Why is support such a hard word to comprehend?

I’ve been thinking a lot about support recently.

We, the chronically ill, think about it all the time to be honest. We lay in our beds, or sit uncomfortably in our chairs, just wondering when we will have enough.

The ladies in my support groups get it. We can talk all day about the lack of support we get from our own doctors, friends, family members, even spouses. Some of us have been sick for many years, and yet we always are surprised by the painful sting of the lack of understanding around us.

And it’s not like our disease is uncommon. You can find a wealth of information online regarding the disease and its symptoms. Rheumatoid Disease is unfortunately common, I know at least four other people with varying stages of it. So, I find it fairly ridiculous when I’m faced with comments from people I know, saying “Oh I don’t really know much.” Yet, these are the same people that feel the need to lecture me on how I could be cured if I started yoga and went gluten free. *insert eye roll here*

Just for the record (in case you’re a new reader), I have tried so many diets, workout routines, and herbal treatments. I’ve tried acupuncture, CBD oil, vitamins, spiritual healing, magic moon rocks, I mean I could go on for ages…

When you are as sick as I am, trust me when I say this, you will do anything and try anything. I never asked to be sick, this wasn’t in my life plan. Do you think when I was young I dreamed about one day being 37 and unemployed? Do you think I imagined dealing with pain day to day that was so bad that most medications in the world don’t work for me? Do you think I hoped to have such a debilitating disease that it scared away most men in my life, leaving me often single and lonely?

No. The answer is no.

I have tried everything in my power to find something, anything, that would work. So, once again I am here pleading with people to not be bad friends to your sick friends. They don’t need your judgement. You will not and cannot ever understand what they go through day to day, unless you’ve experienced it yourself.

The best support is just being there. You promise to show up, then show up. If you promise to listen, then listen. Be supportive by understanding that what we are going through is something difficult for us. That we didn’t ask for this life, but that we struggle through it every day. And we want to be better.

A women in one of my support groups is realising that her husband is not the man she thought. He is very unsupportive of her struggle, and instead of trying to uunderstand, he checks out. This is not the support we want or need. Spouses and family members may have it the hardest, it’s true. They see us at our most vulnerable, at our weakest moments. The best way to support us through that is to just BE THERE. Don’t make it about yourself, your needs, why it affects you. We know it affects you. But we need you to be strong for us because sometimes we can’t be strong for ourselves.

This last month was a hard one for me. I was in the hospital for pneumonia, an ailment which I’m still recovering from. During the worst of it I cracked My ribs on both sides from all the coughing. It has been a hard month of pain on my body, and a very slow road to wellness.

Because of the multiple hospital stays I’ve had within the last six month, my mother and I decided to move in together. It seemed the best way to give support to each other. We move this weekend.

Now obviously I don’t have to tell you how painful it is to move with broken ribs. Packing has been a nightmare. The last two times I’ve moved I was in a romantic relationship. Now that I am single again I am reminded how hard it is to do things like this without the support of a partner.

So, I took to Facebook and asked if any friends could help me with the move.

I was shocked at the lack of response. During the best times I’ve always had close friends offer help if I need it. But when I call in that offer? Crickets…..

At the same time, a friend who I don’t know very well, stepped up. Not only offering her help, but also that of her partner. It’s times like these when I feel my faith in humanity gets restored bit by bit.

But I’m still disappointed.

I am a giver. I will give and give until I have nothing, if only to ensure the comfort and well being of others. I know this about myself and I know it has been overly taxing on me before. Especially in the midst of me living day to day with the illness that consumes me. But I will always offer help, and give whatever I can. That’s how I was raised.

It’s taken me many years to realise that not everyone is the same. Some people take. Some people are only present when it suits their needs. Some people are flaky. And honestly, some people just don’t care. And it can take you a while to really figure that out for yourself. I’m 37 years old and I still hold on to the hope that everyone cares the same degree that I do.

I’m an optimist, what can I say?

I guess the point to my litany is to be self aware. Be supportive to those who need it. Be a good friend, spouse, family member. Give what you can, not just take. Try to understand what it’s like to walk in the shoes of others. Listen. Care. Be.

