Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The Journey of Chronic Illness

journey of chronic illness  life's a polyp

an act of traveling from one place to another.

"she went on a long journey"

trip, expedition, excursion, tour, trek, voyage, junket, jaunt

Imagine yourself disembarking on an adventure exploring a vast land with only your mode of transportation and a map. This map can take you anywhere amongst this land. Whichever way you choose to go will determine what you encounter along the way. Each way you turn will vary in the experiences and people you encounter. Some ways will be similar while others will be substantially different in comparison. Individuals may join you and leave you at various points. Your experience along the paths you choose differ from those of others according to their chosen paths. No adventure will be exactly the same. There are too many variables leaving each traveler with a unique experience, a unique reality.

Life is a winding road of never ending experiences and adventures. The synonyms of journey truly fit the uncertainty of life. You never know what life has in store for you, what will come to be with each decision you make in life.

And so it is with chronic illness as it is with life in general. We never know from day to day if our chronic illness will change. If we will experience new symptoms or a reduction in symptoms. We enjoy our plateaus of good health while they last but these plateaus are never guaranteed. Change is the nature of chronic illness. The doctors we see, the hospitals we attend, the medications we take, the foods we eat all play a role in our chronic illness life. Each may be a positive or harmful decision for us that has the power to drastically change the development of our chronic illness. Unfortunately, like life, we don't have the foreseeing power to know what the best decision is for our chronic illness. Instead, we must make the best decision based on the knowledge we have and the circumstance we are faced with at the time. And we hope for the best.

Others disagree with using the word "journey" to describe living with a chronic illness. I, however, embrace this term for my chronic illness life. My life and my chronic illness are not mutually exclusive. For there to be one, there must be the other in my life. It is a fully inclusive circle. This isn't my preference but it is the way it is and so I will embrace this journey.

Just as we trek through life that is full of surprises - good and bad - so we trek through the journey of chronic illness. I have been overwhelmed by my encounters with others I never would have crossed paths with - physically or virtually - if it hadn't been for my chronic illness. I have made lifelong friendships with many individuals on their own chronic illness journey. I have held very dear friendships that played important roles at key moments in my life. I have been blessed with some outstanding doctors who help me along my journey. I have also been cursed with some very devastating moments throughout my chronic illness but with the support of family, friends, and medical providers I have survived those dark moments and am flourishing along a good path at present.

We all enjoy the smooth, easy paths on our voyage through chronic illness. However, we wouldn't be able to fully appreciate the beautiful tours of life if it weren't for the dark, trying passages. When we cross the bridge from the dark into the pristine, we are able to enjoy the ease with a new understanding, a new gratitude. Our eyes are reopened to the greatness of life and so we experience life with renewed senses. Unfortunately, we wouldn't experience these fulfilling moments to the same degree if we didn't trek through the difficult paths of life. And so these experiences go hand in hand to make the experience that is life complete.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Throwing Out New Year's Resolutions

new years resolutions  life's a polyp

I'm just going to say it, I think New Year's resolutions are a bit silly. Sure, I've made my own resolutions for the new year in the past. They were usually for some type of betterment of myself. Some new, improved version of myself. A healthier, skinnier, this or that better me. And like the majority of people, I didn't keep my resolutions. And then I asked myself "Why am I waiting for the new year to start accomplishing my goals? Why not start now? Why do I need a holiday to do something for me?"

So I threw them out and I started doing things for me in the now, not for some day. This was particularly true as I found my own strength and freedom after my marital separation and divorce. I promised myself to do more things for me and I made a list of what I wanted for myself. And so far, I've kept those promises to myself. I didn't wait around for a few months to pass for the new year to come around. No, I made a change that day and with the first opportunity that came along for me to act on my promise, I did. I want to stretch my wings and experience the life that I want without fear that I won't have someone to share those experiences, those adventures with along the way. I'm determined to enjoy and experience life regardless who is by my side or rather, who isn't by my side. This is my life goal and it isn't waiting around for a particular day. It's happening now and I best be on board or I'll miss out.

We don't need some day. We need now. Life is too short and too complicated, particularly when chronic illness is involved. We never know what tomorrow will hold. The days change from one way to another in a moment's instance with our health challenges. When we have the moment, let's grab it. Let's not wait around for the next moment.

Since I stopped waiting for the next moment to come along I feel more alive, more content. That's what I want for all who I cross paths with along my life's journey. I want to feel the thrill of life pulsing through my veins. I want us to enjoy the ride together with no one on the sidelines waiting.

