artwork by Ruben Ireland
In the past, I’ve written on rare disease and adjusting to life after becoming homebound. As the world learns to cope with the reality of life at home, threatened by a terrifying virus, and concerned for what the future has in store, this is the only topic I’m compelled to write about today.
While we live under the shadow of Covid19, how are you handling the images in the media? How are you coping with social distancing, and isolation? Have any of your family or friends tested positive?
Here we’ll be discussing some of the feelings that come along with heightened stress, and why it can make our lives seem out of control.
In a crisis, the natural reaction is to feel shocked, upset, overwhelmed, concerned, confused, sorrowful, and/or physically agitated. If these feelings sound familiar to you, then take some small comfort in knowing that you’re reacting like a healthy, normal human being.
Though these feelings can be physically and emotionally difficult, they are completely understandable under the given circumstances.
On the flip side, if you were living without a care in the world, then one might wonder if you understood the gravity of the situation. Staying in denial might feel better temporarily, but it can lead you to take dangerous risks for yourself and your family. Failing to grasp the seriousness of our situation may lead you to go as far as spreading misinformation or even the virus itself.
Concern serves a purpose and it’s the appropriate reaction for survival. Concern can be a very useful emotion, and keeps you more alerted to possible dangers.
We generally try to avoid or ignore our concerns and feelings of stress, but in a crisis situation, remember that feelings of anxiety are there to serve a purpose. It’s perfectly understandable to be worried for your loved ones. It shows a heart of compassion; it can drive you to check on the people you care for, to listen to local authorities, and to go the extra mile to keep your family safe.
Everyone is sorting through their own unique life circumstances due to the “Stay at Home” orders. If your regular routine has been interrupted by the quarantine, then you’re even more likely to feel the pressure. When you lose control over your plans, you can begin feeling as though life has become chaotic, and you’re helpless to change it.
Losing your workday and regular routine can also cause confusion, feeling a loss of accomplishment, lack of motivation, and feeling a sense of uselessness. Being alone with your thoughts in isolation all day removes your typical daily distractions which can make stress seem even more pronounced!
These are distressing times, and the images in the news can play up our worst fears. It’s the media’s job to capitalize on the most distressing images and stories- the ones that grab our attention, and get our adrenaline pumping. I would caution anyone from watching too much broadcast news. Especially if you’re home with access to the news all day; it’s guaranteed to pump the volume up on your stress. The same goes for unsubstantiated conspiracy posts on social media which are meant to tap into your deepest fears.
In the moments when anxious thoughts flood your mind, logic won’t always prevail. Your survival instincts can begin to override. During periods of crisis and high stress, you may find yourself in “Survival Mode” (Fight-or-Flight).
If so, you might be experiencing: nervousness, sleeplessness, bursts of adrenaline, agitation, excessive loneliness, intrusive thoughts, racing mind, mood swings, sudden bouts of exhaustion, and confusion.
In survival mode, we instinctively want to fix things. We feel the need to actively find solutions, which is a great motivator, however, it can also lead to feeling helpless if we don’t have ways to exercise these desires. Feeling helpless combined with high stress and isolation can be a slippery slope to feelings of worthlessness. If you have a family member with a history of depression, try to check in with them during this time, and let them know how much they mean to you ❤
You may not be able to find a cure for Covid19 or go back into work yet, but using your energy to do a hands-on project at home will help you get a better sense of control, and therein begins your new routine.
Building a new routine at home will help you feel more in control. Building a routine can be as simple as getting up at the same time each day, making breakfast, and limiting your screen time.
On that note, I would encourage you to avoid the common terms “positive” and “negative” emotions, and instead give yourself permission to feel whatever you’re feeling. Specifically, labeling emotions as “negative” can make us feel as though sadness, loss, heartbreak, and frustration, are somehow forbidden. If we view our most challenging feelings as “negative,” it can unintentionally, cause a sense of shame or wrongdoing. Though some feelings are uncomfortable, they help us learn, grow and build character.
Acknowledging our full experience, however difficult, can also allow us to have more empathy and compassion for others.
Seasons of struggle have a way of making us feel alone inside of our pain. If it seems as though no one understands, if you’re feeling withdrawn, depressed and/or have a sense of doom, I would urge you to contact a counselor through an online therapy app. Please take good and gentle care of yourself! (You’re the only beautiful you that we will ever have.)