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A chance meeting

Today I went on what I perceived to be a new adventure. A music festival, that my now ex invited me to, those many months ago when we were still happy.

Despite our breakup I thought it prudent to still attend. I love music and freedoms, everything this festival was about.

But I didn’t expect to find what I did.

I thought I’d find myself again, something that in recent months I felt I’d lost. I give so much of myself in relationships. I give everything. And it’s not always reciprocated. In polyamory, it’s very often not reciprocated. But that’s who I am, and I refuse to stray from my truth. I will give until nothing is left, and I am often left alone when someone moves on to another they can receive more from.

I live with a chronic illness that many will never understand. It consumes me daily, and yet I am always optimistic that I have something extraordinary waiting for me out there. That maybe I was given this disease to prove how much I can handle, and maybe one day I will be given something lovely in return.

Tonight I felt sad. Overwhelming sadness that came out of the depths of my being and brought me to a stand still. So much so that in the middle of a festival I had to sit down and feel it moving through me.

And during this sadness, someone found me on that bench. I don’t know who he was. Maybe an empath, maybe a psychic, or maybe someone who just understood deeply my pain. He touched my hand and asked if I was ok. I said “sure”, not wanting to ruin anyone else’s mood.

But this man looked at me, and when he did it was like he looked inside my soul. He saw everything that was me and understood.

And he said, “I see your pain. And not the physical, though I know that also hurts you.”

I was confused, and thought he might be high or drunk.

He said, “You’ve met him, you knew him well, and he could have been your love. But he chose another, and thats on him, not you. You are exceptional.”

And with that, he got up and walked away.

I will never forget those words for as long as I live. This man who didn’t know me, saw inside my soul, inside the world.

He saw my sadness at the loss of love in my life, and though it wasn’t great news, it calmed me in a way I can’t explain. He took away my sadness. He took away my pains. And when I feel pain at the loss of love again, I will remember that I had it once.

I’ve lived a life worth living and loving.

I still don’t understand

I grew up with Disney, and fairytales, and romance. I grew up believing one day my prince would come and sweep me off my feet and save the day.

In my twenties I quickly learned how silly these concepts were. That Disney wasn’t real, that fairytales were rare, and that there was no prince waiting on a white horse.

In my early thirties, I woke up one day with Severe Rheumatoid Arthritis. In the six years that have passed since then I’ve learned that my body wasn’t made for romance, fairytales, and dreams come true.

I don’t know what the meaning of life is, or why we are here, and what we as humans are meant to do. But I’ve come to realize that I my body and mind were meant to endure colossal amounts of pain.

Pain from the diseases in my body that won’t quit multiplying. Pain from cancers that won’t give up. Pain from being destroyed from inside out. And the pain from being constantly let down by those who don’t stay.

If my body was meant to endure such stress and pain, why give me a heart and mind that is so vulnerable to the human condition?

Why let me know sadness and sorrow, heartache and loss? Was the physical endurance not enough for one person to take? Must I feel the destruction of everything inside on such a monumental level?

I don’t understand why I was made to experience so much pain. I don’t understand. I don’t understand.

little by little

I was looking through #quotestoliveby on Instagram tonight and came across three small words.

“little by little”

I’m sure that this is probably a mantra for many, as it could encompass so many aspects of life. It might have been written to encourage people to strive for their goals, to not give up. Maybe to save their pennies, and go for that dream vacation. Or keep chipping away at their education, until they’ve succeeded in their dreams.

I used to love seeing quotes like this. I’d save them to my quotes board on Pinterest. I even contemplated getting some of them as tattoos, so powerful a message they were, I wanted them as a permanent reminder.

But tonight I see these words and they don’t speak to me as they once might have. I see “little by little” as a reminder of my mortality. I see it as my disease chipping away slowly at my body from the inside out.

Little by little my bones grow brittle and break more often.

Little by little my fatigue consumes me to where I wonder if I can get out of bed again.

Little by little my hair falls to the floor.

Little by little the drugs fail and I wonder what will be next if I’ve already tried everything.

