Sunday, May 9, 2010

Letting Go

Happy Mother's Day!

I've been focusing on some heavy stuff during the last five months: depression, anger, fear, misdiagnosis, illness, a near-death experience, and loss.

You know what I learned from sharing my deep dark fears and my private journey in a public space where anyone in the world can read it? Letting go has made me free.

I let go of my fear that you will judge me.

I let go of my sadness, my anger and my shame.

I let go of my need to help karma find Dr. H.C.

I let go of my fear that I will get sick again.

I may very well get sick again; I may even lose myself. But I know what to do, I've rallied support and I know that it's possible to come out on the other side standing tall and pretty much back together again.

Thank you for reading my story and for sharing your stories and advice. It has helped me let go.

I love blogging so much I don't want to let that go, so in the next week or so I will transition to an entirely new blog.

After examining my illness and depression, I want to keep it light for a while. (Though, if you know me, you'll know there will be an element of seriousness in everything I do.)

Consumerism has always been fascinating to me. I've thought about it a lot.

Take today for example, a holiday I think is one of the least commercial. Moms want to take a day off and be appreciated. Kids make a special breakfast or clean the house or write a poem in a card.

It's not about diamond rings or dozens of blood red roses.

Or is it different for you?

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Space Between

Part of the reason I‘ve been writing this blog is to answer the question I posed in Up For Debate: what is personality? Is it more like neurons (the mechanism that releases the chemical) or the synapses (the space between, where one chemical is deposited to meet another chemical)?

The girl who sang in the shower disappeared for a few years. I’m not exactly sure where she went. Where ever I was, I must have existed. Or I wouldn't have been able to come back. So what happened in between?

Did I get sucked into an undiscovered black hole that exists, under the right conditions, in every person’s body? Was my personality so well hidden that it was indistinguishable from my surroundings, like a light brown mouse in a sand storm?

Even more interesting: I came back.

Without any focused thought or energy. No prayers or devil worship or telethons. I just reappeared one day in the hospital. It didn’t happen right after the medicine had fixed my heart. And it’s not like my ejection fraction increased dramatically right before I started singing again.

I am convinced that we’re a product of our circumstances. Yes, we have free will to be whoever we want to be, but we usually choose who we want to be based on our circumstances. I remember feeling scared as a little kid when we had a suicidal foster girl living in our home. She locked me in the bathroom with her and talked about cutting her wrists. At some point during the foster family experience (there were several living with us over a period of a few years), I wrote the Kids Helpline number on a piece of paper and hid it under a loose tile.

There was a really great girl who lived with us for a long time, someone I grew to love. But that good experience didn’t cancel out the really bad one. That fear as a child was so big that I still remember it, and I will never bring foster children – especially not teenagers – into our home. I would do other stuff to help, but never that.

Free choice is a tricky concept; maybe even an illusion. I didn’t want to disappear. I wanted to be the girl who sings in the shower, the girl who is trying to be an author. I didn’t have a choice.

I think, like most things in this world, reality is somewhere in between; not completely free will and not entirely random circumstance.

One illness, one misdiagnosis, one disappearing act and one blog later, I think personality is more like the synapses than the neurons. We don’t simply think our way into the person we become. It’s not something that just happens to us (most of the time). DNA, circumstance and free will meet together in that infinite space between to form personality.

I know I can’t control my circumstance, so I know that I may wake up tomorrow as the girl who doesn’t sing in the shower. But I can hope that I am never lost again.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Survival Mode

I didn’t realise it at the time, but when I was depressed and sick, I was struggling to survive.

Not in the same way K’naan sings about in his song Waving’ Flag (So we struggling; fighting to eat/And we wondering when we’ll be free).

Because my basic needs were met, my struggle was existential. I wasn’t sure if I could live with the pain or be a good mom. I was faced with redefining myself when I lost my ability to write. Oddly, I turned to material things to ease my emotional turmoil.

I bought a lot of stuff we didn’t need. We ate in restaurants at least three times a week. When we ate at home, it was steaks on the barbeque and mini potatoes with the perfect pre-packaged spices. I stopped drinking beer and starting drinking Yellow Tail. I used expensive face scrubs and wore Vans.

My new attitude toward the finer things came gradually. I didn’t throw out my plain black running shoes thinking I would replace them with something more expensive, just shoes that worked. But when I got to the store, after a long, hard week of working while exhausted, I had an epiphany.

Why not get the Vans? I deserve a little something for all I do.

Did I go for the stuff because it was there, because I thought it would make me feel better, or because I was too fucking tired to deal with my emotions?

