I realised today that I have spent so long trying to minimise my illness that I have lost sight of what it really is, and how sick I actually am. Why I’ve chosen this path is complex. I’m not completely sure I can identify all the reasons why I do this, but I’ll try.
I know part of it is my attempt to shake my fists at the universe and say, “You can’t beat me”. To tell my illness that it doesn’t own me and that I am still me under my compression hose and gallons of water. You need to do this to survive. It’s hard to keep getting out of bed each morning unless a part of you says I can do this, no matter the reality of the situation.
I know part of it is that I am sick of being the token ‘sick’ person. I’m over it. I don’t want people to know how ill I am. I don't want the first question to always be about my health. I want them to see me rather than dysautonomia.
I know part of it is my strong aversion to pity. I would rather kill myself putting on my ‘well’ mask, pushing myself to the limits and suffering for the next week, rather than get the pity look or comments. They cut me to the quick and leave me with a sense that the word 'VICTIM' is being continually carved into my forehead.
I know part of it is that my ‘well’ baseline is now so much lower than those without chronic illness. How do you register a ‘sick’ day, when every day is a 'sick' day. Symptoms that were so strange and frightening at the start are like white noise now. I’m permanently dizzy. I’ve had
I know part of it is that I don’t look sick most of the time. Not that I go out in public when I am really ill. As those of us with dysautonomia have all experienced, people are happy to tell us we don’t look ill. They might as well scream “LIAR” each time, as it is frequently clear that there is a 'look' to being sick and like jeggings, it is something that I am yet to master.
I know part of it is that I used to work in a hospital. I know what ‘real’ sick looks like. I've worked in palliative care. I know what these patients and their families went through and, my illness seems so petty in comparison. Basically I feel guilty for saying I am sick.
I know part of it is I can’t stand people who wallow in their illness. Who roll around in every bit of pain and discomfort and seem to enjoy the sick role. A while back I was on a forum and the topic was related to severity of symptoms. What began as a a simple exchange of what each person was experiencing, became a game of oneupmanship. Certain posters tried to out-sick each other. Bizarre, and certainly not a game I ever wish to win.
I know part of it is that many of these same posters say, “I am super ill and yet I still manage to work, volunteer, raise my family, work on the PTA, cure world hunger, organise peace in the Middle East, and solve global warming. Those who say they can’t, have a bad attitude and are lazy”. Logically, I know they are tossers and would most likely be in every aspect of their life, but it still makes me feel less. So I fight through to try and do things that I know, in a moment of clarity, are far beyond me and fail miserably. I can’t even be sick right!
I know part of it is that growing up I was always taught to hide my true feelings. When I was ill as a child I was told I was a hypochondriac and to harden up. If things were bad we hid them and in turn hid ourselves. I was raised in a family where only the weak mentioned they were feeling unwell.
I know part of it is that incompetent and misogynistic doctor who told me it was all in my head. Thanks to a long list of cardiologists and neurologists, I know he’s wrong. But I still have that nagging little voice saying “you don’t have an illness you are just a nutter”. Stupid I know.
I can sit back. Put my psychologist logical hat on. Sit my illogical emotional self on the couch and ask that part of me to tell me about my mother (oh self, lets not go there, thats years of therapy) and pull apart my illogical reasoning. But often we are driven by those little voices that tell us how we ‘should’ behave. I hate those voices with a passion but I still hold them close, they are my 'frenemies' and it is hard to part with them.
The other day I had a bit of a reality check. I wrote a post about the good old ‘simple faint‘, on my personal blog. For those of us who experence this or even pre-syncope on a regular basis it just becomes part of the daily existance. But I was shocked by the comments and messages I received. People were truly horrified about the whole experience. I’ve had similar comments before about posts, where people wish for me to get better, but never the shock aspect.
I was taken aback.
Am I really that sick?
Am I really experiencing something so horrible?
I mean I know it’s not pleasant, but it’s part and parcel of living with dysautonomia.
Then it stuck me. I’ve been living with this so long that I’ve lost sight of what I am going through. My normal is so skewed from reality that I have lost the ability to see my dysautonomia with clear vision. If one of my loved ones was going through what I described I would be horrified. I would never judge them like I judge myself.
I realised that I don’t have to deny my illness to be able to live with it. It’s not about rising above it necessarily, but accepting it for what it is, and to find it’s place in the big scheme of things. I don’t need to minimise it to make it bearable, that only increases the load I have to bear. I’m going to bring it out of the shadows, not for anyone else, but for me. Admitting it does not make me weak, self-indulgent, or all the other negative names I can throw my way. It’s okay for me to be sick.
Now I’m not saying those little voices wont keep getting their way on occasion, I’m realistic enough to know that. But I also know that’s part of the process. It doesn’t have to be an all or nothing. It’s the journey to find a balance between the two.
They say that part of the solution is admitting you have a problem so I’m going to start:
“Hi my name is Michelle and I really am sick. And that’s okay”.