concerned with is washing your hands for 20 seconds while singing “Never gonna give you up, Never gonna let you down, Never gonna run around and desert you. Never gonna make you cry, Never gonna say goodbye, Never gonna tell a lie and hurt you,” then life is good. If all you have to do is focus on your family, make sure they are safe and practising good hygiene, and if all those you love are not in a high-risk group, then life is cake. The maddening, hoarding or opposite, disregard and denial are truly perplexing for me, however, ultimately boils down to the same common denominator: a lack of empathy for human life other than your own. You could say this is self-preservation, but how much toilet paper is truly required for self-preservation?

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While I am very much a realist in regards in regards to this situation, I’m not a fatalist, despite my acknowledgement and even acceptance of possible death and I’m hopeful that I will neither contract COVID-19 and if I do, that I will recover. Having been through so many frightening surgeries, experienced so many difficult pregnancies and given birth to two, tiny preemies, and now, living with these autoimmune disorders and chronic pain, I’ve learnt to accept life and death without prejudice. We’re here on this planet and it’s a one-way ticket. We get to enjoy so many beautiful experiences and I have. I’ve been so incredibly lucky. I have no regrets. I’ve lived on my terms and I’ve done things how I wanted and if I didn’t make it, it would suck but I wouldn’t be angry at the universe. I want to die on my terms and with whatever time I have left, I want it to be with my family and I want it to be peacefully. But there’s still hope in my heart that all this will pass and that we will learn from it.

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Learning from this is how I want to end this. We all may have our thoughts about COVID-19, but I think it’s very important to understand that there are a whole array of possible virus and germs (new and old) out there, lurking and waiting to find a host. As you have learned, it only takes one person to start a pandemic and it can spread very quickly. Once it has spread and once it has a foothold, things become very challenging to deal with. Not only does treating the disease become difficult to manage but you have economic repercussions and citizens who begin to feel that there is not enough being done to manage a critical situation. We the people, have to implore our government of the vital importance of Public Health and making sure it is properly funded and equally so, the CDC. We need to make sure that our Healthcare system is placed at the forefront of thought and no longer neglected so that people can get more than just adequate care. COVID-19 should be a huge wake-up call for the public, the healthcare system and the science community. If people continue to deny the gravity of the situation, I truly believe this will happen again, and next time we may not be so lucky.

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You Don’t Adjust You Just Live

You’ll adjust to the pain

Five years later…

Tell me when I’m going to adjust? I don’t think there’s any way to adjust to chronic illness. I think it’s just one enormous roller coaster ride you have to brace yourself for and hope for the best. When you reach the top of one peak, you stare down and close your eyes and when it shoots down, you scream, hoping nothing will happen. You hope the car won’t skid off the tracks and that you won’t go flying out of your little, boxcar. You hope your blood pressure and your heart can take the whips and bends and the peaks and slopes. And it will never be when you expect.

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Tell me when I’m going to adjust? To the days when I feel so badly that I don’t want to move from the couch? Where getting up to fix breakfast feels like a monumental task set forth by the Gods to Hercules himself, and I’m there in his stead looking dazed and confused? When I’m feeling so lethargic in my brain as I sit down to write, that I feel like I need a cattle prod to tease my brain awake and even then, it’s yawning and stretching without any sign of life, leaving me there to stare blankly at a page on the screen wondering if I’ll be productive or not today.

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Tell me when I’m going to adjust? To the ever-multiplying issues of what began as one chronic illness, that is now eight chronic issues. How do I adjust to my life when some of these issues are progressive? When walking with a cane now, and sometimes even needing a wheelchair will mean needing a wheelchair more than needing the cane later on in my life? How do you adjust? I read something, somewhere, talking about how older people with chronic illnesses have at least been able to make memories, whereas young people have not been able to do that. But where is the line? Where is the cut off of ample memories? Have I made enough memories 35 when all this started? Or 40 when it started to get bad? Or 45 when I’ve been reduced to the cane and wheelchair when I need? When is the cut off for memory-making?

