Why I am struggling to recognize myself

 

[Image description: a warped picture of Rachel Bob’s face]

I am at a place in my life where I am really struggling to recognize myself. I am giving up things that I love left and right because of my chronic illnesses. And it feels like I am losing myself, my identity. The fact is that chronic illness is more than just physical ailments, although there is plenty of that.

There’s a book, which can be found on Amazon, called Good Days, Bad Days: The Self and Chronic Illness in Time by Dr. Kathy Charamaz. She explains that there’s a very narrow view of suffering that tends to be defined as physical symptoms which only ignores or minimizes the broader significance of suffering. She says:

The loss of self in chronically ill persons who observe their former self-images crumbling away without the simultaneous development of equally new ones.

Dr. Charmaz also explains that all of the experiences and meanings upon which the chronically ill person had built former positive self-images are no longer available.

So in my situation, I have spent years building a foundation, reputation, and life working with, advocating for and being a part of the DeafBlind community. But now that my health has progressed to the point where I can no longer do that I feel lost. The identity I built and cultivated within the DeafBlind community was/is a huge part of who I am because it is difficult to talk about myself without talking about my passion for working with the DeafBlind community. Being that most of what I did was directly related; my jobs, my volunteer work, my BA focus and my MSW focus. That carefully cultivated life I watched grow and bloom around me… has come crashing down and now I have no idea what’s left.

It’s not to say that I can’t be me without the DeafBlind community. I can and I will get through this. And yes I have other interests that I can and will pursue. But my goal and passion have been this for so long that to no longer have that be my goal feels wrong. It’s a betrayal to myself and to the community of people who I love.

My loss of self-started about one and half years into my diagnosis of IC but Dr. Charmaz says loss of self can start even earlier – sometimes even before a diagnosis is made and it will continue to grow from there.

Pre-diagnosis: Doctors can easily discredit our definitions of self when we are seeking help for early symptoms. Without a diagnosis, sometimes doctors view patients with undiagnosed illness as neurotics whose symptoms are either nonexistent or psychosomatic,

Beginning of illness: At first, family and friends demonstrate interest, attentiveness, and assistance, but as time goes on involvement tends to dwindle.

-Worry about burdening others:  Especially your significant other.

-Unpredictability: Having a chronic illness is unpredictable. There are good days and bad days. This can disrupt their lives far beyond physical pain, to the point of quitting work, limiting socialization or even avoiding activity.

-Limitation of life: People with chronic illness might be forced into limiting normal activities to protect their health. This can have a big impact on self-image.

-All Consuming focus: Chronic illness can overtake one’s identity. Illness becomes the focus of one’s life as treatment, living with constant discomfort, medical appointments, and issues with daily activities take over.

What it comes down to is that if you have a chronic illness and you have to give things up that you love… you are not alone. I am right there with you. Thousands upon thousands of other people are standing right there next to you. And we need to recognize this so that when we feel lost we can say that and not feel like we are morons just because we lost our identity. We are more than just one identity… but the feeling of not recognizing yourself is valid.

While reading through information in preparation for this blog I came across an article in Social Work Today called Grieving Chronic Illness and Injury – Infinite Losses. Which is relevant for two reasons, 1) I have chronic illness 2) I’m in grad school to be a social worker. But I think it should resonate with many people because it really hits the points that I’m emphasizing in this post that grieving through chronic illness is okay. It is something that people (i.e. Social workers) are trained to help you cope with.

Isn’t it kind of a relief to know that if social workers are being trained that means it must be somewhat normal? well…somewhat. Either way, the grief might never end. It might just continue on but the best thing that I can do (and you can do) is continue on and try to find the most meaningful life you can live.

 

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Having a support system

 

[Image description: from left to right: Becca, Rachel, Aaron and Shelby standing next to each other and smiling]
A strong support system is crucial for people with chronic illness to survive and thrive. A support system can include family, friends, support group, doctors, other medical or holistic professionals. My support system is coming together nicely. 

 

The players:

Rachel – The One with IC and more

Debbie – The Mother

Aaron – The Boyfriend

Becca – The Thoughtful One

Shelby – The Cautious Optimist

Christine – The No Funny Business-er

Blinken – The Fluffy Cat

Stanley – The Ninja Cat

Marzipan – The Biggest Little Baby Cat

Ziggy – The Not-So-Nice Cat

Now that we have met the players and their roles. It’s important to understand how all of them will work on a macro and micro level. I know my relationship with each of these people as individuals so on a micro level it’s easy. But on a macro level, the system as a whole should work together fluidly. 

It’s important to find people who you trust, will be there to support you, have your best interest in mind and can be part of a team effort. This can be a difficult task to find a group of people. And for me, as an introvert, I don’t love the idea of having a group of people discussing my well being. But I need a solid plan and a strong support system. Each person

Each person in the support system plays their own role. One or two of them might be better at emotional support. While one might be better at providing support through actions, like someone who comes to see you once a week and cooks you dinner. They are showing you they care about you by being there for you regularly, even if they might not be the best with emotional support. And that’s okay if you have a strong enough support system then it’s good to have a variety of people who can provide different kinds of support. 

I will be planning a huge lifestyle diet change coming up within the next week or so. On Saturday, January 7th, my support system will have a round table discussion of what my diet will look like so that we are all on the same page. So I can go hang out with Becca and she already knows that I can’t eat tomatoes because of my IC and there’s a good chance I’ll cut out sugar and processed foods and so on. Everyone who is in my life already knowing will make it easier for me to follow through and be held accountable for my actions. 

 

Image result for creating a support system quotes
[Image description: Real friends support you no matter what. If you want to be a tuna fish then it’s my job to encourage you to be the best damn tuna fish that you can be.]

 

New year… New you??

 

[Image description: People treat New Year’s like some sort of life-changing event. If your life sucked last year, it’s probably going to still suck tomorrow.]
It’s a new year already. 2017. Wow. How does that even happen? The whole year flew by. 

 

Almost two years ago this March I was diagnosed with IC. 

One year ago this past December I met my boyfriend, Aaron. And on January 14th will be our one year anniversary, which is crazy because it definitely feels like 6 years. 

I am almost 31 years old; on January 18th. This is not where I expected to be at this point in my life. I’m not exactly sure where I expected to be. But I promise you it did not involve me starting a blog chronicling my journey with chronic illness. But here I am. I have given up so much in the last few months to be right here in this exact moment.  These chronic illnesses have kicked me until I was down and then pounced on me some more. I’d just like to take a moment and image what that would look like. I’m picturing a little brain (representing migraines) and a little bladder just jumping up and down on top of me. 

Anyways…back to the point, I never thought this would be me. Being forced to give up the goal and passion of mine that I have been working towards for years because of my health. It is heart-wrenching. Whenever I think about it I can’t help but cry. I will get into this more later…it’s still a very raw topic for me.

The only positive is that I am still in graduate school for Social Work and I have decided I want to add public health as a specialty so that I can work with and advocate for people who have chronic illnesses. 

 

new year? more like same shit, different year
[Image description: A Cartoon image of Batman looking like he is thinking and words overlaid that says New year…? More like..Same shit, different year]