What's your life's ambitions? What do you want out of your life? This isn't a resolution, this is a life change. It's more important than a once a year resolution, this is for a lifetime. With something this large, it can require soul searching to discover our heart's desires to determine what really makes us happy and excited about life. Once we make this discovery we can start to establish our game plan for achieving what we want out of life. Every game plan gains momentum when we start with small, achievable steps that lead us to our ultimate goal. Let's make a plan and go for it. Get out there and enjoy life for all its magical ups and downs, twists and turns.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

My Death is Acceptable

accepting death  life's a polyp

I'm comfortable with death. Anyone who knows me will hear me casually talk about death, particularly my own. It happens. I think it would be astounding if we were all accepting of death. It's natural and we are all going to make that passage at some point so why not accept the inevitable. Why stress about our own future deaths when we can enjoy life now and rest in the peace of the future?

I've faced my own death when I was a child and a teenager. In grade school, due to the negligence of ER staff it was missed that I was experiencing a life threatening blockage. Instead, I was dismissed as a whiny child and sent home with pain medications. The following day my parents returned me to the ER and this time the ER staff completed more thorough testing to discover my small intestine was wrapped around itself and surrounding organs. As a result of the delay in treatment, part of my small intestine - including my jpouch- died and my doctors deemed it a miracle that I had survived.

In high school, after my straight pull thru surgery I had so many adhesions from my previous surgeries that a stricture was created around my small intestine. I was constantly barraged by vomiting and excessive diarrhea. To the point that my body couldn't maintain. I was going to the doctor every week for regular lab monitoring resulting in frequent hospitalizations to try to stabilize my out of control electrolytes. The reality was that I was slowly dying. My doctor later told me that she never knew if she would see me at my next weekly appointment, if I would live from week to week.

I recall one morning, the sunlight hitting me on the couch where I spent most of my time as I was too weak to climb the stairs to my room. I remember surrendering to a sense of peace and serenity that I've never experienced before or again since. I sensed death yet it was so serene, it was lovely. I felt safe amidst my world of unknown and uncertainty. And then I was overcome with a sudden urgency to share my goodbyes with my mother. My mother laid my head upon her lap and stroked my hair as I gazed up at her and told her my goodbyes. Her eyes welled with tears as she listened. I was ready. I was at peace. Within the next day or so, I was back in the hospital once again. My doctor told me I was at risk of a heart attack or brain seizure at any moment.

If it wasn't for the unimaginable sense of peace I experienced that morning, I might still be scared of my own death. But instead, it left me in awe to embrace my own mortality. When my time comes, I'm ready. If I don't meet all the goals I have set forth in time, that's okay. I will live without regrets. I do, however, have a preference for my expiration date. I'd like to walk on by the age of 40, for my own personal reasons.

And so it's hard me for to understand the fear others hold about death. I particularly have an extremely difficult time understanding why others are so uncomfortable with my acceptance of my own death. In fact, when others repeatedly question my own acceptance it begins to infuriate me. Do we question that another is scared of their death when that person states so? No. Then why would we question someone who states they accept their own mortality?

To be honest, if I were to develop cancer that required chemotherapy for survival...I'm not sure I would elect to undergo chemotherapy. I'm very tempted to simply let the cancer run its course. It's not a wish for death or a means for suicide. I'm just simply comfortable with death and quite frankly I have an intense fear of outliving my parents. My preference is to not outlive my parents and yet my parents are one of my main priorities in my life. I feel as though my life purpose is to remain as independent as possible so that I may meet my life needs and those of my parents. Therefore, I'm conflicted about accepting such an opportunity should it arise - torn between my preference and my sense of duty to remain living in order to provide any future caregiving needs my parents my require.

I've been embraced by the warmth of death and so regardless if my time comes sooner or later, I will accept and welcome my transition into the after world. The present world will have its frightening moments that challenge us. However, we need not feel frightened or challenged by our own mortality. May we all rest in the peace that is waiting for us when our time nears.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Accommodating Holidays

enjoying holidays with chronic illness  life's a polyp

The holiday season is already starting. It's a rather busy time for the majority of people between parties and meals amongst family, work, and friends circles. It's not even December and my month is already booked with holiday festivities.

The holidays tend to be a stressful time for everyone. The hustle and bustle of preparing our homes, traveling, hosting others in our homes, gathering gifts, attending celebrations, and more. However, for those of us with chronic illness there is an added stress of accommodating our health around the demands of the holidays so that we may also enjoy the holidays.

Whether we're traveling or we're remaining local, there's always concerns surrounding the holidays that we need to address for our own self-care and enjoyment.

I've already had to make such accommodations by changing the date of the gathering I'm hosting so as to allow myself to be able to physically attend a work gathering. My parents and I were concerned that I wouldn't be able to physically complete both one same day, even though the times didn't conflict. But would I physically feel up to both parties in the same day? Most likely not.

Many of us have dietary restrictions to take into consideration. This is easy enough to control if we're hosting holiday celebrations but is another ball game if we are visiting another household or party. We may not be able to enjoy the available foods or we may need to limit our intake to reduce the side effects of eating. This can also apply to activity accommodations. For example, I must be mindful of what and when I eat when wanting to participate in activities as food intake worsens my short bowel. This was another consideration for scheduling parties as I often experience pain and nausea after eating that can last for the remainder of the day.

