Living with chronic pain at 22.

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These days, when I think about what’s hardest about my CP now that I’m in my 20s, I’m not true to myself. Rather than focusing on the chronic back pain I’ve had since I was 15 (that is only getting worse), I focus on the frustrations of not having the same stamina as the rest of my peers, not being able to carry food in both hands if I’m walking somewhere because I get too anxious I’ll fall and spill the food, and the deep fear that surrounds me any time I have to step down from a curb or walk down steps (that have no railing) and there’s no one around to offer me a hand.

Don’t get me wrong. Those frustrations make my days hard too. However, those frustrations aren’t as intense as my chronic back pain, which typically can cause me to start crying rather suddenly, especially if I’ve had a back spasm. Truly, the one frustration that has the ability to quickly bring me to tears on a daily basis is my chronic pain. Because of my Cerebral Palsy, I have developed chronic back pain because of how my body has had to adapt in order to allow me to walk. Basically, my hips are tilted forward and in order to walk the best I can, my back is arched so I can see where I am walking (which results in a deep curve in my lower back). For those wanting a more clinical term, it’s known as hyperlordosis, meaning increased lower back curvature.

Due to the hyperlordosis and the pain it causes, all I really ever think about is the possibility of one day feeling some relief. In terms of treatments for the lordosis and the pain, surgery isn’t an option because it would mean having to change the position of my hips, which doctors have said is too risky. Truthfully, my immediate thought is pain killers, but then comes the discussion regarding the addictive quality of pain medication coupled with the fact that I’m only 22, so that’s also a no. It’s just so damn frustrating. I’m 22, I have chronic pain, and it seems as though the only way to eliminate my chronic back pain is to essentially stop walking all together. Now, those who know me know why that isn’t an option, but for those who don’t: Basically, I spent my entire life learning how to walk so I could reach a point where I could be independent. By the age of six, I was walking unassisted. Then, in 2002, I had my first operation and had to relearn to walk. The following year, after another operation, I had to relearn to walk again. Therefore, once again, making the decision to stop walking in order to eliminate my back pain: also not an option, especially with how active I am for someone with CP. In terms of alternative methods to relieve pain, I do yoga and I get massages. However, those options only work in the moment. As soon as the yoga or massage is over, and I leave to get on with my life, the pain returns.

Truthfully, only a few people actually know the degree of pain I’m in on a daily basis. I don’t talk openly about it much because in my mind I feel as though it’s pointless to burden others if I know there’s nothing they can do to help me. Yes, sometimes I need a hug or a simple “You can do it,” but most of the time, what I truly need can’t be given to me. Additionally, receiving support is also challenging given my age group. How many people do you know who are in their 20s and living with chronic pain? Not many, I’m guessing. And that’s why I feel so alone so much of the time. I can’t help but focus on the difficulties of suffering from something no one around me seems to understand. Sure, they can sympathize with me, but that’s not the same as having walked in my shoes.

For much of my life, I’ve also struggled with depression. Last week, while visiting a counselor, he offered what seemed like such an obvious conclusion, but I hadn’t connected the dots until he brought it up: the link between chronic pain and depression. They influence each other, which is something I hadn’t thought to consider. Because of my chronic pain, I’m more depressed. Basically, the counselor thought of a “treatment” for my chronic pain I hadn’t yet considered: a chronic pain support group. Honestly, I hadn’t ever thought about it, but now, the more that I do, the better I feel. The thought of having the support of a group of people who know what I feel sounds too good to be true. Best of all, I’ll have the chance to talk with everyone in the group to see how they manage their pain. Who knows, maybe they use techniques I haven’t considered.

Keeping my fingers crossed.

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Writing: A Therapuetic Tool

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When I started my first blog site back in November 2011, I read lots of articles about how to get increased regular readers as well as site views. Then, just like that, I stopped caring. I stopping caring about views, likes, shares, and followers. I realized why I had started blogging in the first place: to write, and to create a space in which I could receive support from others regarding my writing, and just life in general. After two years of blogging every day about whatever I chose, I had gained 1,000+ followers and around 500,000 blog views. I had gained readership, recognition, and support…and I had done it without following the advice of those pesky articles I obsessed over in the beginning.

Now, three years after starting my first blog, I have a second blog…one that is not at all connected with my first. Though I’ve only had this blog for a few weeks, I can already feel myself missing the supportive community I had developed through my first blog. Granted, I didn’t have to start a new blog. It was my choice to do so. Mainly, I changed things up because my first blog site name was connected with my geographic location, and when that changed, I assumed I needed a new blog site as well. Plus, since the move has been about the beginning of a new phase in my life, I wanted to start fresh in terms of blogging as well.

So, here I am, starting fresh. Though it’s been hard to realize it’ll take quite some time to get my readership up to where it was with my first blog, I know that, ultimately, that doesn’t matter. The reason I began blogging in the first place has been about one thing: my writing. And with this new blog, it’s become clear that’s the place I need to get back to. The place where I long to share the words within my soul…words of life, love, challenges, dreams, and hope. The words that paint a picture of my struggles, but highlight one of my proudest attributes: determination.

You cannot swim for new horizons until you have courage to lose sight of the shore.-William Faulkner

Writing, for me, has always been incredibly therapeutic. I’ve used it as a tool to get through tough times, to celebrate victories, and to reflect on experiences I’ve had throughout my life. More than anything, it’s through writing that I come face to face with the truest version of myself. With writing, I don’t portray myself as someone I’m not, I don’t shrink away from sharing that I’ve struggled with my physical disability, anxiety, and depression all my life. I don’t hide. It’s one of the few times I’ve ever felt safe enough to be totally and completely myself…even though my words may be read by thousands of people (or just a handful). 