A lot of people have commented on how strong I am about my disease, how in control I seem, how optimistic. They don’t realise that this is the mask I must wear, my uniform. Because if I share how scary it is to not know when the end is, then I’m being “dramatic” or “looking for attention”. No one wants to hear when the chronically ill are suffering. It’s a nuisance, something that should be kept to themselves. So we do. We keep it in. We become experts at the “I’m ok”.

But there are days like today, moments where the gravity of everything collapses our resolve. It might be a song on the radio, or a comment someone made at dinner, or that moment when we look in the mirror while washing our hands. Everything we hide from everyone, including ourselves, shatters. We remember what we are going through and how bad it is.

So tonight, when I read those three words, I remembered that little by little my body is dying. And that just sucks.

Our footprints

I recently ended a two week long road trip around the South Island of New Zealand. A trip that I never thought I’d be able to take at this point in my life.

At 36, I never thought I’d be struggling under the burden of multiple chronic illnesses. Never thought that I would live each day in pain and fatigue, wondering if or when it would all end. In March of 2016, one of the eleven doctors and specialists that I saw on a regular basis told me that I was living on a clock. A clock that no woman in her mid-thirties should have had to think about. A clock that was slowly counting down the time unto which my life would end. I had time, years in fact. But not decades, like most my age looked forward to. Ten years minimum, fifteen if I got lucky.

I took that news on my own, silently in his office, starting at my hands as if they were supposed to provide me with the answers he didn’t have. If they could find a medication that worked for me, more time could be bought. But they hadn’t found anything in the years leading up, and every day my disease turned more aggressive. Every time I visited a doctor a new diagnosis would be presented, or the bad news of a failed medication would be shared. Years of allergies and intolerance to the leading drugs for my diseases, countless failed treatments, and pain, so much pain. And then to hear that despite all my optimism I was going to die sooner than maybe even my own parents…

Five months later I landed in the Intensive Cardiac Unit at Queens Medical Center for ten days. I survived a “multiple cardiac event”, according to my cardiologist and the medical team that looked after me. Despite my doctors projections, my body had other ideas in mind for my time left on earth.

But something changed in me the night that I almost died. It’s not that I wanted to go… Sure some of us living with chronic pain have been down that road where we wonder if the pain is worth going on. Nothing as dark as giving into those thoughts though. And in the middle of my second heart attack of the night on my third night in hospital, apparently when the pain became too great that I actually blacked out, I had an epiphany.

No, I did not “see the light“. I mean yes, there was light, but clearly it was the doctors shining something in my face trying to wake me. I did however feel like I had a choice. A choice on whether to let go, or to continue on.

I don’t know how long I was in that place, probably only seconds. Later my doctors told me I could have died. And I knew if I had been willing to give up, I would have. But something had changed. Despite all the pain, and the knowing I didn’t have long, I still wanted to continue. Something told me that I had purpose.

A year and a half later I finally understand what that is.

Earlier this year I made the life changing decision to move to New Zealand, as healthcare was more accessible for me there as I was a citizen. More so than it was in the US, as it wasn’t affordable, even on Federal Disability. It was a chance to turn my life around as well, live healthier, make friends, maybe find my purpose.

I started bi-monthly Infliximab infusions in June, and had successfully gotten myself off most of my hardcore painkillers by October. I’d even lost a large portion of weight that I’d gained from years of Prednisone usage. I got some new hobbies, joined groups, and made friends, so many friends. I even started dating for the first time in two and a half years.

Sure, I was still in pain. My disease didn’t magically disappear because I moved. Chronic illnesses don’t drift off when you find love, despite what Disney movies try to teach us. I still spent multiple days in bed, fatigued beyond repair. Lung Disease reared its ugly head in a new diagnosis in August. Lupus followed soon after..

The change was that I felt I was around more people that supported me. People didn’t treat me as pitiful, and because of that I was able to let the real me shine through. I reclaimed the person I used to be, maybe not in body, but definitely in spirit. And I realise now it’s all because of footprints.

Just like others footprints made an impression on me during my illness, my footprints were helping others too. I accepted the love and generosity of friends and strangers in Hawaii because my blog had reached them in ways I didn’t know. I couldn’t see that the knowledge I’d learned in my own experiences were helping people just as those whose generosity helped me. Just by listening to a friend, or sharing a meal, I was leaving footprints on the journey of others, just as they leave theirs on mine.

