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Monthly Archives: April 2013

Seeking therapy

Last summer, I realized that it was probably a good idea for me to seek out a therapist to talk to. I’d never been before, though I had considered it in the past. One of the (many many) issues I have is spending money on myself. I am not a good spender. I am way more likely to buy something for someone else, or encourage someone else to spend. I am perpetually worried about money (just ask hub), and I have all kinds of excuses as to why I shouldn’t spend money on myself. They are excuses, I am well aware, but I use them and pretty much believe myself when I do.

Our current insurance, however, has pretty decent mental health coverage, and I decided it was time to use it. I spent a lot of time looking for a local therapist who took our health insurance. I am extremely sad to report that fewer and fewer therapists are taking insurance, for lots of reasons. Ask any therapist and they could give you a long diatribe on why, unfortunately. And I get it, I really do, but for many people paying out-of-pocket is not possible. For me, mentally, it is not. So I sought out and found a therapist that I thought was so perfect for me. Not only did she specialize in treating people with chronic illnesses, but her bio clearly noted that she had a “dog-friendly” office. I am a dog lover, and the idea that not only does the therapist have dogs in her office but that I could also bring my dog in with me…holy crap I’m sold. I contacted her via her email contact, telling her very briefly why I was seeking therapy and what had drawn me to her.

In September 2011, we had to put our beloved dog to sleep, relieving her of a fatal disease. The anniversary of that traumatic event was creeping up on me, and considering how difficult a time I’d had with my grief, I was worried. Add to that the fact that some of my chronic illnesses were beginning to flare up again, I wanted to get ahead of all of it. The therapist told me she was pretty booked, but would try to work me into her schedule to see if we meshed.

When I went into her office for our first appointment, I was pretty nervous. I get a kind of stage fright–mild–about meeting new people. I often feel prematurely judged and I worry that I won’t be liked. I suspect most people have these feelings, but I am likely to do one of two things…either I stop talking or I put on a facade of happiness. I didn’t want to do either of those things with a therapist…I wanted to be open and honest and feel like I was being accepted no matter what I said. I mean, isn’t that what therapy is supposed to be?

Anyway, into her office…it was a mess. And there were no dogs in sight. In fact, I didn’t actually meet her dogs until probably my fourth visit, which was disappointing. Her office was small, and shoved into it were two couches (one of which was absolutely covered in…stuff), a desk, a large filing cabinet, an armoire, a large bookcase, a side table, another side table in the middle of the room, a bean-bag ottoman, and so much stuff piled everywhere. Floating through my head was the saying, “A cluttered room is the sign of a cluttered mind.” But the couch used for the therapy was clean and clear, and the woman who greeted me seemed open and kind and compassionate. So I sat and we talked, and I did my best to be as forthcoming as possible. And near the end of the appointment, she made a comment that hit me hard in a non-therapy kind of way. It was a phrase that I use often that I hardly ever hear anyone else use. To be honest, right at the moment, I can’t remember what it was, but it really struck me. So when she asked if I wanted to make another appointment, I said yes. Because it seemed like the universe was guiding me to this woman, who seemed to match my needs in the most obvious ways. She later told me that she really hadn’t been looking to take on new clients, but that she had been drawn to me and couldn’t turn me away.

I began going to weekly appointments, the first of which were “getting to know you” type appointments. I was surprised at how easily I was able to talk to this woman, but I was somewhat disappointed that she seemed a little scattered. And that she spent time during the appointment looking things up that she wanted me to look at on my own. And she took (a few) calls and/or emails/texts during the appointment. All of which were, of course, urgent. She never failed to apologize for the interruptions, but the appointments didn’t feel focused. Having no experience with a therapist, I thought it was normal. I thought that us sometimes “chatting” like friends was her way of doing therapy. Since I felt comfortable, I figured it was a good setup for me.

One day I asked hub to come in to my appointment with me. He was off of work and although he wasn’t entirely keen on the idea, he did join me. When we left, he asked me if she was always that scattered, and did she always seem to veer off into discussing industry people she knew or had met or had trained with, etc. When I said yes to both, he looked at me in a strange way. Hub has some experience with therapists but we never discussed his therapy. I asked him if his therapy sessions were so different from what he had just seen and his answer was a solid “yes.” But I felt lucky to have found someone who not only seemed to understand me, she also understood my abject grief over our dog’s death, and understood my (and had experience treating) chronic illnesses. And who took our insurance. So I persisted.

