11 Confessions about Chronic Illness

I saw this today:

11confesions

 

And this is my response:

Yes, true. But!!

1. Guilt is a useless emotion

2. Feeling lonely is a good chance to know and love yourself

3. Anxiety and depression are challenges to accept and or tackle

4. Pain sucks — but pain medication is fun

5. Every healthy day is a gift, but you are still one day closer to being dead

6. Be bold and let your free flag fly — where what you like! Shave your head! Keep it fresh!

7. Beds need people too!

8. It’s okay to be afraid, and it’s okay to say no

9. Exercise is just another addiction, might as well eat chocolate

10. Most doctors will kill you if you let them… that’s why we need nurses

11. Feeling useless and being useless are two separate things. You have so much to give and just because we live in a materialistic culture that likes to measure phalluses doesn’t mean that you aren’t giving tons to others. Hug!!

 

–The Mindful Crutch

Monkey Mind Panic Attacks

Since I know you love hearing about them.  I am writing about my most recent panic attack which was yesterday at 2pm.  It lasted until just after 4pm.  This post will give the reader a picture into what a panic attack accompanied by chronic illness feels like.

In brief, if we named panic attacks, I would name this one like an interesting flavour of ice cream.  I’d name this panic flavour, Monkey Mind Panic.  Caution, contains nuts (pun intended).

icecream

Monkey mind, a phrase I picked up a while ago, is “from Chinese xinyuan and Sino-Japanese shin’en 心猿 [lit. “heart-/mind-monkey”], is a Buddhist term.”  (Wikipedia)

I imagine the monkey habitat at the zoo.  A deafening, dizzying, cacophony of “Ew Ew Ah Ah.”

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Racing thoughts obviously go along with every anxiety disorder.  They play a particularly powerful role in the anxiety before, but also during a panic attack.

During a panic attack, it’s like an argument erupts in my mind.  The mind does not heed the warning, Don’t Feed The Trolls.

I wanted to tie this into chronic illness.  It might explain why I had the attack.

Here are some of the contributing reasons:

  1.  I have issues getting around my apartment.  I was spending the day and this night on my own
  2. I regularly take some serious medications, one of which is for my anxiety disorder.  I had run out on the weekend and the pharmacy didn’t deliver until later
  3. I have on-going concerns about my recent surgery.  I feel frustrated that the surgeon’s office has not returned my calls
  4. I have a phobia of vomiting and choking.  My stomach was off from a Meatloaf I made that was too fatty (I went on one of those Everyone loves Bacon kicks)

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So I add bits of those ingredients together and add the secret Monkey Mind ingredient that I called Existential Freak Out No. 9 aka “Oh my god, I’m going to die.  I am dying.  I need an ambulance.  I should call one.  I don’t need an ambulance.  I should be seeing the doctor more because there must be something they don’t know about.  I’m too young to die.  Everybody dies!  Yes, but no one is especially good at it…”

Okay, okay, take a breath.  STOP!!

And this is the quiet moment when the Monkey smiles at you and starts peeling a banana.  It’s gotten its way.

 

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This is that moment of lucidity, the calm inside the eye of the tornado.  It’s here that I remember that I talk a lot about mindfulness.  I give myself a nervous laugh at the irony.  The irony makes me feel more human and asserts that I’m not the only one who might be feeling this right now.

At this point I did what I needed to do.  In that moment, I need to calm my stomach, so I took a stomach medication.  I also needed to deal with the Monkey.  I did this by getting up, changing my perspective, hobbling around on my crutch and tidying up in the kitchen for just five minutes.  Then I took some breaths, called the pharmacy to ensure my medications were coming.  I then sat and waited.   Things were winding down, I was exhausted but I had to stay awake.  I decided to grab one of my journals and a Sharpie and make a list of words I knew in French.

My medication came and that solved the other physical issue.  I made myself a tuna sandwich.  Then I fell asleep.

So take what you will from that!  Can you relate?

 

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Pardon My Panic Attack

This past weekend I had an IBD flare.  I don’t deal with being sick well.  You’d think I’d take it in stride considering my illness is CHRONIC.  But, no.  I freak out.  I have a panic attack which snowballs into making things worse.

Anxiety and depression are components of chronic illness and are chronic illnesses themselves.  I tend to ruminate.  I notice every little pain and think the worst is happening inside me.  This past weekend, I thought I was dying.

When you feel so bad that you start to think you are dying, it sucks.  But in a way, it’s also the point where you may or may not be able to laugh.  Life — no one gets out alive!  It’s true!

