Posted in Journal, Conversation, Op-Ed, Uncategorized

Half Life

My mom taught me how to read before I turned four. I still have my first primer, Fun With Dick and Jayne, pictured here, binding taped, pages curled and torn, a few crayon doodles scattered throughout. These primers are filled with simple sentences for new readers, like See Spot run and See Jane play, etc.

I can remember that I was so excited to be reading a book about a girl named Jane, since we shared the name. I may have spelled mine differently, but they still sounded the same and that made me feel special. One of the games I’d play during this time, was to shout out whatever I was doing: “See Jayne jump, Mom! Daddy, see Jayne hide!” As Mom and I delved deeper into the primers, I was learning new things just as Jane was learning them in the books.

After my fourth birthday, my mom was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. In the mid-1960s, the C Word was more often than not a death sentence and you were ashamed to admit having it. There was a stigma associated with being diagnosed, as though it were contagious. I don’t remember a lot from this time but I do remember hushed voices, closed doors, frantic whispers and the Catholic medals and scapular pinned to Mom’s mattress once she was home from the hospital. Everything was kept dark and I was always told to be quiet. It wasn’t long after this that my anxiety and panic attacks began in earnest. Once Mom recovered, I was completely stricken to have to leave her side but no one seemed to understand why. I didn’t want to play outside unless she left the back door open and I could see her inside the kitchen. Kindergarten was an absolute horror for me because that meant separation from Mom for several hours. The relief I would feel when I would find her waiting for me in the schoolyard after class was palpable.

Now understand that this was never articulated, let alone understood. I didn’t equate my mom possibly dying with not wanting to be away from her or with the beginning of my always present stupefying fear. Nor did anyone else. It’s funny, because over three decades later, after I “broke my back,” when so much of this long-ago -and-dealt-with-anxiety inevitably resurfaced along with other crap I had deeply buried, I seemed to be the only one who ever thought Mom’s life was in danger all those years ago. It was a shock to my family to learn that I had thought she might die at 30 years of age. For the record, she was treated, the cancer never returned, and Mom is a healthy and beautiful soon-to-be 83 year old. But for some reason, as a vulnerable four year old, I picked up on someone else’s fears or overheard an adult conversation not meant for my delicate ears. Somehow I had come to believe that I was going to lose my mom when I was four years old. And I firmly believe this ‘misunderstanding’ was the root of my nearly life-long battle with anxiety and agoraphobia.

Looking back and remembering the little girl I once was, at some point, I must have realized that Mom wasn’t going anywhere because the separation anxiety began to dissipate. But the fears did not. They increased and manifested into illness. Now going to school was The Problem. Every morning, I’d be sick with either a headache or nausea or a stomach ache. I’d have trouble breathing and feel faint or vomit. As soon as Mom told me that I didn’t have to go to school, I’d start to feel better. This was very confusing to a child of 5, 6, 7, 8…I KNEW that I was sick. I had real symptoms but as soon as it was past 8:00 am, when the school bell would ring for attendance and I was safe at home and tucked up warm in bed, the symptoms would start to gradually fade away. Once the evening came and it would be time to prepare for the next school day, the symptoms would appear again. I began to feel like a fraud. I KNEW I wasn’t lying or making things up but why would I always feel better when I no longer needed to go to school? This was a very difficult concept for a little kid to navigate and far too young of an age to begin to doubt oneself. But that’s exactly what I began to do; I thought I must be imagining it all. That something was wrong with my head.

School was now The Place I was absolutely petrified to go. I had a lot of anxiety and panic attacks during these years. The bullying began about 4th grade and lasted throughout high school. Of course this caused even more anxiety and an indelible trauma that lasted long into adulthood.

