For the longest time I actually wanted to be sick. I know I’m not meant to say that, but it’s true.
Not more mental illness, I wanted to be really sick. I wanted a physical illness that could be seen and that could be put down to something going wrong in my body. I was tired of this overwhelming sense that my mental illness was my fault, it was all in my head, and so it wasn’t a real illness.
During the time that I have had a diagnosed mental illness, most of that time that illness was described as Major Depressive Disorder. Depression. There was a big part of me that said it was just an excuse. I just couldn’t pull myself together. It didn’t help when people said all I needed was… and that sentence could be completed with a man, a baby, a job…
Seriously people thought that if I had those things, everything would be okay. No wonder I wondered for myself whether this was real. Let me say that had I had those things I suspect I would have killed the baby (yes, really), killed myself to get away from the man (well, yes I tried that more than once), and the job? I couldn’t have got myself a job if I tried.
I stopped eating when I became depressed and eventually I was diagnosed with Anorexia. And that actually felt better. It was something that could be seen and it definitely wasn’t something that would be solved with a baby (not possible considering my body weight and lack of ovulation), a man or a job. The weird thing was that even though I was skin and bone (literally), and I looked awful, people continued to tell me how good I looked. The most compliments I ever got about my appearance was while I was Anorexic. There was nothing good about how I looked but some people think any weight loss is good. The only problem is that Anorexia (or any eating disorder for that matter) is not about weight loss. That’s just the by-product.
So I went back to wanting a physical illness. It didn’t matter what. A cast on my leg would do, anything that would show I was sick. It didn’t happen.
Fast forward a few years and I have physical illnesses. In 2010 I was diagnosed with an auto-immune condition, Graves’ Disease, which mostly affects the thyroid, heart and the eyes. That was caused by spending too many years taking lithium, and unfortunately a doctor who forgot (for a while) to check my thyroid and lithium levels. I felt so sick that it really didn’t occur to me that I now had my physical illness.
Then last year came the symptoms of Fibromyalgia. It wasn’t diagnosed until March of this year and one of the problems I had was that nothing could be seen. It wasn’t until I convinced my doctor to send me to a Rheumatologist that I got a diagnosis. Having the diagnosis helped me feel like this was actually real, but still it’s not something you can see, so how would one know whether it was real?
I know it’s real. I know that I am in pain all the time, that I am incredibly tired all the time, that I have unexplained rashes on my body, I am dizzy for no reason and more. There are lots of things I know, but I still struggle to know whether anyone else thinks it’s real and will accept that I am sick.
I read an interesting article from FibroTV called When Emotional Pain Turns Into Physical Pain. It tied up with what I’ve been thinking for a while now. They say that Fibromyalgia is often caused by some sort of trauma, they also say it can be brought on by an auto-immune disease (like Graves’).
So I find I’m back to denying that my emotional pain is of value and is significant. If the trauma theory is correct then I suspect that my Fibro comes from the trauma of our earthquakes in 2010/11 and my father’s death shortly after. It’s interesting that I have never felt so physically exhausted as I did the day Dad died and I had to do CPR on him for 20 minutes, while waiting for the ambulance to get through a city blocked by earthquake damage.
If you’ve ever had to do CPR you’ll know that it is exhausting and that 20 minutes is a long time. I have run 20 kilometres before (several times) and hadn’t felt so exhausted. What I’m driving at is that it wasn’t just the emotional trauma but the physical trauma of that day. But you know I’m still back to the realisation that my physical difficulties from fibro are perhaps caused by emotional pain, and to be honest I hate that.
For those of you that aren’t familiar with the ‘joys’ of fibro, it involves periods of worsened pain, fatigue, and what’s known as fibro fog (my brain doesn’t operate properly and feels like I’m trying to move it through a thick fog of resistance). These are called flare-up’s. My experience is that sometimes I can predict these coming on, and sometimes it’s just a case of waking up in the morning and discovering you’re in the middle of one. Interestingly the first flare-up that I had (after I was diagnosed and knew what was going on) was at Easter this year. The significance of it was that it was also the anniversary of Dad’s death. I hadn’t done anything physically to bring on the flare up, like more exercise than normal, for example. I spent the five days of the flare-up adamantly denying that the anniversary had anything to do with it.
Some weeks later I had another flare-up. I crawled to my therapist, determined to keep an appointment I would have to pay for regardless of whether I was there, and came to the eventual conclusion that actually there was some emotional reasoning that could be given to that flare-up too.
As I’ve explained before I am unable to take medication for my fibro, nor am I able to afford alternative treatments. If this pain and sickness, which is far from pleasant, is caused by emotional pain, what I am going to have to do is work through it with my therapist. But to be honest, I’m having a hard job accepting that. If this is caused by emotional pain I trust my therapist to be able to help me but it’s weird. Getting my head around feeling so bad physically because of my emotions is really hard when I’ve spent nearly 20 years struggling to accept emotion anyway.
Does that make sense? It’s like a whole new way of thinking for me. It doesn’t help that I’m looking over my shoulder waiting for my friends and family to say “all she needs is a baby, man, or job”. I’m convinced they’re going to say it. Maybe not the baby. Hopefully they’ll accept I’m too old for that but only recently I was told to get a job and everything would be alright. Somehow I have to accept for myself that actually it’s okay to be sick, and no, I might not have that cast on my leg, but I am in sick.
I’m coming to the conclusion that this attitude of mine is a kind of stigma. Now it’s not just against mental illness but also physical illness. I struggle to accept that it is okay to be sick, when no one can see what is causing the pain. In my head, I can tell myself this is okay for anyone else in the same boat. But accepting it for myself is so hard, but if I want to reduce stigma, I’m going to have to start with myself. I have to accept that it’s not only okay to have a mental illness but it’s also okay to have an invisible physical illness.
“After all, when a stone is dropped into a pond, the water continues
quivering even after the stone has sunk to the bottom.”
― Arthur Golden, Memoirs of a Geisha
- Pain… 24/7 (infinitesadnessorhope.wordpress.com)
- When Emotional Pain Turns Into Physical Pain (fibrotv.com)
- Fibromyalgia: Information and Treatment by Rich Marsiglia (drbradshook.com)