There is no question that I liked my therapist, and I feel strongly that she helped me with the PTSD I had over seeing my precious SP put to sleep. But as time went on and I realized that not only did our sessions not seem to be fruitful, but my therapists own illness began to take over. I have the utmost sympathy for my therapist because she was going through a lot when I met her. Not only was she still holding a full schedule, but she was dealing with a life-threatening illness. I didn’t know that when I first met her, but the information snuck out over time. And as her health began to decline, I felt more like a friend than a patient, because our sessions continued to be “chatty” and not fruitful for me. Granted, the insurance was covering the sessions, but it was my time, too.

When I slid into the acute phase of my own illness–landing myself in the ER–my therapist was mired in her own health issues. And although I understand that she couldn’t be available to me the way I needed, I did feel let down by her. She knew that she had health issues and yet she took on a new patient. She knew that she needed to cut back on her schedule so she could see to her own health, but she was not honest with me about it. She couldn’t handle my break down, but instead of saying so, she made me feel like I was intruding on her or asking too much of her. She was curt with hub when he tried to speak to her on my behalf (“I’m always available to you!” — only NOT). On top of that, my hub was furious with her for many of the same reasons.

So when my therapist got back to us after I had a panic attack–the time when she was almost completely unavailable and unsympathetic to my plight–she suggested a “higher level” of care. A therapy office with multiple therapists on staff, and a psychologist who helped coordinate care. But lo and behold, the office did not take insurance. We are lucky in that we have an out-of-network option on our insurance (which we pay out the ass for), so I knew we would get reimbursed somewhat for my care. I also knew from past experience that the payout would be minimal and getting reimbursed would be tedious and painful. But I was really hurting and I had no way (and no energy) to find a new therapist on my own.

Off I went, therapist #2

 
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Posted by on April 30, 2013 in anxiety, chronic illness, dogs, grief, therapist

 

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It’s a dog’s life

In the fall of 2002, I was coming to terms with my chronic illnesses and learning to live with them. I was no longer working outside the house but now had two books published. I spent a lot of hours being tired, sleeping odd hours, dealing with pain, and seeing doctors. I had finished my physical therapy and was spending more and more time alone at home. I still had health anxiety, thought my recollection is that I was able to manage it okay at the time.

Since I was home, hub and I thought it was time to adopt a dog. We thought it would give me company and a reason to do things other than read and write and sleep. Growing up, we’d always had dogs, so living on my own I missed the love and fun of having a dog. Hub and I knew that once we got married we would rescue a dog, but because of my illness, it didn’t work out at that time.

I looked for some time for a dog. This was before the days of petfinder being so popular. The internet wasn’t as prevalent as it is now, so we still had dial-up. I’d be online every day, searching for the dog that would be perfect for us. I had an image in mind–a Bernese Mountain dog–and I sought information on each one that popped up on the listings. I wanted a bigger dog that we could lay on the floor with, rough-house with, hug without worrying about squashing. My parents had a big yellow lab with a giant head and a muscled, round body. She was the kind of frame I was looking for, very similar in stature to a Berner, but Berners have more hair.

We found our girl. I saw the listing one day and I emailed the woman right away. The listing hadn’t been up 24 hours before I contacted the rescue who was caring for her. The woman wasn’t even prepared to take inquiries yet on the female “Bernese/Mix”, but she responded to me pretty quickly.

When we first met our dog, I was surprised at her size. She was tall and hairy, but she was thin. I couldn’t help but compare her to my parents’ English Lab, and they were different in every way. Our girl was thin-chested, with a narrow waist and narrow hips. She was so thin, I worried that we would crush her with a mildly exuberant hug. But when the rescue woman brought our dog into our house, I felt something in my heart shift. Something inside me said she needed us. Her story was sad–like so many in rescue–and I wanted to cry over her background. They thought she was about 3 1/2 years old, but over the years we wondered if her age had been misreported. As she aged, her body filled out somewhat and she seemed to grow taller. Pictures prove this, but we had paperwork from previous owners that said otherwise. As much as I felt I really wanted her, I was disappointed in her physicality. **I figured we would go ahead and adopt a second dog in another year or two, and I’d finally get the big dog I’d wanted.

