Saturday, May 6, 2017

The Greatest Pretender

About this time last year something profound happened to me. While the event itself wasn't earth-shattering, my reaction to it pretty much defined how I related to the world at large for the next nine months. One afternoon I was standing in the kitchen when my husband, who after over a decade of our social life being ruled by my sickness, informed me he was sick and tired of flaking out at the last minute. He demanded, then and there, that I either commit to or cancel lunch plans with friends two weeks out. I stood there with my mouth agape clueless as to what to say. We both knew I was rapidly relapsing into an illness that didn't give me the consideration of two day's notice, let alone two weeks. But we also knew life wasn't only about me...

It didn't matter that his frustration was justified, or that I was spending half of the week too sick to function, or that two mature adults should've been able to resolve this rather superficial matter with a healthy dose of communication. All I felt was defensive, misunderstood, and that I'd failed him yet again. So I climbed onto my own private island of isolation and decided to resolve this problem all by myself. By punishing myself. I already felt so guilty over losing such a grasp on my health that I had to quit my job, so this seemed like the perfect opportunity to exact my revenge. Against me. In that very moment, without a word, I decided to say yes to every invitation that crossed our paths. To further my self-retribution, I followed it up with the mandate that if I wasn't in the hospital, I couldn't cancel. Period.

Some days I was too weak and dizzy to stand, other days I hurt too bad to wear clothes. I had a few lingering, miserable colds that make good ol' fibro a thousand times harder to endure. Many days I woke up crying, feeling like I was fighting through quicksand just to get out of bed. Frequently I didn't sleep much at all and spent the next day in a miserable state of delirium. Sometimes I couldn't form sentences, my mind-mouth connection was so impaired. My body ached, throbbed, and pummeled me with relentless agony. Yet still I refused to cancel. Towards the end of the year I was so depressed I'd spend all day crying, then slap on makeup right before my husband got home in an attempt to conceal my suffering. Eventually so much smiling and faking my way through things and telling everyone I was fine, when I so seriously wasn't, eroded my mental stability. Guilt and self-loathing may have been the motivators that got me into this mess, but it was my angry bitterness that kept me there.

So much pretending my kind of sick didn't matter made me outrageously resentful. I started to view life as a punishment, and the people in it as my captors. By denying myself the very essence of my reality, I eventually began to feel tortured. Trying to fake my way through my middle-class lifestyle, full of unburdened people concerned with carefree activities, was making me overwhelmingly bitchy and remarkably hostile. And refusing to take care of myself had only made me sicker. Clearly, my solo journey through an ugly game of pretend had sucked my body, mind, and soul bone dry.

It wasn't so much that my self-esteem came back one day. In fact, quite the opposite was true. After many months of self-suppression and pretending, I was so mentally beaten down I had no clue how to go on. My misery threshold finally exploded and I confessed to my husband what a passive-aggressive tantrum I'd enmeshed myself in based off his long-ago comment. With the communication clearing between us, I began to feel supported and loved again. It was then, and only then, that I realized I was the one who dropped the ball of loving and supporting myself. No one else. Me. Or none of the aforementioned would have been allowed to happen.

Thanks for joining,
Leah 

Monday, April 17, 2017

Waiting On the World to Care

This blog has sat silent for many moons. For eight full ones, more or less, I've been imprisoned in an exile of my own creation. Initially I was so angry about my health relapse I didn't know what to say, other than to hurl epic amounts of fury at my keyboard. I had no solutions, no answers, and nothing positive to contribute. So instead of spewing hate all over the permanent cloud of internet technology, I donned the hair shirt of self-flagellation and turned that anger inward. It's been a horrible, terrible, no good, very bad eight months.

As I got sicker and sicker, I got madder and madder. The angrier I became, the more I sequestered myself. I refused to talk about my problems or how I felt. It seemed pointless, like it didn't matter. Nobody could do anything about it or begin to comprehend my reality. There was just me, an isolated island of misery, who wanted to do anything but talk about being an isolated island of misery. But nobody understood that either. I'm sure I still looked like a woman, but inside I felt like an alien trapped in a body that was betraying me twofold. It was both an internal betrayal, given that I felt like a permanent case of the body flu defined my every experience, and an external betrayal because, of course, I appeared to be fit as a fiddle.

I didn't really hit bottom. It was more like when a plane's landing brakes fail, and it crashes intermittently into the ground for thousands of feet until the wreckage finally loses momentum and stops. Although utterly broken and totally destroyed, still I refused to talk. Eventually denying myself the human need to process my emotions left me deeply depressed. I stopped valuing myself. I stopped believing I was worth helping or loving. Physically my fatigue had improved from the debilitating stage, but I was too emotionally paralyzed to act. Logically I knew I'd been in worse places health-wise, but my twelfth year of living with chronic illness found me so mentally broken down it didn't matter. I was weak. Unfixable. Without purpose. Exempt from enjoying life. Totally to blame for my predicament. And completely clueless as to how to improve any of it. The sorrow pouring out of me was all I could feel.

It's been a few months since I started to believe in life again, save for a few gripping spells of despair that tried to convince me I wasn't worthy. As I gain my footing and begin to clean the wreckage left inside me from the hurricane of this relapse, I'm remembering some primal truths to help me move forward. First and foremost, I am on this journey alone. Nobody is going to fix me, nor are they going to give me permission to be sick. Seeking acceptance, understanding, or compassion is an emotionally painful waste of time that derails my forward progress.

But this realization is golden! For it allows me to take responsibility for me and how I choose to respond, and that's it. I am not responsible for the way people treat me, what they expect from me, or how they react when disappointed. While I am neither to blame for being sick nor a failure for not getting better, I am responsible for taking care of myself so I can make the most out of the life I've been given. When doing so offends the expectations others have of me, it does not release me from my responsibility to take care of me. For a woman who still subconsciously believes putting my survival above the happiness of others is selfish, this is very hard.

I have a huge hole to dig myself out of. It's been a year and a half since I got that first cold that lead to those two flus that ultimately derailed years of pretty remarkable progress. But if I did it once, I can do it again. It took me remembering that while I may always be an isolated, misunderstood island, whether or not I'm miserable is completely defined by me.

Thanks for joining,
Leah