Someone asked me about my illnesses because I mentioned them the other day so I thought I’d list them here. I try not to go on and on about them, but if you read my blog, you’ll see me mention them now and again.They say, “That which does not kill me makes me stronger.” And I get that. If someone meets me for the first time, they’ll probably see a fairly healthy looking person. Some might say strong… Yeah, “strong” is a word I’ve heard describe me more than once. It’s a good word, and I won’t deny being strong. I like to think that I walk through the world a stronger person for the crap I’ve been through. Sometimes, I’d rather not be strong because it’s tiring, but I guess strong is what I’m meant to be. So let’s take a walk through how I became “strong”.
My first bout of migraines hit me at age eleven. I remember my first awful, lay-on-the-floor-and-want-to-die migraine because the thing that triggered it that day still triggers many of my migraines today — the sunset. And I love sunsets. I adore sunsets. I have pictures of sunsets all over my computer. However if the angle of the sun is just right in the sky, wham! I’m crying on the floor for someone to cut my head off. That first migraine set into motion a battery of daily migraines that no doctor back then could find the cause of. And, boy did they try. Eventually, the doctors chalked my migraines up to “stress” and told my mom there wasn’t much they could do to help me. There weren’t many meds back then for migraines. The strange thing about migraines is that some people sympathize with you and others dismiss them as “just a headache, take some aspirin.” It’s really weird.
The next thing that manifested itself was my bipolar disorder. Ah, memories. We won’t get too far into how that showed its ugly head, but let’s just say that many of my friends in high school believed that I took drugs. They were wrong… but whatever. Anyway, the doctors diagnosed me with manic/depression at age 19 after the birth of my second child. I, being the “strong” person I am (not to mention stupid and young), thought that I could conquer this disorder on my own with diet and exercise. They can cure anything, right? I didn’t take any medications until well into my late twenties, early thirties. Let’s just say that trying to control bipolar with diet and exercise didn’t work out so great. I’ve never been arrested and I’ve only had one hospitalization, but it was an… interesting experience. The thing about being mentally interesting is that there is a huge stigma attached to it. Doesn’t matter what it is. Having bipolar means that people think I’m gonna flip out on them, no matter what else they know about me. And, since people cannot see bipolar, they have a hard time wrapping their mind around what it is. My first husband flat out said that I used it as “an excuse to act however you want.” Riiiggghhhttt because I loved being paranoid and enraged mixed with suicidal. Loved it.
I’ve had two relatively small traumas to my back, one at age 16 and one around age 24. Some time around age 26, I started getting shooting pains down my legs, so I went to the doctor. Seems that I have something called Degenerative Disc Disease. Now, I’m not a doctor, and I don’t play one on TV, but I tend to add two and two together and get five. The part of my back that’s slowly slipping away is the part of my back that that I hurt when I was young and stupid. I dunno. All I know is my back hurts – sometimes a lot. Sometimes to the point where moving is not an option. Back pain at least, is an acceptable invisible illness. Clutch your back and stop moving, and people will sympathize. I can’t take pain meds for pretty much anything, including my back, because I don’t metabolize them very well. So I learned to work around the pain.
Speaking of my strange metabolism… When given a medication, my reactions to a med are either that it works extremely well, not at all, or the side effects are… rather whacky. After the birth of my fourth kidling, I developed endometriosis and the doctors did what most doctors do, they put me on birth control pills. To counteract the mental reaction of the birth control pills, I acquiesced to being put on Lithium for my bipolar. A mistake on my part to both. The mania was amazing… hallucinations, paranoia, the whole shebang. Oh what fun. Not. Needless to say, I went off the meds as soon as I figured out what was happening. Eventually, I had surgery for the endometriosis, and I’m on the right meds for the bipolar, but wow, that period of time was interesting… to say the least.
So where was I? Oh yeah, walking through life. And walking is one thing I love to do. I am a walking fool. If I don’t have to be somewhere in a hurry, I’d rather walk. Because I’ve walked everywhere all of my life, it is the one exercise I
can could do without doing injury to myself. Imagine my surprise when I moved to Virginia around age 30 and suddenly walking a mile took my breath away. A mile? You’ve got to be kidding me. It came to a head in 1996 when I went to ER because I really couldn’t breathe anymore. I was diagnosed with asthma, pneumonia, bronchitis, etc… blah blah blah. They kept me in the hospital for two weeks and I left against medical advice because every day without work was a day without pay and I had no insurance. And hey, I’m strong, right? I don’t need no stupid hospital. They put me on prednisone. Do you know what happens to someone with bipolar when given prednisone? Mania! I did not know that until it happened to me. Hahahaha! Fun times.
My knees stopped working right around age 34. Here I was, trying to get into shape because I’d just let myself go during one depression …and the meds didn’t help because they actually put on weight as a side effect. But no, my body decided that losing weight wasn’t gonna happen and bam! the knees went. If I sit for long periods of time, my knees don’t like that either. I have to stretch my legs so my knees will stop complaining. It’s one of the many reasons why I stopped going to the movies. It’s also why I cannot do office work anymore. I cannot sit for hours behind a computer, and a standing desk won’t work because I have the back problem. What’s strange is that some people really sympathize with knee pain while others just… don’t.
And then there’s the fibromyalgia, which I was diagnosed with around 2007. The doctors believe that it was a car accident I had earlier that year that triggered my fibromyalgia. Of course, I fought that diagnosis for years. How dare they throw that on me? I gave in to the common thought that fibromyalgia is a made up disorder that doctors give people when they cannot figure out what is wrong with them. After all, there’s no blood test for it. They don’t know what causes it, and there’s no cure or definitive treatment for it. Then again, when I come to think about it, the same can be said for bipolar. So there’s that.
The Fibro is the most difficult for me because there isn’t much I can do about it. I mentioned above that I have a strange metabolism when it comes to meds. Opiates have no affect on me so I just don’t take them. NSAIDS have strange side effects so I cannot take them, and any other pain med I’ve tried either has no effect or has strange side effects. Directly after my car accident, the side effects from the ibuprofen I was taking affected my job so much that they fired me. I haven’t been able to hold a steady job since then. Pain affects everything.
Then my thyroid stopped working. Let me tell you something, dear reader… All kinds of wonderful things happen when a person’s thyroid stops working, as I found out all too soon. What things, you ask? Well, I got tired for one. I thought I’d had fatigue before my thyroid stopped working, but man, was I wrong. I didn’t know fatigue until now. Seriously, it’s pretty awful. Another interesting thing that happens is weight gain. Isn’t that lovely? All that time — two years! — I spent taking off pounds and keeping them off — five years! — and now I’ve gained 50 pounds in less than a year without even trying. >_< Yes, it makes me angry (and you don’t know frustration until you’re angry and exhausted at the same time…) The weight gain is just doing wonders for my knees and back. Not only that, but nothing makes people dismiss invisible illnesses like extra weight. People look at the weight on my body and assume that if I just lost some weight, everything else would just disappear. *sigh*
But! To add icing to the cake, my body has decided that asthma isn’t enough for me… Nooooo. Now I have some other special kind of COPD. One doctors can’t seem to pinpoint. Blah. I’m tired of doctors. ^_^
And that’s about it… I didn’t mention things like IBS, GERD, high cholesterol, and other little things because I’m not exactly sure when I was diagnosed with them, they just kinda floated in there somewhere. I’m hoping that life has decided that this is enough for now. I have the bipolar under control. The endometriosis is gone for good (hopefully). And I do want to point out that nearly everything I have is in the mild to moderate zone of the spectrum. It’s when you stack these things one on top of the other that they become… very hard to bear.