Our first months with our girl were not great. She had some behavioral issues that impacted us on a day-to-day basis. And since I was still recovering physically, it was a strain for me to care for her every day. One of the issues SP had (one of her many nicknames: Sweet Pea) was preferring to pee in the house instead of outside. So I’d have to take her out every hour to give her a chance to pee, and we’d stand out there for 10-20 minutes, and she would do nothing. Then we’d go in the house and she’d squat right in front of me and pee. For someone in a pretty good amount of pain every day, getting myself out of the house and standing outside (in November, December in Maryland) for 10-20 minutes every freaking hour was really really difficult. And I couldn’t rest when I was in the house because I was always watching to make sure SP wasn’t peeing somewhere. For the first time in my experience with dogs, we had to crate train a dog. As horrible as some people find it, SP actually ended up loving her crate, and over the years she would very often sleep in it with the door open.

After staying with my parents (and SP learning not to pee in the house anymore) and then buying a new home, my relationship with her changed. Besides being the reason I moved around, SP was with me all the time. She was my constant companion, since I was home all the time. If she wasn’t in the room with me, she was laying in the doorway, or in full view of the doorway. At night, she often slept along the side of my bed–you know where you put your feet when you swing your legs over the side of the mattress?–or somewhere next to my side of the bed. I had to get up to feed her at lunchtime, so it was the reason I ate lunch myself every day. I had to let her out into the backyard (thank goodness for our new fenced yard), so it gave me a chance to see the outside world. I loved on her and I talked to her all day. She was what kept me sane when I felt a little crazy (which was often). She accepted me and my limitations while still relying on me to care for her every day. When her thunderstorm fears increased each year, I comforted her when they raged. I would stay up late into the night when the storms came, touching her and talking to her. Even when I couldn’t imagine doing so, I would lumber my painful body to the floor and sit with her as she drooled and shook and panted and trembled…day or night, it didn’t matter to me. I fretted over her anxiety medication, I fretted over the chronic leg issues she had, I fretted over the treats she ate and the food she ate. At one point I was on crutches, unable to put any weight on one knee and little weight on the other, and still I moved myself (on my ass down the stairs when necessary) to make sure she was fed and had outside time while hub was at work. When I was feeling poorly, she stayed nearby to keep me company. When I cried, she came to me and loved me. When I coughed, she always checked on me. She was an integral part of my every day living. I have so many memories of her that I can’t even begin to share them.

We spoiled her rotten, we loved her to no end. We scheduled our lives around her, she was so much a part of our hearts. When she got sick in July 2011, we stopped everything and tended to her. We drove her three hours in a hurricane to get her to an emergency vet for a blood transfusion. I wept in a hotel nearby because it was the first time since we’d had her–9 1/2 years–that she’d been overnight somewhere without us or my parents. A strange facility, strangers around her, IVs in her leg, in a cage alone… If they had allowed me to crawl into the cage with her so I could stay with her, I would have. It was the very worst time in my life to watch her struggle in pain through this fatal illness. It was the look in her eyes that nearly killed me as she wilted from the pain and disease. When we let her go as peacefully and lovingly as possible, surrounded by those who loved her and those she loved, I thought a piece of my heart had just stopped beating. I knew I would never be the same.

My grief was overwhelming. I still heard her in the house. I still felt her fur under my hands. I still reached for her, I still looked for her. We moved shortly thereafter, and despite almost ten years in the house, what upset me the most was leaving her home. We bought the house pretty much because of the beautiful fenced yard that she adored. It was a struggle to leave that house because she was there in every corner. Our new home had never known her… Even so, I spent months seeing visions of her in the new house. At night when I tried to sleep, I heard her collar and the padding of her feet. I heard her ears flap when she shook her head. I looked for her next to the bed; I reached for her at night to pet her as she sauntered by the bed to curl up nearby. I grieved hard and long, seeking support online from a pet loss support website. I ended up seeking therapy for the first time ever as the one year anniversary of her passing approached.

