Thursday, January 15, 2015

Lessons Learned

chronic illness lessons life's a polyp

I love reading the lists of others about what they've learned from illness, things others should take into consideration about others with illness, or things they wish they had known first. Fortunately, not everyone knows what it's like to live with a chronic illness. Not only do these lists help others better understand what we live with but they also help us by reminding us of our strength, our knowledge, and the forgotten lessons that have helped shape us and make us unique.
I think it goes without saying, again, that one lesson learned by any type of chronic illness is that we reach a whole new level of appreciation and cherish of the good times, the good days we have. So I'll move on to my lessons learned.

1. Chronic Illness Changes You
There's no way around it. The degree of change is affected by your age of diagnosis/symptoms onset, treatments and experiences you've had, support received and so forth. I'm not sure what I would be like if I didn't have FAP, I was diagnosed so young that I don't have a grasp of who I was before. There wasn't time for a clear change. But there are views I have now that I don't think I'd have without FAP and the accompanying experiences.
  • I wouldn't be terrified of pain. With everything I do, I think about how to avoid or minimize risk of pain.
  • I would take more risks in life.
  • I would likely have been a veterinarian. This was my passion as a child, until I became sick. Ever since my first surgery, I can physically feel the pain of others just by others talking about their experiences, seeing painful events, imagining pain. I can't bait a hook without feeling the bait's pain of a hook going through its body.
  • I would be more independent. I am extremely dependent on the emotional support of my parents and I found that same support with my husband.
  • I would be more trusting. I don't trust medical providers easily due to experiences with my 1st surgeon and his residents. Providers have to prove to me first that they aren't trying to kill me and that my needs and fears are understood and respected before I feel comfortable.
  • I may have been open to moving. I felt unable to leave my home state, my parents and my doctors due to my unstable health. I turned down opportunities to study abroad, marrying military sweethearts, out of state schools, careers that would have required relocation.
  • I would travel without excessive worry, I love the thought of exploring the world yet my health needs cripple my adventurous spirit due to the demands on my body and the demands my body has.
  • I would likely have engaged in the typical teenager behaviors and rebellion. My health, my ostomy, my fears of others finding out my quite truly kept me out of trouble.
  • I wouldn't struggle with depression or have a death orientation. Perhaps I wouldn't strongly support euthanasia. Maybe I wouldn't overly empathize with someone's wish for death, even suicide.
  • I wouldn't be morbid. I actually take great pride in my morbidity. I love the perplexed, startled reactions by nonsickies and the camaraderie of morbid thoughts and humor shared with other sickies.
  • I may not have anger problems. I've lived with true hate, resentment, and anger stemming from the incompetence of the surgeon and residents that led to life threatening, life altering complications.

2. Extreme Polarization of Life and Risk Taking Behaviors
We all cope differently, especially when presented with trauma and life changing events. The way we cope I've found falls into one of two categories. Either the person flirts with death to the point of recklessness, taking every challenge or risk available in order to live life to the fullest and get the most out of life. Or the person becomes paralyzed with fear and the need for safety, rarely taking risks, calculating every move out to the last detail in order to minimize risk. I definitely fall into the second category. I'm paralyzed with the fear of any type of pain. The risk of physical or emotional pain is almost unbearable for me. There are a lot of things I'd like to do or to try but I won't because the risk far exceeds the activity for me.

3. Redefining What's Trivial
Have you ever listened to a relatively healthy person complain about something and all you can do is chuckle to yourself? Not to be rude but I have.
When others complain about having to take medications, I can't help but chuckle. I've been responsible for taking my own medications and carrying them with me everywhere since I was 10. I have taken extremely small and extremely large pills with several doses a day. I'm such a great pill taker that I typically take all of my pills in one gulp.
I thought my professors overreacted when I would notify them that I'd  be in class that day but I had to be hospitalized after and  I wasn't sure when I'd return to class again. Each time they asked why I needed to be hospitalized and why I didn't go right away, I truthfully answered that I was bleeding internally again. They would urge me to skip class that day but I didn't budge. Waiting 1-2 hours wasn't going to make a difference, I might as well get that class over with, get my homework and get packed and cleaned up for the hospital so I'd be more comfortable and less stressed about school.
A friend of mine became accustomed to his stoma prolapsing and it wasn't unusual for blood to fill the front of his clothing. He didn't understand the horrified looks of strangers noticing his bloody clothes.
Such things are routine for us, they're our new norms. I'm sorry that our norms confuse and shock you and I'm sorry that your confusion and shock makes us giggle.