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Tell me when I’m going to adjust? To the ever-present, every increasing, pain that is in my life and that has control over every facet of my life in ways that I never dreamt of. Pain, that was once something that I dealt with on a localised basis, mainly in just my head, which was enough on its own to knock me down for two weeks sometimes, if the migraine was that bad, has now become something I deal with in multiple areas, where the pain doesn’t go away and that I live with 24/7. I never, in any terrifying dream, thought it possible to exist in the manner I find myself existing, and yet, here I am. But I wouldn’t call it adjusting. Adjusting implies that you’ve found some balance in your life with your condition and there is no balance. It’s just life on one big see-saw. You’re either up or you’re down.

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Tell me when I’m going to adjust? Friends will understand and so will family. They will adjust to your life as you know it and they will support you. Tell me when that will happen? My family, for the most part, understands, but adjust? I think they have adjusted about as well as I have. And the kids- the kids shouldn’t have to adjust to life with a mom who can’t participate in life the way other moms can. It sucks. My kids have taken on like as caretaker for me. They drive around Miss Daisy. They worry about their mom all the time. It sucks. My friends? I don’t have any outside of my computer. They all left. They couldn’t deal with a sick friend. They couldn’t deal with someone who maybe needs to cancel plans at the last minute, or who can’t eat the same things or can’t jump around and do crazy things. I probably have more in common with folks in a Senior Living Home (and that is not a dig, I’ve actually always got on better with people older than me- the plague of being an only, imaginative, sensitive, intuitive INFJ-T, child). Even now that my children are adults, it’s difficult to do things. We’ve broken down and purchased a wheelchair for when the events are too much walking for me and my cane. But it’s still difficult. They can’t make plans without taking into consideration their ol’ mum. Tell me when they’ll adjust to that? Never, because it just gets worse from here on out.

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Tell me when I’m going to adjust? To a progressive illness? It may not happen in five or ten years, but at some point, things are going to go from bad to worse. How am I going to adjust to that? I can barely adjust to my life now and I will be expected to adjust to things then as well. How can it be so easy to just say to someone, adjust? Forget how life used to be before your body betrayed you; ignore how your body failed you and pretend that you don’t live in pain 24/7. It shouldn’t be that difficult right? You are only human, with flesh and bone and nerves and blood.

Progressive illness

Tell me when I’m going to adjust? I see more doctors than my 83-year-old father. I’ve had more tests and surgeries than he has too. Tell me when I’m going to adjust to seeing my body in the mirror and looking at the scars left by countless surgeries and stitches that have tried, in vain, to fix me? The hip surgery (total hip replacement) and spine surgeries (lower lumbar fusion and sacroiliac fusion)? Those are just the visible scars. The scars on the inside are more difficult to bear. The scars on the inside are more difficult to contend with. The mental illness can be more debilitating than physical illness. But coupled with the physical illness, it can be unbearable. You don’t adjust; you just live. You live hour by hour, sometimes minute by minute, fighting tooth and nail along the way because you refuse to give in. Because you still have so much to live for.

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That’s what this ends up being all about. Not trying to adjust to this life of illness and pain, but about living. Living the best way, you can, through the worst times imaginable. You just live, because you can’t adjust to pain and illness, ever. You can’t adjust to it because it’s always changing. Symptoms are always evolving and sometimes you find out that you have new things wrong. There’s no adjusting to that. You just live. You wake up in the morning and you feel grateful that you can start the day. You feel grateful that despite the pain you can see your kids and plan a future with your husband. You take it hour by hour and minute by minute if that is the only way you can do it. Grateful for the seconds in between. You don’t adjust. You just live.

Living Life

I Want My Old Brain Back

Other Wistful-cisms…and Conclusions

 

I want my old brain back. You know the one I’m talking about. The one that could remember an entire grocery list on her own. The one that didn’t need to write everything on post-it notes or List-App’s on the phone or computer. The brain that made me a pretty successful mother of four small children, under the age of 5 and then when they got older: returned to school and later on, returned to work as well. There was a lot of juggling going on and I was managing alright. Looking back on it now, what I saw as overwhelming was stressful, but not as overwhelming as it would be for me now. It amazes me the volume of information I could store in my memory without needing to write it down. Entire lectures got banked up there with little need to study. I could remember my medication (for the few I took) without needing to write it down or needing an alarm on my phone. I stored in my brain at least five family and friend’s numbers and now I can only manage my husband, the rest are in contacts on my phone. Some of this can be attributed to getting older, and our lives stored on our phone, while others are truly a memory issue that is a direct result of my autoimmune disorders. Many of us are familiar with brain fog; this is like brain fog on steroids that can be positively alarming.

