With today’s health crisis, I am sure most people can say they are living with some form of disease or illness, whether mental or physical. A lot of people are not prioritizing their health and pay the price with an unwanted diagnosis that could’ve been prevented with better choices. Then there are people who could live the model lifestyle and still be handed a condition such as type 1 diabetes, mental illness, or autoimmune disease for the rest of their lives. Whatever the circumstance, having any disease or illness can most definitely define you if you let it.
I have always been very upfront and vocal about living with depression and anxiety for the majority of my life.For the most part, I’m high functioning enough that people do not even realize I am living with these illnesses. After trying numerous medications and therapy, on-and-off for years, I have come to the conclusion that only I can help myself. I’ve discovered self-coping strategies that work for me and I try to stick with them as much as I can. There was a time in my life where I did let depression consume me. I let it control my life and define who I was as a person. I let people see me as a sad, hopeless girl. One day I decided I didn’t want to be that girl anymore. I no longer wanted to live in a world of darkness, hopelessness, and total sadness. Since that day, I realized that while I still have anxiety and depression, it isn’t who I am. It is a piece of me that’s made me into the person I am but it’s not the first thing people see about me. There are still stretches of days that I feel like I cannot leave my bed (hello seasonal depression), I am so anxious to the point of tears, and I don’t want to talk to anyone other than my dog. My depression will always be a part of me and I have ACCEPTED this. I have been spending years trying to “fix” myself, telling myself that I shouldn’t be like this and that I won’t live with this forever. But the sad truth is, many people with depression have it for the rest of their lives. I’ve realized I am going to be one of those people and I am okay with that. I know how to manage my mental illness now and the people around me know to expect that I am not a bright and shiny person. I’m more of a dark and twisted person, like Meredith Grey. It’s who I am and has helped me grow. It has also given me the ability to help others. But mostly, it has given me strength for things to come.
I was managing. Managing quite well actually- life was good and I was happy. Then one day, my vision went out in my right eye. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) sent me off the deep end. I saw this life I had imagined and created completely shatter and crumble into a thousand pieces in front of me. I was devastated, angry, and in denial. It took me months to grieve this diagnosis. Yes, months. Even to this day, I sometimes still struggle talking about it without getting upset because it is a piece of me that I never wanted and now I have to deal with it for the rest of my life. I can only imagine how long it could take for those with cancer or more aggressive chronic diseases to grieve and go through these whirlwind of emotions.
I, once again, let my disease consume me. By allowing this to happen, I let my depression consume me again. I would tell myself that I was going to be in a wheelchair in 10 years and I would never be able to have kids. I thought the worst of the worst scenarios in my head. Since I have always had bad luck I figured only the worst would happen to me. Testing for my prognosis didn’t come back good. Being a nurse, I have seen people with MS and what it does to them. I told myself I would end up just like them someday. I hated my body for doing this to me, for once again letting me down. I lived in my bed for weeks, didn’t talk to anyone, and cried more than smiled. I thought “This is my life now, might as well get used to it.” I felt powerless and felt like I had no control over what was happening to me.
Just in time, I had another wake up moment down in Turks and Caicos. I went with my sister, boyfriend, and brother-in-law, who are by far my biggest supporters in everything I do. Sure, all 3 of them are brutally honest when need be and gang up against me, but they are also there to pick me up off the ground when I can no longer stand. This trip happened when I most needed it. I was able to be me, not the “sick” me that everyone kept tiptoeing around. I left that beautiful island feeling refreshed and wanting to see more of the world. But how could I see the world if I am stuck crying in my room and possibly wheelchair bound in the future? The answer is: I couldn’t. That right there became my reason. My reason to live. My reason to be alive. My reason to not let this disease define me.
It is so tempting to take the easy way out, toconform, or do what’s the norm. We’re scolded or belittled when we do something that others deem as different. I did the norm for the first couple of months. Went to my doctors, did ALL of the testing, volunteered for research studies, and started medication. Even though my MS is still in its early stages, my doctor wanted to waste no time with getting me on a regime. I was prescribed a treatment that involved giving myself a shot three times a week. I’d describe these shots as a feeling of injecting shattered glass into myself. They left welts on me and I would be sore for hours, sometimes even days, after my injections. These shots were just another reminder that I wasn’t “normal” and felt like they were decreasing my quality of life. I would dread injection days and have so much anxiety before giving myself a shot that I started skipping doses. Eventually I stopped taking it altogether because I believe that my medication should not be worse than my actual disease. (Side note: I do NOT recommend stopping medication without consulting your doctor. I am a super noncompliant, stubborn patient and a doctors worst nightmare. Do not be me. Always consult a doctor before making changes with your medications.)
I was informed of alternative ways of treatment through a friend, who has had MS a good portion of her life. She recommended an autoimmune paleo diet called the Wahls Protocol. I am still learning more about the diet and a paleo lifestyle every day, but I decided whole nutrition and exercise were going to be my treatment for now. The reality of things is that I AM the patient and this is happening to ME. This is not happening to you, to my family, or to my doctor. This is happening to me and although I appreciate the advice from people, I am in control of my treatment plan. I am in control of what happens to me. That powerlessness, the hopelessness, the feeling of my life being out my grip, left when I realized that I can control my outcome with my disease with how I live my life now. Sure this might come back to bite me in the butt in 5 or 10 years (as my doctor likes to remind me), but I will deal with it then. There is absolutely no guarantee that my medication would have worked. In fact, there is only a 30% chance of it being effective and I felt like it was doing more harm than good. I am only this young once and want to feel happy and “healthy” for as long as I can.
So what’s the point of this long post? It is to remind everyone not to let their disease define who you are and who you want to be. Explore other options of treatment if you are not happy with what you are doing now. I have been called many things: stupid, irresponsible, and even a quack for thinking my diet will be enough. But y’all, more and more research is coming out that what we put into our bodies makes A HUGE difference. “Irreversible” diseases are being reversed by diet alone. Whole foods and nutrition are a game changer. I won’t get too much into it here (saving it for another post) but I highly recommend doing your own research and trying it out for yourself.
Do not settle if you are not happy with where you are. I know people with terrible diseases who are thriving because they choose not to let what is happening to them become their identity. Find your reason. Why do you want to live?
I understand change is scary and not easy. TRUST ME, I know. But we are talking about your life. Your one life. Accepting your disease is important and necessary. But accepting your life is over because you have this disease should not be an option. We are given one chance to truly live and some of us are stuck with diseases and illnesses to accompany us throughout life, but it doesn’t have to define you and what you want to accomplish. That doesn’t have to hold you back from your true potential.
Take control of your life. Show your disease who is in control. Respect and nourish your body. Grow your mind. Decide the norm is unacceptable for you and live your life to the absolute fullest. You are more than your disease. Remember that.