Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Putting on Pants, and Other Accomplishments of the Chronically Ill

I've been feeling pretty chronic lately. That probably only makes sense to people who live chronic lives, but I don't know how else to explain it. I've been in a depressed and anxious state for going on a month now. No matter what I do, I can't seem to quell it. I go to therapy, I take my meds, I exercise. I (try to) eat healthy (most of the time). I do yoga. I meditate, though I could admittedly do more than that. I read, I write, I color in my coloring books. I've even been... wait for it... asking for help with things to try to ease the anxiety (gasp!) And yet nothing works. I've been battling a lot of gray areas, that I don't do well with. I'm supposed to say "I generally don't prefer gray areas but I think I could improve", because one of my therapists' goals for me is to stop being so absolute and more "flexible". Which believe me, I get.  But nobody understands the nature of a mood cycler and mental health battler like a mood cycler and mental health battler. Nobody. And I know how my brain reacts to gray areas.  In addition to all of this, I have been having a CFS flare up. I don't talk about my CFS much, but as you may imagine, it leaves me ....well... chronically fatigued. And then there's the fact that I've been battling what I'm pretty sure is almost nonstop sinusitis and I can't remember the last time I didn't have a headache. I'm serious. I think I must have been in my teens or early 20s. I almost don't notice them until they flare up and turn into migraines, but they're always there making me feel a little more shitty.

What I think people who don't have an invisible illness have trouble realizing are all the things that we do daily that we have to try so hard to, when to them they come naturally. They may sound minute to you, but to us, they are not. These are all of the things that use up our "spoons", the way extensive workouts and 12 hour works days may use up yours.

  • We get out of bed. I know, sounds easy enough. And it is, when depression isn't weighing on us to the point where doing so feels hopeless and worthless. When opening our eyes doesn't mean they're flooding with tears or worse, hollow with seemingly no light behind them. But even when we feel this way, we crawl out of the covers, put two feet on the floor, throw on some pants, and start our day. 
  • We pretend we're not sick, at least in public. All day, every day, we smile and nod and say how "Good!" we are when people ask, because neither our colleagues or clients or anyone else we interact with during the general day wants to hear how horribly depressed and anxious we are. This isn't acceptable to most people, especially not at work or in public settings, so we put on a mask and fake it. Every damn day. 
  • We run errands, cook dinner, grocery shop, walk the dog, pick the kids up from school if we have them (I don't, unfortunately), despite the fact that all of our energy was drained hours ago. Despite the fact that it feels like our feet are made of cement and that all of the blood that nourishes us has been drawn from our bodies. 
  • We put others before ourselves, because we'd hope someone would do this for us. Some days we may sacrifice every last ounce of energy, of mental strength we may have left, for someone else, only to go home and collapse in tears and exhaustion, or without the ability to feel anything at all. 
  • We get shit done. Not only do we push through the day despite how awful we feel, but we actually manage to be productive. 
  • We battle stigma. We hear the comments people make, the put downs, the generalizations. We hear words like "bipolar", "depressed" "ADD" "OCD" thrown around carelessly.  Things like "I'm so depressed, I have nothing good to wear to the party." And we cringe, wondering if we should educate these people or just move on. 
  • We openly struggle in public when our disorder overrides everything else, and nobody helps. We sit on a bench in the park, quietly crying, and not one person stops and asks if we're OK. We are openly anxious, struggling to breathe, holding our head from the dizziness, and not one person offers assistance. We try to hold it together as much as we can, even when it seems impossible, and somehow, we get through those horrible moments.
  • We go to therapy, we take meds, we do whatever other techniques we know to try to feel better. We spend precious time and money on these things because we want to stop feeling so ill, even when it feels like absolutely nothing is working. 
  • We think, a lot. We think how we can improve, adjust, change. We worry how we're affecting our friends and loved ones. Worried that they will desert us because we are too difficult, worthless, don't offer enough positive. We think desperately how to make things better. We try, even if you don't notice, even if it's not apparent, to do everything we're asked, every technique suggested to feel more in control over our feelings. We may say, "I can't do that" but it doesn't mean we're not trying. It means 'I keep trying and keep being unsuccessful at it. It isn't working the way you think it should."
  • We make it through the day.  We go to bed, and we set our alarm because we plan to wake up tomorrow. We are still alive, and we plan to live another day. Some days, that's the best we can do.

We battle this every single day. I realize that for those who haven't battled chronic illness and mental health, it's very difficult to understand. But please, try to respect all the we do manage during a day. All of the ways in which we are fighting and trying to get better, even if we keep saying we can't. For those of us who already feel awful enough about ourselves, maybe our brain doesn't like to say, "I keep trying and failing miserably". The fact that we're continuing to want to beat our illnesses and that we plan to wake up the following day is a success.

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