Trying to Wear all the Hats While Chronically Ill
This is a post about me, but I hope it touches someone else as well.
I realized today that for the last three years I haven’t had a day off, because although I’m not able to work, I also am not able to relax. This upset me. I haven’t had fun in so long I don’t know what it is anymore.
I used to be a fun person, didn’t I?
It wasn’t even that long ago.
Why can’t I relax? I do all these relaxation rituals every day like they’re going to save me, and I even get some benefit out of them. How come I can’t get where I need to be? I’m usually good at doing anything I really set my mind to, even with all the glitches my mind has nowadays. I have dedicated the last three years to healing myself, so why is relaxing so unbelievably hard? I’m sure most of the people around me think that’s all I do in a day; relax. It must look like it from the outside in, when I’m mostly in one place all day long, and I don’t work, and I don’t contribute to our bottom line. I’m sure there are a couple people out there who think I’m doing it for attention or for some other sneaky reason. Let me assure everyone, the only reason it looks like I’m okay is because I worked really hard to not spend the entire day crying, freaking out, and catastrophizing my painful and scary symptoms. Believe me, faking chronic pain isn’t easy or common, in fact, only about 1% of chronic pain patients have been found to be malingering or milking the system. That’s a stereotype for a differing blog post, though!
Then it hit me: I’ve been a patient for the last three years, but that’s not the only role I have been filling by any means. I have also had to be my own researcher and doctor for most of that time. When I stopped working a little over a year ago, I filled those hours immediately with my other duties (which were being completely neglected at that time because I was too sick to do both). I never really slowed down, because I felt so much guilt over not continuing the agony of trying to work a few hours here and there, when I could even get out of bed / stop vomiting / not have fiery and ugly hotflashes all day long. My first unemployed days overflowed with housekeeping, baking, doctor appointments, tests and imaging, canning produce, tending the garden that we depend on for subsistence each season, helping my boyfriend with his massive amounts of homework, keeping my houseplants alive, writing budgets and grocery lists, self-care routines, research my illnesses and symptoms, teaching myself ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy), keeping track of my friends who are struggling with life-altering or life-ending illnesses while trying to help them emotionally whenever the opportunity arises, and acting as a caretaker for my boyfriend after his three hip surgeries.
None of these things are things I dislike or don’t want to do. In fact, I can’t imagine giving up any of these things any more than I imagined I would ever be forced to give up my job and driving. Giving tasks up means that someone else has to do them or they will go undone (like my make up and hair, for instance!). All the responsibilities that I am no longer administering to, such as driving, they mostly fall on my poor boyfriend, who is himself a chronic pain warrior.
I’m not happy with this situation. But I am learning to accept that I am not a burden simply because I can’t do all of the things I used to be able to do. The next step, the step I haven’t quite been able to take yet, but my toes are over the edge at least! I’m getting closer to being able to make this leap: at some point in the future I have to start doing the things I want in spite of not having enough energy to do the things I need to do afterwards, I have to start wearing less hats. It will mean downsizing my life again, which is yes, totally terrifying.
Most importantly, I am in control of what goes and what stays, this time. I know that getting any of my conditions into remission will be a process that requires me to reclaim my emotional well-being as much as my physical, if not more.
I have been afraid to step into the roles I really want to take on because I’m not doing a great job right now, trying to wear all these different hats for different people.
From now on, I’m making a pledge to myself, but also for all the other over-worked & underpaid spoonies out there, that I will not beat myself up for what I cannot do. I will be more gentle with myself when deciding whether to push through a painful task or take a short break. I promise to feel less like a burden and more like myself. No more guilt for trying to be a happier person, whatever it takes!
It’s a whole shift of mind, but I’m finally getting there. Closer, but the damn guilt still won’t let me paint like I used to, even on a better day.
I will get there soon, though. I can feel it.
If anyone has any advice on how to accomplish this new quest for self-love and self-worth, I would love to hear your input!
To all spoonies: You are good enough. You are not a burden. Be gentle with yourself when things are too overwhelming or too difficult to accomplish alone. You are worth loving and lending a hand to, no matter what. ❤