4. Living Your Life Impresses Others
Every time someone finds out a bit about what I've survived and what I live through daily, I'm given some type of congratulatory, awe inspired response. And I never fully understand it. Don't get me wrong, those with chronic illness survive some really rough cards in life and that is a thing to be celebrated. I am by no means poo pooing what someone lives through. But I don't see myself as doing anything special, I'm just living my life the best way I can just like everyone else. Because I'm just living my life, although I appreciate it, I often feel embarrassed when someone pays me complimentary, congratulatory, awe inspired words. I don't feel like I deserve it really because I don't see myself as a strong person or anyone special just for living with FAP and the complications it has caused, that's just my life.

5.  You Lie Everyday
The whole "but you don't look sick" deal, it comes about even more because we're master deceivers now after living with chronic illness. How often do you answer with an "I'm okay" or "I'm fine" when asked how you're doing but you're really thinking "I want to die right now, my stomach hurts, I don't have any energy, it hurts to walk, and I'm about to break into tears at any moment" but you don't really want to spill all that for various reasons. Only those who really know us or are perceptive to others realize when we're really not okay in spite of our protests. I do this everyday just about. My family has gotten really good at picking up when I'm lying about how I feel. They know if I'm not really talking, I'm not smiling and laughing, I'm just sitting there taking up space and I'm curled up in a chair, hand on my stomach...I don't feel well at all and I really just want to curl up in a ball even though I'm answering "I'm okay".

6. Your Body is Your Enemy
Your body isn't your friend, your body betrays you at every turn possible. Your body often hates food and only wants to sleep. It doesn't like you having fun, participating in activities, or doing what you want. It fights you and sometimes you pay for going against what it wants.
The "Keep your friends close but your enemies closer" rings true with your body. We know our bodies better than anyone, we are forced to learn what our triggers are and to anticipate the body's reactions to what we do. With a rare disease such as FAP, it isn't uncommon for the patient to know more about FAP than the doctors because not many are very familiar with FAP.

7. Spontaneity is Rare
There's so much to take into consideration with everything we do it becomes hard to do anything spur of the moment. For me to participate in activities, I have to plan out when and what I'm going to eat. I have to take into consideration where restrooms are located and if they're not available, what is my back up plan. Even intimacy often requires forethought, talk about a mood killer. And even when you've taken every precaution you can in order to participate in an activity and you think it's all working out, it's not and you have to change the plans at the last second.

8. Proof of Illness is a Real Pressure
Chronic illness isn't always visible and symptoms can change in an instant and can change back again in another instant. The roller coaster ride of the illness leaves us feeling like we must prove our illness to others. I worry that my friends think I'm just ditching them, my boss thinks I'm lazy or I just want an early day or weekend, or doctors will think I'm seeking attention or medications. I want to be taken serious and I do my very best in everything I do but sometimes my best isn't a lot. I worry that I'll be fired or doctors will turn me away.

9. You Will Be Discriminated Against for Life
At no fault of your own, you will be discriminated against throughout your life from now on. It may not happen on a regular basis but it will happen. It may not be a large act of discrimination either. Your needs and your health will be dismissed. I've had hateful notes left on my car for using my handicap placard. A friend of mine has been denied assistance  with boarding a plane even though he requires a walking cane. I remember an ostomate was banned from a hotel for his ostomy leaking onto the bed sheets during his sleep even though he voluntarily paid for new bed sheets. Doctors dismiss sometimes, writing us off as attention seeking, medication seeking. My primary care doctor, first surgeon and his residents, and the ER staff at my local Children's hospital all dismissed my health and my needs and it nearly cost my life.