We should all try to reach out to our friends and family by video chat during this quarantine for some social interaction, get some fresh air, and find creative ways to connect with one another (safely) online.
If you’re staying at home, and observing social distancing, I thank you personally on behalf of my immunosuppressed self and all of us who are at higher risk. After almost 9 years, I understand that the idea of being confined to your home can at times sound like a prison- to be given boundaries you can’t cross. But this boundary is to keep you safe, to keep the virus out, not to make us feel trapped or alone.This season will be over soon. For now, let’s make the most of this time and try to be the best versions of ourselves we can be in the face of hardship. Reach out, check on your elderly friends and those with disabilities and chronic illness, since they may have difficulty getting basics. Caregivers and delivery programs may not be serving them right now, so an offer to help might be appreciated.
Most of all, I want to remind you that you’re not alone. The entire world is going through this difficult time collectively. Thank you for continuing to help your community by staying home, and remaining socially distant. It’s a sacrifice you’re making for the greater good!
Keeping our healthcare professionals, essential workers, and all those fighting this virus in our prayers and on our hearts. Also praying for the safety, health and healing of our brothers and sisters around the world. Let this be a time of community, understanding, and finding more gratitude with every passing day. We hand over our fears and uncertainties, trust the future to you, and plant our feet in your eternal hope. Amen.
God be with you.
Thank you for reading. Take good care, and stay well. -Mary
How to manage anxiety in a changing world
I’m a pretty tough customer in physical therapy. But, the other day my physical therapist said something very poignant that gave me pause. I’d like to share it with you.
He said, because I’ve had chronic illness for so long, I’ve adopted so many coping strategies to help me through. So many techniques and methods I call my own to get me from one day to the next. (And here he is teaching this old dog new tricks.) However, he was right when he asked me, “Is all of this still working for you?”
You start collecting techniques from the very first moment you hear the word, “permanent” or “chronic.” Our doctors don’t help as quickly as our own shifts and wriggles take effect. Soon enough, you’ve built a pattern for yourself that is keeping you going. Over so many years, and multiple conditions, you better believe I have some modalities and some definite patterns! Are they still working for me?
Could they be holding me back?
Adaptation is paramount with chronic illness. You have to be able to rebuild in order to find purpose again, to find yourself again amid your ever-changing body. But as your body changes, does the structure that you built change with it?
For instance, if all you were once able to do is use the computer or your smart phone, maybe you grew a strong online network which gave you purpose. You could have done nothing instead, but you were brave and reached out to others online. It was incredible how much your work online distracted from your illness and impacted your life and the lives of others! It may have even saved your life. But as your body changes, you realize you can do more tactile work like crafting. Is spending as much time on the computer still working for you? Or, could it even be holding you back from moving more?
I have to go over so many of the coping tools I use- all of the amazing methods which have helped me to this point and ask this question. It’s spring after all; time for a spring cleaning of sorts. Is it STILL working? It may have saved my life last year, but will it take me to my next goal this year?
So it has been 9 months since my husband and I parted ways. For us it was not a gradual thing. Well, maybe for him it was….
[I’m going to get through this without talking about his personal details.]
On my end, I knew he had been struggling all year, and I was trying to be uplifting. One day, I was texting him love messages, silly photos (which are now just embarrassing), funny videos, and anything to try to help him smile at work. The very next day, I was living at my parents’, confused, and unsure what happened the day before, or why.
I don’t remember much about that conversation after he got home. I do remember messaging a friend in a daze asking what I should take with me, and Google searching
: “what do you take in case of a fire.”
In some ways, 9 months has flown by, and in other ways, it has dragged on much too slowly. It has felt impossible at times for my heart to catch up to all that has occurred, the choices that were no longer mine to make, the quickly unraveling dreams that were out of my control. I was often reminded that I had experience with surrendering, and making peace with pain, and could do it again if forced to. (I think people with disabilities are resilient in that way, and though it feels like every day is a fight, we learn adaptability which is a gift!) On the other hand, I felt continually impatient. If you have ever waited for test results that would almost surely come back with an outcome you don’t want to hear, something within you cannot help but crave the knowledge of it, no matter how bad. Almost like the tree of good and evil. Waiting was like an itch I couldn’t scratch. A part of me wanted to know my future in certain terms, and with immediacy. The rest of me was at peace to wait a lifetime in limbo, however impractical that would be.
