How You Get Through Is Enough

In my most recent blog post, which you can find here: https://lovekarmafood.com/2018/08/03/chronically-comparing/ I talk about the pitfalls of comparing ourselves to those not struggling with chronic issues. But I think it is also important not to compare ourselves to our fellow warriors, which is also easy to do. Many of us don’t have the benefit of surrounding ourselves with chronic illness/pain warriors in our daily lives so we surround ourselves with them in various forms of social media, read blogs, and try our best to stay connected. After all, these are the only people who truly understand our plight. The problem I find, which can cause us to struggle even more, is trying to compare how we are dealing with things to how our role models in the community are dealing with them. I’ve found myself on more than one occasion thinking, “Damn. They really have it all together.” Or, sometimes it’s not about having it all together, but how they deal with things emotionally.

The most poignant example that I feel illustrates my point is as follows: I have shared a little about my dear friend who recently passed away from a very long battle with cancer. I met her at work and she was my assistant manager at the time. Initially, I did not know she had breast cancer. She was in remission and was doing well. There is no other way I can think of to describe her, other than “a force.” Older than me by a few years, she had the energy of a five-year-old who’d just consumed 3lbs of sugar. We called her the Energizer Bunny. But more than just her energy was her spirit. She was vibrant and happy and always had a huge smile on her face. When she relapsed with her cancer and was going through chemo, she never missed a day of work and never, ever lost her smile and spirit. She is the reason I have a blog and the reason I started writing about chronic illness and pain. I watched her handle everything with such grace and beauty and be such an inspiration to so many people, I wanted to be like her. And here is where the but- comes in. But, I am not her.

It was during my time still working there that my health took a dive and I went through surgery and was searching for answers and trying to deal with my health and work and I was frustrated with myself because I was not dealing with it like she did. Here I was, not struggling, as I perceived then, on the same level as her and cancer, and I was flailing badly. Instead of power-housing through it like she seemed to, I was crying and beating my fists against the wall wondering why me. And then, I learned my most important lesson from my friend that I would only truly come to understand later. Talking to her at work, all before I would receive my two most impacting diagnosis, she would tell me very matter-of-factly, like I should have been aware of this all along, “You aren’t me. And I’m not you.” I’m pretty sure I laughed and maybe scoffed a little. Of course, we weren’t the same, right? I knew that. She continued to tell me that everyone deals with things a different way and that it was okay to scream and cry and ask, why me? She’d done enough of that too, but that she’d always been an inherently happy person and so it was natural for her to continue in that same vein and be optimistic. She added that it does help to look on the bright-side especially when the deck of cards is stacked against you but that I shouldn’t feel like I wasn’t measuring up because my way of dealing with things was different.

If it isn’t clear by now, her words had a profound impact on me. Even more-so now, writing for my blog and writing for sources whose primary readership are those battling chronic illness and chronic pain because I have read the comments left for me. Things like: “You are an inspiration to me.” “Your words are exactly my thoughts and feelings.” “I don’t know how you do it, I’m struggling just to get out of bed every morning.” I hear those words and many times I will write back and say I am just like you. There is nothing magical going on here and I struggle every day, just like you. I think sometimes people read these blog posts and wonder how I have the time, or how I manage my family on top of writing. My secret, that I will share with all of you reading in your little corner of the universe, is two-fold: 1.) I don’t manage every thing that needs to get done all the time. Sometimes chores sit undone. Sometimes I can’t write and need a long break. 2.) Sometimes I write to the detriment of other things that need to get done because it is therapeutic for me. When I get it out of my system, I feel a little better and feel like I can take a breath and tackle life again. I don’t want people who read my blog or other writings thinking I am Wonder Woman, because I’m not. I’m just a girl trying to keep herself afloat the turbulent waters of chronic illness.

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The Injustice of Multiple Chronic Issues

Dealing with one chronic issue is enough, but many of us struggle with two or more chronic issues. I am one of those people and it often feels overwhelming. It can also make a situation where you are already wondering, “Why me?” feel even more despairing. It can also make some people more inclined to feel as though their situation is somehow worse than the person only dealing with one or even two issues. I have seen this on many social media groups for chronic illness/pain and have watched as people from both sides, if you will, and also male and female, be reduced to this childish argument over who hurts more or who is in worse shape. I am here to tell you that we’re all in the same boat of injustice, where we are the lucky winners of chronic illness/pain for probably, a lifetime. It does absolutely no good to anyone, to argue about it.

The Snowball Effect of Chronic Illness

The majority of my life I have dealt with some chronic conditions, like asthma and bipolar, as I shared with you in my previous post, Chronic Pain Un-Filtered. However, these issues were, for the most part, well controlled and it never weighed on me the way my current situation does. In the beginning, what started out as hip and back pain seemed to snowball into this overwhelming list of issues that was accompanied by an even bigger list of medications. I remember distinctly feeling like “Why me? What did I do to deserve this?” I felt like I was a relatively good person in the grand scheme of things and actually contemplated some reasons for my ill-health as my not being Christian or having neglected myself over the years with diet and exercise. But these are no more valid reasons for why I have some of these chronic issues than it would be to say that hurricane Harvey was the result of people’s diminished belief in God or some decline in morals over the years. I am not altogether certain why I have so many chronic health issues, but I do and what is important for my future health is not to place blame on myself and something I failed to do, but try to do things which will improve my quality of life for the future.