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The clarity is gone. The crystalline keenness in which I had been so accustomed to seeing things had now dissolved into feathered edges that forced me to squint. It makes me angry and frustrated and deeply sad because everything that I want to do well, like sitting down to write, which I love, is twice as hard. Words don’t just fire off the synapses like they once used to. It feels as though they are blanketed in a thick, low fog and I have to search for the words, sometimes using Google, or the Thesaurus like a fishing rod, several times to hook and reel the right words I am searching for. There are times I will slam the laptop shut, frustrated that this is how things have turned out. Frustrated that this is my calling and that the universe has seen fit to throw in another challenge as if life itself weren’t challenging enough. But I refuse to allow it to rob, what it is I love. If I just lay down and die, it wins. I’m sorry, but if there’s one thing that people with chronic illness have in reserve is strength.

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I want my health back. I’d settle for my health at my 30’s. I had migraines every few days but now, when I get a migraine on top of everything else that makes my body feel like someone’s punching bag, it makes me feel one hundred times worse. I want the freedom of being able to eat what I want and not have to worry about it making me sick to my stomach. You forget about how food makes you feel; you forget your vanity and about the calories because you’re losing weight from the terror waged every day in your digestive system and all you want to do is enjoy food for the sheer sake of pleasure because food has now become your Moriarty. Worse than that because you can thwart your nemesis, but you can’t thwart food. Food is life.

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I miss my old body and freedom of travel. I want the luxury of being able to travel whenever and wherever I want and not have to take into consideration my illnesses and how travel will impact my body or how the stress of everything will tire me out or be too painful for me. I want my 20’s and my 30’s when I could run and jump and climb and do yoga. I wake up in the morning and the first thing that greets me is pain. There are different levels of pain: some is throbbing and aching in my joints and muscles, while others radiate and spike down from my lower back down my leg. It’s not something I get used to and I have to breathe a little humour into it, thinking, “Well, if I ever wake up and not feel pain, I know I’m dead.” A little dark humour, but that isn’t anything new with me. People would probably find it surprising to hear that I would like to go out more. I am most comfortable in my house, given my anxieties, but there is still an explorer in me. However, because I feel fragile and I’m afraid of unknown terrain hurting me, I distrust going out. Hence, missing my old body and freedom of travel.

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I miss unfettered laughter, a quiet mind, a carefree spirit. Did I ever have these things? I’m 45 years old and when looking back on my life and grasping at memories of my childhood and teenage years and older I wonder if I ever did truly have these things. Was I shaped by a bipolar mind with anxiety? The PTSD is a condition that was developed, but surely, I was a clean slate at some point? But the truth is, I don’t think the slate was ever clean. And still, I would take it over some days now, because I can taste the levity on my tongue; the sweetness of it and recall the serenity and carefree spirit that allowed me to take chances I don’t think I could take now. Mental illness paints things a shade darker. Creates shadows where there aren’t any or ought not to be any.  I can briefly grasp at what was during manic episodes, but it’s never right. They’re either pale comparisons or too bright and too clean. Like I jumped into Wonderland. I wonder what it’s like to be in a normal head and experience emotions normally and not acutely because as I miss the unfettered laughter and quiet mind, I also miss the natural ability to arbitrate emotion. Instead, I feel with every atom of my being- every pore. I love with every ounce and feel with every tear, those losses that may be minuscule to someone else, are devastating to me every time, taking a bit of me with them.

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I want my old brain back, and my old body back and- but I always stop. Because whining about it and venting about it is different than actually getting it back. It’s necessary to do. After all, you have to grieve what you’ve lost, because in a very real way you have lost a part of yourself, but in another way you’ve gained a different part of yourself and that is the part, I’m not willing to let go of, as much as I might complain. Why?

