Moongazer commented recently that it doesn’t matter where we are geographically, we spoonies can still find and comfort each other no matter where in the world we are, and I couldn’t agree with her more.
In fact, getting to network with people who live with and work around other health systems is beneficial to all of us. We all need to know what specific problems our spoonie friends in other countries have to face. None of us should have to fight the system alone. Ever. Together we can solve complex problems within our healthcare systems, but it takes a lot of networking and a willingness to learn what others are up against, especially in countries where it is very hard to have an invisible illness. I know it’s hard everywhere, but I also realize that I am extremely lucky to live in the US, even if it means I have to wait five years for disability to be approved, and my healthcare kinda sucks, and my pills are extremely expensive and the treatments that will most benefit me are either non-FDA approved (read: EXPENSIVE and hard to find and makes you look suspicious on your medical record), or they are off limits because of this crazed witch hunt involving chronic pain patients and opiate use. A topic for many more blog posts, for sure, but not the topic of this post.
Bottom line, others have it harder than I do by far. I don’t just mean that others are in more pain or have more broken bodies than mine, although that is also very true. I do mean that many fellow spoonies have no roof over their head, no access to the internet, no support networks, no disability to even try filing for, no access to any treatment or meds, and often no access to diagnostics either. The minor annoyances in my life, like not being taken seriously, is a major roadblock for someone who still needs a diagnosis, still needs at least one doctor to take them seriously and at least try to help them. What about places where new chronic pain research has not been circulated? So much of our knowledge of where the pain comes from and how real it is have changed, but without the benefit of that knowledge, many suffer inhumane hospitalizations for psychiatric disorders they do not have.
Moongazer’s sweet comment also reminded me of how my psychiatrist asked me if I knew where my blogging family lived and I looked at her like she was the crazy one, but the question also caught me off guard; I felt suddenly so defensive of all of you. We are not some mass hysteria, thinking everything is a conspiracy and no one in real life understands us. Instead it is more like huddling together for warmth with people I am actually proud to call my family, only on the internet. It is a chance to read about others who handle pain differently, to get to know them through their clever words and their important stories. It is a chance to comfort those who are newer to the chronic pain community, and reach out to people who I have admired as writers for years. Who could pass that up? Not I!
Why does it even matter? I have friends that live right down the block that I talk to way less than you guys! I also talk to my family less than I talk to fellow spoonies. I don’t mean for that to sound sad or complainer-y, but just that it is so amazing to have contact with a vast array of talented, witty, and inspirational individuals who do not force me to justify myself and who accept me as I hope to learn to accept myself.
I was very lonely, I won’t debate that, but I didn’t come here specifically to meet new friends. In fact, I thought I would be the worst whiner, off in the corner, unable to meet anyone because I was too bitter and angry. Being around people who understand has washed away the empty, bitter angriness, and replaced it with joy and determination. That is what my blogging family means to me, and so much more. I am beyond grateful for your support, patience, and kindness as I work through things that many of you have figured out long ago. It is such an honor to be allowed to learn from and reach out to others who live with chronic illness or chronic pain, and to see firsthand how strong we truly are together. ❤ ❤ ❤
Though I have to admit, now that I’ve been asked, I am curious as to how far apart we are spread. I would love to know what state or country everyone is from! I’m a proud resident of Oregon. The Pacific Northwest is beautiful and won’t let me leave for too long, though I’ve lived in Massachusetts and Indiana as well. I was born here and I love this state!
Drop me a quick comment and let me know where you live, I can’t wait to see where we all are from.
How’s that for an obvious title? Okay, I mean, seriously, you all know that chronic illness affects us mentally as well as physically, and it isn’t about being a “strong” or “tough” or “capable” person. It isn’t about being good or bad. It is just logic that feeling crappy physically will bleed over into every other area of your life, too. Sometimes we need help getting the thoughts and memories swirling around our brains out in a productive, constructive way. When I’m alone, the chances of finding productive solutions to my problems are much lower than when I work them through with a therapist, but until recently, I had never met a mental health professional who knew how to talk to me. My current provider is a completely different story. I am overjoyed that I took that first step and called her office back to set up an appointment. It is like everything in my life was on hold until I met her, and then suddenly I started to see options everywhere, where before I felt helpless to change my situation.
