Living Beyond My Illness

On Thursday, February 16, 2006, I almost died. I’d been trying to recover from seven years of being poisoned from overmedication, and finally, on Monday, the l3th, my body decided to purge itself of the poisons once and for all.

I was in such horrific pain from my stomach that I could barely move. I had to stop eating, and if I could have died, I would have. By Thursday morning I was in such agony that I passed out three times in six hours. The first time I banged up my left knee and my forehead. The second time I whacked my right arm and the right side of my nose. The third time I fell down straight so hard that my left upper teeth smashed into my lower teeth and then through my mouth.

When I came to and saw all the blood, I thought I’d just go back to sleep on the nice, cool floor and never get up. But a voice in my head started yelling at me: “Get up! Did you hear me? Get up! You can do it! Get up right now! Get up! Get up!”

So just to shut the voice up, I got up and wiped up the blood and went back to bed. And that’s when I really began to recover.

You’re probably wondering why I let myself be poisoned for seven years. Inertia and stupidity. I’d been ill with chronic fatigue syndrome, but I’d pretty much recovered when I had to have the right side of my thyroid removed. Two months later my cholesterol hiked up and my doctor told me it was caused by the thyroid imbalance and that I’d have to take medication for the rest of my life. Two months after that my blood pressure went ballistic and he gave me the same song and dance with my new blood pressure medicine. Two months after that, I started feeling my old chronic fatigue symptoms of pain and exhaustion, and we both assumed that the surgery had brought back my cfs.

WRONG! What my pill-pushing doctor neglected to tell me was that pain is a common side effect of the cholesterol drug, and it took me seven years to get desperate enough to do my own research.

Still, even when I was in such wretched pain that I couldn’t stay in bed for more than five hours a night, and even before that with my cfs, I refused to let my illness define me. Since the cfs and then the blood pressure drug turned my mind into Swiss cheese, I adapted and stopped reading and started making things. I fell in love with yarn and knitted and crocheted and wove myself into a life. I joined e-mail lists and put up a web page (with my husband’s help) and taught myself about art. For a while I even joined a local guild, but my pain made me too irritable to be the kind of lady the guild required.

There were times – far too many times – when I was too wiped out to do anything but sit in my recliner and watch the soaps during the day and videos at night. And there were times when I despaired of ever having a life again. But something inside me – the voice that yelled when I wanted to sleep? – refused to give up, and I eventually turned myself into a woman who is relentlessly determined and insanely optimistic.

I continued to dream of a better life for myself. I kept pushing myself to think beyond my present life and into the future. I visualized myself well, I said affirmations about being well, I made plans for getting well, and I always though of my illness as temporary.

And now, four and a half months after I almost died, I’m coming back to life. I still get tired and I’m still in pain, but I’m not taking any pills and I’m getting stronger and more confident every day. I’m reading again, and writing, and making all sorts of plans for my future. Only this time the plans are more than dreams.

And while I wouldn’t wish my past fifteen years on anyone, I have to say that they’ve made me into the woman I never thought I could be. I used to get depressed when my life didn’t go the way I wanted, and there were times when I was physically healthy but so emotionally lost that I had to force myself to get up in the morning.

But not anymore. I wake up each morning thrilled to be alive. And every time I look in the mirror and see my chipped teeth, they remind me of what a gift my life is. I’ve become obnoxiously cheerful, and while I still get angry and frustrated (most recently with the electric company), I now know that these are the bumps that keep life interesting.

I wouldn’t presume to advise anyone who’s ill on how to live. That’s something we each have to decide for ourselves. But maybe it’ll help to know that someone who spent fifteen years in constant pain and often feared she’d never have a life again somehow managed to get through.

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