It took many many years before I was able to understand what I was experiencing. We didn’t use words like anxiety or panic disorder in the 60s, especially in terms of kids. And once I was able to figure things out, I had to learn how to manage it all. But I did it. First with the help of a psychologist and counselor in my freshman year of college who explained that what was happening to me was something called an anxiety or panic attack brought on by bouts of severe agoraphobia. I cannot express how knowing this and finally having an explanation, a diagnosis, validation that I wasn’t crazy, opened up my world. The fears were by no means gone but once I understood them, I could begin to manage them with further therapy. I finally settled into my own skin and liked the woman I was becoming and the life I was living. I had found my life partner, fell in love, married, and we were on a lovely journey together.

Then I broke my back. For years following the injury, I was The Patient. The Defendant. The Victim. The Disabled Wife. It was inevitable to fall into those roles and remain there for years as my medical case was never-ending. First, we fought for over three years for a proper diagnosis. Then, over the next several years we fought through multiple surgeries and endless recoveries. As soon as I’d finally recover mentally, physically and emotionally from one surgery, we would learn that I needed another. And another. And another, And another. And another. We fought to retain our home as our savings dwindled and dried up. We fought for our marriage when our roles as patient and caregiver were simply not enough. We fought to maintain my sanity when I thought I could take no more.

Through it all I firmly believed that if I just did this or if I just solved that, I’d be back to the way I was before. I’d be normal again and MG and I could get our lovely life back. But the years just kept marching on and the disappointments kept piling up. And the doubts from the child returned and manifested onto the adult. Why aren’t I healing? Could I be making this up? Am I really this sick? Is the pain really this bad? Why are people doubting me? If I were just a little stronger. If I could just push through…

Following a very dark period of self doubt, I crawled back into the light (another story for another time). I was finally forced into the realization that I was never going to be the Jayne I was before. There was simply no other recourse except to accept the new Jayne. I may have come to it kicking and screaming but I had finally come to terms with my injury and my limitations and the acceptance that this was the new normal.

But, unfortunately, that’s as far as I got. For the next few years, I was really just existing, living a half life in the shadows with nothing really changing except my age and the lines on my face. When MG was diagnosed with cancer, I was able to don the roles of Caregiver and Protector. And I managed those well, until they were no longer needed.

One of the reasons I began this blog was to find my voice again. And it worked. For a short time. I found some wonderful new friends and realized that I was one of a multitude living with chronic pain and multiple health issues.

But then what?

I remember those learning-to-read-with-Dick-and-Jane-years and I understand that over half of a century has passed by and yet here I am, at what feels like right smack dab back at the beginning! I seem to have come full circle. For what on earth is it that Jayne is supposed to do now? To learn now? Who is she? What is her purpose?

Much of our lives are lived by rote. We get up at a certain time, get dressed and head off to school or work or are busy getting loved ones off to school or work. We have responsibilities. Things to do and places to be. Whether we are cleaning the streets or researching a cure for cancer, we are all pieces of the puzzle. We all have our designated roles to play. But strip us of those roles and we flounder, or at least I have. Once I was no longer The Victim or The Patient or The Caregiver, I didn’t know who I was. I still don’t know. Perhaps The Blogger With Little To Say?

After far too many years, I’m attempting to find my way out of the shadows, out of the half life in which I’ve been living. I’m trying to reinvent myself and to figure out who this new Jayne really is for surely there must be more to her than her pain. I don’t want to wake up to another day and wonder if it’s worthwhile to get out of bed.

I ask myself again. Now what? What shall we See Jayne Do?

Posted in Journal, Conversation, Op-Ed, Pain Management

Step Away From The Story!

Photo by Annie Spratt

On and off throughout my pain journey I had seen a therapist who greatly helped me (and My Guy) with pain management techniques. If I take nothing away from the long hours we spent together, it is this most important thing: YOUR PAIN IS NOT YOUR STORY. REMOVE YOURSELF FROM THE STORY!

He was so right. It’s the best pain management technique I have in my arsenal. When I begin to lose the juggling game and my rings start falling to the ground (see previous blog Lady of the Rings: Pain Management is an Arduous Juggling Act), I NEED TO STAY OUT OF MY HEAD! If I can do that one thing, I can survive the complete car crash and get my rings back in the air sooner rather than much, much later. Unfortunately, I kinda forgot to remember this recently.