I have loved many in my life, and lost some. I was lucky that I had little loss in my life until I became an adult. Some of the losses were more difficult than others–my grandparents, a dear uncle, a beloved cousin–all to illness, some of them extended in length. I grieved as any would over beloved family, but somehow this was different. This creature who loved me no matter whether I got dressed or not, whether I was fat or not, whether I fed her kibble or grilled chicken, whether I scratched her “just right” or wrong…she was with me nearly 24/7 for 9 1/2 years. She became a part of my being.

The loss still haunts me. It is one of the few times I cried in therapy with either of the therapists I have seen. I went through EMDR with my first therapist in an effort to get beyond the PTSD I had from putting SP to sleep. To a point it was successful, but it has not lessened the grief I feel at her loss. Her picture is still by my bed and I still talk to her. I have a charm on my necklace with her initial on it that hub bought for me. There are days when I feel particularly sad and often that charm will sneak its way out so that I see it in the mirror. I know she still talks to me in her own way, but I still miss her terribly.

We adopted another rescue dog with a sad story. I never thought I would love another dog even though I knew I’d have them in my home and in my life. And the truth is, I will never love another the same way I loved SP, because I am a different person. Our new girl came into our life before I was probably ready, but I think SP knew I needed her. I think SP guided me to her. Our new girl is completely different from SP, much more independent, though needy in her own way. She is a big girl, nearly 100lbs, and as round and large as SP was dainty and princess-like. SP hated the rain and would never deign to step in the mud…our new girl will go out and lay in the dirt, mud, snow…whatever, because she loves to be outside. SP was once an avid toy player, and loved to de-stuff them, or de-squeak them. Our new girl hates toys and shies away from squeakers. SP always had me in view (or hub in view), our new girl is way more independent, and just as likely to sleep on her own in the family room as she might sleep on her dog bed in our bedroom. SP always slept in our bedroom at night, on her bed or in her crate or next to me on the floor.

But our new girl is a good girl. She, too, has some issues…but don’t we all? And she’s spoiled and doted on, and will never want for anything. A friend once told me that when she died, she hoped to come back as one of our dogs because of how well-loved and cared for they are.

I am so thankful for the dogs that have come into my life. From the first one when I was barely of school-age, to the one who went with us from first house to second (and the one I thought would be in my wedding!), to the one I helped my parents pick out after I had left home…to the one who changed my life and my heart. I’m thankful for the ones here with us now, and thankful for the joy and the love and the happiness they bring to us each and every day.

**This would turn out to never happen, because despite SP loving my parents’ dog, she didn’t prefer to share her home with another dog. We tried several times, but the change in SP’s demeanor (non-aggressive) told us it was not a good idea. We ended up making our peace with this decision.

 

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I am my friend

I had a friend some time ago who had bipolar disorder. I stared at that statement for a few minutes, thinking it didn’t read correctly…my initial instinct was to write “my friend was bipolar.” But in reality, my friend was a lot of things: fantastic, loving, supportive, compassionate, funny, sweet, smart, and more. But she was not bipolar…she had bipolar disorder.

I loved my friend. I met her at a job that my hub and I worked at together. She was a wonderful woman, funny and smart, and we both enjoyed spending time with her. It was not like either of us, but we spent time with my friend outside of work. She joined family gatherings when we had them, holidays, birthday parties…and when I left the job, we maintained our friendship. We helped her move, we were with her through a relationship that was old and new again, and then old again. We were there when her mother passed, and she was there when my grandparents died (at different times).

At times during our relationship, she would disappear and we wouldn’t hear from her. I knew from our talks that meant she was struggling with a down–or depressive–episode. I’d seen her manic, both on and off medication, but I never really saw her in a severe depressive episode because she tended to hide. She knew my husband and I would do anything for her, but she didn’t or couldn’t ask during those times. We were there for her when she was in the hospital during a depressive episode, though she kept most of it from us.

My friend had a difficult time keeping a job. Getting them wasn’t difficult, but those who live with a mental health illness know that maintaining a job can be difficult. Bipolar is notoriously difficult to diagnose and equally as difficult to treat (or at least live with a treatment). I know my friend went through many different iterations of protocols trying to get on a good path for her life. There were times when her jobs went well for a long period of time, and other times when the jobs didn’t last. I feel like I really knew my friend, and could recognize her patterns.