For some individuals activity reduces GI distress whereas for those like me, it increases GI distress. I'm able to better control my short bowel frequency when I limit my movements. In order to enjoy activities that require physical activity I must limit my food and take medications to slow my short bowel.

Pill burden is another common accommodation, particularly with meals. For some this can be embarrassing as it can lead individuals to feel that it draws attention to themselves and their health conditions. Others are bothered by the sheer number and frequency of medications required. When traveling, toting around multiple medication bottles is a hassle that takes up valuable space for other necessary items, especially when flying. Yet keeping medications in their respective bottles can be necessary when flying to reduce confusion about medication necessity and to comply with states laws regarding prescription labeling.

Flying tends to always weigh heavily on my mind with my health condition. This was worse when I had an ostomy but still remains with me even without an ostomy. When I had an ostomy I had to be mindful of how many supplies I had packed, preparing for a TSA search, always worried that I would encounter a TSA agency who would try to challenge my medical necessity for my supplies. What if my ostomy leaked while I was in the airport or while flying? Did I pack enough supplies to last during my visit? Now I worry more about restroom access due to my short bowel. Will I have enough time to use the restroom adequately before boarding? What if we have a delay on the tarmac and we aren't allowed to exit the airplane? What if I urgently need to use the restroom and I'm not allowed to use the lavatory? The what ifs run rampant when I'm flying.
The what ifs reduce in number when traveling by car as public restrooms are fairly excessive in number in the United States although does decrease in number when traveling through rural areas. For travel tips with an ostomy, review the UOAA's Ostomy Travel Tips.

Whichever holiday you may be celebrating, wherever you may be celebrating, I wish you the happiest of holidays and enjoyment with your loved ones.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Chronically Dating

dating with chronic illness  life's a polyp

I had left behind the dating world for nearly 7 years and I thought I was leaving it behind permanently. However, after my marital separation and divorce I found myself once again dating. I was suddenly thrust back into situations calling for me to decide when, what, and with whom to share the details of my chronic illness.

I previously shared how I've chosen to disclose my health and particularly my past with an ostomy. I am much more confident in my disclosures than I once was when I was younger. I'm now comfortable with someone not accepting me because of my health. I've learned that if another can't accept my health, then I don't need that person in my life. In fact, events of the last year have lent to my improved ability of letting go in general.

Dating after divorce with a chronic illness has been interesting to say the least. I've become increasingly open about the details of my health and illness with suitors and I've been met with overflowing acceptance. I've always been accepted by those I've shared my health with previously, however, this time around the dating world has been filled with even more acceptance. Perhaps dating in my 30s is part of the difference as we tend to view the world, ourselves, and others in a different light than we did in our younger years. This may also explain the differences in reactions I've experienced since re-entering singledom.

Although I've been accepted by each partner, there were some very different reactions. My suitors ranged from "I'm ready to take care of you in whatever fashion required" to "I can't lose you early on in your life". While one suitor was eagerly ready to spend whatever amount of time my life holds for me caring for me and my health needs another suitor was so concerned about losing me early in life due to the likelihood of cancer that he wasn't sure he would be able to handle a romantic life with such a very real expiration date.

I was shocked to actually encounter someone who was so concerned about being able to handle the real possibility of my own death at a relatively young age. I am accustomed to death, particularly the threat of my own that sometimes I forget what others may feel or experience in relation to my own mortality. I also wondered if this person would be the individual those of us with chronic illness all dread: the person who leaves because of their own inability to handle life with chronic illness.

I'm not sure how we guard ourselves against such individuals as I haven't truly been in such a situation. Guarding our hearts is a wise move to a certain degree. At some point, we either must trust our partner or we must let go. The degree to which we scrutinize our potential life partners varies from person to person and experience to experience. I can only urge others to be aware of their own comfort levels and move within those boundaries. We aren't required to move past those boundaries until we are ready, whatever those boundaries may be. Dating isn't always the easiest lifestyle and chronic illness can complicate dating life. However, I view loving yourself first and finding your own happiness as a fundamental key to tackling life, including the dating world. We don't need to seek love and acceptance from others when we find love and acceptance from within ourselves. Once we have conquered this feat, any love and additional acceptance from others becomes a shared joy rather than a request for validation and esteem that we have yet to afford ourselves.

I found part of accepting my life and in particular my divorce was to also accept the possibility of spending the remainder of my life alone. With marriage, I had a lifetime caregiver if needed. With divorce, I gave up that lifetime caregiver for a life of uncertainty on my own terms. I don't know what the future holds, but I've accepted the unknown. I do know that no matter what is in store for me, I create my own happiness and I can survive. The dating world is no different - we hold within ourselves the power for happiness and survival.