Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Coping with Life Altering Breakups

The 27th will be the third anniversary of my divorce. I view this day as my independence day - the day I regained my freedom as an independent woman free from the confines of being legally tied to another person and the damage that legality can cause to a person when all is betrayed or jeopardized.

Although I still celebrate this freedom day, this year it comes with some heartache. Perhaps this is due to the ending of my last relationship almost six months ago. It was the first relationship since my divorce where I allowed myself to deeply love again and for a while I thought this relationship would be a forever relationship. Like my dreams and hopes pinned on my marriage were dashed, so it would be with this relationship as well.

Just like with the ending of any deep relationship, there are bouts of sadness and pain that creep in afterwards when you think you've fully healed. And so it is as my anniversary approaches. I am reminded of the life I once had and the life I have now. I had a good life then and I still do now - they're just different and honestly, in the long run it is a far better life now.

In my marriage, we were building a life together. We were planning to build our dream home on a farm I bought in the country and for years planned on surrogacy for a child of our own. He was trying to make his own side business work of his own passions and interests. We lived as partners and we had a great relationship and marriage - until we didn't anymore. I remember the day that my life began to fall apart, only I didn't truly realize it yet. My love for my husband and my optimism in us kept me in denial of the true level of pain that had been inflicted upon me and our relationship. In the end, the pain was too much and I couldn't get past it. Eventually, I realized that the level of security I require for my own well-being could only be obtained and protected on my own - outside of any marriage or legalities that would tie me to another person and their choices.

My life changed - there was no more plans for a deeply desired baby, I moved back home to my parents and eventually sold the farm. I didn't know what I would do or where I would live permanently. My mind frantically raced between all the possibilities. One moment I was going to permanently stay with my parents and provide for them as they age or I would build my own house on their acreage so that I would be near but separate. Or maybe I would go ahead and build a house on my farm or just move into my new boyfriend's house. The options were endless and I found myself able to advocate for every possibility. But in reality, I was still grieving. My life was different and there were too many options available. I didn't know what I wanted my life to become.

The times following our separation and divorce were truly freeing.
The weight of all the pain and
stress had been lifted from me and I had the whole world ahead of me full of adventures awaiting me. Sometimes I still am gifted the surreal feeling of my present life with all the freedom of opportunities that singledom provides - the never ending possibilities that lie ahead for me with no one else to answer to or interfere with my decisions or life. The world is open to me and I can choose any path I so wish. This surreal feeling has waned over the years but it refreshes itself periodically and I am left amazed at my life. I left a marriage that had unexpectedly turned harmful to my future security and I managed to pick myself up (albeit with the support of my parents and friends) and now I own my own home. I never would have suspected owning your own home could provide such joyous, prideful feelings within oneself. At times it is hard to believe I am where I am in life - that surreal feeling that I made it on my own.

My last relationship lasted a year, longer than it should have for my own mental well-being. We lived together and it was nice to share a life with someone beyond just the weekly date. It wasn't a partnership like I wanted but it was the closest I had come since my marriage and we shared a deep love for a while. After our break up, I had to become accustomed to being on my own again in my home. This allowed me to reacquaint myself with my home and that surreal feeling of it all being mine and mine alone. That surreal freedom I had lost while in this relationship.

I've rediscovered my freedom and the wonderfulness of my present life since then. Sure, I hope to find a partner to spend my life with someday. It would be nice but so is the freedom of independence. And so for now, I will savor this freedom and cherish the surreal feeling of my accomplishments and the adventures that await me.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Milestone Depression


I never was one to attach a lot of meaning to holidays or birthdays, they were just another day, another year. Sure I enjoyed celebrating with loved ones but they remained just another day. I even recognized birthdays as a milestone of survival. However, my outlook on holidays drastically changed over the last couple of years for two particular days - my birthday and New Year's. Now I enter a period of mourning around these days in anticipatory grief over what the future holds.

I have always wanted my parents to outlive me and there were times that this was nearly the case. I fear the real possibility of outliving my parents. And as I age, this fear has intensified. My birthday and New Year's have become to serve as painful reminders of this fear as I become another year closer to my fears becoming reality. I no longer enjoy these days, instead I become overwhelmed with fear and depressive feelings - spending hours sobbing while my mind is consumed.

As a child and teenager, there were times that my doctors were amazed at my survival of times that I wasn't expected to live through. Afterwards, I was convinced that I would not live past age 21. When I turned 22, I was overcome with feelings of bewilderment and grief at passing 21. I had come to accept my death and was prepared for it. I didn't know what to think about continuing onward with life when I was utterly convinced I wouldn't see 22. My health was still precarious enough that it wasn't unreasonable to think my life was limited. Age 21 has come and gone and now, I find age 40 to be a prime limit to my life. At 40, my parents should still be living and they would be recipients of my life insurance policies that would allow them to be taken care of financially and medically in their older years. My parents' comfort and security is more important and means more to me than a long life for myself nor do I want to endure the loss of my parents. As selfish as that may be, their loss is a tremendous fear of mine and I truly believe they would handle losing me better than I would handle losing them.