10. Health Will Never Be Taken for Granted Again
You not only gain a brand new, deep appreciation for good health and good days but you also gain a deep anger and concern for others when they ignore their health. We all know someone who refuses to see a doctor in spite of complaints of an ailment. My husband would complain of various ailments but never would go to a doctor, he always had an excuse and he was healthy until he developed Type I diabetes and landed in the ER after a blood sugar of almost 1000. He was lucky he didn't die. Within the medical field, I encounter countless individuals who have not managed their diabetes or high blood pressure resulting in kidney failure. It's one thing to know the risks of foregoing medical care and it's another to refuse care with the thoughts that you're invincible. When others complain of serious, ongoing ailments yet refuse to consult a doctor, I am filled with a sense of anger and desire to shake the person. As a sickie, we know that not every symptom can be shrugged off and symptoms can quickly turn serious and deadly. It's best to take care of a health issue  now before it turns into a larger issue later. Save yourself pain, hassles, and higher costs.

We learn countless things, big and small, everyday with chronic illness. Sometimes it takes us longer to learn and accept lessons. Life is a journey and chronic illness is a forever changing teacher. The more willing you are to learn, the better you will adapt to this journey.
What are some of the lessons you've learned courtesy of your chronic illness?

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Let Me Have It

trade places life's a polyp

It's been a rough few days for me in my new additional role as caregiver. My husband and I have been presented with  new challenges since his diagnosis of Type 1 Diabetes and I've encountered my own difficulty adapting.

I can't stop myself from thinking that it should have been me. I should have been diagnosed with the diabetes. What's another medical condition for someone who is already chronically ill? I'm much more adapted to handle medical conditions than my husband. I've had more practice, I've been practicing since I was 8. I'm already the patient, he's already the caregiver. He's a great caregiver, I'm a decent patient. Let me have it. It'd be much easier for me to have it, to adapt to it.
I hesitated for days to share these thoughts with my husband. They rambled through my mind, they weren't going to stop. I reluctantly shared these thoughts with my husband, I try to shield him from anything that I think could possibly make him feel burdensome or distract him with additional worry. Why? Because it's the nurturer within me, I don't want to add to his problems. He doesn't need to deal with my problems on top of his own. His unselfishness is beyond belief as he tells me I have enough to deal with, I don't need another medical issue and at least his is more manageable than my own. Perhaps there's a part of me looking for a different end game for myself than that which FAP brings.

Waiting for January 1st to roll around was hard, the date for his insurance to become effective and we would be able to fill his prescriptions at greatly affordable costs compared to the prices without insurance. The affordable prices though would have to come through the mail order pharmacy, which means increased wait time to receive the much needed medications. The hospital's diabetes nurse sent over his prescriptions electronically. Electronically is a wonderfully speedy innovation to quickly obtain a script. My only issue is that without a paper script that I can see, I can review and I can submit myself...well it takes more control away from me. My severe mistrust of providers and my own paranoia of what could go wrong in various scenarios has left me with a strong need for control wherever, whenever I can have it. I've had nurses submit scripts without my review that cost me large amounts of money, without providing the brand name or the correct number pills. A misfortunate experience as I couldn't refuse the medication due to receiving it through mail order rather than local pharmacy. Once it's delivered, it can't be returned with a refund. So you can imagine my mental hand wringing as I patiently waited to confirm the correct script was sent and received by mail order. Let me have the script.