Several years ago–turns out it was fall 2008–we had a falling out. It isn’t what you think…there was no “fight” or break-up of sorts. She was struggling with moving back to the area from a place she loved but could not afford. We had offered to help her in any way we could; her brother was housing her and helping to care for her while she sought a new job. If I think about it now, I suspect she was in a depressive episode but I did not recognize it…either it was too early or too far in, I’m not sure. I said something pretty honest and blunt that probably at another time she would have responded to in kind, but her response was to stop speaking to me altogether. Sadly, this was not the first time she’d done this. During the time I knew her, she had a similar “falling out” with a longtime friend. I heard a lot about that at the time, because although she was the one who instigated the break-up, she was also hurt by the whole thing.

I don’t cry much during therapy. With my current therapist, the first time I cried in the 3 months I’ve been going was when I spoke about the death of my dog. Today was the second time, and part of it was over this friend. I haven’t spoken to or heard from her over these five years. I’ve thought of her often and I’ve tried to keep track of her, but I’ve not reached out to her personally. I feel in my heart that although it might not have been the best thing to happen, I do feel like she needed to separate from us for some reason. It sucks for me because I love her and I miss her so much, but if it’s the right thing for her, then I have to understand that.

I feel great compassion and love for this woman. She became a part of my husband’s and my small family. She became a part of my extended family’s family. I miss the hell out of her. But I want what is best for her, no matter what it costs me.

And thus the crux of this post…

Why is it that I can be so compassionate and understanding of my friend’s needs–at a cost to me–but I cannot be that way for me? I can be empathetic and understanding of her, of my aunt (who suffers from panic and anxiety), of my family for their issues and pain and distress, but I can’t for me. I know in my head that there is nothing in my life to be ashamed of, but somewhere deep inside me I feel ashamed. I know this because the shame is keeping me from being kind to me, being compassionate and understanding to me, being tender and empathetic to me. I learned this today in therapy.

But I don’t know why. I don’t know why. And it left me in tears in my therapist’s office. And it left me confused and sad, because intellectually I know I have nothing to be ashamed of. I’m funny and quirky and sweet, smart and kind to others, compassionate and supportive to others, loyal and patient. I’m creative and like to think outside the box. My therapist tells me I’m whimsical…not something I would hang on my own chart, but okay. So why can’t I treat me the way I would treat someone else who was just like me? Why can’t I be compassionate and understanding of my own needs, even if it costs me?

I think the shame might be connected to something other than my mental health. And I think I might be afraid to start dissecting what that is. Because what if I can’t fix it? Even if I could fix it, my therapist tells me I need to learn to live with things rather than fix them, but what if I can’t live with whatever it is that is shameful? Is that what is holding me back? I wish I knew. I want to know, because I want to move forward and I feel this is what is really holding me back.

 

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Essay of me

When we’re young, we get scared, and we go to our parents or people we love for support and comfort. We cry, we talk about the boogeyman, we complain of feeling sick, of things that hurt, of things that frighten us. At what age does that stop? And why?

An essay on ButYouDontLookSick.com titled, “It is 5am. It’s a horrible, ugly hour to wake up, not yet morning, not quite night.” by Christine Miserandino inspired me to write this essay of my own. I have a 5am, only for me, it’s 1am, 2am, 3am…it’s any hour after a normal person’s bedtime, namely my husband. When he sets off to dreamland, my waking nightmares tend to haunt me.

I am a night person, but the night is the worst time for me. In the darkness, things hurt worse and I feel the pain exponentially more. And I know that it is my anxiety that heightens the feelings, but I am helpless to stop or change that fact. I worry…I worry that the pain in my arm and my chest and my jaw are because of my heart, despite having been checked out by a cardiologist. I worry that the headache and the pain in my neck that I know is from clenching my teeth when I sleep (and am awake) are signs of an impending stroke. And the anxiety makes my heart beat faster and my breath come less easily…but I worry those things are signs that I’m dying. The pain the back of my thigh, is that a blood clot? Will it race from my leg to my heart or my brain?

