How Not to Fake an Illness

“..but you don’t look sick.”

Ugh, I can’t begin to count how many times I’ve heard this over the last 5 years. Shortly after MyLove and I were married, we discovered I had Chronic Kidney Disease. Long story short, my kidneys were no longer filtering correctly. Their function has ebbed and flowed like the stock market. Sometimes they have dropped significantly, only to rally and lead me to believe I was in the clear.

In recent months, I’ve felt really rotten. I have battled with healthcare professionals to give me some kind of answer. My stay in the heart hospital was brushed off as acid reflux, my fatigue was simply a side effect of my depression. While this may have been the case for some, I knew better. I know my depression. I’m sort of an expert at it since I’ve battled it since my teens. THIS, this fatigue was not part of my depression. And I’m pretty damn sure that acid reflux does not land you in the heart hospital for THREE days. With a simple eyeroll and swish of a pen, I was dismissed. Just. Like.That.

I begged and pleaded with a nurse practitioner, send me somewhere, anywhere, anyone. I didn’t care, just help me find someone who will truly listen. Cue the harp strings and angelic voices, I found a doctor who not only listened, but had answers. I had a diagnosis, I actually had more than one. [Autoimmune diseases tend to hang out with other autoimmune diseases; you don’t typically just have one.] I have a B12 deficiency, Fibromyalgia and Ankylosing Spondylitis. Stir that all up with some kidney disease and you get a pretty pitiful me.

The fatigue is overwhelming. The pain, constant and persistent. But, I don’t look  sick. Upon closer examination, you may discover the plethora of medications have caused hair loss. MyLove jokes about my eyes clicking* when we’re trying to settle in for a night’s sleep. And sleep, oh that jokester. Some days all I want to do is sleep, and at night, not a wink. I catch a nap occasionally, but it does not recharge my batteries. It’s as if I’m a defective cell phone cord, never fully charging. The wicked humor of my disease, when I’m idle too long the pain is excruciating. If I try to do too much, and I’m run down for days after. A roller coaster that makes you scream in anticipation and nauseous all at the same time.

While I’m busy trying to stay busy, the stuff that is supposed to keep my body held together, is quietly screaming inside. The medication designed to help alleviate the worst of it, makes me more miserable. No, this is indeed how to NOT fake an illness. This is how to fake fine. I don’t want pity or to look pitiful. My pride screams in a voice that resembles mine. I want my normal life back. I want to scream over the wasted years, I squandered my health as if it would always be well.

It’s in the screaming and noise of self-pity that I find my new-normal. I’ve discovered that I am a work-in-progress on MANY chapters of my life. My resume has now been altered, subtracted and added to. I don’t have the course perfectly laid out in front of me. And being the rebel I am, I would have thumbed my nose at the ‘best laid plans’ and go it my own way, anyway.  I’ve met people on a parallel path, it is a beautiful symphony of tears and cheers. We have become fighters for our own health AND our diseases. While I am no expert on the disease, I’m becoming an expert on my diseases. Trust your gut, your inner voice, press in and press on. You are your greatest advocate. Fight for YOU!!!

Life is a journey with rough terrains, smooth sailing, rocking the boat, dancing in the rain… and some days, you just fake it to make it.

 

[* that clicking noise, persistent dry eyes and Uveitis]

When A Wife Has To Question Her Marriage Vows

More than five years ago I married the love of my life. I can honestly say that he’s the love of my life as I’ve known him since I was 9, my first kiss when I was 11, and wrote his name on every notebook I had. We had a break-up of over 30 years, but we found our way to each other again and married quickly, knowing it was right. We stood in front of family and friends and made promises and vows to…

…to have and to hold
from this day forward,
for better, for worse,
for richer, for poorer,
in sickness and in health,
to love and to cherish,
all the days of our lives.

We always believe in the better, richer, health and love and cherish; but what happens when the “sickness” takes over. Shortly after we were married I began to feel really lousy. I thought it was a pretty standard UTI aka bladder infection. I’d had a kajillion over the years, so it was no big deal to me. It was however a big deal to my favorite Nurse Practitioner. She saw some unusual flags in my lab work and immediately requested more labs. Fast forward several weeks; I’ve met my new doctor, a nephrologist; a kidney doctor. It has been determined that I have Chronic Kidney Disease; a progressive disease. Simply stated, my kidney function is declining, and will likely continue until failure. It could be decades until that point, if ever; but some life style changes are needed immediately.