My Chronic Illness is Worse than Yours

I’m sure when you read this you will hear how silly this is but I think some of us and me included, have felt like this at one time or another. Now to be fair, there are some chronic issues that are worse. They can inflict more pain in someone than another person or require far more hospital visits or doctor visits, but even pain is relative and while one person may feel pain on a 3 level, another person might feel the same as a 7 level. Which then only leaves the argument of doctors and hospital visits, and because there are multiple chronic issues going on, you have the potential for all sorts of problems. Medication interactions that might be bad, flares that can stress on the body of a patient with multiple chronic illnesses and which might wreak havoc with other issues. Ultimately, this argument is moot. Even though we might share one, two or three chronic conditions, we are not the same. Which is why one treatment may work for your friend who has the same chronic illness but may not work on you. I think it is imperative for us to stick together. In solidarity, we have a better chance at bringing to light chronic issues and perhaps encouraging even more research. In solidarity on social media and groups for people with chronic issues, we can show one another support and raise each other’s spirits rather than breaking them down.

Moving Beyond the Personal Injustice

I want to stress here that we are all human. There are going to be days when we feel angry and sad and betrayed by our bodies. There is no getting around that and I am not here on some high horse to say that I never feel like it is unfair that I have multiple chronic issues. I probably feel that way at least once a week and maybe more when it gets really bad. But the important thing is to recognize it and give you reasons to get past it. No one ever said life was easy. No one ever said it was going to be sun-shine and roses all the time. I think the very nature of being human is very, very difficult and we are always going to find ourselves in difficult situations where our spirit and our ability to be compassionate are put to the test. I think what is important is that we strive to keep going even when we feel diminished and defeated and that we try to extend our compassion and understanding to those going through similar things. I also feel that when we do these things we feel the effects just as readily as when you give someone a hug and it makes you feel better too.

How not to lose Yourself to Your Illness

Tips on how to feel less like a patient

Besides all the other inconveniences of chronic illness that are difficult to deal with, what can often be most difficult is always being a patient and feeling like you are losing yourself to your illness. It is often times quite a helpless feeling as things you could once do with ease are stripped away from you. It is vitally important to your well being that you hold on to yourself as much as possible and find ways that help you fell more like you. I don’t have any hard and fast tips, because I think this a personal sort journey. We all have different likes and dislikes different hobbies and different things that make us smile. Still, I have done my best to come up with a few things that I think everyone will understand across the board and will help point you in the right direction.

Family
Remember that family deals with your illness too and probably mourn the loss of who you were prior to illness too. But instead of isolating yourself and feeling ashamed of who you are, reach out. You need your family, you need their love and their support and you need to remember that you are still the same person inside. It may take some patience and ingenuity to do the things you once did or enjoyed as a family, but it can be done.

Friends
The same goes for friends. Do your best to keep them close. Share with them activities that you might be able to enjoy even when you might be tired or in pain. Having options helps because many times friends feel as lost as we do and they know much less about their illness.

Work
Much of our self esteem is tied to what we do outside home and family. If you can still work i would encourage you to do so, even if on a part time or limited basis. If you can’t and many of us can’t, find something to do that gives you a sense of purpose and also keeps you busy. I started this blog as a way to give me purpose, maybe help some people along the way and to spread awareness about chronic illness. I also do what I can to support some of my favorite organizations from my computer. It keeps me busy and helps me to continue feeling useful and I think that is extremely important to our mental health.

Celebrate the Small Things
All your accomplishments. Realize that in times past you may not have celebrated certain events, thinking them insignificant, but now they mean a great deal more. We fight very hard for every small victory, so don’t let that go without acknowledgment. It doesn’t have to be a big celebration but recognize it and mark it with a friend or family or even just a treat for yourself. You need a reason to smile, so make one.

Self Motivate
Something I learned struggling with bipolar disorder, is that those days or weeks that I struggled with depression, I could have had my own cheer squad and often times did, with family trying to cheer me up but it didn’t do one damn bit of difference. sure, it helped sometimes but what got me through was digging deep and reminding myself those reasons to live. Be your own cheer leader. Remind yourself of those reasons not to get caught in the muck and sadness of your illness. Use post-it notes to remind yourself of each and every reason: Husband, wife, kids, dog, cat, mom and dad, friends. Every reason should be a silver lining. Why? Because you are loved and you are worth being happy. I am not saying that post-it notes suddenly changed my world, but it was a reminder of why I needed to try.

Dreams
That being said about self motivation, don’t give up on your dreams. Chronic illness may make things more difficult and challenging, but if you give up you are giving up on yourself. You must force yourself to change and adapt. Research ways you can reach your goals or redefine your goals. I live by this mantra: Face it. Embrace it. Defy it. Conquer it.

Breath of Fresh Air
Go for a walk if you can, or sit in a chair and just enjoy the beautiful day and the sunshine. Maybe look at the changing autumn leaves, and breathe in the crisp scent of leaves. Sometimes just changing your setting can improve mood and make you more relaxed especially after waiting in a doctor’s office.

Take a Break
Stop the all-consuming focus around your illness. Being chronically ill can flood your identity and you can very easily drown in the face of diagnosis. But you are not your diagnosis, remember that. Take time to do the extra little things you enjoyed to help remind yourself of who you are.