And what will happen to my husband and my parents and my siblings if I die? How will they suffer with the pain of loss? How will they cope with the hurt of never being able to see me again? What will happen to the friends I’ve made that I may not have spoken to recently? Will they be haunted by guilt of not staying in touch more often? Will they be crushed by their conscience that often told them I wouldn’t go out or spend time with them because I wasn’t well…and they didn’t believe me? Who will watch my precious dog all day when I’m gone? She can’t go 8-10 hours without time outside during the day…my responsibility since I work from home. Who will comfort her when the storms rage and the fireworks explode nearby?

And in the darkness, these thoughts come to me, compounding the pain and anxiety I’m already feeling. I feel crushed by the weight of all of this, and yet I am unable to make any of it go away. I sit up—in the only position that comforts me—shoulders hunched, body curled over, legs crossed, knowing that even as I do, this will only intensify and lengthen the duration of my pain. I cannot tell you how many nights I’ve spent like this, sometimes struck with dizziness that keeps me off-balance and feeling like I’m on a rocking sailboat, since I first became ill. Diagnosed with multiple syndromes that are invisible to everyone else but me. Though there are names to categorize what I deal with, they are mostly incurable, and I am unable to take medication for any of them because of my sensitivities. So when I’m flaring, I suffer through my days by hiding away, either physically or figuratively, from the people around me. My husband sees most of it, my mother recognizes a lot of it, my siblings offer polite sympathy, but no one else lives all of it but me. And at night, I suffer alone, because the guilt of dumping any more of this on my husband—my main support—is too much. He wakes early, works long hours to support us, spends much of his time taking care of me and himself and the dog when he is home. I cannot wake him at 1 in the morning to tell him I’m hurting, or I’m afraid. He can’t fix it—which is what he wants to do—and telling him only to have him feel helpless is even more of a burden to both of us.

Alone in the dark, I do not reach for my husband and his comfort, I cannot sleep, I can only be awake with my demons. And for those of us who suffer with diseases and syndromes and…well, life, sleep is what rejuvenates us, what refreshes us, and what repairs us. So not being able to sleep only makes everything worse. There have been nights when I never set my head on a pillow, and when my husband wakes, I am quick to put myself in a prone position so he doesn’t know I’ve been up and in that horrible physical position all night. And to my shame and embarrassment, there are mornings where I wish I could beg him to stay home with me, so I am not alone in the light. Because alone in the light when I’m feeling this way is equally as frightening as being alone in the dark with him beside me. But I keep my thoughts to myself, because he is the bread-winner, and he has to keep his job. Asking him to stay home is a luxury we cannot afford often, and I must save it up like he saves his sick-days to take care of me. I must only ask when I really really need it. But he never hesitates to offer, and he never hesitates to come home early. I am thankful for these things, don’t get me wrong. I am lucky in this instance, because although he doesn’t have the capability to really understand, he does try.

Reading Christine’s essay brought tears to my eyes, because I could literally feel her pain, and I could feel her distress, because it is my life as well. And when I tried to post a comment, I wrote three, and deleted them all. Embarrassment raced through me because I didn’t want people to know how I feel in the darkness of my illnesses. It was embarrassment because I couldn’t admit how I feel, and embarrassment because I was embarrassed. So I posted nothing, and I tried to explain to my husband why I needed the extra few minutes to read Christine’s essay before turning off my laptop. And I reminded him of her “Spoon Theory” so he would know who I was talking about. And I admitted to him that I understood everything Christine had written, because I’ve lived it myself. And I admitted to him that I’ve never really shared all these intense and intimate fears even with him. Because I was embarrassed and ashamed to feel those ways.

And in the light of the morning, I was thinking about children, and how they can admit their fears. How they seek the comfort of those they love to help them assuage their fears. And yet, I, as an adult, can’t even admit to or seek comfort from the one person in the world I know loves me more than anyone in the world. He’s never put me down, he’s never made me feel weak, and yet I never told him the things I’m admitting here in this essay. Why? What am I afraid of? Why can a child speak so easily of their fear, and ask so easily for comfort, when I can’t?