Day after day, work was hard and I deserved to get something for the money I was earning. Something more than my roof and Kraft Dinner in a pot. Each day I made a choice. Before long, I was making the same choice every day, and having wieners for dinner just seemed less than I deserved.

I didn’t go without. I didn’t think I should.

Now, I wasn’t going too crazy – I kept it within my means. I wasn’t buying boats or million dollar houses or cars I couldn’t afford. But we went to the movies when we wanted to and I bought every hardcover I wanted to read.

Consumption consumed me; it became my life without writing, without hope, without joy. Stuff was my happiness, because I didn’t think I could be happy with a progressive illness that attacked my mind and body.

I think we all do it on one scale or another. I think it becomes a problem before we realise it.

The worst thing about consuming my way to happiness was that it didn’t work. A wine and steak dinner never made me feel taken care of or safe. The temporary comfort that stuff brought me was just enough to keep me wanting more. It was easy, mindless and always in my face.

Even shells of people are able to buy shoes.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

You; Me

I don’t think my depression caused my illness. In fact, I actually think that my illness was, in part, responsible for my depression.

I was whacked up the side of the head with Dr. H.C.’s diagnosis not long after we found out my mom-in-law had Leukemia. Fibromyalgia has no cure, no reliable treatment and no guarantee that it won’t get worse and worse year after year.

Young woman should be dreaming about sexy lovers and careers and babies, not wondering if a life-long sickness would make it impossible to enjoy any of those things.

When I was first diagnosed with Fibro, I spent hours questioning my capabilities as a mom. How much would my fatigue interfere with a child’s life? What would she have to give up to take care of me? I agonized over this question: is it fair to knowingly bring a baby into a family with a sick mom? Is it really fair? Would she have a good life?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that all kids with sick parents don’t have good lives. But I’m sure things like soccer and ballet and weekend road trips to see grandpa are difficult or impossible.

So, fear + long, hopeless road + feeling powerless = depression.

When I was depressed, I wouldn’t have labelled it as depression; I would have said that I was sad. But looking back, I know that I was actually depressed.

Everything was coloured by my sad, angry, and eventually bitter point of view. I had emotional heartburn. The fire that shot out if my mouth burned a path through my world.

The fire created a barrier between me and the people in my life. At the time, the barrier made me feel safe, but after thinking about it for a while, I’ve come to realise that isolation is a bit like not existing at all.

At the very beginning of this blog, I wrote “Intelligence, in the real world, is measured by the ability to communicate”. Really, our entire life is about communicating. We don’t exist without a connection to the people around us.

If we had nobody to talk to all day, I think we would lose our voices. If we had nobody to share our love and hate and fear and hope with, those things would also cease to exist. Without a you, there is no me.

That’s why my isolation, even though it was partially self-induced, was the most tragic part of my sick years. I didn’t really exist.

What do you think?

Sunday, April 25, 2010

One Last Karma Crusade

Dear Dr. Hope Crusher,

CC: Medical Disciplinary Board

Your misdiagnosis really messed me up. I want you to read this so you don’t do the same thing to someone else.

I was referred to you because I had pain in both of my arms for no obvious reason. My family doctor thought I had arthritis, but you glanced at my file as you walked down the hall toward the examination room and decided that I had Fibromyalgia.

It had been just three months since the pain began. There was no pain in the lower half of my body at that time. You jabbed your fingers into my muscles hard enough to hurt me everywhere, not only on the tender spots, but you ignored the fact it was you who was hurting me, not my illness.

You handed me a few photocopied notes and diagrams about stretching and guided me out the door.

There was never any follow up. You didn’t recommend more tests – not even a sleep study – or more doctors. You only saw me once. My family doctor had to prescribe me pills and check in with me and help me manage my day-to-day pain and fatigue.

Because you had incorrectly labelled me with Fibromyalgia, other doctors either thought I was a hypochondriac or a lost cause, and I went for years without finding out what was really wrong with me.

After years of no sleep, even while taking the sleeping pills recommended for patients with Fibromyalgia, I got fed up and demanded a sleep study. Luck for me, I had the energy that day to advocate for health.

The sleep study uncovered a major issue with my heart. I know you’re not a cardiologist, but you’re probably smart enough to realise that cardiomyopathy causes fatigue.

Turns out all I needed were beta blockers and ACE inhibitors to make me feel better. I’m not exhausted or achey or stiff anymore, Dr. H.C. I have been living well without medication for a very long time now, Dr. H.C.

If you had taken the time to diagnose me properly, instead of trying to stuff me into a neat box and then throw me out the door, you would have saved me a lot of heartache.

