Monday, December 19, 2011

You Are Here ... Where Am I?

I finally decided to check in.  Since one of my goals is to encourage others who are setting out on their RA journey, I avoided sharing for a while.  Why?  Because I was in a very bad place.

One of the most frightening things I witnessed early in my internet quest for information about chronic illness was how many people came to support sites feeling hopeless and defeated.  I was terrified that I would fall victim to those feelings permeating my life.  I have since learned those feelings can be an element of the process without becoming a permanent condition.  But, while I try to honestly share my feelings in this blog, hopelessness and defeat have no place here.  I have had a brief period of that, and I chose not to share it - it isn't good for me and it isn't good for any innocent reader who might stumble upon this blog and get the impression that this represents life with chronic illness.

One of the things I like most about myself is that I am a "fixer".  I welcome challenges and problems because I love the feeling of accomplishment that comes from achieving a solution.  It may be as simple a thing as finding a workaround for hands that won't grip; in this case it was realizing I needed help, and asking for it.

I come from good stoic Scot-Irish stock.  We are long-suffering, we are hardy, we soldier on.  This time I had to ask for help, something that is completely foreign to my nature.  I learned some incredibly helpful facts by asking for help:

I have a great GP doc - he's always been there for me, but when I turned to him because I was weepy and melancholy, sleepless and unable to concentrate, he did something really marvelous.  He congratulated me on asking for help ( clearly, he knows me well.)  He immediately gave me a medical term for what I was feeling (I found that sooo reassuring!), and encouraged me by saying "I'm suprised you've made it this long without needing some help."

You can ignore stress, depression and anxiety - but not for long when you have chronic illness.  Sometimes they can be so serious that a person feels hopeless, even suicidal.  For me, it was as if I was successfully juggling all the balls that life had thrown at me .... then, the most ridiculous little stinking thing was that final ball that caused the whole operation to collapse.  If I forgot something at the store, I would totally overreact and find myself with tears streaming down my face.  Even I get that I wasn't crying over the forgotten item - I was crying for the loss of my wellness, my joy, my mojo.  Suppressed stress and worry were simply finding another route to get. out. of. my. head.

It is stronger to ask for help.  This was a toughie for me.  I have always been from the "get a grip on yourself" school of psychology, not terribly compassionate with myself or others about depression and anxiety.  I now consider myself pretty damned fortunate to have made it through much of my adulthood with that attitude.  And I think I'm a better person for my recent experience - more compassionate for knowing that none of us in immune, and smarter for learning not to hide it and suffer silently.

You must care for your whole self.  With prescription drugs or therapy (or both) when you need it, you can make a real difference in your overall health.  Even though I'm still without RA meds, still taking wicked antibiotics for TB, and still living on pain meds - I feel better physically.  My fatigue is improved, my pain is better managed, I'm sleeping well most nights.

So the doctor says he'd like me to keep taking this anti-depressant/anxiety med for about six months.  We've talked it over, and we both feel that will get me past a couple of big hurdles and into smoother waters. 

This is by far the hardest post I have written to date.  Blame my hard-headedness; blame the social stigma - I'm really not sure why the act of writing this was so daunting.  But maybe it can help one person with RA or Lupus or some other chronic illness see the path that I found so hard to follow - reaching out and asking for help - it's there, and it's definitely the right one.