We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.-Anais Nin

So, starting now, I’m vowing to be true to myself (and true to this blog). I’m vowing to use this blog as a way to help myself while also helping others. For me, writing is freeing. For others, reading someone else’s writing is a chance to connect with them on some level. This life, I’ve learned, is all about relationships. Whether it’s a relationship with a close friend, a boyfriend, or most importantly, oneself, each relationship is essential to survival. They hold us together, bring purpose to our life, and help us to grow into who we are meant to be. 

Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.-Oscar Wilde

The Darkness of Depression: It’s Not “Selfish”

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Photo courtesy of The NY Times.

Ever since I heard of the death of Robin Williams, I’ve been shocked. More than that, I’ve been dumbfounded by the reactions on social media regarding Robin Williams’ suicide. Truthfully, I’ve been enraged at those who have insisted his suicide was a “selfish act.”

Though it hurts my heart to know Robin lived in the frightening and unrelenting darkness of depression, I can’t even begin to call him selfish. Doing so would make me sound like quite the hypocrite. Truthfully, I have been struggling with depression for years. In fact, last fall, I fell into the deepest and darkest hole of depression I have ever experienced. Though I had faced depressive episodes in the past, nothing was as bad as the mental state I found myself in during the first semester of my senior year in college.

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Last August, when the depression began, I wasn’t convinced it was depression at first. I thought maybe it was just sadness, especially since I had been off my antidepressants for about a year, and I felt okay. However, as the weeks passed, the “sadness” became overwheming and constant. I didn’t start to realize I might be having a major depressive episode until my dad saw me cry for what seemed like days and then gently asked me whether I would consider getting back on my antidepressants. Until that moment, I didn’t think anyone really saw what was going on with me.

Until that moment, I hadn’t really even seen myself. What I continued to think was sadness was actually something else entirely. Besides the overall feeling of sadness and the crying spells, my life began to feel more dull. I started to lose interest in things that I’d previously enjoyed doing, like photography and drives on the parkway. I found it hard to make it to class, much less even attempt to get out of bed. It just all felt too hard. Upon waking in the mornings, I’d open my eyes to a gray world that no longer brought me happiness. Though I did still get my schoolwork done, my love of school was no longer there. I felt down constantly, wanting nothing more than to hide in my room under my covers with the lights off. I got to the point where all I was even able to see was my depression. It was everywhere, enveloping me, surrounding me, causing me to feel trapped. As things got worse, my friends drifted, not knowing what to do to make me feel better. When they asked how they could help, I shrugged my shoulders. What was I supposed to tell my friends if I didn’t know how I could help myself? The frustration of not being able to just pull myself out of the depression hole was incredibly hard on me, and I knew at that point I needed to talk to someone.

During this time, I was seeing a therapist, and I continued to see her even while depressed. She helped me to understand I was going through something not many people would understand if they hadn’t been through it. However, I was still sad because it felt like some good friends of mine had abandoned me during my lowest point. Conflicted, I got angry, not knowing why I had ever considered them close friends in the first place. Though I did later mend those friendships once I was able to get back on my antidepressants and get my depression under control, in the moment, I thought I’d burned bridges for good. Despite feeling like so many of my friends had left, I did have my dad and one of my friends.

My dad was a huge help during my major depressive episode. Thankfully, talking with my dad about what I was going through was easy because he and I have always been close. More than that, he was able to empathize with me because he’s dealt with depression as well. Honestly, just having someone who was actually able to understand the emotions I was feeling helped so much. While talking to him, I didn’t get responses full of worry and pity. Instead, my dad explained just how much he could relate to what I was facing, and that’s exactly what I needed. I needed someone who was able to nod and say: Yes, there were times when I thought about death too.

My friend was also a huge help, and I know, without a doubt, I wouldn’t have made it through my depressive episode if she hadn’t been there for me. She was the one friend I had who responded just like I needed her too. She stuck around, no matter how much I cried. She spent time talking about the people who needed me, reminding me of the things I had to live for. More than anything, though, she called me every single day. Despite being a working wife as well as a mother to a newborn plus plenty more obligations, she called me every day, and we also texted throughout the day. She was concerned about me, and that mattered. She never settled for the times when she’d ask how I was doing and I’d reply with a simple “fine,” as I’d try to not think about it. She’d lower her voice and say, “How are you really feeling?” With that, I broke down in tears, talking of how alone, sad, and frustrated I felt. I talked about how I just wanted it all to stop because I couldn’t stand living in such a frightening place anymore. I told her how I’d hidden in my closet all day with the door closed, curled up into a ball, not getting out except to go to the bathroom. Even after releasing all my pain and anguish onto her, my friend did what no one (but my dad) had been willing to do: she sat with me, doing nothing but listening, and it helped. It kept me grounded. It kept me from listening to the drifting thoughts that talked of not wanting to live anymore. It kept things at bay until I was able to face the fact that I needed to get back on my antidepressants and find the right dose to help me feel better.

So, what I mean to say is, depression is an incredibly deep and dark place, and no one is immune. Declaring that someone is “selfish” if they end up committing suicide as a result of depression is hurtful, especially to those who are in constant battles with the disease. In fact, I assume many of those making that remark cannot even begin to imagine what it’s like to live with depression. Though it is sad Robin Williams may have believed suicide was his only escape, I know enough to say I can see how he could have reached such a conclusion.

Property of Google Images

Property of Google Images

What has helped me to not fall into a similar trap has been SUPPORT. Depression is a lonely world to live in, and so many people who struggle with mental illness might feel too ashamed to seek help. Though it makes me sad, the stigma of mental illness is a very real problem. However, sharing personal stories is a start. After all, we’ve got to start somewhere, right?