Oops. Didn’t mean to leave everyone in suspense with my last post. I certainly chose a dark and gloomy place to leave everyone hanging but … this story will have a happy ending. I promise you that.
Let’s resume the narrative. AWoL part 2. I’ll pick up where I left off.
It was January 1st and I had just decided to go on leave. I’m not gonna lie. Things did feel pretty dark and gloomy at that point. I was entirely overwhelmed – overwhelmed with what was happening to me physically and overwhelmed with the emotion of it all. It felt so HUGE. Although I knew I needed to take a leave (like literally didn’t have a choice), the thought of all of those wide open days was terrifying to me. The only thing that kept me going was a deep stubborn desire to win this battle. I truly felt as though I was fighting for my life. Not fighting for life … but fighting for MY LIFE. The life that I wanted for myself. A life in which I could thrive and not simply survive. A life filled with vibrant energy and happiness. A life in which I could achieve and experience everything that was in my heart and mind. A life in which the best people in my world would get the best of me and not just whatever I had left over after grinding out my days.
I started researching. Everything. Autoimmune conditions, panulcerative colitis, psoriasis, holistic healing, nutrition, fasting, diet, supplements, medication. I read articles, listened to podcasts, trolled on line forums, and reached out to people who know a lot more about this stuff than me. I learned that my condition is not exactly life threatening but that it could definitely shorten my life and could continue to progress in some pretty awful ways unless I took it all very seriously. I also learned that there is no single approach that works for everyone. No “autoimmune handbook”, no “colitis diet”, no “psoriasis solution”. What helps one person will not necessarily help the next. I learned that I would need to find my own way. So … I took baseline measures of my health and started making little changes to see the impact they would have on that baseline. I documented and recorded. I made notes and evaluated my progress.
Staying in that realm … the realm of logic and discovery … was a (largely subconscious) coping strategy. It kept me on the surface and prevented me from being completely consumed by sadness, despair, and fear. I stayed within that realm of objective investigation for several weeks. I pushed the subjective aside. I suppressed my emotions. I actively resisted letting my brain take me down the “what does it all mean” wormhole until I started to see some progress. Until I had proven to myself that the changes I was making were actually starting to pay off.
By mid-February, I began to notice that the intensity of my symptoms was diminishing. I had more energy. I was sleeping (a bit) better. I was smiling and laughing more. I saw a sparkle returning to my previously lifeless eyes. My skin looked healthier and the dark circles under my eyes had begun to fade. I began to recognize the person I was seeing in the mirror. The progress was slow, but it was undeniable and it was enough to give me hope. Little bit by little bit. Week after week. I felt more myself than I had in months. Only then … when I had found some evidence to be optimistic … did I allow myself to dive more deeply into the meaning of it all.
I am not even close to completing that exercise but I can tell you where I’ve landed for now.
I originally feared that I would have to transform myself completely … that I would have to live in an entirely different way than I have up to this point. I had visions of myself lying in bed in a dimly lit room with the blinds closed and pill bottles by my side (very victorian era melodrama if you must know). I imagined taking naps and drinking tea. Having long bubble baths (THE WORST). I imagined people coming in quietly to visit me … not for too long though … just for a few minutes so that I wouldn’t get too tired. Maybe doing the occasional crossword puzzle or listening to audiobooks.
It was fucking terrifying!
It turns out that I might not need to Emily Bronte my way out of this mess. I (think I) can do this my way. Yes I will need to make some changes but I don’t need throw away my coffee pot or permanently lace up my rollerskates. I need to be quite rigid with my diet (what I eat and when I eat), I need to spend most of my time with good positive people so that my fight or flight response isn’t being constantly triggered, I need to regularly spend time outside (ideally in the sunshine by the ocean), and I need to put boundaries in place so that my schedule is more manageable than it has been for the past few years. For sure.
I have begun to accept that I am someone who absolutely needs to be in motion. Exercising, moving, and exploring. That’s who I have always been, it’s who I am, and who I will continue to be. It will keep me physically and emotionally healthy. It will keep me from sinking into depression and from letting this autoimmune disorder set up camp in my body. My research proves it. I feel better when I exercise. The new twist will be learning to be still … truly still … at peace and fully present … when I am not in motion. I need to provide regular opportunities for my body to truly rest and for my mind to have the space it needs to complete an accurate diagnostic assessment of how I’m doing and to determine what (if any) recalibrations are required.
I need to step away from some of the distractions in my life … away from the people, places, and things that are not bringing me joy. If it is true that I am not invincible and that I might only have a finite amount of energy to give, I want to make sure that I’m expending that energy wisely. Creating, connecting, and contributing.
That brings us to today. Mid-march. I am preparing to return to work. Very soon. I am planning to take what I have learned with me over the past 3 months and to continue my research. I haven’t yet managed to get my symptoms in remission but I think I can get there. I have a good plan of attack, a lot more awareness, and (most importantly) hope.
I will probably publish one more AWoL post for those of you who are interested in the gory details. As I’ve learned and as I’ve said, there’s no one way to tackle this stuff but I’m happy to share what has been working for me in the hopes that someone out there might find something that helps them too.
Thanks to everyone who has been so supportive as I have begun to tackle this. It means so much to me and has kept me on track.