But I know deep in my heart it is the fear of being a burden. I am already that, I cannot dump even more on the person who cares for me, who works hard for me, who needs to be healthy because I am not. And it is the fear of how people will treat me. I don’t want to be pitied, or coddled, or seen as a “disease”…and I don’t want to be treated differently.

I’m sitting here writing this and I can feel the tears dripping down my face. I’m not sure if I’m crying for the life I have lost, or what I feel I’m taking away from those around me. I only know when I’m in the middle of a flare, my life is different, and I hate it. I hate the fear that engulfs me and the anxiety that plagues me. I hate that it changes me into someone I would never want to be. And I hate that it makes me secretive about how I feel and who I am. That, most of all, is why I’m writing this.

(written 7/2010)

 

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Thankfulness

One of the things that I’ve been trying to accomplish in order to help my anxiety is mindfulness. Thus, like many of you (probably), I talk to myself a lot. Most of the time in my head, sometimes out loud. Depends on the situation and whether I’m going to embarrass myself or not.

One of the things my therapist and I talked about was hope and faith. She wanted to know if I had those in my life. Not faith as in any particular religion, but faith as in will things get better. Hope and faith as they work in tandem.

It was a hard question for me because I don’t feel hopeless, but I’m not sure whether or not I really feel hope and faith right now. In my quest to learn the answer–one among many quests and answer-seeking that have come out of my therapy sessions–I have begun something new for me.

Thankfulness.

I know it’s something we focus on during Thanksgiving. We give thanks for all kinds of things, great and small, in public and in private. But what about the other days of the year? Do we stop to give thanks for the things that happen every day? For the people we see and love every day?

At night, when I am ready to go to sleep, in the dark bedroom, I put my badger balm sleep balm on my hands. I cup my hands against my face and inhale deeply as I think of all the things I’m thankful for:

  • My husband
  • My parents
  • My brothers and their families
  • My aunts and uncles
  • My cousins and their families
  • My dog (and my parents’ dog)–the joy and happiness and love they bring me
  • The above’s health
  • The people who loved me–and whom I loved–who are no longer with us
  • The love and happiness and lessons those people taught me
  • The love and companionship that the dogs who have left us brought me
  • The people who help care for me, physically and mentally and spiritually
  • The ability to have a roof over our heads
  • The ability to have food in our refrigerator (and our tummies!)
  • The ability of my husband to have a job and provide for us, monetarily and health insurance
  • The opportunity to seek hope and faith
  • The ability to try to meet the challenges that are set before me
  • The opportunity to pursue my health–physically and mentally
  • The opportunity to love and be loved

Other things come and go each night, but I try to maintain the major ones. Thankfulness definitely falls under the category of mindfulness, but it helps me remember that are good things in my life. When I was sick from the Prilosec, I don’t think I was able to really focus on anything positive…I was really too far gone. Shortly after, when I needed to get my ass going and try to be in motion–even when I didn’t feel it–I started writing down everything I was doing. Even if it was only “let the dog out,” to remind myself that I was doing things and that I could do things. Because letting the dog out required that I got out of bed, put clothes on, walked down the hall, walked down the stairs, walked from the stairs to the back door, opened the door to release the dog. And all those things in reverse. For some people that might not seem like much, but when you spent three weeks in bed hardly even getting up to go to the bathroom, everything was monumental movement. Being able to look at the notebook with my daily doings at the end of the day made a difference to me.

My moments of thankfulness at the end of the day is like that notebook. Sometimes remembering the things I am thankful for is a big deal, because being here and being able to be thankful is monumental.

 

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A driving impression

At the height of my chronic illnesses, and for years after, I did not drive. One of the things I live with on a daily basis is vertigo and imbalance. For many years I had noticeable imbalance every single day, with the concerns of true vertigo in the back of my mind. So since I worked from home, I did not drive. If I went somewhere it was with someone else and that was completely fine with me.

Prior to that, I’d been driving since I was sixteen and was very independent. I loved driving, especially in my convertible Mustang with the top down in the lovely spring and fall seasons. But I gave up the Mustang at some point–it was in bad shape anyway–and we purchased our first SUV. I loved driving the SUV, though not as much as the Mustang. Then it ended with the onset of my imbalance and vertigo issues.