But that's not the only nerve wracking challenge we'd encounter this week. When I called to confirm the insurance had been approved and scripts received, to my horror I was informed that his insurance is still being manually reviewed due to the late enrollment so close to the end of the year. I broke into tears while on the phone. Insurance means everything to me. Without my insurance, how would I have been able to survive my own health issues. I wouldn't be able to afford my medications, my medical care. My personal attachment and dependence upon my insurance left me paralyzed when we discovered my husband's insurance had been cancelled in 2013 and we hadn't received notices. And now, we had to wait even longer for his insurance to be approved. Sure, it would retroactivate to January 1st, but in the meantime I'd be faced with high out of pocket costs if his insulin were to run out before insurance would be approved and mail order insulin would be received.
Waiting is paralyzing. Waiting to find out if my hardship application for the hospital will be approved. Waiting to receive bills that don't have hardship applications available. Waiting to find out what we owe after it's all said and done. I'm scared to spend any money, even for essentials. Everytime I have to make a purchase, I think Will I need this for a medical bill we have yet to receive?

I just had to think of the additional issues that could surface, and they did as if summoned. That night, my husband informed me that his insulin would run out by early Tuesday. Not enough time to receive insulin through the mail, at the more affordable price. The insulin he currently uses would be too costly to continue, even with a future reimbursement for the out of pocket cost.

The local hospital pharmacy had called to send an assistance application for medications earlier in the day, before I knew about the rapidly approaching need for more insulin. But it's Friday night, my help options are running out. This is an urgent matter, it's urgent for my mental sake. I need this resolved and I need it resolved fast. I slept through the night with nightmares about our obstacles, my mind went through every possible scenario regarding insulin and insurance. Each scenario passed without resolution. I'd awake and it was on to the next attempt in my sleep to solve the issues. Every moment awake, I was terrified I'd forget to try outside of my dreams once the morning came. Now I had a mental to do list to maintain amidst the nightmares, the fears, the terror. Six hours this went on. Until I finally broke. I have used poetry as a therapeutic measure after surviving the nightmares of my first year following the first surgery. I hadn't written any poetry in over a year though. My  inspiration tends to come during the night, the time I'm desperately trying to sleep and I mistakenly think the inspiration will remain through the night and following day for me to listen. But it doesn't. My muse tries to teach me either I write then or I won't be able to write. This time I  listened and I wrote.

My mind wanders, reeling with fears of the worst
Time passing slowly, dauntingly
If only life could jump ahead
Questions answered, solutions found, worries quietened

Strength tested and pushed to new limits
All that was known, turned and changed
Unfamiliar and trying, time is only sparingly vacant
Adapting, learning, struggling unceasing

Fear becomes all consuming whilst the mind wanders
The load weighs heavy to shelter my new charge
Mustnt show my lapses, must remain strong beats the song
Heart fights the battle, distracts the mind, and hides the difficulty

Are these fears shared with my charge, I dare not press
Guilt accompanies such curiosities, how dare thee ask
Shielding from extra burden, enough is there
This is mine to bear, a chance to return all the care

But it wasn't enough, I've been trying to maintain a strong face for my husband. My own fears keeping my heart caged, guarded, stifling my own needs to keep my husband's wellbeing safe. Or so I thought. The dam was failing, my muse had pushed me. I couldn't maintain my silence anymore. I hate waking him during the night, I hate robbing him of his much needed sleep. I had to share all my worries and risk him thinking I viewed his new medical status as a burden. I released all my emotions and wept in his arms. Panic began to set in as my mind took me to vials of insulin rather than flexpens. I can't give a shot. He gave me my B12 shots. Can he give himself a shot in the arm? The strength of a single thought is overwhelmingly powerful. One thought can push one over the edge. My mind began to spiral with that first thought of an insulin vial and  needle. Now a new panic is setting in. I can't breathe. Normally I feel like I'm having a heart attack at this stage. But I'm not. It's different, it's my abdomen not my heart. My stomach feels like it is twisting within me. I grasp my stomach, my husband grasps me to keep me from writhing in bed as I desperately try to stop the twisting. How is this happening, it's not real. Stop! I have to stop my thoughts, I can't do this alone. I can't handle the twisting. My husband distracts me with random stories and my mind begins to ease, the twisting reducing. With my fears quietened, the twisting stopped, my emotions drained, I was finally able to sleep without nightmares.
I was so exhausted by morning, I couldn't stay awake. I slept peacefully for six more hours, my mind exhausted, unable to function without some restful sleep.

