Thursday, March 29, 2012

Redefining Normal after Illness

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!