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Because my chronic illness, while being a pain in the ass 99% of the time has taught me three very important things: Being Compassionate toward others, Listening without Judgment, Living Life Despite The Pain. It’s pretty simple and while I could probably add more things, these are pretty much the foundations by which I try to live my life. It’s not always easy; I’m not a saint, but I try. Compassion is not something I find difficult, especially when encountering so many who find it difficult to be compassionate toward me. I’m already naturally empathetic. Listening is almost as easy, but listening without trying to interject opinions or thoughts and just listening to a person is more difficult. People often want to speak about how they relate to a person’s situation, or how they would deal with it, or how they feel about it. The keywords here being they/themselves. Listening and focusing on them, and not yourself is more difficult. It is something I work on every day- not making it about me. Living Life Despite Pain, of just Living my Best Life is strange, the most difficult. My life has been focused around my family- my husband and four kids and learning how to live life in a way where it also makes me happy- where I am doing things so that I thrive as well, feels selfish. But we need to make the most of every day we are living on this earth, so that is what I am working on.

 

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Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse can be just as exhausting and insidious as physical abuse.

  • It’s also just as damaging.
  • Can lead to depression and anxiety.
  • It can lead you to be unable to stand conflict. Doing anything and everything to avoid it, to the point where it becomes unreasonable and dangerous.
  • Your pendulum swings from indecisiveness to over-achiever.
  • You have serious trust issues, always expecting the other shoe to fall.

 

I’ve been emotionally abused. I hide it well. It’s not something I advertise and it’s never been something I advertise, but it’s always been something that if you look deep enough, that you can read. I’ve always felt it was a weakness. I can remember very clearly being told by my abuser that it was a weakness. Had I been stronger, tougher, maybe I wouldn’t get treated that way. So, I tried to make up for my failings, and never quite managed because the very nature of the abuse leads you to avoid all manner of conflict like the plague. You feel like the only way you can keep from drowning, keep from suffocating on the conflict is by avoiding it altogether. So, you bow out of every single fight, even though you may have the right of it. You go on to over-achieve in your work because you’re terrified of failing; you never really trust anyone- and when you do, it’s always there in the back of your mind that they may betray you because that’s what people do. You protect yourself on all corners and it’s exhausting. It’s exhausting during the abuse and it’s exhausting after the abuse.

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My ex-husband emotionally abused me. It lasted 5 years; our time before marriage and our actual married time. I can’t give you a lot of detail examples on instances of the abuse. I learned a long time ago that my memory has thought it necessary to protect me by making much of my time with him into veritable Swiss cheese. I’ve thought about going to a therapist for regression therapy or hypnotherapy, but in all truth, I’m terrified. I remember enough to still be traumatised and I remember enough to have happy memories of my children growing up, so I figure I’m okay. What more could I want to dredge up? However, it’s important to understand the feelings the situations made you feel, and that is what I can share with you, because even now, 25 years later, I can remember how I felt as keenly as if I were there then.

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More often than not, he would behave intentionally frightening with me. This would achieve to two things: 1.) he wouldn’t have to be physically violent with me which would leave marks, which would either have to be covered up or need a story, which would require secondary lying 2.) the way he frightened me was threatening me with abandonment; how was I going to take care of my children on my own? I had no education at the time to speak of. I needed him financially. He would demean me regularly, the words used not as important as how it made me feel, which was useless. I felt useless as a mother because I was young, new, fumbling at it and he told me everything I did was wrong and why couldn’t I do it better. I felt like a failure in my wifely “duties,” such as cooking, cleaning and cooking. I never measured up to the perfect Southern woman. And worst, I was supposed to accept everything that was happening because we were married. Divorce wasn’t an option. I said yes and therefore, I was locked into the deal. I would imagine this would fall into intentionally interpreting traditional practices because last time I’d looked, marriage wasn’t literally until “Until Death Do Us Part.” But to him it was. It was like it gave him the okay to do whatever he wanted to me. Even rape me.