By the time I dragged myself from bed, the diabetes nurse returned my emails about our dilemma and advised of over the counter insulin. This can't be a long term solution but it can get us through until the insurance is approved and the mail order insulin can be received. 1 vial will last about a week. If insurance is approved by Monday, I can get his insulin pens by the following week.

The damage was pervasive on my psyche, every moment waiting to receive any insulin tore my mind apart. We went to the local pharmacy. Time stood still as I waited my turn. Would it be available, would they be able to help me, would it be the affordable cost I was quoted by the nurse? Breathe, I reminded myself as I shook in line. It was my turn. The time slowly passed as the local pharmacist reviewed his current insulin to match to the closest over the counter insulin. Please, please just let me have it. I beg you. Finally, the transaction is complete. I grasp the insulin with dear life. I need alcohol swabs, I survey the shelves among the aisles. I can't find it, I can't focus. I stare blankly. Panic is setting in. I hastily walk up and down each aisle, scanning each shelf. It's not working. I need my husband. The tears are coming. I need the swabs. I need to take care of him. I need to see him okay, to see solutions, to see everything come together.

Once home with everything we need, I begin to relax, to think more clearly again. I begin to focus more. I know what I need. I need the insurance to be approved and I need our first mail order to be received. Then we'll be within that routine. I need a routine established. There's safety within a routine. Unpredictability to be lessened. Unpredictability is where you're caught off guard and rattled, where you're pushed and stretched, thrown to what you don't know, with uncertainties at every turn.

I notice the symptoms. The stress, the worry is weighing too much. I'm slipping. It's so easy to slip into that dark well of despair, of depression. It's been home for so many years. It's familiar, I know it. It holds me like its own. I know what I need to do to break free of its grasp. I know all the options to fight it. I've used them all, I advocate for them all. Medication, private counseling, support groups, informal peer support. But I'm also stubborn. I'm the last to agree to start using these methods in spite of my husband's regular urging. I try it out on my own for weeks first, leaning only on my husband for support. I don't want to become dependent on any of these methods again. I spent years mentally surviving only because of these various methods. I want to survive on my own. If I can't, if I must depend then I will but not until I prove to myself I can't climb out on my own. I struggle, I fight, I push.

I think back on my own health struggles. The times I was left to fight for my life for the second prolonged period. Was it really a struggle? Was it this hard on me as the struggle to see my husband safe is now?

The memories blur over time. I remember two feelings during that time. Peace and terror. Peace came to me while I was near death. I'll never forget the serenity of being in death's arms. There is no earthly peace like that of death. Nothing as comforting. Sweet, sweet death.
And then I remember the terror. The terror brought on each time I endured, I survived a medical test or procedure. Being ill doesn't seem so bad. It was the pain that the tests and procedures inflicted that was so hard, that pushed me closer to death's arms.

I question my memories, why is the stress so much more now. Why do I almost recall my fight for my life as easy, as peaceful except for the pain. Stress. That's why. My only responsibilities during my own fights were to live and to complete my studies. I didn't have to work to live, my parents had me, they caught me financially. Now my parents would do what they could to help us, but they wouldn't be able to support us financially. I have to work, he has to work. We have to financially survive too, not just physically. There's more at stake than just physical life, it's our livelihood.

Isn't it interesting how the stage of life we are in at the time affects what we experience, how we cope, what we focus on, what our needs are. So much is affected by this, it shapes us, it changes us. How lucky I was to struggle during an earlier part in my life, when I could easily be caught by my parents. When my livelihood wasn't mine to stress about. When I could just focus on surviving.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Curve Balls

health curve balls life's a polyp

Energy is a funny thing. It changes rapidly, without notice. And yet, even at our lowest we somehow manage to summon enough strength and energy to at least do the bare minimum of what's required of us. And then we collapse.