Today as my partner and I concluded our two week vacation, one that I wouldn’t have taken had I not left footprints on his journey as equally as he left his on mine, I had my epiphany. We were talking with our Airbnb host, just as we were getting ready to depart for the airport, and she shared that she had lupus. She shared this only because I shared that I wrote a blog about living with invisible illnesses. Through this tiny piece of information she came to not only understand that she shouldn’t feel alone, but also some references I gave her for support groups. She had no idea the resources that were available to her, feeling isolated by friends and family who couldn’t or wouldn’t understand.

On the plane ride home I thought about my footprints… If I can leave pieces of myself behind, to help or to grow or to love, then no matter how much time I have left, that time was worthy. I have and will continue to make a difference on those who choose to share my journey with me, just as I share theirs.

Our footprints, my footprints, matter…

Personal Purgatory

I’ve been doing a lot of inner reflection lately, and it seems to me that those of us living with chronic illness do a lot of destructive thinking. I don’t think it’s on purpose either. I’m not talking about the inevitable depression and grief that comes with living with chronic disease, that’s a whole other can of worms… I’m talking about the depression we let ourselves slip into.

Rheumatoid Disease is shitty enough on its own, without having added Osteoporosis, Lupus, and Lung Disease to the mix. While I have accepted each of these as they have come, and deal with my diagnosis the best way I know how (smiles and realistic expectations), I find myself under a rain cloud. But it’s a rain cloud of my own conjuring.

There is a point that I think we all go through where we have had enough. The pain has become too great, or we lose support, or medical help, or all of these things, and we start to feel like we want to give up. I’m not talking about ending our lives, but more of an acceptance of defeat. At one point in our illness we accept that it can’t or won’t get better. It seems easier to accept that our disease has won, not only by conquering our body, but also our will. 

I realise that recently I have let myself get to this point. And I really do mean I let myself. At some point my loneliness joined forces with the disease destroying my body, and they decided to get married. And instead of dealing with my illness while trying to stay positive, I let myself slip into depression.

See, most people think we (the chronically ill) keep to ourselves because we want to be alone. When most of the time the reality is that we just don’t want to bring anyone down with us. We keep our feelings, pain, and sadness within, convincing ourselves that it’s better this way. In my case, I like to take it a step further by emotionally cutting myself off from others. I guess my logic is that I don’t want anyone feeling sorry for me, or treating me like I’m broken. But in doing that I end up putting up walls, especially around my heart.

I haven’t been in a romantic relationship in a long time. I’m talking years. Wanna know why?

I wouldn’t let myself. 

In hindsight I now see that my logic was really flawed. Because in keeping people at arm’s length, I not only hurt myself, but others around me as well. I started to use my disease as an excuse to not live my life. Not in the giving up sense, but I did throw away opportunities to have meaningful relationships with some great people because I justified to myself that I was saving them from dealing with my health issues. In truth, I was just building my own personal  purgatory.

It’s taken me a few years, but I’ve recently seen the light. Maybe not the light at the end of the tunnel, but at least a flashlight that will help me find my way. I realise now that letting people in is important. Sharing how I feel is important. It may not always get you the results you want, but it sure as hell is better than keeping it bottled up inside. I need to not let my disease define me as a person, and I have to remember thank don’t have to walk in this life alone.

No matter how many days I have left, mine is a life meant to be shared.  I will climb out of the purgatory of my own making. I will remember I am strong, beautiful, and worthy of happiness.

A drop in the ocean

Lately, I have been really feeling the solitude that my illness has wrought on me.

I am aware that I am emotionally not alone. I know that I have friends, and family, and a fairly large support network of doctors and medical professionals. I know that if I was having a bad fatigue day, a friend would be just a call away to come over and lend support. If I was having bad pain, and needed assistance bathing or eating, my mom would be over as soon as she could. If I was stuck in my head about the severity of my disease, I could call my therapist and we could talk through my struggles with my reality. If I just needed a friendly face, my sister is available for a video chat and emotional support. I am not alone emotionally.