I have been in and out of therapy throughout my life, but only ever with psychologists and therapists, never have I had the opportunity to see a psychiatrist, though I have wanted to for a long, long, long time. There is a massive difference between open therapy with my past counselors and going to see my psychiatrist. First of all, she’s kinder than anyone else I’ve ever talked to. I am usually so self-conscious that therapy is useless for me, I can’t wind down enough to think clearly or say what I mean. Not so this time around! It’s not fun, and it is work, and I do struggle with being open with anyone about my past or my innermost thoughts and worries, but it is worth it, and she makes it so much easier than my last few tries with therapy.
Many of us already know that trauma in childhood and chronic illness later in life are connected, especially for women because the mistreatment actually leaves scars on two areas of the brain for girls, versus just one area of a boy’s brain that is most affected by trauma. Perhaps this helps to explain, in addition to other factors, why chronic illness is often seen as a “women’s issue” and Fibro is diagnosed in women four to five times more often than in men. Either way, childhood trauma, abuse, neglect, and rejection are all linked to physical pain, and that is not insignificant for many of us. What I did not understand was how it was affecting me as an individual chronic pain patient, or how to do anything about it.
The hardest part was deciding to go back for my second appointment. I instantly felt comfortable with her but I was still judging the entire situation the first time I saw her, and weighing the pros and cons of emotional vulnerability. I was having a relatively lucid day and I think I came across as a lot more put together than I actually am, but I’m sure she could tell that I wasn’t really. Deciding to continue with the second appointment was so difficult because I started remembering things I did not want to remember, and it would have been really easy to blame the fact that I was seeing a psychiatrist instead of the people who caused the trauma in the first place. I wanted to get out of having to work on myself, and when the flashbacks started a week or two after my first appointment, I thought I had a good reason to not see her again.
However, some small part of me was ready to face everything this time, and the rest of me followed reluctantly. I went to the second appointment, I was honest about the flashbacks, and I was honest about fears and issues I have had for so long that I was beginning to think they were normal. It felt terrifying, I walked out of my second appointment numb and shaky, but reassured that I had a partner to help me work through things I wasn’t ready to deal with all by myself. Though I was still not sure how I was going to cope, I felt lighter having let it all out of me and having someone actually hear me.
Fast-forward three months later and I am pleased to report that the flashbacks don’t happen nearly as much. I have woken up mentally in ways beyond just feeling better emotionally: I am more confident in my needs and my value as a human being as well as in my abilities, I am looking forward to the future by making plans that reach out years ahead, and I have more coping tools than ever in my arsenal against chronic pain.
I am not saying with absolute certainty that I could not have gotten this far on my own, but I know that if I did progress this far alone, it would have taken so much longer, and been very difficult, and who knows what the end result would have been, really, except that I am so, so, so glad that I’m not doing this by myself.
I would urge anyone who is on the fence about pursuing therapy to start with a knowledgeable, extremely compatible psychiatrist that they trust from the start, and to be as honest as possible no matter how terrifying. From there you can figure out the appropriate kind of therapy for you. Therapy isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach, in the slightest. Another major benefit for me was that seeing my psychiatrist helped to solve long-standing questions I had regarding the nature of my anxiety and inattentiveness, for starters. Getting the appropriate diagnosis can help so much fall into place that you weren’t even expecting, especially if you’re like me and you feel a need to try to fit the puzzle pieces together as much as possible.
The work is certainly not done (and it will never be), but it is started, and that is pretty awesome considering how stuck I had been feeling the past two years. Just by getting a little bit unstuck, I no longer just survive my days, hoping for each one to end as quickly as possible. Wanting to change and not knowing how is both frustrating and overwhelming. I’m much less frustrated and overwhelmed now that I have an ally in my mental health and am learning the tools to carve out a life for myself despite severe and yes, depressing, amounts of pain that I deal with every day. I’m learning to stigmatize my own mental health less, to avoid behaving like a victim in areas of my life that I am not helpless in, and to look for positives in places I would not have bothered before.
