Stage 5: Loss Of Self and Confusion

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All of those things I was depressed about and had anxieties over?  They have manifested into many questions about how I will define myself in the future.  With the bitter portion mostly cleaned out I am left with pieces of myself that don’t seem to be who I was.

I picture it like broken glass that spent time being smoothed by sand and time.  So many abrasive feelings had to come out and the changed the pieces of me that were left.  Time has left the glass warped and changed.  None of the pieces fit back together like I remember.  I often feel like I am living in someone else’s body.  Really, I have to internalize the idea that I am free to choose who and what I want to be within my limits.  However, I have to stop being scared to be something.

I am afraid of being broken again.  I have put myself back together so many times, but this has been the hardest journey of my life.  This is the one that seriously made me question the value of living in pain.  I still struggle with that question when the pain is very bad.  At that moment, I am a person who likely can’t even feed herself.  Is this who I will be?

I struggle with wondering what I will be able to do to earn an income or if the issues I have render me disabled, what will I do with myself?  Right now these are possibilities of who I may become.  That’s scary stuff.  I have always acted and done things KNOWING who I was.  I am not the same lady from a few years ago.  I have lost some physical ability and sometimes my brain goes on the fritz, but I have gained wisdom and patience so I don’t even approach things the same way.  So does that make me untrue to myself?  Why do I hold such allegiance to my former self?

She commanded power and respect.  She was not meek and kind.  Not really forgiving or tactful.  I don’t feel strong life that anymore.  I don’t feel like a fearsome woman with laser focus on what I want.  I just want everyone to love each other and be nice and thoughtful and respect my personal space.  Who am I?

I am underdeveloped right now.  My whole life has been altered and I am being created with my new life.  Piece by piece, day by day, trial by trial.

What keeps me so hopeful is that the change is taking place.  It is a long process, but I am moving forward and I am sure after I work out some more anxieties and other issues, I will be able to see who and what I am being crafted into and what my purpose is.

Should you find yourself on this stage, nothing will feel familiar. You might have to improvise a dance, but you may learn that you had a skill you were unaware of.  This stage is frightening and the house is empty except for the shadow of your former self peering at you from off-stage.  I just tell myself, I can’t dance like you (old me) anymore, I have a new dance, and that’s ok!

This stage can be scary but it opens you up to lay the groundwork for healthy recovery or living.  You deserve to ask yourself the questions and you can try to figure it out yourself or seek professional help for dealing with this confusing stage.  You will strip your emotions and idea of self to the core and from here you will spin onto the the next stage in this progression.

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Stage 4: Anxiety And Depression

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Was there ever a more perfect pair?  In my personal experience, depression digs the rut and anxiety makes you afraid to get out.  I have spent my life defining myself by my ability to accomplish.  The accomplishments themselves were not nearly as important as the ability to do it.  I COULD work on a car, I COULD landscape a yard, I COULD clean a pool, I COULD take 9 classes and work and volunteer and be a mom all at the same time.

As the realizations about my mental, cognitive, and physical status began to sink in, I felt like I sank into the earth.  Not able to do the things I was used to being able to do, I no longer felt useful.  The things I love became things I didn’t want to talk about or hear about.

I got tired of hearing that my friends were getting married, buying houses, going on vacations, living their best lives (*through my personal lens, which was very out of focus*) and here I was dealing with headaches, unable to use the bathroom normally, and unable to get through the day without multiple naps.

It was like the blackness that swallowed me in anger left me bitter and depressed and unable to see value in myself.  Then my eyes were veiled in bitterness and I saw value in nothing anymore.  Making it to the point where I felt like I was just existing was the lowest place for me.  Just the disappointment of opening my eyes everyday and coming back to the realization the ‘this is my life’ was changing my thought pattern and things were getting dark in my mind.  I couldn’t fix anything going on, so how was life worth it anymore?  So, I decided to seek help and get a psychologist and psychiatrist.

If intervention had waited longer, I might not have made it.

Interestingly enough, my psychologist focused on my anxiety.  If I was depressed about something I could get specific about, then she would turn to the anxieties surrounding it.  I have (as of writing this) been in therapy for 10 months and the one thing I always try to carry with me from therapy is that I am prone to try to repair and repair instead of looking for a new solution or viewpoint.  I am anxious to know if my health issues are going to be permanent but if they are, so what?  I have to learn to live with them.  This is obviously over-simplified, but I am always willing to at least try the methods and tools my therapist gives me to help look at my thoughts from multiple angles.

One way I do that is by writing.  If I am very anxious about something I will write it down and read it to myself and imagine one of my friends wrote it to me for advice.  Seems silly, but it works for me because I often feel like other people deserve better than I do, so it helps me put my thoughts into a more realistic perspective.  I deserve to be happy or safe or cared for just like any and everybody else.

Still, I have plenty to work on in therapy and I would not say I am totally out of this neck of the woods.  As my treatments change and we test and get answers, I will have other woes and fears.

Many people don’t realize that you can go through this whole grief process with every symptom (I have about 17) and after every disappointing specialist (I have about 14) because each new thing takes something else away that you now must mourn.  The feelings overlap and mix and can be overwhelming.  My support system and my medical team all keep a close eye on my depression and anxiety because I won’t be able to improve if I lose hope.

The worst anxiety I have is that I will have these symptoms forever.  Headache and nausea for the next 20 years is an unbearable thought.  However, I currently temper it by telling myself that I have made it this far without answers and whatever happens I have my family and my faith and I can cross some bridges when I get there.  I only have to worry about my headache today.  Tomorrow will take care of itself.