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He socially isolated me by moving me to his home town in Alabama. Even though a good majority of his kin were here, in Texas. But I was too much trouble. It was as though I were the child. The isolation was the worst thing about it there. No one cared I was miserable because no one ever saw me. I spent months in the house with no one calling or visiting to see how I was. He’d terrorise me- leave me with bruises because I hadn’t made him what he wanted for breakfast or because the kids were too loud when he was trying to sleep during the day because he worked at night and I was trying walking on eggshells, trying to keep little children entertained, while quiet and ultimately I would fail. His wrath had me in the closet hiding from him, praying he wouldn’t hurt me and staring down the barrel of a rifle, my heart pounding as I cried. He’d repeatedly raise the issue of death and my gears would have to shift from scared little girl to stoic defender. Unsure what he would do in that house, where I had two children to protect. One of the worst tactics he used after knock-down-drag-out-fights when I was trying to sleep, was stomping through the house opening drawers and cursing. He’d start in the kitchen, cabinets slamming, drawers too and then worked his way until he got into our room, going through the chest of drawers while muttering like a priest in fervent prayer. Meanwhile, I was pretending to sleep; my eyes closed tightly in hopes he would leave me be and the fighting wouldn’t start anew. But I think he knew I was awake. I think the purpose was to keep me awake and scared.

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People are often angered that my ex violated my body; I am more angered that somewhere in his mind he felt he could violate my mind and that he could bully me and emotionally hurt me and threaten me. Then, when we were coming down to the wire, going through the divorce, in classic abuser style, he made it his mission to try and take our children away from me, (saying he was smarter and more capable) when he saw everything shattering around him and he saw all his bad decisions coming to haunt him. Why you might ask, is this worse? Because it’s been 25 years and it’s still with me despite how much I’ve healed and how much I’ve progressed with the help of my husband. The fear, the shame, the anxiety; the necessity to avoid all conflict at all cost- and when I don’t avoid it feeling badly at myself. Like I don’t get a vote in how I feel, or I’m not supposed to get mad or defend myself. It hurts my self-esteem, which in turn can affect my mental health.

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Gaslighting

My ex-husband did leave bruises. But the funny thing about bruises, they heal. They may leave behind bad memories and bad dreams and even PTSD, but there’s something about the emotional abuse, that is worse in my opinion. The insidious nature of it that while you can see a fist driving at you and may have a chance to duck, you can’t necessarily see this coming at you. Then, when it hits, it leaves you devastated and breathless. You stare at the devastation, not understanding what happened, wounded and bleeding mentally and emotionally and sometimes are left to pick up the pieces alone because when you are left with actual bruises that people can see they are quick to get angry and want to help- but emotional abuse and mental abuse, people are more inclined to scoff at you and say things like: “why are you letting him do this to you?” I know. I’ve been guilty of saying those words too. And I’ve felt ashamed for it. Because you can’t help it. You want to believe that a person you love wouldn’t beat you the way they are and that they will change. But over and over again, they do. Over and over again they rip the stitches open, making you bleed fresh, forcing you to wrap your head around something that shouldn’t be. People you love shouldn’t hurt you this way and yet here you are.

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Don’t let people tell you that you should get over it. Don’t let people tell you that after X number of months or years that your life should go back to normal. That after everything that happened to you, that your life just gets to go back to being the same. Sure. There are some that will ease back into normality easier than others. There are some that will forget and all will be well. But for others, the scars are too deep. For others, there comes are a realization that what you endured wasn’t simply at the hands of your significant other, but there were others. Others in your life who felt you were an easy target and abused you emotionally and mentally and this realization breaks you further. Take the time you need, heal yourself slowly and forgive yourself when you have setbacks because it’s not easy. Remind people in your life that all of this doesn’t go away. It stays in your heart and soul forever. A scar, like a lesion, until you die.

 

They Call That Fashion?

[image: Getty Images]

KimhēKim fashion brand posted videos from its September 24 Paris Fashion Week show, which features a model walking up the runway in a T-shirt labelled Sick across it with an IV as an accessory instead of a purse. The collection is described as “energetic,” as models sported black sunglasses and either carried selfie sticks or IV drips. Among some of his reasoning for this line: “This collection is about attention-seekers spending their summer vacation in a hospital.” He also says, “These days we all want attention and positive reaction from people, especially on social media. But instead of hiding it, let’s just be honest and admit that we want it, but do it with elegance.” (Burlet, 2019)

