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Choosing Myself: One Year After Separation

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autumn chrysanthemum by Natalia Drepina

One year ago today, my husband decided he wanted to separate. For months after, I fought for my marriage alone, for the man I loved, and then…after months of silence, I realized I was standing alone with an untied knot in my hands. Everything was torn away from my life. I had to decide whether I would keep going on, or if the pain and loss was too much to bear. I made a decision to continue fighting, but this time, for myself. 

I wrote another post today in which I outlined May 1st of last year, and how the days and months unfolded with everyone’s shock and grief and the unexpected surprises to come which I could never have foreseen. But, I think I’ll save that piece for my journal as today I don’t want to look back thinking only of my ex-husband, and the loss of love. I’ve grieved him, our marriage, and our life together throughout the year. Today, I want to look back over the year and remind myself that I overcame everything I believed was utterly impossible to do alone. I want today to be another choice for myself. Next year, I want to celebrate this day as the beginning of letting go and starting fresh. Typing those words brings a few tears to my eyes, but I want them to be cleansing tears. I don’t know how to be just me without longing and loving and planning for 2 yet, but I will learn, and I have great expectations.

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Asperity by Natalia Drepina

The first thing I did when I came to stay with my parents was I made a doctor’s appointment. It’s the most difficult thing I have to do physically; only my ex had ever taken me before- and my doctors helped us avoid making the tremendously painful and exhausting trip by scheduling me months apart. After such an emotional shock, why did I want to go through a physically traumatic experience with an inexperienced caregiver? I guess I just had to prove to myself that I could do something impossible without him! I went out of my way to do as many impossible things as I could find while I was so emotionally fragile. I’ve been to several doctor’s appointments, I’ve had new tests, and I had been afraid of going back to the hospital, but I’ve since been twice this year. My body fighting me on the outside as I pushed it harder and harder seemed to match the feeling of my heart dying on the inside. 

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In the autumn hands by Natalia Drepina

My ex-husband was my caregiver for the last 4 years of our relationship. He knew what no one else could: about my condition, about my needs, about my doctors, about my life, about my heart, and he knew everything about my soul… I thought he did. When someone has spent years exploring the very depth of your soul, and can go to such lengths to reject you, no pain matches it. 

 

The loss has been cavernous. I first believed I wouldn’t be able to continue on living without him- practically or theoretically. Not because he supported me physically, but because he was my heart. After mustering the strength to ask my mother and father to help me do several impossible things, I went in search of both a professional caregiver and marriage counselor. That took me a great deal of courage to even allow a stranger to enter this room. I thought, how will I carry on a conversation? What if they can’t be quiet enough for my pain level? What if they don’t know how to touch me and injure me, spreading my condition? But I had to do these impossible things, as well. I had to allow a stranger bathe me, and help me dress, and prepare my meals. It was a point of my very survival to find someone else to help me with my basic needs. It could have been degrading and humiliating, but I was so stubborn in what I needed to allow for myself to live in my new normal, that the physical need mattered far more than my personal dignity.

Soon after, I began inviting visitors for the first time after coming to my parent’s home. It was terrifying at first. I can’t imagine what that’s like for them to remember me one way, dancing, hiking, laughing, and now, laying in a bed, startled by every sound and speck of light, grimacing in pain. Letting those I adore into my bubble felt impossible at first, but it’s another kind of exposure therapy that’s a lot more fun ! Seeing old friends is like a mirror through their eyes, and it can be tough emotionally, but it’s also exciting, and makes me feel more like the laughing, hiking, dancing me that they remind me I am still. My own mirror sees myself through the eyes of my ex now. Where there were once loving, gentle eyes, I see a look of disappointment and disgust. His eyes have always superseded others for as long as I can remember, but he’s not mine anymore, and I’m not his. I’m God’s, and in His eyes, I’m worthy, I’m valuable, and I’m fulfilling my life’s purpose by living it. 

My closest and oldest friend went through her own very difficult divorce in the year before I went through mine. They say, “God goes before us” and when I think of my sweet friend who has been walking her own hard path, checking in with me, and visiting often, I promise you that is true about the love of God lighting candles ahead of us. I’m grateful to be able to practice showing love to her at a time that I feel so empty of everything inside of me I used to be eager to give away. She has reminded me to keep pushing forward so many days that I felt alone. Having a friend who continues to tell you that you’re still the same person, you’re improving, and was willing to fight for me when I couldn’t fight for myself is more of an angel than just a friend. 

The short quiet visits I was only tolerating have turned into longer, more enjoyable visits I so look forward to. I started with home physical therapy, which has been an immense help in my progression, and I BELIEVE I’m going to be a functioning human being again- no matter how long it takes. While I do get frustrated with my body, I’m not worried about the time table, only that I make the goal. My parents allowing these people, and often strangers in and out of their home for me has been life-changing. I hate when people say that I’m better off without him, because now I’m able to utilize so many resources to improve, but I understand what they mean. I’m just thankful they are seeing improvement that I still need help seeing for myself. 