Together, my hubby and I, took a realistic look at my future and what it may mean; dialysis or transplant. We have been realistic and he’s amazingly supportive. He’s my Jiminy Cricket, he helps to keep me positive and on track. We have been transparent when people ask why I can’t have ‘brown pop’ or a big fat steak when we dine with friends. Yes, there are cheat days when I just ‘need’ a Diet Coke or sneak a bite (or 5) of hubby’s medium-rare steak. He’s not a chronic-cop, but he helps to keep me in check.

Here we are, after five years of marriage, facing another medical hurdle. For months I’ve been wrestling with multiple issues. Random weird, things; a rash on my face, extreme fatigue, horrific pain that was come and go, and ridiculous sleep patterns. Doctoring for independent symptoms, mainly because they seemed to have zero connection. At the end of April, I had such crippling chest pain that I went to the ER. Long story, longer; I was admitted to the Heart Hospital with ‘inverted T-waves’ on my EKG. My experience was less than favorable, but that’s another blog for another day. During my follow-up visits, I felt as though they though I was nuts or over reacting. I was told my chest pain was Acid Reflux and my fatigue was part of my Depression. I’ve battled depression/anxiety for decades; I know the difference.

I’m not sure if it was a quest to prove my sanity or just to prove the doctor wrong, but I kept pushing for more tests and demanding action. It seemed as though more medical professionals were scratching their heads and rolling their eyes. It wasn’t until I was referred to a Rheumatologist that I got some answers. Her answers were actually questions, questions no one else was asking. She connected dots and pursued more options. Today, I’m readying for an MRI to prove/disprove a diagnosis. As of now we have some answers, none of which are catastrophic, but not something to cheer about.

It’s in the waiting that I have such unrest; I’m not a patient, patient. It’s my husband that keeps me grounded. Perhaps part of his easy manner is a thread of naivety or disbelief, but he’s not one to dwell on my illness. I tend to be the one to dwell, roll around and be miserable, in my illness. I feel guilty for my illness, I want more for my family. I want to be more for them. I don’t expect them to be the Web MD freak that I am, and know each symptom and prognosis. It’s on days when I feel as though I can’t move, I have terrible pain and want to be a pitiful puppy that I question my marriage vow. Not necessarily my vow, but his.

I know that my husband professed before our friends and family that he would love me in sickness and in health, but neither one of us signed up for this. Husbands are amazing creatures, and have pretty similar natures; they are fixers. When I say that I’m having a tough day, he asks why. It’s not as though he doesn’t know why, but he’s wanting to now why so that he can fix it. His kind and loving nature wants to keep me from experiencing the ugliness. It’s in those moments that I get angry for the years I ‘wasted’ and lack of gratitude. It isn’t fair that the best years of my life, prove to be the most unhealthy.

But this is where faith steps in, the belief in something that is unseen. Our future is just that, unseen. No one knows or can predict what tomorrow holds. In sickness AND in health, we aren’t promised a tomorrow. It’s in that promise that I made, MY vow to love my husband in sickness and in health, that I understand that it wasn’t a promise of his sickness or his health or mine. We promised. WE have sickness and health. WE have better or worse. We promised.

It’s on that promise, that I will stand – or lie down in this instance – to pursue my sickness. I will take my 2 Xanax and cowgirl my way through an MRI, that I dread!!! I will seek answers and pursue treatments as my promise to him. No questioning my vows, but answering the call to love, all the days of my life.

 

Death of a Dahlia

My dad took great pride in his golf course-esque yard. It was perfectly groomed, green and lush. You know the delight in the perfectly groomed marks left when vacuuming carpet? His yard was equally and tactically aligned; every week was a decidedly different direction. When his emphysema became too much for him to care for the yard, he sold the house. He would not hire someone to care for it, he couldn’t bear to watch someone else tender the greens.

I wouldn’t go as far as to say I have his green thumb, but I don’t think it’s black either. I don’t immediately kill plants and it certainly isn’t intentional. I’m not sure if I have a valid excuse as to my demise with botanicals, but this season has been an epic failure! (I’m not sure why I even plant cilantro, I don’t like it. It tastes like soap) Maybe the cilantro knows my disdain for it and just refuses to rise. My hanging baskets are always spindly. I blame it on the fact they are just out there hanging in the bright sun, being blown around, by the wind, with no protection. Kind of the way that I blame my lack of baking skills on the fact that my oven sucks; ok I’ve had 6 different ovens over the years. Anyway…image2

 

 

This summer my hubby and I fashioned a pretty amazing planter to cover up an electrical box that juts out of the patio. I decided to plant this 22 inch pottery-like pot, FULL of plants; 5 Dahlias + 4 Petunias + 3 White Dangle-y Flower Things. It was thriving. I was proud! I posted photos to Instagram and Twitter, they were glor-i-ous!!!