Okay. There is a lot to cover, so let’s get down to it. As a person with chronic illness (autoimmune disorders), who goes every six weeks and sits for roughly two hours with an IV for infusions, who is SICK, and who doesn’t give a crap about being elegant about it because I’m not an attention seeker- wow! This takes absurdity and shock fashion/art to a whole new level comparative to Bstroy, which showcased their bullet-like hole hoodies, and names of schools who had experienced mass shootings. It’s difficult for me to grasp why any designer would want to take these tragedies and exploit them in this way. But by his very own words, “attention-seeking” and “spending their summer vacation in a hospital” he truly doesn’t understand the difference between sick and trendy or fad. Where the rich or elite go to IV Infusion Bars to receive vitamins and rehydrate after a night of partying. I also considered that this collection might be in part to poke fun at these rich and trendy types, with their IV drips and selfie-sticks but I think it failed because of the manner he went about in showcasing it that would have been solved with one word: Not Sick.

I kept reading his words over and over again trying to understand his reasoning for this outrageous collection. It did not seem like a purposeful attack on the chronic illness community, however ignorant it may have been. But before you become angry with me, ignorance is never a defence and yet, I would still try and understand him. What I zoned into was the part he says “we all want attention and positive reaction from people, especially on social media. But instead of hiding it, let’s just be honest and admit we want it, but do it with elegance.” I read this and interpreted from him that these people who are flying off to these resorts they call “hospitals,” for their IV drips and “medications,” because they’re “sick,” should perhaps be honest about what they’re doing, be more authentic about themselves and while they are doing so to be more elegant and fashionable. But he widely miscalculated this interpretation and in doing so offended another community who is Sick and who is Not Attention-Seeking. Those suffering from Chronic Illness.

My first reaction when seeing the Instagram posts were quite visceral. I was instantly angered that someone could be so obtuse that they would throw this “Fashion” out there to be oohed and aahed over by fashion gurus and the general public everywhere. I may not be a fashion follower, but I know enough to know that Paris Fashion Week is a big deal and something like his collection can suddenly shift chronic illness and the people suffering from it into a negative light. We already bear enough scrutiny in our daily lives from the public that seeing this on the catwalk made me mentally scream and then take to social media to vent my anger the only way I could. But because I blog, I decided to use this platform as a way to explain to readers why this angered so many. However, I thought it was only fair to research why he may have created this collection, to begin with, hence the reason the introduction is laid out the way it is, which is only a logical guess. He’s been pretty cryptic about the meaning and inspiration of the collection and I did my best to be fair. He’s a fashion designer, successful from what I have read, dealing with an element of society that we might call the 1%. I am not implying that the 1% doesn’t deal with chronic illness, but what I am saying is that they can check into hospitals on a whim, for summer vacation, whereas the working class do not.

So, I’m wondering if there’s a bit of ironic humour going on with him somewhere there. A stab at those elites who think that checking themselves into the hospitals for a summer equated to being “sick,” and not vanity? His collection backfired among those of us who are sick. Did it backfire as a whole? Did it do badly at the Paris show? I don’t honestly know? Will it draw chronic illness into a negative light? Will people think that we are attention-seeker’s more now than we were before his collection? I don’t think so. Was it in poor taste? It’s aggravating to me as a chronic illness advocate, as someone who struggles with chronic illness, to wake up one day and see things like that. It’s frustrating. But then I remember, that’s why I am here. I’m here not only to bring awareness and to bring positivity to people who are sick, and their families, but also to those who know nothing about the illness and the chronic illness community, like him. So try not to despair when you see things out there like that my friends. Band together and redouble your efforts to spread awareness.

chronicadvocates

Being Told to Give Up

If you follow me on Twitter you’ve learned that I found a new pain management doctor. Not because my previous one was horrid (I know you can read a lot of horror stories on various blogs) but because our vision was going in different directions. So, I found a new doctor and he’s great. My first time seeing him where he evaluated me, he had this great idea for an intrathecal pump. Now, for of those of you who do not know what this is, it’s a pump that is implanted into the flesh of your belly and where the thin, catheter tubing goes up into your spinal cord and the medicine would go directly into your spine. This eliminates the medicine having to detour into the liver, and with the medicine going directly into your spine, it also allows them to give you much lower doses of medicines like morphine, to help with the pain. This all sounded pretty good to me, minus the pump implant and catheter tubing that has to go into the spine, but the theory behind it was great. Better meds and bypassing the liver. Cool. I scheduled a trial, where they deliver the pain medicine to the spine via spinal tap to see if it will help. But I had to be cleared by a few doctors, one of which was my neurologist who hit the brakes hard. So much so that I had a head-on collision with this great idea. He would not discuss it without actually seeing me so I made an appointment and sat down to talk about things.

