24 Aug 2015

On Being Sick

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It’s a strange thing when your body shuts down on you.

One minute you’re a healthy, happy yogi on the go. Lots of plans and things to do. A task list that seems unending. Convinced that you can handle everything on your own.

The next minute, you’re struck down with pain, weakened, and terrified.

There’s usually a moment in between, a weird twinge or strange symptom. A long enough pause to realize, “Oh, no. This might be really bad.” It’s in that moment that your body alerts you that it’s time to rest.

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I think of myself as a pretty healthy person. I do all the things you’re supposed to do. I eat well, get enough sleep, exercise daily, meditate, socialize, laugh a lot, and manage stress as best I can. That said, I’m certainly no stranger to health crises. In my teens, I suffered debilitating low blood sugar due to my chaotic relationship with food and exercise. My senior year of college, I was struck down by a migraine so sudden and terrible that doctors scanned my brain for an aneurism; the mysterious pain disappeared two months later, as quickly as it arrived, with no explanation. In my late 20s, strange and painful digestive trouble plagued me; that, too, dissolved into the archives of my medical history, disappearing as quickly as it arrived.

Because I identify as a healthy person–or perhaps more accurately, as a busy person–I tend to ignore or deny symptoms when they first appear. This time was different. Maybe the present moment awareness teachings of yoga have finally taken hold, or maybe I’m just more in tune with my body. This time, for whatever reason, when I noticed the first symptom, I took immediate action. Intuitively, I knew what I was facing, but I didn’t want it to be true. I waited and waited for test results to come back that confirmed, yes, this diagnosis is manageable but will affect you for the rest of your life. It may affect your ability to have children (a decision I’m not yet sold on but haven’t completely ruled out). You will have to think about and manage this for as long as you live.

10-signs-you-should-go-to-the-emergency-roomJust as I was wrapping my head around that reality, and perhaps because of my weakened immune state, a secondary situation popped up, causing even more pain. I cried from the pain, then cried more because it hurt to cry. Emergency room, another diagnosis, more meds, desperately refusing narcotics due to a family history of addiction, then finally giving in. Another sleepless night, another ER visit, vomiting in the waiting room as I sat alone, crying out for someone–anyone–to please bring me some paper towels. IV meds this time, “they’ll get into your system quicker this way, hopefully this will help,” finally realizing that I was no longer in control, allowing myself to be helped, excruciating five-foot walks to the bathroom, hours in the fetal position, accepting that I just couldn’t answer those emails right now, this is what’s happening. The humility that comes with intense sickness.

Those days are a strange blur. Perhaps in order to forget the pain, my mind didn’t write much of that time to memory. I do remember knowing there was a chorus of people just beyond my awareness reaching out. “Are you okay? Do you need anything? I’m praying for you!” In my helplessness, I didn’t know what to ask for, although so many people offered. I wanted to say, “Please just promise me you’ll still be there when I’m better,” but I didn’t know how.

I pulled the covers over my head and waited for the pain to pass.

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As I write this, I’m happy to report that I’m finally feeling a little better. The meds are working, and I’m almost pain-free. Walking from my bedroom to the kitchen for a glass of water no longer seems like an insurmountable task, although stairs are still a little intimidating. I miss my yoga practice desperately, but I know it will be there for me when I’m ready for it.

A strange thing has happened as I slowly emerge from this little cocoon. I’m arriving back to reality with a great deal of clarity. My world became very small while I was sick, focused on tiny movements and small improvements. During that time, things that had once seemed important fell away. Emails I thought were urgent went unanswered. Interpersonal and work-related conflicts that felt earth-shattering now seem petty and inconsequential. Projects that I’d moved to the back burner now seem vibrant and exciting. It’s as if everything shifted in my absence, and I’m returning to a life much more peaceful and calm.

Another thing happened during my time of intense illness, or rather, something very crucial didn’t happen: At no time in all this was I ever angry at my body. This is remarkable, considering how much of my life I’ve spent hating it for being not good enough. Rather, at one point, in the deepest, darkest part of the pain, I looked down and whispered to it, “I’m so sorry I let this happen.” My body and I are not just friends now. I care for it as tenderly as I child. This is nothing short of a great miracle.

And, most wonderful of all, the people who reached out when I was too weak to reach back are still there. Friends and family come to visit and send messages daily. I have more offers to run errands or bring soup than I can count. Much to my surprise, just this morning, a beloved and kind-hearted friend started a GoFundMe page to help with my medical bills. It never would have occurred to me to ask for help like that. It just further proves how much I need others in this process, because sometimes they know what I need before I do.

Being sick has slowed me down and is challenging the very fabric of my identity, but I know ultimately it’s all for the greater good. I need to be reminded to rest. I need to be reminded that it’s okay to not be busy all the time. And most of all, I need to be reminded that I’m not–and never have to be–alone.

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Sincerest gratitude to everyone who offered support, near and far. I can’t wait to offer big thank you hugs in person very soon.

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2 Responses to “On Being Sick”

  1. LMB says:

    We miss and love you.
    <3 <3 <3

  2. Laura says:

    Beautiful. X