Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Long Haul

This post is filled with some brutal honesty and thoughts that have been going through my head for some time now, and I want to be authentic and post it. I think often about what I wish I would have known when this thing started a few years ago. There are many, but most of all I wish someone would have told me that this would be a long haul, a battle without an end. I was completely ill-prepared for the endless questions, suffering, progression of symptoms, testing, appointments, grief, and slowly but surely losing my ability to do the things I love. I wasn’t prepared for the stamina required to fight so hard.

Since this started in early 2011, I have always had this thought running through my head: “It will get better. My doctors will figure it out, I’ll get better treatment, and then I can get back to my life.” When I got ill and left school, I expected to go to a few appointments, get some answers, and move on. I had no idea what a behemoth Western medicine is, a convoluted matrix where the patient must coordinate his/her own care and grasp for anything meaningful that appears. I had no sense of the excessive amount of time from onset of symptoms to diagnosis and treatment. No idea how much energy I would need to read through piles of bloodwork and notes from doctors to find anything tangible, figure out which appointment and test is next, which doctor to add to the perennial, growing list of specialists, research to see what other patients are doing. Baby steps and waiting. The endless, soul-sucking waiting that never ever ends. I had no idea. 

I discussed stamina in another post and it’s something that I have been thinking a lot about this year, particularly because my health has taken a sharp left turn and I’m back on the long road to diagnosis again, rapidly losing my mobility. I’ve been thinking about how much I just want a day off. One day where I don’t have to fight so hard to do all the right things: take all the medication and vitamins at the right time, exercise, drink enough fluids, get enough salt, rest but push myself just enough, get enough sleep, eat the right things, go to all the appointments and tests and be willing to do whatever they say, try to have a life. Work so hard all the time, yet continue to go downhill. But I work hard every day because I need to know that I am doing everything in my power to try to have some semblance of quality of life. I like to be in control and it gives me—to some extent—a feeling that I am a participant in my own health. 

When I heard the news recently that Robin Williams had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease before he committed suicide, I felt so much compassion for him.  I don’t know what it is to battle addiction, but I have dealt with depression my whole life and chronic illness will take you to even darker corners of your mind. On the worst days, the thoughts that run through my head are unmentionable. When I look into the future right now, I don’t see the horizon. I see the edge of a cliff. I wonder if that’s what he saw too. Chronic illness and depression go hand in hand, and depression can magnify illness. The real battle is not the illness itself; it’s keeping a stranglehold on hope.

Yet, the future is not pre-determined, and many times I believe we think that when the worst happens we won’t be able to deal with it. The human body and mind are designed to survive and thrive and people can amaze themselves with what they are able to overcome. Chronic illness is no different. Hope and perseverance is all we have in life because there is no alternative. The stamina it takes to thrive and keep going in the face of illness is grueling but it’s possible. I won’t mention any hackneyed phrases about “staying positive” because I can’t always manage it. Illness is a long haul, but so is life. It is possible to have some faith in yourself and your body to sustain the muscle memory to keep going—to wake up every day and just keep going. You can look into the future and see the edge of the cliff, but you can still make the most of the walk before you reach it. 

1 comment:

  1. “It will get better. My doctors will figure it out, I’ll get better treatment, and then I can get back to my life.” Yeah, been there. Started in 1994. Can't remember when I finally accepted that there was no getting better! It was a long gradual process rather than an "a-ha" moment. Finally got the orthostatic hypotension diagnosis in 2008 and the big one, the Ehlers Danlos diagnosis, this year. Which means 20 years from when I said "hey Doc, something is wrong with me" to a proper diagnosis. Now I'm coming to terms with the idea of needing a wheelchair one day and maybe losing the use of my hands. I must be getting better at dealing with it--the rheumatologist today looked so sad about all that can't be done to slow/stop the degeneration that I had the instinct to tell him it will be OK, or something along those lines. Which seems like a positive sign, somehow.


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