And so for the day of and a few days past my birthday or New Year's I am overcome with mourning for another year added to my age and my parents' ages. This state doesn't stay for long but it is long enough to remove any joy these holidays may have held for me in the past. I try to remind myself during these days to enjoy the time that we do have together and no one knows the future. After a couple of days the intense feelings extinguish themselves until the next year when they are renewed with acuity once again. The fear remains with me on a daily basis in the back of my mind, however, not as acute as on these particular holidays. Most days it is easily manageable as I practice reframing my bothersome thoughts and distract myself with activities. It's important to focus on the present so that we don't get lost in the fears of the future.

Monday, December 10, 2018

What We Need From You


Chronic illness is a challenge, period. It's a challenge for those who live with the illness on a daily basis, for caregivers of the ill person, and for those who are involved with the person outside of the home. Chronic illness often leaves those in its wake feeling frustrated and helpless. The ill person struggles to live daily life with the symptoms of chronic illness and friends and family are limited on what they can do to help the ill person. To make matters worse, those of us with chronic illness are often hesitant to ask for help from others due to feeling burdensome and are frequently at a loss ourselves as to what may be helpful. To help all of us, here's a list of things we need from you due to chronic illness.

We need you to be available.
Chronic illness can be extremely isolating at times, particularly if it is a rare disease. Depending on the diagnosis, it can be difficult to identify and communicate with others with the same illness. Social media has helped close the distance among individuals with the same illness but in person visits remain different from online communications. We are further isolated due to difficulty to physically leave our homes except for our medical appointments. Even when we want to visit with others we may not physically feel up to visiting regardless of the communication form. We frequently experience hospitalizations and may only experience encounters with medical providers. Your presence in person, on the phone, or online is a tremendous support to us when we are able to do so.

We need you to listen and encourage.
Due to the elevated risk of isolation among those with chronic illness, we are at higher risk for depression. We easily become frustrated, discouraged, and depressed regarding our health issues and daily struggles. Your willingness to listen to our concerns and to encourage us along the way has an immense impact on our mental health.

We need you to be understanding and forgiving.
Changes in our health and abilities often causes us to feel angry and frustrated as we are adjusting to chronic illness. Furthermore, when we don't feel well we may be ill tempered. We don't mean to direct our frustrations and anger toward others. A gentle reminder when we are acting unfair will help us to realize any damaging behavior and allow us the chance to correct any harmful behavior. Your understanding and forgiveness is paramount in this process.

We need you to help us feel accepted and loved.
Chronic illness typically means changes to our bodies and abilities that may not be visible to others but we remain acutely aware of such changes. We may have difficulty accepting such changes and become insecure and self-conscious of our bodies, symptoms we are experiencing, abilities, and our self-worth. We all want to be accepted by others and this desire may be heightened by chronic illness. Your acceptance helps us to accept ourselves when we are struggling with self-love and acceptance.

We may need your physical assistance.
Chronic illness is high maintenance requiring ongoing medical management that includes frequent medical appointments, tests, procedures, medications and more. These tasks are demanding physically and mentally. As abilities are challenged by chronic illness, we may require your physical assistance in the form of transportation to appointments, assistance obtaining and taking medications, household chores such as cooking, shopping, and cleaning. Changes in our abilities often leaves us feeling as a burden on others resulting in our hesitancy to ask for physical assistance even when it is greatly needed.

We may need you to help us find assistance.
Chronic illness can easily create financial difficulty due to inability to work temporarily or permanently. Our finances may easily be overcome with medical expenses. Locating appropriate resources is not an easy task when one is sick. Therefore, your assistance in locating and applying for resources may be of great service to us during a time that we are having difficulty physically or mentally functioning.

We need you to help advocate.
As a patient, we benefit from advocating for ourselves but your advocacy on our behalf would also be advantageous. We may not always have the physical fortitude to speak up or we may forget questions to ask. You can help us by attending appointments with us and listening to the information presented by medical providers. Additionally, advocacy efforts on a larger scale directed toward public awareness and legislation are stronger with participation by patients and loved ones.

We need you to help us enhance our physical comfort.
Chronic illness often is exacerbated by physical symptoms that are distressing and even painful. We've learned little tricks to help ease our discomfort such as using heating pads, rubbing a painful body spot, or even taking a nap. When you are near, you can help by handing us objects such as a heating pad or our medication so that we may limit our movements, particularly when movement is painful. Sometimes a gentle rub on the afflicted body part or even something as simple as playing with our hair can be soothing. We often fight fatigue that negatively affects our sleep schedules. In such cases, helping us limit our nap time will help us maintain an appropriate sleep schedule while boosting our energy.

We need you to take care of yourself.
Lastly, we realize that providing care and comfort to a chronically ill person can be difficult on others and want your well-being to be taken care of as well. Caregiver burnout can be detrimental to all involved and the last thing we want is our illness to be harmful to you. We understand that one cannot provide around the clock care for us and maintain one's own well-being. Self-care is important for everyone, not just those with chronic illness.