There is a mindful way and an unmindful way to approach death.  The unmindful way was me freaking out and ushering in the suite of panic:  shallow breathing, dizziness, worsening nausea, restlessness, thoughts of going crazy/imminent death.  I started having some traumatic thoughts of choking on my “final breaths”.  That wasn’t mindful, but I’m not saying this in a judgmental way.

At such a point, what do you do?  My best solution was to reach out to another.  To just let the panic attack happen and blurt out all my feelings and worries to whoever will sit with me and listen.  Sometimes, we all lose it and need others to be mindful for us.

Different people may be or less helpful, appreciate them all.  If you pray, here’s a good time!  If you have a pet, then you are really lucky.  I have a cat.  She curled up with me and comforted me.  There is always someone that can pick up the ball when we can’t be mindful ourselves.  To seek comforting is human.  We don’t always get it the way we want, but we can appreciate the forms the universe takes in meeting our need.

Can you relate?  Who are the helpers when you are in need?  There are always helpers!

I am the Cancer

An ego identity is the face we show to the world. It is also a way we define ourselves to ourselves.

 

who-am-i

 

Many people with chronic illnesses choose the illness as an ego identity. There are many reasons for this, but most are psychologically unhealthy. We may claim that we seek community, but relationships built around suffering usually start to create suffering. We might claim that we wish to help others from our experiences, but to truly help another is not to limit them but to share in discovering unlimited potential.

 

Wellness is experienced when we don’t limit our identity. The whole of our lives is greater than individual aspects. Wellness is about opening and acceptance. One dead tree, even if it is the tallest and oldest in the entire forest, does not nullify the grandeur and the many complex systems found in the forest’s entirety.

 

While a person may suffer limitations due to a disability, illness, or circumstance, life can still be as fulfilling as we wish to make it. Not limiting ourselves with a diseased ego identity is a simple way to admit that there are possibilities and passions that we are opening to discover. We refuse to be pigeon-holed into a universe that is mired in pain and suffering. Illnesses can be very painful, but no one can claim that pain is all there is to life.

 

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Be Limitless

 

What good things can you identify about yourself that open your heart and realize the potential of your mind / body / soul?

Grief: The Simple Version

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I sat in my new therapists’s office.  It was just after Christmas and New Years.  Today was our first session together.  After exchanging pleasantries, she said to me:

“When I got to work this morning, I got the news.  And I feel bad because it’s our first session and it falls on me to tell you this — J., your counselor for the past six years passed away on Saturday.  I’m sorry.”

** It was a huge punch in the gut **

He had stage four cancer that had gone undetected.  One day he went up to the ER because he had a very sore throat.  Three weeks later, he died.  I didn’t get to say goodbye.

A second story:

Sarah lived with her father.  Her mother died when she was just a baby.

Her father had sunken into a life of alcoholism and he found himself angry, bitter, and out of control.  He was verbally and emotionally abusive toward Sarah.

Sarah found comfort in her relationship with her grandmother, Rose.  After school, she would go there and do her homework.  Her grandmother taught her to knit and sew and make macaroons.

Sarah successfully survived her youngest years and went to school for web and graphic design.  She lived a big and blossoming life in the big, bold city.

Then one day she got a call.  Her grandmother had passed away during the night.  She quit school and became deeply depressed.  She started to feel physical pain all the time.  Many years later, Sarah would be officially diagnosed with fibromyalgia.

 

Grief

What is it?  Queen Elizabeth the II, regarding the death of Princess Dianna, said, “Grief is the price we pay for having loved.”

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Make no mistake, grief is not limited to those who have died.  It’s possible to grieve a marriage that ends, a friend who moves far away, the loss of some social or professional status, the loss of one’s health or the disability of partner / child, the things that were once your dreams and goals that never became.

brokendreams  divorce

Grief is the experience of loss

 

Grief isn’t a predictable thing.  Some people naturally work through it.  Many people get stuck in what we in the biz call “complicated grief.”

 

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There are many things one can do when grief comes.  But, the truth is we don’t need more books or photo albums or the lighting of candles in churches.  There isn’t anything wrong with those things, but one needn’t seek a complicated answer.

In my own grief, I quite often fail to see the forest through the trees.  Nothing takes the pain away.  But, pain is simply pain.  Pain and suffering are different.

What if we accepted our grief?

What if we changed in such a way so as not to live in resistance to grief?

What if we just allowed ourselves to feel it?  

Does grief have a color>  A smell?   A voice?

 

simplequestionwiseman