Just writing that I was gaining ground six months ago would not have been possible and here I am, trying to write about it as often as I can.
If you’re feeling stuck, just keep looking for your opportunity, and know that it will come.
Until then, you’re doing your best. You are good enough. You have value and choices. People care about and love you, even if you don’t know it yet.
Wishing everyone extra spoons and days with less pain than usual. ❤
I’m still getting used to the idea that I can’t be fixed, because I’m not broken in the first place. Everything good about me is still here. I am not worth any less than before I became ill.
Harder to get used to is the idea that I didn’t do everything wrong; that this is exactly where I need to be right now.
Hardest of all the lessons I am learning is that I too deserve to be happy and loved. I even deserve to love myself, for that matter.
Crazy how notions that seem so simple and straightforward, things I tell people all the time and think I understand, will refuse to fully sink in for myself until the right moment.
It took me until this year to realize that my vision of my own relative unattractiveness was based on something false all along, which is the idea that women (or anyone really), owe it to the world to be beautiful, pretty, lovely, and that some women are somehow more attractive than others based on a ridiculous set of rules guiding conventional beauty, which, hooray, most of us were brought up with.
We don’t owe the world a pretty outer shell! However we define that for ourselves, let’s only define it so we can junk that and write a new set of rules that direct us to look inward and associate things like honesty, kindness, generosity, and strength with beauty.
None of us owe it to anyone to look any way other than we were born looking. We were born as perfect as we are going to get, and there is no point in trying to be anything else, on the outside or inside. It’s a crazy realization, and it lifted some of the emotional fatigue and numbness I have been contending with lately. Of course I still can appreciate outer beauty, without associating it with a person’s value, and I do love to look at pretty pictures as much as the next person, so aesthetic beauty will always have a place in my heart. However, I vow to stop depreciating myself because I do not compete visually with someone else.
Being ill means that my looks just aren’t as important to me. They were never that important, let’s be honest. I frequently hang out in comfy tennis shoes, yoga pants, men’s band tees, and hoodies that are too big for me. I have always had so much black in my closet that when I do the laundry I’m just pulling one black garment off of the next until I find the fabric that feels right. I wore flannels and ripped jeans in the awkward in-between time when the 90’s forgot to leave the small towns in the Northwest, and before it came back into fashion in the bigger cities again. I promise I did have a girly phase that started about five years ago and the development of which has slowed to a crawl since being diagnosed with fibro, then adult ADHD, then one pain condition after another including CFS/ME, Occipital and Trigeminal Neuralgia, among several others. What effort I was beginning to expend on outfits and the occasional fully painted face suddenly went into surviving.
I am not proud that I don’t have the energy to shower every day, I’m not proud that I only have a couple put together outfits to wear outside of the house now, and I’m not proud that doing my make up is way, way too much effort even for special occasions; the best I’ve manged in years is powder foundation and a little bit of a cat eye with liquid liner. I’m not proud that the teal in my hair is more of seafoam green, and I haven’t had it cut by a professional in almost five years.
Here’s the radical part though: I’m also not ashamed. Not anymore. This is me as much as I have ever been me at any other time in my life. If it means I can work on a blog post or help my boyfriend with his homework or make one dinner this week, it’s worth giving up some time spent on the outer shell and focusing that precious energy onto far more important priorities.
I understand that to some, this sounds like allowing my illness to win. However, this part of my journey has been incredibly empowering. Would I like to effortlessly be considered beautiful? Of course, but only if I could still know for sure that the people in my life were in it for me and not the shell of me. Does it break my heart that I’m not thin and my eyebrows are too dark? Not anymore! I have more important things to worry about, and my shell looks just fine in the grand scheme of things. I look like I’m supposed to look. Not by dolling up myself up, covering things up, creating illusions and using smoke and mirrors to hide the things that aren’t considered pretty. Instead, I’m finding my beauty, the one I have had all along regardless of fashion sense, diets, and make up, and I’m finding it by peeling off the layers, one by one. Asking myself why these things are considered beautiful and then repeating the answer back to myself until it just sounds so silly and frivolous. In the process of gaining this insight and sense of self-worth for the real, permanent parts of myself, I am also humbled. I am not pretty because I have high cheekbones and almond shaped eyes, or because I put on expensive perfume or drew the most perfect pair of cat eyes on my lids. It’s okay to appreciate those things and recognize them, but assigning a value to aspects of our physical beauty is a losing game for everyone. What would happen if all that were taken away in an instant? You would still need to feel valuable, and guess what? You would still be valuable. That’s an important, seriously liberating concept.
