I realized today that the anniversary is just about here for when I got quite ill and never fully recovered for long enough to call it remission. I’m still fighting the disease with medication and rest, days off work and actively looking within for how I can engineer my own lifestyle to minimize stress.
I came across the anniversary, because I’ve been filing away old emails at work, and I found the ones three years ago when I had to cancel my trip to Indianapolis because I was too ill to travel after a slew of tests at the hospital to determine what was going on. Intuitively I knew what was going on – I’d done the same thing in my third year of undergrad. I was overstressed, overcommitted and pushing way too hard when I really needed some time and space away from work and school.
I did it again when I moved to England to complete my two Masters degrees. I was homesick, worried about every grade and fitting into a foreign country, all the while not knowing why I wasn’t getting any better. It was awful. I was never healthy while I lived overseas and I kept it hidden from all my classmates. I’d get up early so that I could spend time being in excruciating pain while my stomach settled just enough for me to then get to class for 9am.
This current flare started three years ago when I started back at school for my PhD, all the while undertaking the most challenging project at work to date. Interesting – all three triggered by stress from school and/or work. Luckily I recognized that academia is not the place for me (albeit after I spent two years pursuing the PhD and dealing with a very dysfunctional supervisor and department). And yet, my symptoms have persisted.
I’ve just kept eliminating things that are making me sick – school, pulling back the hours at work, getting more sleep, cancelling any plans that are not necessary. I’m still sick though. I hate being on this medication. It makes me feel bad and my face and body are “puffier” than usual. It’s so vain but it really bothers me. I just want to be me – look like me, feel like me, be able to have energy and execute on all the things that matter to me.
I can’t believe it’s been three years that I’ve been on-and-off sick. That is far too long, and for sure the longest flare that I have had. This time I am trying to be compassionate to myself. Trying to understand that as I ween off the medication it’s going to take longer. Trying to be kind to myself, knowing that things will get better. Trying to just focus on myself and not what others say and think when I am constantly away from work, constantly cancelling plans, and constantly having to put myself first.
But in the end, I am my toughest critic.
And the only way out of this is through radical self compassion. I need to make changes that actually support my health for the long term. I need to drop my unrealistic expectations of myself, and just get well.
I wanted to write this to explain to you that no one has their shit together; certainly not all the time. We all have struggles and challenges. I may get up early most mornings and teach fitness, and cook my own food every weekend. But inside I am not well. I am fighting my own battle that no one else can see. And I am so scared about having to make changes in order to finally support myself and my health.
If you find yourself in a situation like mine I hope that you will find the courage to be radically self compassionate. I hope that you will know you are not alone, even if some people make you feel that you are. And most of all I hope that you know you are worthy of health and happiness, and that you must do all you can to foster and protect it for yourself.