It can be said that people who are chronically ill are often in a perpetual state of grief. That we are constantly grieving our losses…our health, our food, our friends, our habits, our errands…our lives as we once knew them.
And I will just tell you right now, all of that is completely true. I feel as though I am in a constant state of grief. In an emotional upheaval that will likely never be subdued. I miss being Rachel. I miss being me.
I am being forced to create a new identity that I am unfamiliar with. I don’t know this person. This chronically ill version of Rachel, who is but a mere shadow of my former self.” – Rachel Bob
This Rachel, who can barely walk up a flight of stairs without feeling like she will collapse from the pain. This Rachel, who tries to make sure she has everything, but if she forgets something that is just 15ft away….she views it as though there is an ocean between her and the item because for me to get up and walk that distance is often incredibly difficult and tiresome. I always think of it like viewing a mirage in the desert. I see the item, like my water bottle, and in reality its just 15-20ft away. That’s usually when I remember the pain I will be in just getting there, and then that distance suddenly becomes a vast wasteland between me and the water bottle that I want so badly. And I see it getting farther and farther away… until it’s completely out of reach.
Who is this person? When just a few months ago I was myself. I was Rachel. The Rachel that enjoyed walking and wouldn’t mind parking at a distance because I had the privilege of being able to walk. I miss being able to walk.
People keep telling me I have such an amazing outlook on life. But do I? What makes my outlook on life so good? Because I have this blog where I can vent or because I haven’t put myself out of my misery yet? And people tell me I’m handling this so well. But I don’t feel like I’m handling any of this well. I feel as though I am struggling to keep my head above water.
There are so many changes happening at the same time that it’s hard for me to get back up again, once I’ve fallen off that darn horse. Like… I’m requesting accommodations from the Office for Students with Disabilities for my graduate classes. Accommodations as simple as being able to turn in an assignment late, not come to class or leave class early. That seems like nothing, doesn’t it? Actually, it sounds kind of awesome… all those extra benefits that most students don’t have. But I just had to jump through a bunch of paperwork hoops and admit that I’m disabled and need accommodations. Am I disabled??? And if I am…is that such a bad thing? Or am I just human? Maybe we are too hard on ourselves…specifically, maybe I am too hard on myself.
I mentioned before in a previous post that I use migraine glasses, which help reduce my migraines immensely during my classes. Which is awesome. However, they aren’t my favorite look. I had to buy a rolling backpack, which might seem like a silly thing but to me it’s admitting defeat. And think about it…A rolling backpack represents the knowledge that I can no longer carry my bag for one reason or another. I can’t because of my health. That doesn’t make me feel better about it.
Aaron bought me a gel seat cushion to use in my classes because the chairs put too much pressure on my bladder and pelvic floor. It’s really comfortable, but it’s kind of bulky. It has a convenient handle on it so I can put it over the handle of my rolling backpack and not have to carry it. It decreases my pain levels and allows me to sit through class easier. That’s good, right? In theory…yes. But all of these little things add up… requesting accommodations, the rolling backpack, the cushion, the migraine glasses, etc… I never needed these things before. Why now? Will I always need them? I don’t know. I am doing my best to keep my head above the water. People see me making these changes for myself and assume I’m adjusting well…that my resolution of self-care is a success.
But in reality, my IC and my migraines are constantly pushing me under the tide. To be sure, my IC is my main issue right now… the physical exhaustion and extreme pain I feel because of it… is just ridiculous.
It’s hard to understand if you don’t have a chronic illness what it’s like to be grieving constantly for your health. But I think it’s safe to say we all understand grief. We all have known loss in some form or another. The loss of a loved one is one of the most difficult losses there is. On July 29, 2016, I lost the love of my life, Mikey. He was everything to me. He was 18 years old and we were together for 18 years. I was 12 years old when I met Mikey, it was love at first sight. He was and will always be the love of my life. Don’t get me wrong, I love my cats so much. But there can only be one first love and Mikey was it for me. He was there for me through thick and thin.
The grief I feel over Mikey is so heavy that I feel as though I have to wade through it daily. This is deep and personal grief that I don’t share with many people, but I feel the need to share it now because I want people to think about a loss in their life that caused them grief.
So why am I telling this story? Because loss impacts all of us…grief touches all of our lives at some point in time. There are different kinds of grief, different levels of grief. There is the Kübler-Ross model, that lists out the five stages of grief.
Each of these stages of grief is fluid, there is no set time frame for them to happen. Nor is there any set order they should happen in. You can go back and forth between any and all of them. There is no right or wrong way to grieve a loss. So when I think about grieving my health, does this model apply? Yep.
I can tell you right now I did not start this journey with denial. Oddly enough, when I was first diagnosed with IC, I started with acceptance because I thought I could control my IC. I thought I could have it beat in less than a year, which of course is incredibly unrealistic…which I know now. But because at the time I knew nothing about the reality of IC, all I could do was accept it and try to do the best I could. I am no longer in acceptance. I left acceptance awhile ago. I fluctuate mostly between anger, depression, and bargaining.
And yet I feel guilty for feeling this way. But why? Well, because my whole life has just been flipped upside down. I’ve had to quit my passion, which was working with DeafBlind people. Just imagine the thing you are most passionate about in the world. The thing you dedicated your life to… you found it and you have immersed yourself in it completely. This was my life…and now…it’s not. It truly breaks my heart.
How can I not grieve???
My life…that I so carefully cultivated and grew… that took me years and years to find my path. I was so lost when I was younger. I only knew that I was meant to help people, that I was meant to change lives. When I found DeafBlind work… it was kismet, bashert, meant to be, fate. It was everything I ever wanted a job to be… hands on and working one on one with people who I care about. I dedicated my life’s work to this. And now??? Sure I might be able to do some work with DeafBlind people here and there in the future if/when I am in remission. But I can’t get my hopes up just yet.
“When I think of remission… I think of a soap bubble. It’s not only beautiful and amazing, but it’s fragile and easily destroyed.” -Rachel Bob
And when people who are chronically ill have the hope of remission in the palm of their hands or floating just above them… the hope drives their every behavior and motivation. The thought of remission is what makes me continue the Keto IC diet, even though it is really hard and I just want a sugary delicious cupcake so badly. The thought of remission keeps me going when I have to swallow my pride and use a rolly backpack, a cushion, migraine glasses, etc… Even though I keep the hope of remission, the grief is still there. The grief does not just disappear.
But what we all need to remember is … that’s okay. We are allowed to grieve our losses as long as we need to.
Be on the look out tomorrow for a more uplifting post about chronic humor.