In Which I (Belatedly) Discuss Difficulty

Friday, May 17, 2013

Ok, so Blog Every Day in May has turned into "Blog Most Days in May and Sometimes Twice in One Day to Catch Up". Yesterday, I had a pretty busy day at work, and then after work I met Ken for a quick dinner (pizza, mm), then headed to teach piano lessons and babysit. Usually, I teach right after work, but we moved the lessons later because I needed to stay a bit later and watch the kids while the parents got some stuff done. The kids are adorable and they were so well-behaved, so it was fun. I kept saying things like, "Wow, I haven't colored in forever," and "I haven't played with Play-Dough in a really long time," and the 8 year old said, "You say that a lot... don't you ever get to play?" It was so cute. I didn't get out of there until 10:30 (kids were in bed by 9:45, but their mom and I were chatting, like we usually do, haha), so I got home around 11 and got into bed around 11:45. I stupidly picked up The Fault in Our Stars, which I had started the previous night and stayed up way too late reading... which of course happened again (I finished the book... whoops) and so I was up until almost 1 am.

So, Day 16's theme was to write about, "Something difficult about your 'lot in life' and how you're working to overcome it." For better or worse, I kind of feel like I write about that a lot. There's a part of me that feels the need to apologize for "complaining" so much, but this is my blog and it's about my life, so I guess that's just the way things are. If you've read my blog at all, you can probably guess what my "difficulty" is that I'm going to talk about. Oddly, when someone asks me to talk about this, I apparently have a hard time, as I've been sitting here trying to decide what to write for half an hour. Okay, here we go...

Well, this looks familiar.
 My health, or lack thereof, is a major, pervasive, difficulty that affects every facet of my life. Both my physical and mental health have suffered for a significant portion of my 27 years, and I'm just now coming to terms with what it means to have a chronic illness. My mental health was the first to get dinged. I had chronically low self-esteem from childhood, which slowly developed into Major Depressive Disorder with self-injurious behavior by 12 or 13. I started taking SSRI's, and have since been on 14 different medications since then, and there hasn't been a period of more than a year or so that I've been off of them. Depression was always at the core of the illness, but crippling anxiety became a part of my daily life, and I've experienced obsessive-compulsive tendencies, auditory and visual hallucinations, and suicidal ideations over the years. In high school, I spent 10 days in an intensive out-patient therapy program, and in 2009, I spent 4 days as an inpatient. 

So what am I doing about it? Well for one, I take my medicine, even when I don't want to and think it makes me weak. I take it every day, even though I hate that it changes my brain so much that if I miss more than a single dose, I'm wracked with withdrawal symptoms that make me want to lay down and die. I take it every day, even though I feel like I should be able to function without it, because "so many other people don't have to be on meds". Perhaps even more important than the pills, though, is my therapist. I've seen 5 or 6 different therapists over the years, all of them useful at whatever point in time I was seeing them. I've been seeing Danna now since 2009, and I can't imagine where I would be without her. Originally, I saw her every week, but I've since backed down to every other week (or every 3rd week, if we can't get our schedules together). It's financially taxing (my insurance doesn't cover it) and I have to take a significant portion of my day out to go to my appointments (I can only go during the day to keep the rate that I have), and while I know it's good for me, it's definitely not always a fun experience. Therapy is hard work, and anyone that tells you otherwise is lying. Therapy also isn't a panacea, and you have to be willing to do the work to solve the problems. Therapy means admitting that you are flawed, or at the very least, have something to learn. Therapy makes you take responsibility for yourself and your feelings, and more importantly, how you react to them. Sure, my parents' divorce screwed me up in a million ways and my relationship with my mother occasionally makes me want to slam my head into a wall, but in the end, I'm responsible for how I react to these situations. I can't blame the world, and no, the world is not out to get me. One of my favorite lines from Mad Men (I'm only in Season 3, so no spoilers!) is this:

And yes, the universe is indifferent. Few things annoy me more than people who don't take responsibility for their problems, or who come up with a reason for why every single solution that one could propose will not work. Therapy makes you realize what isn't your fault, what you can control, and what you can do to effect a change in yourself or your environment. It is slow, it is painful, it is hard. Even when I have a therapy session where I don't cry, I can't say it was "fun". But yes, therapy, medication, and writing all help me to control and manage my depression. 

As far as the physical health goes, that started going downhill in 2005, which I detailed pretty extensively in this post. I realized very quickly that I had to be my own advocate, as most doctors immediately wrote my symptoms off, or if they actually investigated them, told me that "everything was normal" when the blood work came back and then sent me home. If I had a dollar for every time I was told that my symptoms were either from my antidepressants or because I was depressed, I could probably pay off a good chunk of my educational debt. I finally found a rheumatologist who diagnosed me with Undifferentiated Connective Tissue Disease, which isn't much of a diagnosis, considering that it doesn't tell you anything. BUT, she also decided that regardless of what we call it, the symptoms need to be treated. I started some new meds almost 3 months ago and I've seen a marked improvement. It's not perfect, but I don't think it ever will be. 

I've also realized that I am a human. No, really! I have limits! I cannot do it all. Anyone with a chronic illness has heard of the Spoon Theory, and it really is true. There is only so much that I can when I am having a flare. More importantly, I still have a limited number of spoons when I'm feeling healthy, and realizing that was really important for me and helps me avoid flares. I know that, whether I like it or not, I need 7+ hours of sleep a night, and the closer I can get to 8 or 9, the better. I know that if I have plans during the week, that I need to take the weekend to relax and recharge. I know that if I pack my weekends too full, Monday will suck even more than it usually does. This often means that I have to say "no" to things that I want to do, which makes me sad... but not being able to do anything because I'm lying in bed in pain is worse than having a lighter social calendar on a regular basis.

For me, I don't think that my chronic illness (mental or physical) are things to be overcome. My depression and anxiety is going to be with me forever, and so will whatever this autoimmune disease is. I can do things to ameliorate both, like go to therapy and take my medicine and take care of myself. I also am trying (operative word) to look on the positive side of things more regularly. I plan to keep learning and growing, and hopefully I'll continue figuring out ways to have a normal and productive a life as possible. :)

Check out the rest of the posts from this theme here at the link-up, and stay tuned for today's actual post later today!

- A

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