As women we waste such precious time, and teach others so many bad behaviors, by being so hard on ourselves and being hard on other women. I wish for everyone’s sake that this would stop. Just because another woman wants to dress up and have every hair in place, does not mean she is also brainless or any other stereotypical assumption I could make. It does not give me the right to tell my boyfriend she looks like a slut, because I’m jealous (read: insecure) of her legs in that skirt and those heels. What right do I have to treat her like an object? What do I know about her life? Maybe she hates wearing that stuff and does it because she was brought up in a culture where women behave and dress in a certain way. Maybe she loves dressing up; maybe it’s her creative outlet. Some women see make up as a lie, some see it as warpaint.
Nothing is as simple as it seems, and the more we assume, the more we pile the judgement on others around us, the more damage we do to ourselves. In the process of calling that girl a slut out of insecurity, I would also have been degrading myself, continuing a pattern of self-defeating hubris wherein I must be better than everyone else in some way, but also feel bad for the areas in life in which I don’t meet expectations. Why? Why can’t I be exactly as good, exactly as deserving, exactly as sexy, as the next woman? Why can’t the next woman be exactly as creative, exactly as kind, and exactly as thoughtful as I strive to be?
The truth is, we are all deserving, sexy, wonderfully creative, and thoughtful. We are not better or worse than anyone else. I am not better or worse than anyone else.
I think even within the spoonie community, sadly there is a culture of one-upping each other that is dangerous and undermines our strength as a whole. If we can’t trust fellow pain and illness warriors with our raw, real selves, who in the world can we trust?
Together, our voices are stronger than ever. Together we have the power to reverse stigma, to undo prejudice against the disabled and those with invisible illness. We can absolutely create a better world in which the chronically ill can lead fuller and more enriching lives. We have the power to make the world less lonely for others just by existing and sharing our stories. That is incredible! Before I was sick, I didn’t believe in my ability to change the world for the better. Now I understand that a life with purpose is the only possible way forward, and as a result I see potential everywhere to educate, to reach out, and to encourage those around me who need it most.
So here’s my style tip of the year: Own it. Whatever “it” is. If you’re not into pretty dresses, don’t force yourself to wear them. If you’re not okay being seen in your pajamas, that isn’t wrong either. Be comfortable in your skin, and kick standards of conventional beauty to the curb for good. No one else knows how we earned our gray hair, our medical equipment, our scars, our weight gain or weight loss, our wrinkles, or our battle wounds, but it shouldn’t matter. We should never be measured by something skin deep.
For years I have read the words of so many girls and women with illness, no matter age, and unfortunately the theme of shame over looks is constant, it’s instilled in the language we use to differentiate ourselves, and even in compliments we dole out. I hear the same longing to look “normal” and “not sick”.
Having a chronic illness, sadly the pressure to somehow keep up with the person we used to be is immense, specifically the pressure to look like the person we used to look like. Some of that pressure comes from within. Mostly it comes from a culture steeped in telling women what “beautiful” is, instead of letting us tell the world how we are each uniquely and inherently beautiful.
I think we should spread a new message to girls and boys alike: Beauty is not your looks, it is a state of being.
I don’t think we need to get rid of the word or the concept of beauty, just rewrite its definition.
When I say someone is beautiful, I say so meaning they are beautiful in every possible way; that they are perfect the way they are, that they would still be perfect no matter what flaws are present or mistakes are made, and that they will continue to be just as beautiful as the years pass, if not more radiant still. That is the kind of beauty I want to encourage others to see: beauty that is layers and layers deep and only grows the more you get to know someone.
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