It began with the fact I had a seizure in January, and because he is a neurologist he knows exactly what the intrathecal pump is and how they would do it and because we have no idea why I have these seizures (undefined seizure disorder), he is afraid that I might have a catastrophic seizure during the procedure and end up in bad shape in the hospital. Okay, I thought. Do I have to wait a few months to be seizure free? What if I wait and everything is fine and schedule it and have another seizure before the procedure date? I’m pretty sure he could see the questions racing in my head by the expression on my face and that is when he stopped me cold.

“I don’t think you should have it done at all. I think you have to accept you are going to be in some amount of pain, and possibly significant pain, for the rest of your life.”

Let me say that he’s been treating me for a long time. He can be abrasive and won’t shy away from telling you he’s an asshole, but he’s the farthest thing from an asshole. What he is, is honest but sometimes honesty is not something you want to hear as much as a version of honesty that offers some hope. There was no hope in his statement and I cried with the impact it made on me. There was nowhere to turn, nowhere to hide. All I could think was:

“But why?”

He gave me a lot of reasons. The seizures. The fact I’ve had several failed back procedures. The fact I’ve tried many things already, to help with the pain that has not improved my situation. Finally, what he feels is the biggest reason: I’m Bipolar. Why is this the biggest reason and why should it matter that I am bipolar or not? I didn’t understand even after he explained it until I began to research it. Me, the person with bipolar, had to research why her bipolar was the biggest reason to give up. Why was my mental illness the sudden obstacle between me and the Holy Grail of cures?

The theory is that there is a link between chronic pain and bipolar, one which worsens chronic pain and symptoms of bipolar over time. The idea is that psychological pain comes with depression and that depression worsens chronic pain. One big vicious cycle. In learning about bipolar you understand that physical pain is often an underlying symptom of anxiety or depression. For example: “Muscle aches, chest pain, gastrointestinal cramping and other types of pain can be symptoms of bipolar disorder. They can also coincide with bouts of extreme fatigue. Aside from the emotional trauma of depression, these symptoms can only add to the burden, especially since they may not go away with traditional pain treatment methods.” [https://blogs.psychcentral.com/bipolar-laid-bare/2016/09/bipolar-disorder-is-linked-to-chronic-pain/] As I read, I was kind of blown away. It suddenly hit me that maybe bipolar and chronic illness were a tandem unit in which the one (bipolar) made the other (chronic illness/pain) more difficult to treat and perhaps, vice-versa.

It’s been almost two weeks since that appointment and it feels like I’ve spent all of it ruminating on his dispiriting words. My mood has been terrible. I’ve been at turns, bitchy and emotional and picked a fight with my husband for no reason. When I apologized to him and we talked about it, I explained to him all of what I was thinking and blamed it on my bipolar. He shook his head and simply told me:

“You’re upset because he took away your hope.”

This shouldn’t have been such illumination to me but it was. While I understood everything that my doctor told me and everything the research, I had read concluded, does it give someone else, like a doctor, the right to single-handedly, extinguish the possibility of hope? Not for me, although I understand his intent and I don’t think it was maliciously done. The problem lies in the nature of chronic illness and chronic pain and how it affects the psyche of the individual suffering. It diminishes hope. The physical deterioration can be slow for some people, where things that we could do are slowly taken away one-by-one, while for other people it can feel as though you went to bed healthy and woke up in such debilitating pain that you can no longer walk, but the hope that ebbs away is real no matter which side of the spectrum you are on and I believe we need every shred of it.

I understand that this intrathecal pump may not be the best option for me. In my personal case, with seizures of an undefined origin, it may be too risky. I’ll even extend this understanding to the bipolar disorder, but only because I understand on an intellectual level that it may have a hand in my pain. However, as to what role it may play in this drama, among which all these comorbities of mine play? The jury is still out until I see some very thorough studies. I can see that on one hand it may unlock many mysteries pertaining to chronic pain and illness, but on the other I am afraid it may de-legitimize the pain and illness of many who suffer if we simply chalk it up to the by-products of mental illness. My final thought here, which was the purpose of this post to begin with, is that I don’t believe it is right for anyone to take away the hope of a chronic illness/pain patient. Hope is one of the few things we have left. It is sometimes the only thing that keeps us going. If you are a doctor out there, reading this, please, protect your patient from un-needed or dangerous surgeries, but do not take their hope away.