I've fought with energy on various levels since my colectomy that left me requiring iron and B12 for the remainder of my life. Even with iron medication 3-5 times a day, I have yet to reach a normal hemoglobin level again since that first surgery. With the use of daily microlozenges, I've achieved and maintained above average B12 levels.

And yet, my energy is just as much of a roller coaster struggle as it has been all those years ago. Oddly enough, even in my sickest years 8-12 years ago when all I could manage was to complete my studies and my work hours, there was an abundance of times that I remember as having more energy than I have now. I don't feel old, I'm only 29 and yet when I look back on all the various activities that took up every moment of my days for years, I become exhausted just thinking about it! I can't even force myself to maintain as busy of a schedule as I did 6 years ago!

At my very worst, I went to school and work only and I slept every chance I had. At my best, I worked part time, attended school full time, attended sorority events, college activities, and family gatherings with energy to spare. I went out three nights a week with friends, staying out until 3-4 in the morning and rising again by 7 am to start the day all over again. I don't remember resting any except for during the very worst times. I realize my memories become fuzzy after a while, not just due to age but more so as an effect that is associated with my PTSD and coping mechanisms. My energy must have been at higher levels during those years. Otherwise, how did I participate in the various activities demanded of me?

Presently, I am astounded by myself when I am able to participate in activities of chores, hobbies, or social outings after work anymore. Most nights I come home after work and veg on the couch, recuperating from the events of the day. My sleep cycles further affect my energy levels. Increased energy when I'm able to sleep and lower levels during sleep deprivation periods. I question how I managed such full schedules just a few years ago, I'm amazed at what I was able to accomplish on a daily basis. Even a year ago I engaged in more activity by balancing a full time and part time contract job. Now the thought of even PRN work makes me groan with exhaustion. It takes a while to face the truth sometimes. Things we don't want to admit, things we want to blame on our illness but some things we just can't lay at the feet of FAP.
 Slowly I've come to realize that yes, I did have more energy when I was younger and whilst FAP and my health drain my energy daily, I also have a depleted source of energy due to aging. Oddly, this has been a test of acceptance for me. I didn't want to admit that I'm already experiencing normal aging process. I still look incredibly young for my age and within my mind, I still see myself as 26. I actually forget I'm 29, getting ready to stare at 30 in just half a year. I'm accustomed to bothersome symptoms occurring as a result of the FAP, not a normal process that occurs to healthy individuals too.

Living with a chronic illness complicates any situation and blurs the lines between normal and abnormal. So often it's difficult to distinguish the cause of a symptom as related to our illness or related to normal processes. With these blurred lines, it becomes further difficult to notice "normal" symptoms versus the abnormal symptoms that fill our world that we have become accustomed to as a normal reality. Our minds flood with multiple questions in an attempt to identify the source of symptom changes. Is our health declining, is this a flare up, is this to be expected, is this a sign of something worse, could this be an additional condition? It takes us years to adapt to FAP and the associated issues, years of learning what our new norms are, how and what affects us, what is required to recuperate. In spite of our expertise in how our bodies work, a curve ball always presents itself. We become masters of the curveballs, juggling them with our typical issues; adapting, coping, growing...surviving.

A curveball isn't always big, they come in small sizes as well. Regardless of size, they throw us for a loop when we're least prepared for the change. Grab hold of the curveballs and throw them back at life. Prepare yourself the best you can for the next one that is heading your way.

Friday, December 19, 2014

When the Roles Reverse

caregiver life's a polyp

This week has been a whirlwind of scares and changes that I wasn't prepared to encounter.

My husband has been pretty healthy his whole adult life and hasn't seen a doctor for anything in over 20 years. Complete opposite of us FAPers. Everything changed this week in an instant, starting with a phone call early Tuesday morning.

