All in Chronic Illness Living
Mine was: I am not worthy.
It was the “Why me?”, “Please make it stop.”, “I can’t handle this” feelings that had me stuck in cycles of grief every time I had a migraine. A year ago, I would still be going through these ups and downs every. single. migraine. Not now.
Now, I have looked beyond the migraine, journal-ed my way through each stage of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally made it through to the final stage — acceptance.
You know the saying “Keep your friends close but your enemies closer?” Well, my health invaders, migraines, anxiety and depression, and I have become uncomfortably close again this fall. You may have noticed my blogs in November have been less frequent and the posts a little shorter. This is simply because fall is my worst time of year for migraines.
For the past three years, I’ve lived in a constant state of migraine for most of October, November and December. The first year I coined, “Death December” and last year became “Fuck All Fall”. This year’s theme? “Why didn’t I see this coming?”
Adding to the clichés, it was easy for me to think “third times the charm” and this #migraineseason would be smooth sailing.
As a chronic illness sufferer, you are bound to have bad days.
To cope, I’ve learned acceptance, found ways to reduce anxiety and taken time out for my health.
In essence, I’ve learned to be kinder to myself — to show myself love in the moments when I feel like I don’t deserve it.
But, it’s on those “bad days” that it takes extra effort. Today, on World Kindness Day, I wanted to take the time to say it’s just as important to be kind to yourself as it is to be kind to others.
Kindness starts with YOU.
Three years ago, almost exactly, I made a radical decision in my life.
It was time to focus on my health.
The decision didn’t come easily. I had a dream job, loved the people I worked with, was using the skills I attended university for and had just started a wonderful new relationship. Yet, my health was robbing me from the joy of experiencing it all.
I was in a constant cycle of migraines and anxiety. I wasn’t being a fair co-worker — my sick leaves put other people under more pressure. Adding on additional responsibility at work made me feel unworthy and useless instead of valued and respected because I was constantly worried I wasn’t doing a good enough job due to my health.
I love this quote. It’s calming, reassuring and has one key word — doing.
A friend of mine recently contacted me about anxiety. After reading my blog she reached out because in her words, “I would love to just chat with someone who just gets it”. I completely understood where she was coming from. Talking to someone who doesn’t have anxiety about anxiety can feel like you’re talking to a brick wall, even if they’re working hard to understand. After messaging back and forth, she highlighted one of the hardest parts of learning to accept anxiety: the difference between trying and doing.
Last week’s post on acceptance had me thinking more deeply about what chronic illness looks like from an outsider’s perspective — even to another chronic illness warrior. Case in point: My reaction to a friend saying I cope well. It was a total shocker. I had NO idea I was being seen as a person with a chronic illness who wore rose-coloured glasses.
Last week, I was taken aback when a close friend of mine texted me these words. My first thoughts were, “Me? Cope? What? I don’t do that!” My mouth gaped open.
Coping with chronic illness isn’t something that has come naturally to me. It was hard for me to look at my chronic illnesses from an outsider’s perspective and see what she was seeing. After a few moments of reflection, I worked up the courage to write her back. This is what I said:
It’s because when you have a chronic illness, you are forced to learn a lot — about a lot of different things. Some days I feel like I’m in school 24/7. From understanding myself, to navigating the medical system and working through life lessons — it’s all been beneficial to me. The lessons I have learned will apply to life when hopefully one day chronic illness isn’t the first thing I think of when I wake up in the morning. They have made me stronger and more resilient, and will help carry me through any tough situation life might throw at me. So for that, I am thankful I have chronic migraine, depression and anxiety. They have made me who I am today.
Literally. I was 18 years old, and my family and I were camping. I had retreated to our rented motorhome to head to bed, take some Tylenol and pray that my “headache” would subside after a nap. Little did I know, a big storm was rolling in fast. Soon the rain started pelting the windows and I began counting the seconds between the thunder and lightening, while each blast echoed in my skull. I huddled under multiple blankets and pillows to deafen the tin can effect the rain was having on the motorhome and the resulting pain in my head. Tossing and turning, I instinctively knew my “headache” was connected to the storm but it wasn’t until years later I made the connection — This was my first migraine.
Chronic illness warriors who have been around the block know to have a list/bag/box of things they need and make them feel better when things go south.
This list didn’t come to me overnight. It’s been a long three-year process to find out exactly what I need when the pain hits and it’s time to hunker down (And I’m still tweaking it). But, now that I have my toolkit prepped, it makes living with chronic migraine a bit easier. It also helps my family and friends get through the worst moments — they know where to go and what to do for me.