Every time I’ve wondered how I would pay a bill, how I could live without something I thought I needed, how I could go on without the people and pets I loved, God has always provided a solution, an answer, or a strength to live without. This consistency has lead me to rely on God coming through and has added to the peace in my spirit and courage to face the impossible with the safety net of the universe. 

Even though I’m not grateful I was forced into it, I’m grateful I was able to manage my own proceedings via electronic communication and courier to/from the lawyer. I had no idea how it would work with my condition, and just the thought of it regularly caused me anxiety. But again, God had the right lawyer in mind for me, who worked as my advocate, familiar with disability, even meeting at my home. I had a Power of Attorney to appear for me twice as my signatory, and my lawyer spoke on my behalf in my absence or with statements from me. Being disabled, you feel marginalized so often as it is. It’s as though you’re disappearing. Because of my condition, my movement, voice, independence, and freedom have been taken from me. I think that’s why it was so very important to me that I didn’t give away my privilege to speak for myself. The decisions, paperwork, and meetings were all so overwhelming, I was cognitively pushed to thinking in critical, complex ways I had not since the brain issues began. As much as the divorce may have damaged parts of my life, the process was a healing experience for my physical progress, and has propelled me forward in many positive aspects. I thought I would break apart as my heart broke more and more, but I’m proud of myself for getting through it, and managing my personal business.

Learning to be proud of myself is new. No one else is going to do that for me. I’m learning to encourage myself. No one else is going to remind me to take it easy and be gentle with myself. Giving to myself is a new concept, but I’m learning to view it as responsible and not selfish. I feel emptied of everything I was, and all I can do while I heal is continue on, pretending I’m a human being. The life I worked for and dreamed of is gone now. The slate is clean and I’m beginning to feel empowered and free to build back a completely different life. Some moments my heart aches, but at other times I’m revitalized thinking of the future of possibilities. 

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On the wings of the wind by Natalia Drepina

I started working at 15, graduated at 17, and left my parent’s home to travel the day after HS graduation… Now I’m back. I’m being cared for by my parents, learning to nurture myself, learning to walk again, my parents are making me food each day…it’s quite an irony! For me, this anniversary is truly a rebirth. 

Precious Diagnosis: What’s in a Name?

Even if it’s a terrible diagnosis, you crave even the worst titles, just to have a name. Just to put a label on what your body is experiencing. You dream of a diagnosis for the madness eating away at your body and your life.

You want to scream when test after test comes back normal, appointment after appointment ends with no answers, and you wonder how much longer your body will hold out like this. Each frustrated physician and specialist is at a loss and they know anything more they try could likely only make you worse. So one by one, they set you free into the river of uncertainty to face the un-named beasts in you alone– ALONE.

Instead of one confirmed diagnosis, you have a list of conditions which are more like guesses your doctors have labeled your symptoms with. “Chronic Migraine” for example, or “Vertigo.” You know they are only symptoms of a larger, more pertinent illness no one can pinpoint.

When I was 22, I was lucky enough to be diagnosed correctly and immediately with a terrible chronic pain condition called RSD/CRPS. The early diagnosis didn’t help me find remission, but I know that being diagnosed helped me gain some stability. Instead of blaming my body, instead of staying up nights searching online to figure out what might be wrong with me, instead of searching far and wide to find the answer to the screaming question disabling me, I could turn to knowledgeable doctors or helpful research online. I could reach out to support groups with the name of my condition. I could blame my disease, and so could my family.

At 28, I had a different experience. After spinal cord damage from a procedure, and a terrible reaction to the experimental medication injected, I became more ill than I have ever been… and I’ve been undiagnosable since. Everything was different this time. Tests were normal, doctors gave up quickly and treated me like they were afraid of me. The chronic pain community I leaned on for so many years prior were also at a loss. I felt so alone, and it seemed that my body was trying to kill me.

Even if it’s a terrible diagnosis, having an answer, having a community, having a list of symptoms, expectations, FDA approved treatments- is so validating and valuable while you are suffering so fiercely. You can finally give a name to the monster bullying you, instead of constantly blaming your own body.

When you have a diagnosis, those who love you can advocate on your behalf. They can organize fundraisers and walks, they can hate the illness inside of you. But when there is no name, people doubt you. It doesn’t matter how sick you are, if you can’t identify why you are unable to move or speak or eat, or leave your bed… people wonder about your sanity. They wonder about your will and your strength.

They’ll say you haven’t done enough to get well. They’ll say there is more you could do, and you are just unwilling.  On the flip side, the same people  will later whisper that you became obsessed with your illness and seeking out treatments- that it consumed you. Yes, you are trying to save your own life. And your life is worth fighting for!!! Giving up is not an option!!! Be proud you are so aggressive. Anyone who isn’t aggressive on your behalf should be ashamed- not you.

I have come to accept that my diagnosis is “Complex” and may in fact forever be “Undiagnosable.” Managing the nameless, and finding doctors who are willing to try and do the same is my path now.

We do have some labels that work to help us find each other, support one another, and build community. We can fight together as warriors with a united cause. We can be identified by “chronically ill”,  “rare disease”, and “spoonie.”

We are undiagnosable, for now, our illnesses are unidentifiable, but we are not invisible! 

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