 

 

I began to notice their bright happy branches were starting to wither. The dinner plate blooms just hung their sad heads. They looked starved or something, so I watered them… often. I figured that since I had crammed so much into a tiny space, they must be choking each other out. They need more water. Right? Day after day they slipped away…

image1 (6).JPGMy hubby investigates the darling dahlias and attempts to water them and to his surprise, pools of water instantly form on the surface. He quickly announces that he’s certain that they aren’t draining properly. NO, dear one, THAT cannot be true! The leaves aren’t yellow and flimsy. They look, well I don’t know exactly what they look like, besides dead. Handy Helper Hubby puts a small drill bit into the cordless drill to offer a little drainage and upon immediate infiltration to the flower pot…whoooooooosh. A small river floods the patio! He places a couple of other tiny drain holes around the base, and we could have had a Slip ‘n Slide right there on the patio. But, but… they looked dry and….ugh. I took this defeat quite personally. I was certain that I’d assessed the problem correctly, but what I had actually done is drown them. And in the weirdest, most random way my brain works, I began to feel like I understood the drowned dahlias.

My health is definitely taking it’s own Slip ‘n Slide. My health is by no means in a crisis state, but it has been all encompassing.  A few days spent in the Heart Hospital left me with more questions than answers. A Dr. that explains away my fatigue as part of my depression and that I should exercise more, ok start exercising. I’ve dealt with depression more years than I can remember. I know what it’s like in the valley of stay-in-bed-and-shut-out-the-world. I have been able to get out of bed and participate in my life, but I dream of a nap while I sip my morning coffee.

There are more days than I care to admit, that I’m that dahlia with my head hung. Hanging in shame and guilt for my sickness. For my lack of energy. For most everything. I feel quite certain that I cannot bloom but I’m unsure of the condition that is plaguing me. When I really begin to think about the litany of illnesses and ailments, I just shake my head and sigh. When did I fall apart? How can this be my life? And then more of the drooping dahlia attitude because I’m feeling guilt over feeling guilty. I mean c’mon, I could have it so much worse. You know like the Zika virus or really bad Botox.

I’ve held the hand of my mom during her chemotherapy, I watched my father struggle with every breath for his next breath. I’ve watched my ‘little sister’ check her blood sugar and administer the appropriate amount of insulin. For the most part, those of us with chronic illnesses look fine on the outside. We melt into the landscape of everyone’s life without much elaboration. That may be part of the disguise of the dahlia. While others are assessing the situation from their personal patio, there is something contrary happening below the surface. With each statement made to a medical professional, I hear myself, I see the look in their eyes, as if there’s a cuckoo nesting in the dahlias!

As I look closer ant the planter on my patio, I realize that the petunias and white thingies are actually healthy! They look just fine!! I had been so preoccupied with the drooping dahlias that I missed the perky petunias. What a metaphor for my life, my timestamp of today. I’m so busy dwelling on the demise of my health, that I’ve missed the beauty of the support I have around me. The amazing people I have in my life, plant seeds of hope. They carefully tend to my needs more than I do. And that’s when I understand fully the confusion of the dying dahlia.

What may appear outward, isn’t necessarily what’s happening below the surface. I have to take care of myself, it isn’t selfish. I have so much more to plant and grow and cultivate in my life.

If I don’t take in self-care like sunshine, I’m sure to wither.

It’s a service to me and to others. It isn’t guilt driven. It is a gift I give to those whom I love. As it should be for all of us.

Surround yourself with people who are willing to investigate deeper with you and for you. Perhaps it’s a new perspective that will aerate the ground, a safe place to land where you can spill out like a river. I’m still searching for answers. I’m at a place of advocacy, for myself. I am beginning to weed out the things in my life that are choking out my joy. I am learning to breathe in the revitalizing spaces around me, and to rest when needed.

I will replant something glorious and give it proper attention. Bloom on.

 

Reasons Why I Am Not Blessed

Well, did that title make you sit up and take notice?
Did you think, she’s nuts!? (more nuts-er)
and… she’s off her meds, again!

Yes, I am nuts and medicated; but I am not blessed.  Well, not in this sense:

blessed

adjective bless·ed \ˈble-səd\

Simple Definition of blessed
: having a sacred nature : connected with God
: very welcome, pleasant, or appreciated
—used to make a statement more forceful

Watch out for your toes y’all… but this word has been so overused in Christianese. “How are you today?” “Oh I am just so blessed, thank you.”  I’m guilty, I’ll own it. But when I truly look at that phrase, while the intent is to give props to God, it has a certain arrogance about it. Forceful indeed!