After a couple months of excessive urination and thirst resulting in a long battle with severe leg cramps, he finally agreed to get lab work on Monday afternoon. Tuesday morning my doctor called us and informed us that his blood sugar was almost 1000 and he needed to go to the ER. We found out that day that he was Type 1 Diabetic and he had been without insurance for the entire year yet we had never received any cancellation notices. With insulin dependent diabetes, he would be required to find a new job within the next few months.

We had no doctor or insurance for him, about to be without a job, and were accruing plenty of medical bills for this serious new diagnosis. We were in a nightmare situation and the light at the end of the tunnel was growing dimmer at every turn. I was terrified of so many things that were happening and could happen yet I was the caregiver now for the first time and I needed to remain strong and calm for him. He didn't need the extra stress of worrying about his wife going to pieces on him while he was at risk of a diabetic coma or death. What a different role, from patient to caregiver. Everything was on me and I didn't know what to do.

Unexpectedly our luck began to change. My work allowed me to enroll him on my insurance for his coverage to start January 1st and the hospital gave me a large discount for making a relatively small payment up front. His employer was making accommodations to keep him employed. Now I just needed for him to become stable and for me to find a way through the next month until he had insurance and a doctor. By early afternoon, I was no longer fearful, I was strong and determined. And on an adrenaline rush. Nothing and no one was going to stand in my way. I was energized but that can last only so long when you're splitting yourself between various responsibilities. I spent the day and evening tending to him, tackling our issues, returning to work, and taking care of household needs.
By Wednesday morning, I no longer had the energy or the adrenaline that sustained me during the chaos of that first day. I could barely function mentally but I had a lot to do at work and it hurt to be away from him. I knew that I had to take better care of myself or I'd need a caregiver myself if I weren't more careful. I turned my focus to the evening, I had to get more sleep before rising early again to visit and help my husband with his morning routine. I needed to prepare for a new battle that day. How was I going to be able to afford his insulin and supplies before his insurance started and how was I going to have enough supplies to last him until we were able to obtain an appointment with a doctor?

I recalled all the time my parents and family members took care of me, of the time my mother and I were both hospitalized at the same time. How did my dad do it!? He worked, visited us, and took care of the house and land. I now knew how exhausted he must have been. How exhausted they all must have been.
The worry and the need for a plan and a safety plan were starting to become overwhelming as I tried to resolve every issue the best I could. I worried about his health and his mental health, the adjustment required to transition from caregiver to a  new patient is a lot for an individual as well. How was he doing, what did I need to do to help him adjust and to keep him motivated for his health as well?
My mind thought back to all of those who have helped care for me, they must have felt as helpless and overwhelmed as I did. As a patient, we feel so sick at times that we can't spend our energy on the same things as our caregivers. Our bodies need that energy for healing and survival. We barely have a chance to process our health changes and situation before we're thrown to the wolves of the illness and what is required for self care. And so our caregivers are left with all the worry and to also deal with our own adjustment issues yet we barely notice. So often our caregivers only show us their battle faces, not their exhausted, terrified, overwhelmed with emotion faces.

The universe smiled upon us on the last day. We received education from a diabetes nurse who helped us navigate what we needed and helped us obtain that much needed doctor appointment. She has remained with us as well as one of his ICU nurses. They're only a phone call or email away if more guidance is needed. I no longer feel alone in navigating the terrain of diabetes. We have a long journey; but we are well supported and well guided.

In the matter of 3 days, our world turned upside down and resurfaced different, but upright. At the end of it all, I've been left with feelings of intense gratitude toward so many people and for the favorable outcomes we found when we weren't entitled to such favorable outcomes. Not all situations are so lucky. We were fortunate to obtain resolution so quickly for so many issues. And I can't help but think, if it weren't for my own health issues that have shaped myself and my life in so many facets...I wouldn't have the same fortitude as I needed to complete my role in our crisis and maintain my new role as caregiver.