I am not saying these are the universal experiences of anxiety and depression.  I only know what I go through.  However you’re feeling it, I encourage you to seek professional help if you have feelings of depression and anxiety.  At least find someone who you trust to get your feelings out so they can be validated.  Depression is not a ‘phase’ in life, it is a stage that must be addressed when it is where you are.  Same with anxiety, it is a stage that needs to be addressed.

If you find yourself being the third-wheel of this strange pas de deux, try not to get caught up in their dance.  The spotlight burns your soul and turns you into a shell of your former self. Spend your time on this stage and figure out what is the root of your depression and anxiety and come up with a plan that will restore peace of mind to your life.  You may not get the diagnosis you desired, but there are people who have it worse in some way but have rediscovered the joy of living. I want to enjoy my life again and I want you to also.

Anxiety Bae

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My anxiety man.

The thing I have begun to realize about anxiety is that even in the same person, it can manifest itself in different ways.  In myself it is often a stream of depressive and negative thoughts that just get worse and more outrageous he longer the cycle continues.  Or, I will cook.  I will cook for hours and days, all sorts of meals.  Way too much for my family to eat.  It is a physical show of anxiety.  If I don’t have a headache, I will go to the gym and give all of my frustration and anxiety to the weights.

Still, at times I get carried away with my anxiety and we go somewhere off the deep end for a while and it takes some time to get back to reality.  It happens.  I work through it in therapy, and if you check out The Life Of A Music Monkey you can see my Monkey Countdown where I am working on getting my anxious thoughts under control and turning them around.  Everything is a process.

So, don’t be too hard on yourself if you have a day where the negative feelings seem to be winning.  You are still an amazing person with the ability to try again and win the fight.  I am still on the circuit, I am no champion.  I have not defeated the darkness and saved the kingdom.  Some days, I just sit in the forest of despair and eat guilt berries, just like everyone else.  Eventually, I get back to the task of fighting the battles and winning a bit, losing a bit, and learning a lot in the process.

Me and My Anxiety

Anxiety is a world that I don’t think one can really appreciate without having traveled there in person.  I don’t even think that every who who experiences anxiety experiences it the same way.  For me, the voice in my head is louder and makes much more sense than the voices around me.  It reminds me of every failure, every worry, every fear, and anything else that could possibly go wrong in my life.  It is often the blinders that keep me on the path to mediocrity and the bit I chomp at when I am frustrated with myself for being my own beast of burden.

The upside?  It doesn’t have to last forever!!  With the right support system and some (a lot in my case) of therapy, you can begin to talk down the harmful voice in your head that is locking you inside of yourself.  For me, the most important thing I have done to help myself is to alert my family and let them know when  I am feeling anxious so they can monitor the things I say and help talk me down off of mental ledges.  I used to be ashamed to admit that I had these feelings, but my family doesn’t judge me and they genuinely want to help me get to a place where I can be free to enjoy my life without the shadows of my mind clouding my thoughts.

Check out The Life Of A Music Monkey for more fun readin’ about my life with Chiari Malformation!!

The Present Is A Gift

I often sit at the door to my past and I question why I can’t just go back. Back when I had my strength and my memory and my job. I miss those days. The real problem is that the time I spend pining over those days is the time I can’t spend enjoying today or finding a new enjoyment in life. For me it is hard to imagine finding something I love more than singing opera, but maybe that thing exists and how can I see it if my head is always turned to yesterday? Chronic pain makes ‘right now’ a place where I often do not want to spend much time, and I stopped dreaming of the future. I can barely plan for going to the bathroom, let alone accomplishing something important or meaningful. I am glad when I can get to all of my doctor appointments in a week. Still, even I must move forward and seek to look at what is in front of me and not what has passed me by.

 

Check out The Life Of A Music Monkey- A look into the secret life of chronic illness:

The Bitter, Petty, Mean Monkey!

The Chiari Sea

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Drowning in the Chiari Sea

One of my biggest struggles right now is depression and anxiety. OK, two of my biggest struggles. They manage to invade every corner of my life and sadly, the darken the corners of my family’s life too. My daughter tells me that I am bitter and petty. My mother tells me that I am a pessimist who chooses to be unhappy. My stepdad tells me that my glass isn’t half empty, there’s a hole in the bottom of it. I suppose I never have been that happy. I did not have an idyllic childhood. I had a wild adolescence. My brother was murdered on the cusp of my adulthood. Then I got pregnant. By then, the dreams had already faded, I just had to take care of a child for 18 years. If I could manage that, I would have found success. Then the car accident that led to brain surgery and a recovery that was never fully realized. The one thing I had hoped would get me back on track has been the storm that made me crumble. At least before this, I could just not care. Even my stoicism was taken from me and now I have to deal with all these feelings. Feelings of loss, not being good enough, being useless, not being able to parent well, not having a job or a home. I am told I choose to see it this way, and I guess I do. So I guess I deserve to feel this way. That is fine because I am used to a miserable life. I have had one for so long that I wouldn’t know what to do without one. My mother feels like I just choose to not be happy. I guess that is what I choose as I drown in my new life of misery with pain. I don’t want this for other people. If I feel this way, someone else does too. I go to therapy just to be able to tread water. If you feel this way, please get help. There is no shame in not understanding your life or feeling overwhelmed or just being miserable and unhappy. My family loves me and I know they really want the best for me. What is best is that I survive. I want you to survive too. We don’t have to drown in our misery, although we might float there a while.