A few years ago I fell down a flight of stairs injuring my lower back and breaking my right ankle in three places. During my recovery I developed lupus-like symptoms finally diagnosed as Undifferentiated Mixed Connective Tissue Disease. The condition left me with significant numbness and piercing pain in both my hands and arms – during flare-ups my hands go numb and I become very clumsy. I finally went to plastic cups after breaking almost all of my glassware!
I am an attractive over fifty-year-old woman with no overt signs of illness or disability. I have developed a higher-than-normal pain threshold, after years of living with fibromyalgia, a condition which causes widespread muscle and joint pain. MRI’s have revealed two compressions, a herniated disk, and a spondylothesis. Lastly, a neurologist and EMG studies found pinched nerves as the cause of my severe right hip pain and reduced range-of-motion.
I have a handicap license plate on my car, and during my flare-ups welcome the opportunity to limit my walking distance from the parking lot. I have experienced my fair share of dirty looks and nasty comments from on-lookers who question my disability.
As a registered nurse I know that I will never be symptom-free and as a doctor of naturopathy I have been able to find periodic relief from non-invasive treatments like hydro-therapy, massage, and herbal cocktails. After years of denying the need for medication I finally decided that prescription anti-inflammatories and pain medication was not a sign of weakness or failure, but a proper adjunct to my alternative health remedies.
Finding a new normal after being diagnosed with a chronic illness takes time, patience, and self-love. I have learned to let go of the excess baggage in my life like disappointing and unsupportive friends. I no longer have the cleanest house on the block. I rely more on my husband and children to help me with household chores - The dishes may sit longer in the kitchen sink than I would prefer, with the dusting and vacuuming moving from daily to weekly. I focus more on what I can do rather than what I can no longer do.
What I do have is a more positive and realistic outlook on life and although I can no longer handle the physical demands of being a nurse, I have found exciting possibilities since enrolling in legal studies. I am redefining myself and my illness, taking control of it – not allowing it to control me!