That afternoon was our last conversation as husband and wife; I didn’t know it was goodbye at the time. You may remember, I wrote A Season of Waiting just after. Now you know the inspiration behind the message.
And while so many months can seem like a very long time, with a new life emerging beneath me, there are still huge landmines that explode in my face when I least expect it. Several exploded from the mail box right after breakfast this morning. It was a hard day, but not the first, not the last, and I’ve certainly not seen the last good day either. The “process” ended just last month, but THIS process is only beginning.
I’m trying to grow accustomed to managing life on my own. …Without having someone to share these pitfalls and triumphs with. Loss and heartbreak is certainly not new to humans; and I will adjust to it better and better. I confide in God, and it is incredibly humbling to share my worries with the creator of the universe.
I’m thankful to be ending my day with you, eating bacon and drinking chocolate coconut milk. (I get to eat that kind of thing, because I have POTS… at least that’s my story.) That IS my story… at least part of it.
Have a good night. And avoid those landmines.
New page, Disabled and Divorced
PS, Check out the counter for my sister’s wedding at the bottom of the page. Getting close!
Breathe. Don’t pass out. Keep moving forward. One foot in front of the other. Pay no attention to your pain. Focus on your breathing. Focus on your legs not giving out. Don’t fall down! Ok, throwing up would be the worst right now. Here come the shakes… Breath girl! The light? Do we have to do the light? Oh no, there goes your head. I can’t see, I can’t see… This hurts too much. I can’t do this. I have to do it. Okay, let’s do it.
This was this morning in physical therapy. My physical therapist comes by once each week. Some days are good, some days are bad. Today was a great day, so we decided to do something I’ve never done before… at least not for almost 5 years: go outside.
When I go to doctor’s appointments, I’m usually taken out from my bed in a wheelchair. I have a face mask on, ear plugs, a head set, and I keep my head down between my knees to keep my blood pressure from plummeting, so I don’t faint. If I’m in the seated position too long, over with my head down, I have to get out of the chair and lay down on the ground with my knees tucked to regulate my blood pressure, breathing, and head pain. (Laying in an elevator or doctor’s office waiting room hasn’t made me any friends-yet.) When I get to the car, I lay in the backseat under pillows and blankets for arduous the drive.
Today, I wasn’t going anywhere but the porch. It was a warm overcast day, and happened to be very quiet on our road. What better day than this to do an “exposure” to sound and light? I don’t have OCD or an anxiety disorder and I’m not in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, but desensitizing your body and brain to stressors and pain are very similar in traditional Physical Therapy. My PT uses Cardiac Rehab Therapy and Pain Rehab Therapy with me to get me stronger and moving… and it IS working. My fatigue is lessening, I’m stronger, I can tolerate more sound and light than I used to, I don’t pass out like before, and I’m progressing in general.
But today, there was another sensitivity I didn’t expect to encounter…
I bent over my brand new walker, slowly moving out toward the door for the first time, swapping my eye-mask for dark tinted sunglasses. Because I was pretty much blinded by the daylight, I was trying to maneuver awkwardly out the front door. My brother had joined in with my physical therapist to help me on my pilgrimage. I was so focused on all of the physical aspects written in the first paragraph that it caught me so off guard when my physical therapist wrapped his hand around my waste and grabbed my hand to help me out. That’s the moment I choked back tears. That’s the pain that hurt the worst.
It wasn’t the horrible pain in my head, the ringing in my ears, the screaming sound of birds chirping, or my heart racing from trying to be on my feet for too long, it was the caring touch of another person that reminded me so much of my ex-spouse… that almost took me down.
Maybe that sounds creepy to you, but if you have a condition like CRPS/RSD in which people around you are unsure where and how they can touch you, so much that they decide it’s best not to at all, you understand the touch aspect of this. Or, if you are no longer with your once-significant other, you will understand missing supportive touch, like a pat on the back, or an outreached hand when they notice you need help down a step.
Today was 2 firsts. I went out onto the porch successfully. I knocked out another goal! Wahoo! I turned my low pain day into a triumph. It was also a day I realized how much I miss supportive touch. I really want to find ways to incorporate touch back into my life, however physically painful, so it isn’t this emotionally painful to be without.
“Touch has a memory.”
― John Keats
Today, November 13th is Caregiver Appreciation Day.
