Friday, October 23, 2015

The Me That Used to Be

It's been an interesting summer. While I continue to deal with major medical issues, I'm nowhere near as sick as I have been in recent years. My body is holding together the best as can be expected with all it's dealing with. It's my mind that's struggling. I've been having night terrors, lots of anxiety and my mind, while crystal clear, is too overstimulated to focus on my writing. At least not as much as I'm used to. It's just another phase on this ongoing journey with my health.

In an attempt to help my mind through this time, I started seeing a psychologist around the end of June. The first few visits were spent filling in the blanks of all she would need to know. I suppose I was riding a cathartic high of vocalizing all my demons. After the second visit, the tenor of my appointments changed. She had heard only a fraction of my health and personal history, but it was enough for her to provide helpful guidance.

The day before my third visit, I found an old picture of me that I barely recognized. I was thin, beautiful, and made up like I used to enjoy being. I remembered when it was taken, knowing it was right around the start of my last relationship... ten years ago. It felt like a kick in the gut. I look nothing like the girl in the picture, and it depressed me beyond belief. I stuffed it in my journal and tried to forget it, but I couldn't.

Going into my appointment, I hadn't expected the picture would be a topic of subject, but it was. I told her that I found an old picture of myself that I barely recognized. It looked and felt like a lifetime ago. Before I knew it, my face was wet with tears. She asked me what had made me so sad. I said, "I don't know where that girl went. I don't recall when I lost her, but I don't think she's coming back."

I started to come to grips with something at that session. The me that used to be is no longer.  I don't know how she could be after all that's happened with my health. Thinking of the picture, it's like she, with all the dreams she'd always had, is dead. It was before the oxygen, before all the scars, before I became a practical shut in due to my poor immune system and overwhelming anxieties. It was before I became a slave to disease, lost my social life and before I forgot knowing what it felt to be loved by a man.

It seemed like so long ago, almost like another lifetime. In a way, it was. I hadn't realized just how much had changed; how much I had changed. How much I'd lost; the career, my son, my dreams for a family of my own. As I started to process all these memories, the tears came, and my counselor gave me her astute assessment of what I was going through.

"You're mourning your former self. Mourning all you've lost over the past 16 years of chronic illness. You've spent so much time coping with your immediate physical issues that you haven't grieved what you've lost along the way. This is a stage of coping with loss, and you've lost plenty."

For the next few weeks, I cried my way through my sessions.  I started to understand a little more about my anxiety. The mind can feel unstable when it's in the midst of a tug-of-war between what was and what is. It's hard to stop wanting the life you'd always wanted, even though you know it's near impossible. Even if I could get pregnant, which would be a long shot, how could I be a good mother when the pain makes it hard just to get out of the bed some days? And what kind of man is going to want to be with a woman with all the health issues I have? It's not an easy life. I've had to  accept it for myself, but I can't imagine any man wanting it for himself.

My therapist is so patient, but she will challenge my logic. When I talk about longing for a man, including love, intimacy, and sex, I often make it sound like an impossibility. It isn't just because of my health issues on the inside, but also the oxygen I wear on the outside. That's not something I can hide, and it's definitely not sexy. But when I start on the self recrimination, she will ask how I can make the decisions for men I have yet to meet. I guess she has a point. Anything is possible.

I'm still in therapy, and I continue to struggle with my physical health. I picked up my journal last week, and the picture I'd stuffed in it dropped to the floor. I bent over and grabbed it, staring closely at the woman that was. Yes, she was beautiful, but there was something I hadn't noticed. Her eyes looked dead. I cringed, remembering there was a time when my pain medicine had more control over me than I did. It made me zombie-like. I spent years being overmedicated, either at the hands of my doctors or by my own. There are years I don't recall, so sedated I had been that only fragments of memories remain.

Chronic pancreatitis has the reputation of causing some of the worst pain known to medicine. It could rip me apart, cut me in two, cripple me to the point that nothing but the fetal position was tolerable. I had been so terrified anticipating the pain that was to come that I'd take extra pain medicine to ease the onslaught. I'm NOT proud of that tendency, but I have to let regret go. Every moment I spend regretting or incriminating myself for old behaviors is a moment lost. They are moments I could instead spend being grateful, joyful or simply at peace.

I laid the photo down and looked in the mirror. My eyes were clear. I went through some recent pictures, and my eyes were alive and sparkling. I started to think about the things I liked about myself. I thought of my inner strength, my spiritual awareness, my empathy for others. I thought of my courage in the face of stress, my positive attitude, my crazy sense of humor. I may not be the me that used to be, but my therapist has helped me see that everything isn't lost. There is still so much to be grateful for, and my inner strength continues to help me face my physical trials and tribulations with spunk.

Grieving what was is helping me move forward to the woman I have yet to become. The possibilities aren't endless like they once were, but are enough to make it worth the investment of my heart. I'm fortunate in so many ways. I have the unconditional love and support of family. I've got two nephews who help fill the void of not having children of my own. My body has lived through serious illness and desperate situations. I have a home, I have food, I have a bed, a precious dog. I have much more than most.
I often feel guilty for feeling down about my health, because I AM so lucky. My therapist told me there is no need for guilt. I can be grateful, yet heartbroken at the same time. One doesn't cancel out the other. Loss is loss. I've lost years to my physical battles. I've lost love, romantic and maternal.  It would be abnormal NOT to feel down now and then. There is a hole in my heart that is slowly being filled with the love and experiences I'm gaining as I move forward.

The body and mind heal differently. I've realized that emotional healing is a process of changing ones perspective of ones physical reality. And it's fluid, ever changing as the body and spirit evolve through life's many adventures. Life doesn't always turn out the way you thought it would. Mourning the changes between what was and what is can be as important to the mind as a medical procedure is to the body. Sometimes life takes a different direction, a different road. It doesn't have to be better or worse than what was, it's just different. I'm just happy to have survived all I have so I can walk down the path God continues to lay before me. On the horizon, I see the me that will be, and I look forward to becoming her.