Honestly, I don’t remember a time when God was not a part of me. As a kid, my parents would drop me at Sunday School and come back to retrieve me. I attended church and youth groups with friends, but I wasn’t raised in the church. My mom was a generational-cast-off-Catholic* and I think my dad and God had an agreement, “You don’t bother me, I won’t bother You.” I don’t really have a salvation story, it’s just always been. I have some great rescue stories and turn-around stories and Annisa-you’re-a-bonehead-stories to which God showed up in BIG ways. But to say I have a revelation, salvation story; no. I have a pretty shocking testimony, however… brace yourselves, it’s pretty deep… I AM STILL HERE!!!

I am still here, yep, sums it all up. Sexual assault survivor, teen mom, overachiever, striving spirit, depressed, anxious, medicated, suicidal, devastated, renewed – I am still here. Days I didn’t think I would be, days I didn’t want to be. Yet, here I am; but don’t call me blessed. The implications of being blessed points to God giving special favor. While I know that God has been my saving grace, I don’t consider myself in special, segregated favor.

People often tend to treat God as a Genie: 

One to bequeath gifts and health and finances and the perfect job, only in times of need on our part. We never speak to him, ONLY when we need him.

Some treat Him like the TV Infomercial Guy:

If I act in the next 15 minutes, You will get me out of this situation. But WAIT, there’s more! For just a nominal fee, (like going to church, once) You will restore ALL the dumb decisions I’ve made! Right? Act now, this offer expires soon!

And there’s my personal favorite, the Barterer:

Ok God, I’m going to give up chocolate IF you will just do this one thing for me! (anyone? anyone? thought so!)

[I personally believe] We don’t receive special blessings JUST because we believe. I know that will fly-in-the-face of some believers, but I’ve never been the docile type. Stay with me on the Crazy-Brain-Train…

There are believers all over the world; I have been to one of  the most underprivileged, desperate, no electricity, no running water, villages in Peru. I have hugged and kissed these little Grubkins, and found more joy and pure love in their hearts than any overindulged brat back home. So many of us would look at the two, side by side, and think, “oh, the American kid has so much more. So blessed.” and “Those poor unfortunate Grubkins, have nothing, how sad.” WRONG!!! Brown flag!!

 

To say that stuff makes you blessed is an insult to Grace

How can I say that God has ‘blessed’ me with things, and wealth and health, etc when children are living in poverty? Children are growing up in crack houses? Tsunamis and earthquakes happen to believers, too. I can’t view blessings as a reward for simply believing, not while so many suffer; cancer continues to ravage and kill,  a dumb-ass guy puts mouse poison on the salad bar at grocery stores, devastation all around. And Yet, I should have the arrogance to say, I am blessed.

I understand, know and believe that I am a Child of God, but I’m not the favorite kid. Yes, I also know that there is an opposing force to what God wills, and that we also have free-will. That still doesn’t make me blessed, special. I will admit, I used to correct people who would say that they’re ‘lucky’. Oh no, no, no….you are blessed! As I self analyze and [over]think my own words; this is what I actually said. “NO NO NO, you are wrong. Luck doesn’t exist. It’s because You are special. You got the goodies, oh favored kid!”

Yes, He is a good good father, and like any parent, God wants to see us succeed. He gives us free-will to choose a path, even if it’s the wrong one. He will wait on us, arms folded, to come back around. Inspire us to make better choices.  He is not the Genie, TV Infomercial Guy or Barterer, “Ok, Annisa, if you do this for Me, I will give you all your desires.” Nope, not how it works. God doesn’t discipline. He doesn’t punish, although many still live in that fear.  “Annisa, I saw that you partook of far too much wine yesternight, prepare ye for your smite.  {I know you read that in a Shakespeare-ish voice in your head}

Not even the pomp and self-glory of mission work, ‘ok Annisa, go to Peru or to a woman’s prison and reach out to those poor underprivileged, unfortunate souls. Show them how blessed you are” WRONG, again. “Annisa, go to these places. Have your heart broken, splintered into shards, and see that I love them too. Not more, not less. I love them, too. Humble yourself, you aren’t all that. What can you learn from them, Bonehead?” {yes, God calls me Bonehead}

God loves us, even when we are unlovable, even when we reject Him. Even, when we aren’t sure we believe IN Him, He believes in us. Picture in your mind, God gathering every believer in a row, linked arm in arm; He would look at each of us, and say the same thing, one by one;” I love YOU, I have such great plans for you, and you, and you…. ”

 

*MY definition of generational-cast-off-Catholic = Someone who’s parents divorced and could no longer attend Catholic Mass, only to marry a man who had been divorced, and not be able to attend Catholic Mass. {Thanks heavens, for the Catholics Come Home program}