The all consuming nature of chronic illness

It’s been a weird couple of weeks. I wonder if it’s something in the Universe and others have felt this way as well, or if it’s just unique to me? I feel like when I haven’t written (on here) in awhile, I need to find my way back to my writer self. The muscles groan and protest, as if they are saying “you can’t just come and go as you please and expect us to function, this is a commitment. That’s how it feels anyway.

I’ve been consumed in not feeling well lately, and exploring the emotions that arise here. Lots and lots of anxious thoughts, and worst case scenarios. Probably not helped by the fact that I recently saw a campaign to raise money for a woman with stage 4 lymphoma. The woman was someone who traveled in circles of friends of mine at a significant time in my life. During my newly being “out” as a gay woman phase. I knew people who dated her. I hadn’t thought about her since. And here she is with a wife, two adorable children, and cancer.

As humans we protect ourselves in a variety of ways. One of those ways is a powerful, fully operational form of denial. It is constantly present. This idea that could never be you. The less degrees of separation bordering you from a truer realization or your fragility, enter more anxiety. I often function by thinking thank goodness that isn’t me, and quickly busying myself with a protective layer of every day life that holds no room for morbid thoughts. But I am the type of person who possesses a keen awareness of the whole truth and nothing but the truth, as much as my human mind can comprehend. Often I wish I wasn’t, because then my mind would not be able to drive me as crazy with its frenzied thoughts of madness. To live fully is also to be mad I think. Mad with desire and mad with fear. Because if you know how much true beauty there is to be had in even the simplest of moments, you also know how fleeting those are. Always outracing an invisible force, that only I seem aware of. Or only I appear willing to acknowledge, and when I talk about it frankly I know the darkness in my thoughts frightens others. It’s like we know but don’t say it. You’ll jinx it. What superstitious creatures we are.

The first of the not feeling well began with some odd pain in my upper back, and extreme fatigue. I remember laying with my partner and feeling the first 2 fingers on both my hands be sort of numb and tingly. This driving me crazy of course, firing all my alarms there’s something wrong here, and the story tells if worse horrors then a flare up. It always does. I couldn’t get warm to save my life. I’m often cold. As all the weird feelings took their turn on my body I steadied myself in her arms. A safe space. Thank God for my safe space these days. It’s the only reconciliation I can find for knowing that my days are numbered. All of ours are, and someday maybe, like my grandparents, we will be resigned to checking the obituaries page daily and reading aloud to one another about the latest friend who has passed away.

The episodes include flushing. A delightful thing that is triggered by being over-tired, alcohol such as red wine, and sometimes stress. It feels like you’re on fire, mostly just your face. Hot, head achy, and dizzying. All you can do is lay down, maybe and ice pack and wait to it to pass. Often this is followed by a bad stomach and then elimination that leaves you shaking and freezing in an exhausted heap after. Either too hot or too cold always, the days you feel good being remarkable in their noticeability due to rareness. During times like this it’s a guessing game of what yuck Unidentified symptom will be the flavor of the day, and how you will keep the silver linings ever present as protective cloak. After only so many days you feel your spirit being eroded away at, and the irritability sets in.

Being overwhelmed happens so easily when you’re trying inside your head to manage your invisible symptoms so no one worries or feels sorry for you. Trying to feel normal. If you fall into the trap of thinking about them too much, or too much validation you run the risk of letting it take over your spirit. I refuse to do that ever. But then I think of how draining this is, and cannot imagine fighting cancer to keep my life. It’s hard now. I fear I would not be up to that task.

After the couple of draining days follows a moment of hope, a good day. I bask in it, soaking it up to carry me through the rest. And then the back injury, ironically it happened when I wrote my last blog post. Sat too many hours in a tall kitchen chair without lumbar support (apparently). Because when I got up my back was sore and I couldn’t figure out why. But with as many ailments I thought par for the course and carried about my day. What was supposed to be a quick trip to The grocery store to drive my son to work, became a nail in the tire and 3 hours at a shop with bored twin teenagers. We ate McDonalds, gross no wonder I’m sick 😉 it was 16 degrees and the only walkable distance to bide our time. By the time I sat and got up a few dozen more times into that evening I was nearly paralyzed. Could not walk without agonizing pain. Since I’ve also been down this road I called a physical therapist I know and trust and got in right away. This story could become so long… so let’s just say I finally won the round for much needed pain medication. I may have won the round, but it feels like I lost the game. Going on two weeks of limited everything. Co-pays, heating pads, one wrong move and spasm again after so much hard work… the back let’s up and I get 1/2 a good day and the migraine strikes. Pulsating, furious, making me nauseous. I take the migraine medication and feel weird like I may not actually be breathing, like my heart may have stopped altogether, like if I go to sleep I may not wake up. All this has been in between work and life and dogs and snow and ice and teenagers.

So here I am today at the beginning of two much needed days off, and I’m so afraid they will need to be spent resting, because the migraine remnants have left nausea and a sapped spirit in their wake.

Amidst all of this writing is my breath of fresh air. This is me when I can find hardly the will to do anything still fighting for what I love. I have wanted so badly to write, and yet my mind has been consumed with pain. It’s nearly impossible to think when your body is racked with one symptom or another and you’re just trying to catch your breath in between. This is my way of honoring my experience. When I see it on the page I judge myself. I sound so dramatic, it’s not as if I have stage 4 cancer. This perspective becomes a slow dance with denial, so I can live as fully as I want to. I was blessed with an iron clad will. My gift from the Universe. It must have known I would need it. I choose my reality regardless of my circumstances. I have chosen for it to always be this way.

This is an experience I am having currently with chronic illness. Right now it refuses to be ignored, and constantly sucks at my writer’s soul. Stay tuned because I refuse to give in. Stay tuned because between the night sweats, pain medication roller coaster, confusion of “the correct approach at healing”…there is wisdom between the lines, and between the symptoms.

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