Thursday, January 29, 2009

Fighting Old Battles And Waging New Wars

Wow! January has been a really up and down month for me.

Honestly, I think that the death of my cousin has really taken its toll. Once I was able to stop crying and actually go out in public, (which happened rather quickly because of school), I feel like there is still a lot of emotional rewiring going on in my head.

And I forced myself to work so that I could try and get my head back into the game. But I have so many projects in the works right now, it’s crazy.

I haven’t been sleeping well at all and am feeling quite anxious most of the time. I’m not going to sit here and lie about the fact that I’m an anxiety prone person. But the fact of the matter is that I’m feeling more anxious than I think I’ve ever felt before. I feel like it’s hard to breathe sometimes, like the walls are closing in on me.

And I can’t explain exactly why this is. I’ve been in relatively good health the past few months. And there are a lot of things that are going well in my life; a lot of exciting things coming up – (such as) trying to find a publisher for the anthology I’ve been working on, trying to write a memoir, trying to create awareness about chronic illness on the U of M campus, etc. So why do I feel so unsettled?

Even just the thought of my schedule filling up and more and more hours of my time being spoken for, makes me feel kind of nauseous. On the one hand, I don’t want to live in fear and never do anything because of the worry of not feeling well. On the other hand, though, I have to prepare myself for (at least) the possibility that my body will crash again, even though I don’t know where or when that will happen. Because I do think it is not a matter of “if,” but “when.”

And it’s stupid of me to assume that I can do everything I once could, or that I can even do everything that everyone thinks I am supposed to be doing now. For instance, I teach for four hours Monday afternoons. The first class was brief because it was basically introductions and going over the syllabus. We had the second week off for MLK Day. So Monday was the first time I had really taught, and I basically went for the entire four hours straight through. It’s only logical that, that kind of work tired me out.

I’ve noticed that some of the symptoms that I dealt with at the very beginning of all this, are coming back. Despite this, I keep trying to see how far I can push the envelope. And I know this is supremely stupid on my part, but I don’t know any other way to be. When I’m being super productive, I get this incredible adrenaline rush, but then I don’t know how to stop, how to cut myself off from overextending myself.

Obviously, this is nothing new for me. But lately my life feels very unbalanced, like the ground is shifting under me, but I’m not moving. Or maybe I am. I can’t say what this “existential crisis” is truly about. Lately, I’ve been wondering if I’ve ever really been a happy person. I think so, but I sort of wonder. What the heck is going on with me?

Part of the problem is that a large component of getting through academia is the fact that you have to play (and win) the “publish or perish” game. So when I have professors asking me to work on projects, how can I say no? Inevitably, this means that my own work often gets put on hold, especially creative things that I’m trying to work on. Lately I just feel this profound sense of urgency that there’s so much to do and not enough time to do it. This is something I find rather distressing.

Invisibility comes into play again here. I think that I’d have less of a hard time saying no if it was obvious that I was sick. But in the absence of horns, tails, or flashing lights, it’s hard to explain to others. And some people do understand. My advisor always counters any offers I make to help by asking if it will be overextending myself (as if this is something I would admit, anyway), but at least I know she’s thinking about it. And the professor I worked for over the summer, who I’ve continued to work with, has been really good about it, too. It’s just the people that are newer in my life that are difficult to deal with (and they are many, even though some have been great).

It seems that all I’m good for lately is questioning myself.

In some ways, all of this makes me realize that maybe Doctor C was right in suggesting time off from school. If I don’t stop working, obviously, I’m not going to stop working. But it’s not as if I can just jump ship right now or go spend some time on a deserted island somewhere. But I feel like that’s sort of what I need. I feel like the project I really should be working on is myself. There are definitely some things about this self that need improving…

As I’ve said before, I think dealing with chronic is as much mental as it is physical. And sometimes, the mind and the body aren’t in sync in the way that they’re feeling.

I had blood work done last week, which happens routinely because I am on immunosuppressive drugs. I have gone through this seemingly innocuous task more times in the past year than I care to remember, never expecting anything to go wrong. And yesterday, I got a call from my rheum’s office. White blood count low (as in abnormally low based on my previous tests). Repeat blood work next week (instead of in three months). This call took me back to my first phone conversation with my rheum, when he called to tell me all of the tests that had come back abnormal, when I first started going to him. Obviously, my white blood count could be low for any number of reasons. This could merely be a fluke. Or it could be something else? (This does wonders for my already anxious self, by the way!)

I guess sometimes I just wish that illness wasn’t a factor in everything I do, but it is, and I have to get used to it.

1 comment:

  1. It seems that all I’m good for lately is questioning myself. Those are your words from the post. They struck me because I realized that the times in my life when I felt the same way, are the times I have grown the most. It may feel frustrating, and even like nothing is happening, but the questioning is leading you somewhere, in fact, I would be willing to bet the increase in anxiety is due to it.

    Give yourself time to figure things out. You've been through so much in the past year, not only your own health issues, but the loss of dear loved one, and it makes sense that you would "feel the ground shifting" under you a bit right now.

    Believe in your strength, not only to make it through, but to turn these experiences into positives at some point.

    Hang in there, you have so much to offer that you don't even realize yet.