If you practice medicine every day the way you practiced medicine with me that day, you are a disgrace. You should put your medical licence in that box, set it on fire and then go back to school to become a Wall Street broker.

I’d rather you fuck with my money than my life.

With all my heart,


Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Minding the Ship

I’ve been struggling with the idea of a mind-body connection since my mother-in-law was diagnosed with Leukemia.

Some people believe we can control our bodies with our minds. What do you think?

Here’s what I know:

My mom-in-law didn’t think her way into sickness and she couldn’t think her way out. I know for sure because she was a god damned inspiration to other cancer patients in the hospital. She was out of bed every day, carting her IV pole around the halls, encouraging others to hold on through the really rough days and to get out of bed on the not-so-bad days.

The cancer went into remission, but then it came back and it never went away. She didn’t do anything to bring the Leukemia back, or to get it in the first place. She didn’t control her body with her thoughts.

I also didn’t think my way into cardiomyopathy. I did live with a heavy heart for years. I was depressed. But I don’t believe my negative thoughts brought on my illness. It was purely a coincidence – something I spent too much time thinking about because I wanted to have some illusion of control over my situation.

The atoms in my body were not rallied into good or bad health by my thoughts, fears or desires.

I didn’t get better by thinking positive thoughts; I took drugs and I got lucky. I was just as depressed when I was diagnosed as when I was taken off the pills. Happiness came after the good news.

What do you think? Am I bitter or missing something? Am I on the right track? Do you think you can control your body with your mind? Did good thoughts bring you health? Bad thoughts bring you sickness?

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Life After Death

I don’t remember much about the day my daughter was born other than what I’ve already written.

Here’s what I’ve been told: I needed two bags of blood after hemorrhaging; I knew who I was but not where, so I had a CAT scan at three in the morning to check for signs of a stroke; and at some point during all of this, possibly because of the magnesium sulphate IV drip, my heart rate dropped to seven beats per minute.

Seven beats per minute.

One of my nurses was five months pregnant, and big enough for me to notice nothing except for the baby belly. The belly set me off when I wasn’t best friends with reality.

I had a nightmare that kept my blood pressure high for days. In my nightmare, the pregnant nurse handed me a pair of scissors and told me to cut my baby. She said that every baby who was born by c-section was only allowed to survive because another baby had been scarred or killed.

If I didn’t cut my baby another baby would die. It was the circle of life. A baby before mine had died to pave the way for us. It was our turn.

It was terrifying because I honestly believed that the nurse wanted me to cut my baby’s stomach open with scissors. The nurse who was in charge of my life in the ICU.

Tim stayed with me to keep me calm and rational. He sat in an uncomfortable armchair beside my bed until I fell asleep at night, and then he slept in the Quiet Room a few feet away. He was also there for our daughter, who was stuck in NICU while I was getting better.

He rubbed my head and told me jokes. He listened to my paranoid ramblings, took my fear seriously and helped me see what was real and what was not. He picked me up out of bed, put me in a wheelchair and brought me over to our baby whenever the nurses said my blood pressure was stable enough.

His love was the only thing that dispersed my fear long enough to lower my blood pressure. His effect on me was more powerful than the labetalol they were feeding me through IV.

How did I get to be so lucky?

When I was finally moved to the maternity ward after days in the ICU, my roommate was also moved from ICU. She had preeclampsia much earlier in her pregnancy than I did, and her baby was born way before term.

She was fine, but her baby would have to stay in NICU for weeks. Her story made me want to curl up beside her in her hospital bed and brush her bangs out of her eyes. She actually lived an hour north of the hospital, and she could only stay in her room for five days. After that, she had to find a hotel, or pay per day to use the hospital’s family house.

Her little preemie was fighting for his life, trying to use his underdeveloped lungs in the incubator next to our plump little baby. Our baby was perfect; she was whole.

My roommate had to listen to our baby cry and coo when we were able to bring her into our room. She had to listen to the lactation consultant give me breastfeeding tips. She was an uninvited guest to our joyous celebration while her little baby struggled down the hall. It must have been heartbreaking.

As for me, the luckiest girl in the world, I was the live, proud new mom to a perfect baby girl. And I woke up in the hospital basically the same girl I was before I was sick. I can’t tell you if it was the drugs, the detox effect of ICU, or some kind of near-death phenomenon that righted me.

I could have basically been right after the heart meds, but didn’t give myself enough time to fully adjust before getting pregnant. Or something else was happening.

Whatever it is, here I am, the luckiest girl in the world. My husband loves me unconditionally. My baby and I are alive. I am myself again.

Life after that experience has been amazing so far.