For the last 15 years, I have battled severe vertigo. This primary symptom has come with a multitude of doctors and diagnoses over the years. I have been told I have everything from migraines to depression (a common diagnosis given women with symptoms that are not easily identified). Several years ago I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, an extremely common autoimmune disorder. My immune system attacks my thyroid, and it seems, my cerebellum triggering my vertigo and other symptoms. Medication, lifestyle, and dietary changes have helped a great deal but I still have tough days, tough weeks, and sometimes tough months.
This is what a bad morning looks like: I am awake by 5:30am but cannot get out of bed until 7:00am. Each movement causes full-body shaking until my back throbs as if there was a fresh bruise that ran the length of my spine. My head is pounding by this point; feels like it is trapped in a vise. The intense vertigo causes nausea. The best way I have found to get out of bed is to slowly move pillows under my head propping myself up. After adding each one I must pause and wait for the shaking and spinning to stop. I repeat this step two or three more times. Next comes the hard part; I must push myself from a sitting position and grab onto the dresser. I wait a moment then stand and try to get to the bathroom. If this fails, I crawl down the hall to the bathroom and into the bathtub where I turn on the shower. I sit on the floor of the bathtub and shake, pray, and sometimes cry. Eventually, the hot water eases the muscles and my emotional storm. When I can stand, I finish my shower and move slowly on with my day.
As awful as this is, it is better than it once was. There have been times I could not get out of bed at all. Days at a time I would lie in bed and shake and cry because my husband had to take a sick day to care for our children. There have been moments my children saw me curled up on the floor, unable to respond to their cries. Each shaky step forward is a win, even when it comes with a half-step back. A dear friend often reminds me that imperfect progress is still progress. That is just one lesson I have learned on my healing journey. There are others I would like to share with you in hopes of encouraging you on your own journey.
Here is what I have learned from my chronic illness:
- Ask Questions – It took several years and as many doctors before I finally learned to do my own research and to ask questions. Doctors are human and they don’t know everything (though some act as if they do). My biggest successes came after I found a doctor who was interested in being a partner in my health rather than master of it. I always go in with questions and often with recent research to ask his opinion about. Taking an active role in my healing journey gives me a tremendous feeling of empowerment.
- Ask for Help – During low points, feeling empowered has been critical to keeping depression at bay. However, knowing I can’t do everything alone and asking for help is just as important. There is a balancing act to understanding my limits. Some days I feel I can do it all. Other days, I need comforting words from a friend or more help at home from my family. This is not weakness, this is humanness.
- Be vulnerable – Brene’ Brown writes, “vulnerability not knowing victory or defeat, it’s understanding the necessity of both; it’s engaging. It’s being all in. Showing up terrified with no guarantee of success.” Wow, that is a lot to ask of myself. It is also a lot to hope for in the world around me. If I show up and be vulnerable, sick, scared, or defeated what will happen. Experience has taught me that for the most part it is okay. Most people are willing to let me be whatever I am that day, if I allow myself to do so. I have found that it also creates space for others to be vulnerable, then we can support and encourage one another. Everyone wins.
- Tell your story – This is taking vulnerability to the next level. Not only am I refusing to hide, I am announcing it to the world. This is really hard for an introvert like myself, but each time it gets a little easier. Sometimes this honesty leads to a confession from another – they are hiding a secret ailment or fear and we both realize we are not alone. Sometimes this leads to help. I frequently get articles and ideas that might help me get better, because those around me all know what is going on. This couldn’t happen if I tried to hide my illness. Telling my story has the wonderful effect of helping both myself and others. This is well worth a bit of effort.
- Be Grateful – I am not talking about being grateful for the days I am symptom free, though I am. I am talking about being grateful for the lessons learned on the bad days, grateful for those who love me unconditionally, and grateful that because of my illness I am finding a voice and a passion to help others. Each night I make a list of what I have been grateful for during the day. Each morning I thank God for those I love and the blessings He bestows. This may be the best lesson I have learned. Everyday there is a reason for gratitude. Looking for it is a great reason to get up in the morning.
One day I hope to be free of my illness. When I do, I will take these lessons with me. Until then, I hope that they help you, dear reader. I leave you with a favorite quote by Glennon Melton, author of Carry on Warrior, “We can do hard things.”