Monday, May 2, 2016

Welcome to the Dark Side

I've been struggling to put these words down on paper. Struggling to get them just right, just perfect, just exact enough to tell a story that you will want to read. With the way my ADHD brain jumps from idea to idea at speeds that make warp speed seem like standing still, combined with my awesome perfectionism (I've mastered the art of feeling the need to be perfect) and my dyslexia, putting words to paper can sometimes be a very slow go. Especially when it's a part of my life that I don't normally share. And especially as talking about all of this brings a flow of tears. This is a post about life on the Dark Side.

Anyone who follows my blog knows that I don't normally share the darker side of my feelings. Why? One easy answer: I care what people think. I want to inspire others. I want to be uplifting. I want to help others see that there is hope, that there is light, at the end of the tunnel. Then I got to thinking about the reasons I blog in the first place; to help other people. Sharing our stories is a way of connecting to others, a way of saying "Hey, you're not alone, look at my story". Our stories, good and bad, are part of our journey and people need to see the good, the bad and the ugly. Life isn't all unicorns and leprechauns. Real life has the good and the bad with it, and sometimes the bad does feel like it overpowers the good.

In another month, I will celebrate an anniversary. It will have been 4 years since the onset of my Crohn's Disease symptoms. In two weeks, I'm going for my 16th trip to the Operating Room. Until that time, I'm trying to avoid my 8th major hospitalization. I can't even tell you the number of pokes, painful tests, painful procedures like rectal ultrasounds and painful treatments that I've had to live through. That seems like a lot but in reality, that's just the physical stuff I have to go through daily. There's also a lot of emotional stuff that goes on in the background.

In 4 years of treatments, I haven't caught a break. I haven't felt any major improvements no matter what combination of drugs the "team" throws at me. In fact, since November I would say that I have physically felt even worse than I did when I was so sick that I needed my bowel out. I have been living every day in constant tear-inducing pain, unable to get quality sleep, having severe problems with nausea and vomiting (I feel like I should carry a bucket with me everywhere I go for emergencies), and oh yeah, did I mention the pain?! Every week brings a new health challenge, and it's hard to know when, or if, it will stop. I get people saying "if it were that serious you'd be in the hospital" or "you must be feeling better since you've been to the doctor". Unfortunately, it doesn't work like that in healthcare. When you are a chronic patient, you get stabilized at the hospital and once things are stable, even if they are stable on the horrible side, you are released and wait for the next step on your medical plan. Going to the doctor doesn't always make things immediately better.

 I've been to see at least 1 doctor every week for so long that I can't remember a week without a doctor's appointment. Every time I see a doctor, I hope beyond hope that this will be the visit that will change everything. I hope for relief, for some type of improvement. I hope to be able to describe perfectly what is going on with my body. I hope for the doctor's to listen and believe me, and to be patient with me when I break down into tears as I'm talking simply because it's overwhelming to talk about every single little problem all at once. I know that my confusing, complex health problems are overwhelming for health care professionals, but they're also overwhelming for me to live with daily.

I know I'm going to live with Crohn's Disease for the rest of my life. There is no current cure for it (and yes, I've tried different diets, supplements, medications, meditations...). I know that I should say that "I haven't let it control my life", but to be honest with you, it sortof does control my life right now. I'm not sure how it couldn't. I've had to give up being a Scout, as it's hard to go out and do physical activity like rowing a canoe, or going on an hours long hike, when it takes all of your energy just to get out of bed. I haven't really been to school yet this year. I can't go into the classroom and throw-up on my classmates, and I fear my tears and yelps in pain would only distract my friends. I've been away from school for so long (most of the last 2 years) that I don't really have any "normal" friendships. My life has become a series of waiting rooms, and waiting for waiting rooms.  And waiting for treatments to work, or more accurately, waiting to find a treatment that does work.

Welcome to my Dark Side.

It's heavy. It's crushing at times. I ask "why?", I ask "what's the point?". I get angry, frustrated, and exhausted. I cry. Nobody wants a dark side, and it's not something that we just go up to a stranger and start talking about. It's definitely not a conversation starter. In fact, most people get uncomfortable when you even come close to talking about the negative side of chronic disease. The socially acceptable answer to "How are you today?" is definitely not "Horrible, thanks, and you?".  Yet that is the honest response. Some days I really don't have much to say that is positive, other than "I'm alive, breathing and with a heart beating". And that truth makes a lot of people uncomfortable. I don't mean to be negative, I just mean to be real. It's always okay to be the real you, and real people have real problems.

How do I combat the Dark Side? Purpose and Belief. There has to be some point to it all. I believe that all of my experiences have had to happen for a greater reason, that there has been a purpose behind the suffering. Jacob's Healing Rooms fundraising project gives me purpose. It lets me take the ugliest of situations, the worst nightmares, the stuff that the Dark Side is made of, and make something beautiful come from it. It's a symbol of my Light Side doing battle against the forces of evil. Doing something to help improve other people's lives is my way of taking back a little sliver of my life. Every positive word someone shares with me, lets me know that what I'm doing is making a difference. In turn, that makes my Light Side glow a bit brighter. That keeps me motivated to keep doing what I'm doing. It's one of the better cycles that I like getting stuck in. The Dark Side might be scary, but it's not the whole picture when it comes to who I am. It's simply a part of me that reminds me of where I come from. It reminds me of the mountains that I've already climbed, and that my scars are symbols of battle wounds. My Dark Side makes my Light Side all that much more brighter.

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