In the last 18 months, I’ve taken to driving here and there on an as-needed basis. Mostly I would follow the hub to or from a location when we had to leave a car somewhere. Last fall, I started driving myself to my therapy appointments, to prove to myself that I could do it. Even when I felt mildly crappy, I drove myself. Even when I felt anxious, I drove myself. Only when I started to go downhill physically and mentally (thank you very much, Prilosec!) did I fall back on having someone drive me to my appointments again.

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve begun driving to my therapy appointments again. One day it rained, snowed, was windy, and sleeted all on the same day and all during my drive to-and-from, and I still managed to drive myself. I’ve even stopped and gone shopping on my own, twice. These are big things for me…not so much because I couldn’t do it before, but because I didn’t. I’m feeling mostly confident that I won’t have a vertigo or imbalance episode while driving (which could have injured others as well as myself), so I’ve been getting out on my own. Last week I also had to drive to my PT appointments because my aunt was in the hospital and my regular chauffeur (my father) has been staying with her. I don’t love driving myself to PT because when I come out sometimes I’m really tired or my arm or shoulder hurt, and I worry that I might not be able to handle the car. But the drive is generally 15-20 minutes, and I can work it out so I’m on back streets almost the whole way, so I’ve sucked it up and done it.

I tried to explain to someone (I forget who) that I didn’t miss driving when I wasn’t driving. I missed the independence, and the feeling of independence, but I was okay with not driving. But when I am physically driving, I enjoy it. Of course, my drives are in the 15-20 minute range, and I have no traffic to deal with, so that does help!

 
 

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Somedays you gotta cry

I talked a little bit about needing to let go, or “puke and get it over with.” It isn’t something I do well or easily, for fear that I will not be able to regain control…and control is really important to me. My anxiety is lower when I feel in control. It’s something I am very acutely aware of in my life.

Today, in the middle of a telephone call where I was getting an update on my elderly aunt’s condition, I felt the tears pressing against my eyes. The news wasn’t bad, I think I just hit my breaking point. And instead of sucking it in, I let it out. I didn’t cry for long–I actually don’t like to cry because it aggravates some of my chronic illnesses–but I did cry hard. And for a few minutes after I stopped, I knew the tears were still coming down my face.

I wish I could say it made me feel better, but crying often makes me feel worse physically. So much of the relief I might feel from releasing the feelings get blunted because I’m left feeling physically worse.

On top of the stress of my aunt’s hospitalization, I’m having some issues with my stomach and bowels. I hate that. I hate feeling poorly…and although I’ve been trying to get better with the help of a nutritionist (who works with natural remedies), I’m not feeling too great. All these things combined have sapped my strength and left me blah.I had hub buy me some OTC miralax, but I’m kind of afraid to take it. Considering the issue I had with OTC Prilosec (which is supposed to be no big deal), I fear taking the Miralax. Such is the anxiety in me! (see what I did there? sense of humor does come out every now and then, despite the stupid anxiety.)

Also, my left arm hurts, and I hate feeling that…it ramps up my health anxiety, even though I try to remind myself that my heart is fine (I’ve been checked by a cardiologist). Old habits die hard, and the arm pain is one of those old habits. I’ve had some heartburn these past couple of days (I think it’s because I snuck some chocolate in, which I haven’t done in 8 or 9 months), and my heartburn does produce this arm pain. But it requires constant reminder and self-reassurance that the arm pain is annoying, but benign. Needless to say, the chocolate ended with my last bit yesterday, but the heartburn hasn’t quite disappeared altogether. I hope it is the chocolate causing the heartburn, because I’m not sure what else it could be and I’ll be really distressed if the heartburn has otherwise returned despite the regimen I am on with the nutritionist. *sigh*

Lastly, because I haven’t complained enough in this post, my neck is tired. I suspect the neck (and maybe some of the arm issue) is from the physical therapy appointment I had yesterday. She worked on those two places yesterday, where she really hadn’t for a couple of weeks prior. If that’s the case, experience teaches me I will either feel better in those two areas tomorrow, or not. Gee, that seemed helpful, didn’t it? Sometimes you don’t know what you’re thinking until you actually write (type) it out. Mindfulness. Ye-ah.

 

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