The struggle between patient and caregiver roles are real and they deserve our attention. We must draw on our strengths and our support systems to help each other cope with the changes in roles. Together, patient and caregiver can do a lot but not as much if separate.
Show your caregiver appreciation and allow them their much needed time without our demands. Communicate with each other and discuss what each one needs. This is a partnership and it deserves both people.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Supportive Lengths

 life's a polyp

In Alone Together, I shared my own struggles with disclosure of private information and the heartfelt pain that accompanies keeping secrets. This is a matter that is ever present in my life at this time and likely will be so until I'm able to obtain closure. Closure, something that I thought only would come with a final decision and announcement. But as my heart and mind weigh heavy and I'm brought to tears at least once a week, I'm realizing I need more than that. Sometimes we need a lot

I tend to overanalyze everything. I ponder, question, and mull over information, thoughts, feelings, and questions for hours, even days at times especially when I'm overcome with emotion. It is exhausting and we can only do it for so long before we finally give up - either accepting or no longer caring about what originally made us care so deeply.

I stopped the thinking. Instead I listened. I listened to my spirit and my spirit let it be known what is needed for that closure.

I shared this with my husband as I will need his participation. My darling husband is too good to me and is one of the most supportive and caring individuals I know, even if he doesn't always show it to the outside world. A couple weeks ago I told him that I wanted to have a private incense burn for cleansing. This week I expanded, I need a full smudging, not just some bits of sage thrown into a fire. I need to go through the actions and cleansing one another and because I am a very tangible, commemorating type person, I need it photographed. I need the visual reminder to further flood my memory and senses with that moment of shared release and love. A flooding that I will be able to grasp when I need that sensory reminder.

And after I shared with my husband what I needed and he dutifully, without hesitation agreed. I realized the supportive lengths our loved ones, especially our caregiving loved ones go for us. This cleansing is more for me than for anyone else yet I need my husband's participation, I can't reach that sought after closure that I so desperately need without his participation. I can't. It won't happen alone. And without me even saying that, he knows it. How are caregiving loved ones know us so well.

The things we need to finally feel better, safe, relaxed, at peace are sometimes very little and others are big and sometimes they don't make sense at all, particularly to someone not in our situation. With our disease, we have ample opportunities for much needed support and help.

When a loved one takes the time to share what you mean to them and to let you know you're not alone in your struggles.

When a loved one brings you a meal that isn't from the hospital cafeteria, when you sink your teeth into something you can't possibly get yourself and your tongue tastes the flavors of a home cooked or restaurant cooked morsel. Your heart sings and you instantly melt into a pile of gooey delight, forgetting where you are and what's wrong.

When a loved one gives you an item and you cling to it through your tests and procedures for as long as the medical staff will allow, when touching that item seems like the only thing that can ground you and make you feel a bit safe, a bit comforted through the stress and fear.

When a loved one tends to your affairs and your home for you as if it were their own because you're too weak and fatigued or worse, in the hospital again. The security of knowing your home needs, your belongings, even your living treasures are being looked after and the relief of the stress of managing survival and home needs.

Such are precious bits of support that fill us with gratitude, actions that touch our hearts and spirits with their gifts of relieving stress, providing security and comfort, sharing pain and happiness. We ask for such support without even asking a lot of the time. As sickies, we often share a common sense of guilt and stubborn pride. Guilt when we receive the support and help we, in reality, do need and a stubborn pride that keeps us from asking for all the support and help that we need.
With all the commotion related to our physical and mental health, we are ever so grateful but it's easy to not grasp the full supportive length a loved one is willing to go for us, particularly when it's not questioned and even when it's not spoken but just known that you need this length or that length.

To not be questioned about the rhyme or reason for why this length is needed over another length, this is a gift in itself as well. This is the gift of love.

I hope you have such a person in your life. These individuals are a gift and as much as they understand you, your needs, your situation and your sure to let them know amidst the commotion, you appreciate all their efforts and willingness. Odds are, these individuals also see you as a gift in their life.
After all, without this shared love, at the very least our struggles would be much greater and their lives would be much less interesting.