The UN-Glamor of Anxiety

Are you looking at UN-glamor and wondering why? Does it bother you from a purely grammatical perspective or is it causing you to pace and pull out your hair, possibly making you twitch?

Anxiety can range from mild to severe, some people function very well with it and others don’t, but the interesting thing about it is that we’ve all experienced it. It may have manifested in the anxiety we often feel as children when we are first separated from our parents or before texts. These are things that are common to feel anxious about. But anxiety can quickly become a problem which is all-encompassing and one that can make day-to-day life, difficult. Anxiety before a test, that causes the individual to vomit repeatedly, is not average anxiety. The anxiety that comes over you like a dark cloud and makes you feel as though there is some great, threatening danger and prevents you from going to work (which I have felt), is not average anxiety.

Anxiety can also be a by-product of other things like chronic illness or OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder).  Why you might ask, would chronic illness spawn something like anxiety? In my personal experience with it, because of the unpredictability of my symptoms, never knowing how I would feel from day to day and the possibility of needing to call off work sick and lose my job, made me incredibly anxious. In dealing with OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), there was the anxiety brought on by shame.  It was being cognitively aware that my feelings were irrational but unable to stop feeling it. It was being afraid to go in public and carry on with my normal activities because I was afraid of having a panic attack brought on by my anxiety of certain situations. It was anxiety brought on by just attempting to carry on normally, and knowing that my attempt at illusion was failing and shattering beneath the weight of it all.

The-Side-Effects-Of-Anxiety

What angers me most about the perception of anxiety is that it’s somehow this adorable little quirk in women, which women use as some kind of sonar device to attract potential mates. Because of course, women need saving, whether it’s from the “bad things” outside, or ourselves. Pardon me while I eyeroll a moment. None of my anxiety, panic disorder, bipolar or OCD ever helped in the guy department. In fact, I actually attribute it to the disaster of my first marriage, which other than producing two, beautiful children, was toxic in all ways. It’s difficult to find someone who can see past the messy of mental illness and find you, under it all. I felt broken. I felt very UN-glamorous and not at all cute.

Although my focus here is women, I wanted to comment on our male counterpart. I think that because anxiety and mental heal issues are romanticized with women that it is actually the reverse for men. If we think about our society for a moment, and how men are the tall, strong, handsome ones who do the rescuing, that this idea puts men who are struggling with anxiety and mental illness in quite the conundrum. Not having any statistics handy, I would wager that many men try to cover up their anxieties much more than women, trying to appear normal and trying to have relationships. I can imagine the difficulties that this brings them and the sheer exhaustion of trying to keep up with this illusion, before they, too, shatter.

I still struggle with anxiety. Going out into stores is possible but I still wouldn’t ever step foot into the grocery store on weekends. I can’t recall the last time I was physically at the mall. I am unlikely to ever do any of the brochure-highlighted tourist attractions, and will instead opt for something more rural, less popular. My education has been something of an odyssey, I am painfully aware of my test anxiety and as equally aware of my social anxiety. My OCD is better than it was, but I freak out a little when we have to divert from a familiar route to any place we go. This can include heated arguments and tears. The bipolar is a different breed of the monster of mental illness but I am in a good place. Some days it’s harder than others. I do not view my life with my anxieties or mental health issues as glamorous, nor do I think you would. It’s been a rough, ugly road to get to the place I am now. If you are in that rough place, I would ask you to get help and stick to it. If you know someone in that place, don’t give up on them and keep trying to push them closer to help. If you don’t have these issues, I would tell you not to fall for the glamour of how they try to sell it in the movies or T.V. because it’s not anywhere close to that. Lastly, I’d ask everyone to advocate for positive mental health discourse. It shouldn’t be something anyone is ashamed of and being educated about it may mean you get help for yourself or someone else sooner.  

 

*The image is me and I used Photolab.

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