Monday, October 06, 2008

Heal Thyself

Warning: Serious Post Ahead

For quite awhile now I have suffered from health problems that are not easily seen, but which are deeply felt, and very destructive to my body. Some of those problems I blog about regularly, like the very restricted diet I abide by and the inability to sleep at normal times, but others I do not. Because of these issues, I've been giving health in general a lot of thought lately, and I have noticed two distinct patterns in our society.

Proof of Illness
The first pattern is, that if illness is easily detected by others, (i.e., flu, broken bone, or cancer that is being treated); people take notice and really want to help you feel better. They say things like "go home and rest", "take some medicine", "let me get the door for you", etc.... While I think sentiments like these are coming from a good place and well wishers ought to do that, I have also noticed that if health problems are not easily detected, outsiders tend not to get it. It's not that some don't want to, it's just that human curiosity, I think, drives us to want to see some kind of evidence of whatever the problem is so that we can make sense of it and perhaps do something about it.

The problem with this, is that the illnesses which are harder to detect often get ignored, taken lightly, or treated as though the person who is ill is either faking it or making a big deal out of nothing. It also means that the person who is ill can more easily hide the things that are making them sick and can sometimes be prone to thinking that perhaps they are making a mountain out of a molehill too, which often leads to ignoring big warning signs making problems worse. I think that as a well person I have fallen in the trap of not getting it and as a sick person I have equally fallen into the trap of pushing myself too hard only to have my body force me to stop what I was doing rather abruptly.

You're So Strong
The second pattern I see, which is sometimes more specific to women, but equally as destructive, is that when a person who is ill is discussing the various issues associated with his or her illness with someone who cares about them, the response that I think is often uttered is something along the lines of, "You're so strong... you'll pull through this, I couldn't do it". These phrases almost sound as though they're in admiration for the person who is ill, simply for being ill and still existing despite the suffering.

I've had this said to me many times since I got sick enough to be debilitated. Let me please clarify that I am not upset with people who utter these statements, I was one of them prior to getting sick, I know it comes from a place of misunderstanding and wanting to alleviate suffering. I get that, I have always been a person who tries to reduce stress and suffering in those I love. I am a nurturer and a protector by nature. I can't even watch movies or news stories very easily that are about suffering. It overwhelms me.

As a sick person though, I feel like I need to provide clarity to people who are not sick to increase understanding, and I also want to give a voice to the people who are sick and suffer in silence. I have found that since I got sick, I do not feel the least bit stronger than prior to getting sick. And the danger, it seems, in telling me and others who are sick, that they are strong, is that those of us who are sick lose permission to feel weak and sometimes lose perspective on what they are truly dealing with.

I have felt that I am not strong for getting sick. It just happened to me. I didn't have a choice, and I can't undo it just because I don't care for it. I am forced to adjust for it, and some days it is so devastating that I just have a good cry about it and mourn the loss of freedom and productivity that being healthy permits. I get really upset about all the plans that have been majorly altered because I have to accommodate chronic illness and pain, which is still not well understood by my many, many physicians. I am not strong. I am not trying to be strong. I am not trying to overcome. I am just dealing. Some days I feel enormous pressure to push through and get healthy enough to load my plate right back up again, and the other days my body reminds me to slow down or else. It's a tricky balance, and it's not easy to navigate.

Coping with Illness
These are the things I am doing to cope. I have started therapeutic yoga. It is helping to reduce some symptoms of some problems. It allows me to concentrate on each part of my body and find ways to let it heal itself a little bit at a time. It is helping me to reduce the stress that accompanies a major health crisis, but simultaneously gives me permission to be weak. I am also doing creative things, which is my personal sanity saver. Blogging, designing, and photographing my way through this has been enormously helpful. But that's just me. Different things help other people.

What Can I, the Well Person, Do?
I say these things, not to chastise well-meaning individuals who want to reach out and help. Please, well-meaning concerned citizens, keep reaching out and helping. I am instead trying to bring about understanding to those who don't know what it is like to be sick, in the same way that no one can understand what it is like to lose a person they love until it happens to them, neither can those who are not sick understand the experience of the sick person until it happens to them. In the meantime, I hope to bridge the gap somewhat. I am not looking for sympathy, just understanding. It's important.

The lesson here is: We're not strong, we're sick and just because you don't hear a sniffle doesn't mean we aren't suffering. What you can do is listen, acknowledge that it's hard, ask for more explanation to reach understanding if the person is comfortable sharing, and ask if they need help, but don't stress if they don't want help. Sometimes the specifics of the illness are not easily soothed or fixed with a pot of homemade soup, but offering up an ear for listening and a hug can go a long way if that's what the person needs. Here's to keeping it real, people.


Heather said...

Ali, I am glad to hear that you are trying the healing yoga. The mind is really powerful and I hope it continues to help a little along with the creativity. Did you hear that talk on creating at the Womens Relief Society Broadcast the other night? I think you may not have felt well enough to go because I didn't see you there, but I think you would really really enjoy that talk - Uchtdorf (I know I didn't spell that right!) I am sorry that you are feeling so crummy and not sleeping well to boot. Will you let me know if you need something!? I can make a few decent Gluten free dinners and have two happy to listen ears! Love ya

David & Lisa said...

I am glad you posted this. I only know you thru the web (and the Apex RS cookbook) but I think you're a real cool chick no matter what! I hope and pray that one day you'll get some answers as to what's going on...although kudos to you for being proactive and taking charge of your diet and making the effort to try to figure things out on your own. Yes, and I still need to send you that GF recipe!!

Ali-kat said...

I tried to watch the Uchtdorf talk online, but it wouldn't stream correctly, and I appreciate both your good thoughts. I need them this week, I'm definitely on a down cycle, which means increased pain for me. Yipee (she says sarcastically).

EMama said...

I know I"m late, but good one. Thanks.