One could even make the argument that I am not physically alone in my illness either. Over 1.3 million Americans are affected by Rheumatoid Arthritis, and it affects almost 1% of the worldwide population, according to the latest statistics from rheumatoidarthritis.org. As well as millions of others whom suffer from countless autoimmune diseases, chronic fatigue, and chronic pain. Yes, we all share a common link in our fight against invisible illnesses.

But no one can say they suffer from exactly what I do. No one else out there can say they are affected by the exact same diseases and illnesses that I have, in the exact same way. Because despite our common threads, we are all fighting our own battles within our bodies. No two people suffer the same way. We are as individual as every drop in the ocean, and that can be very isolating.

Over four years ago I was diagnosed with Severe Rheumatoid Arthritis from the get go. That alone was a tough struggle for me as I felt like I wasn’t given time to even get used to the searing pain. One day I just woke up and it was there, and its never left.

A year later I was forced to stop working by my employer and put on Temporary Disability Insurance, before eventually being officially “laid off”. By that point I was walking with a cane, and taking very strong opiates to calm the  pain that I felt in every joint in my body. With a heavy unbelieving heart, I filed for Social Security from the Federal Government.

A year after that I was diagnosed with Severe Osteoporosis, my doctors telling me my bones tested like those of an eighty year old woman, and not of a woman of thirty-three years, my  actual age at the time. Know how I found out about the Osteoporosis? By receiving a bear hug from a friend that cracked my apparently brittle ribs. Yep, that’s right….a HUG.

Within six months of the Osteoporosis diagnosis, I was sent to see two new specialists, a Cardiologist and Oncologist. After a biopsy of my esophagus, a tumor was found to be benign, but I had signs of early stage Lymphoma. I’d also started having chest pains congruent with Pericarditis, a heart condition attached to Rheumatoid Arthritis. New medications followed, as well as a mammogram, an MRI, multiple x-rays and CATscans.

Eventually, due to the inflammation in my body, and my weakened immune system, I landed in the hospital for a severe Cardiac event. It resulted in my being placed In the Intensive Heart Care ward at Queen’s Hospital. During my time there I suffered through Severe Pericarditis, including three minor heart attacks. I was thirty-four years old.

My doctors told me if I got any weaker than I was, and if they couldn’t find some medication that would work on calming my inflammation that I wouldn’t make it to my sixties. Truth be told, I was given a hopeful ten years.

For a change of climate, and pace, I made the decision to come to New Zealand, where I am a citizen, in early 2017. I thought with a different atmosphere, and medical system, that perhaps I could finally find a way to extend my life. By March of this year, no medications had worked for my diseases, and I was getting increasingly worse. My body was either intolerant of the medications available, or allergic to them. It felt like time was catching up to me. I hoped that somewhere out there beyond the ocean was the  key to my mortality.

By June of 2017, I had already started a new form of chemotherapy medication for my disease that appeared to be working for me. Physically I felt less pain, and had more pep in my step. I was starting to be able top exercise again, and I had lost a lot of the steroid weight. So, when I met with my Rheumatologist after a series of tests to check my condition, I was feeling very hopeful. It was then that I was informed of my new diagnosis’ of Lung Disease and Lupus.

There are times when I can feel so very small in this world. Like a drop in the  ocean. The solitude of my illness can be so overwhelming. No one will ever quite understand what I am going through, or how this feels. No one can tell me they know how hard it is to wake up sometimes knowing that your own body wants you six feet under.

I don’t quite understand how these things work, but I do know that it pretty amazing that I have not completely fallen apart by now. There are days where I can wake up and not be fully assaulted with the gravity of my situation. I can have a shower, get dressed, and face the day, rain or shine, with a smile on my face. I can see my mom, or friends, or just take a walk and feel happiness in my heart.

Then there are times where I look in the mirror and wonder when my last day will be. I wonder what awful thing my body is doing today to destroy itself. I can lay in bed for hours staring at the ceiling in silence. No tears, no anger. I contemplate my mortality and the awful unfairness of my life, like I’m watching an old movie with no sound. Days like that I lay there and contemplate my life as if I were a drop in the ocean. I wonder what it will feel like when I am swept away by the current and I have let go. Today is not that day.

But it will come. Sooner than I would like.