November is Caregiver Awareness Month. If you have a chronic illness or disability, you have carers. Even if you are not confined to a bed or home-bound, you are still receiving support from someone whether it be a spouse, parent, family member, friend, professional caregiver, online support, or your physician. Today, make sure your carers know that you appreciate the big and small things they do to make you more at ease physically or emotionally.
If you are a carer and feel overwhelmed at times, please know that you are not alone. Below is a quote from the book, The Mindful Caregiver: Finding Ease in the Caregiving Journey:
“Many caregivers share that they often feel alone, isolated, and unappreciated. Mindfulness can offer renewed hope for finding support and value for your role as a caregiver…It is an approach that everyone can use. It can help slow you down some so you can make the best possible decisions for your care recipient. It also helps bring more balance and ease while navigating the caregiving journey.”
― Nancy L. Kriseman
If you are being cared for by your spouse or vice versa, I highly recommend reading the book, Healing Together:
“In a relationship between two people who may be reeling after a trauma, a commitment means that they are taking an active and involved role in addressing the situation they are facing. It also implies a commitment to each other during the recovery of trauma- an understanding that no matter how rough it gets, the other will be there. You intend to face adversity together, with a strong commitment to each other and the future.” –Healing Together: A Couples Guide to Coping with Trauma and PTSD
If you are supporting someone through a chronic illness or disability, please check out one of the groups on Facebook to find support and to have that crucial outlet for yourself. Caregivers can feel as isolated as the person they are caring for at times, but don’t know who they can talk to. You are not alone, and there are people to share your burdens with.
We have so many events to raise awareness for our different diseases and create unity among people with illness, but we should also raise awareness for the plight of caregivers. You are so beloved to us. You deserve a parade! Thank you for being our silent partners on the journey.
Today we celebrate you.
If I Ask You for More: poem about the caregiver/patient relationship
I’m honored to share this from poet, writer, author Mary Jane Gonzales’s new blog: MyInvisibleLife.net
Once upon a time, in my real life, I had lots and lots of friends. Despite being handicapped, life was full. Even when handicaps grew to the point of disabilities and everything was more of a challenge, there was still an abundance of events to attend and activities to do.
But over the years, an alternate life set in. And, strange as it seems, there were levels leading up to that point. Starting off normal, becoming handicapped, becoming disabled, becoming homebound, then becoming bedbound. Though I’m very grateful this alternate life occurred over time, rather than all at once, the fact remains it takes a lot of adjusting. And, in that journey, you’re very much alone. No-one is walking in your shoes – and, even those walking alongside you, who likewise grieve your loss, cannot relate to what you experience. And, sadly, the not understanding often leads to abandonment. Not that it’s intentional, but we live in a microwave society that expects quick results. They can’t comprehend (or tolerate) unresolved issues. Chronic pain or lingering illness is unfathomable to most; and would be to us if we weren’t living it. And loss of health is not the only reason for them (or us) to retreat.
Other reasons could be depression that accompanies chronic illness, maybe making us less positive, not seeing the glass half full as much as we had before. Or us not calling them as much as before because there’s nothing new or good to report. Unfortunately, that can be translated to them as a loss of interest. And them not calling us anymore feels like rejection or abandonment. So, for me and countless others, the new reality is lacking someone to visit us or someone to call for a favor. Instead, there’s a host of virtual friends who truly understand what you’re going through and may become treasured friends. Yet, the loss of longtime friendships is painful and the loss of visitors is lonely. I know that everyone’s at a different place in life, and some may not be here yet, just as I was not here yet.
But, though it’s taken much time for me to get to this point, I have arrived! Thankfully, I’m very blessed in so many ways. I have my family, my faith and a couple of friends who, though not nearby, love and support me. I keep myself busy with various projects and enjoy life as much as possible considering the circumstance. I can’t deny that an invisible life is a lonely life. Lonely being a relative term, you could be at the beginning stage where you can no longer work and are no longer in the mainstream of life. Or, you could be acclimated to being at home and still be receiving visitors.
Whatever point each of us is at, we need to be able to entertain or occupy ourselves, rather than expecting others to meet that need. So much is learned from chronic illness, with self-discovery being one of them. Though I would not have chosen this life of illness, neither could I have known that good could come from it. Despite the hardship or trauma of disease, in the end, I suspect that most of us have been made better by what we’ve been through.
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