We may not say it enough but all your efforts to support and assist us in the walk of chronic illness is greatly appreciated and we are far better off with you in our lives than without you. We thank you for all your efforts.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

When Chronic Illness is a Deal Breaker

wilted dying roses

It was only about an hour of my time, he had already asked me out on a date. But that all changed when I told him about my health. I've never had someone point blank tell me my chronic illness was a deal breaker for them. My boyfriends and friends have always been supportive and understanding of my health issues. I've been fortunate to surround myself with empathetic individuals.

I do not know what his reasons were nor did I care to know. I knew what was important, it was a deal breaker and although taken aback a bit, I was glad to know sooner rather than later and I hadn't wasted that much time on our conversation. My first thought though was "I'm glad this happened now and not when I was a teenager or young adult". I had my ostomy when I was 9 until I was about 15. Growing up with an ostomy was very difficult for me emotionally and mentally. My self esteem suffered greatly under the pressure of growing up with an ostomy and later it would be an issue after my ostomy reversal and dealing with Short Bowel Syndrome. I was not as confident in my body or my health issues nor was I as honest and upfront about my health as I am now. How devastating it would have been for my fragile ego as a teenager or young adult to be told that my health made me not good enough for a relationship. Now I realize this is not a reflection on me but on the person making such a statement and so I am merely grateful to have that person out of my life.

It also worried me about this person in particular as he cares for children as a nurse practitioner in a children's emergency room. If he could be so non-understanding with an adult, how is he treating his young patients for their health issues? And what about his future partner as her health declines over time? My heart ached for these people affected by his poor attitude toward illness. I escaped with very little time invested but my well-being is not in his hands.

Working in healthcare myself, I look forward to romantic interests and friendships with other healthcare professionals as we are accustomed to dealing with illness and all the usual worries individuals have about illness and symptoms can be put aside with healthcare professionals. Evidently this is not the case for all healthcare professionals but I still believe it is with the majority of us. Most of us are desensitized to symptoms of illness and disease and so we can let our guards down with one another. I suppose with any other field or persons, there are good ones and bad ones.

If you are confronted with a person who decides your worth is not deserving due to your illness, I encourage you to not take it personal and try not to let it affect your mental well-being as this is a pure reflection on that person and not on yourself. You are greater than this judging person. You are worth a lot and deserving of all the love and kindness in the world just like anyone else. Your illness does not detract from you as a person. If anything, it adds to you as you are a survivor with wisdom and strength others are not privy to with their good health. Hold strong in yourself and shrug off the haters.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

When Caregiving is a Vacation

colorado mountains

I didn't realize what was happening until it was too late. I didn't recognize that I was staying in a toxic relationship until I just couldn't take it anymore. The end was perfect timing for a family cruise vacation to Hawaii. It was going to be a perfect mental health cleanse. Only it didn't happen. We experienced passport issues at the airport which prevented us from reaching the cruise ship and embarking on a lifelong dream with my parents. I was completely devastated upon this discovery. We had been planning this vacation for over a year. My heart broke as we left the airport to return home. 

I turned to my friends for comfort and as it turned out, one was due to have knee surgery the following week. I offered to be his caregiver for a week. It wasn't the vacation I expected but it turned out to be something we both needed.

I drove to Colorado and arrived the night before his surgery. We enjoyed dinner out before returning to his home to prepare our overnight bags for what originally was to be an inpatient surgery. I've never really been on the caregiving side so this was to be a new experience for me. I've never waited in a hospital waiting room for someone else undergoing surgery or procedures - it's always been me as the hospital patient. We woke up early on surgery day and made our way to the hospital. I stayed with him until they finished prepping him for surgery and anxiously waited in the waiting room for the surgery to be completed. Finally, the surgeon came out to update me on a successful surgery. With relief, I waited for him to be stable enough in recovery for me to join him. Unfortunately, he had a bit more difficulty coming out of anesthesia and some nausea issues from the pain medicine. These complications delayed our reunion in recovery by a couple hours. While waiting, I updated his family members on his condition until we were finally able to return to his home. 

Aspens starting to change color
We were finally released after the inpatient admission changed to outpatient. We returned home and I was officially a caregiver now. I made sure he had food and drink, his medications at the appropriate times, and did all the little things he needed done while recovering. Just like with anyone in pain and recovering from major surgery, there were times he didn't feel well and it showed emotionally and verbally. I shrugged it off - knowing that I had been the same way after my surgeries. For the next few days we remained cooped up in the house except for when I needed to run errands for him. He asked me to stay an extra day and when he was feeling more like himself, we enjoyed an afternoon road trip through the beautiful Colorado mountains, before my departure the following day.

I didn't mind being cooped up in the house. I was just grateful for not only being able to spend time with my friend but also the break away from my life back home. Nor did I mind providing care to my friend, running errands, and getting up multiple times during the night to help him as needed. My time as a caregiver was only a week and I appreciate the difficulties and strain that accompanies caregiving - particularly long term caregiving. I enjoyed my time as a caregiver. It became a blessing in disguise as we both needed my presence there. He needed a caregiver and I needed the time away from my life. 

I left my friend to return home knowing that the worst part of his recovery had passed and my mental health had improved. We were both grateful for the time and care we provided to each other - me as a physical caregiver and him as an emotional caregiver.