Everything seems to hit me three times harder than the Non-Chronic. I get that cold that everyone has and they’re down for 3 days; I’m down for 9. I have a minor surgical procedure and expected recovery time is 2 weeks; I need 6-8. Bloody frustrating as all hell!

My rings have been falling out of the tapestry for months now following some minor surgery I had in March. Once the surgery was scheduled, I anticipated this happening and tried my best to prepare for and prevent it from occurring.

Prior to surgery, I was doing really well with the juggling act. So, I thought I was well prepared. House (ring) was clean and well organized. This is key because if I need something, I know exactly where it is and I don’t need to expend unnecessary yet precious energy searching for it or crawling over a mess to get to it. I’ve been eating (ring) clean. No overly processed foods. Gluten, sugar and dairy are at a minimum. Plenty of protein and leafy greens. I’m getting daily exercise (ring) and meditation (ring). I’m in a good place with my family (ring) and friends and have made a point of reaching out (ring) to others instead of staying cocooned. I’m sleeping (ring) well and, last but not least, I have the appropriate medications (ring) in line with both surgical doctor and pain management doctor. All of the boxes are checked; all eight rings flying high. I am in a great place in my head and know I have this little surgery down!

Then all freaking hell breaks loose. And most of it, I did to myself. I forgot to Step Away From The Story!

Bad Timing. I was in a great place when I made arrangements for an absolute favorite person of mine to visit for a week just before the surgery. This is a person who is very important to me and we generally keep in regular touch via text about most aspects of our lives. She has kept me going a lot of times when there was no one else to whom I felt I could reach out. (Aside from My Guy. My Guy is a blessed constant.)

Just prior to her arrival, two things started to hit me very hard emotionally. 1. The first anniversary of my father’s death was approaching. 2. I began reading about and hearing about people who had died from multiple myeloma.

I don’t want to veer off course here so quickie backstory. 1. The Big Reminder of my dad’s passing was also shining a bright light on some family drama that is indirectly breaking my heart; therefore the approaching anniversary was not only reminding me of my dad and and our last days together but ridiculous drama that occurred after his death. 2. My Guy has both had a full complete response to treatment of and is in full remission of multiple myeloma, an incurable blood cancer. Now, My Guy can spin circles around me. He is now as healthy and strong as a horse, not a single cancer cell in sight. And we NEVER think that MM will beat him. But for some bloody reason, I’m being hit with deaths from MM everywhere I turn: in my daily news feed, a magazine I randomly pick up, my dentist’s cousin’s wife’s uncle, the damned novel I’m reading!

So now we’re off to the races because I’m in my head. I’ve allowed The Story to take over without even realizing it. The story is that I didn’t do enough for my dad; I am becoming estranged from my family; and I’m going to imminently lose My Guy. NONE OF WHICH IS TRUE! But I’ve already begun the narrative. There’s no turning back now.

Bad decisions. So my company is about to arrive. Party Time! Vacation! I begin to make unwise decisions. The first thing I do is get crap food in the house because you have to have cool and unhealthy snacks during Vacation Party Time. Now I know better than this. I promise you I do. I’m married to a professional chef, for heaven’s sake. And especially since his diagnosis, we eat wisely! But in the past, food had always been my go-to for Comfort, and now, in my weakened emotional state, I’m forgetting my good habits and heading straight for Comfort. I’m doing it on autopilot; these are not conscious decisions.

Favorite Person (FP) has arrived and it’s wonderful! Until it’s not. I’m visualizing a calendar in front of my face and seeing the countdown of days until my dad’s death anniversary. Why this is suddenly a thing with me I have no idea. We were able to prepare as much for his passing as one is able to prepare for such things. It was not a surprise but a natural course of events. But it’s like I’m expecting a massive explosion or something on Anniversary Day. Impending Doom. It’s an actual physical pressure building up inside of my body. And because of this, the Family Drama has become bigger and bigger and bigger in my head and it’s now playing on a constant loop. And then, of course, My Guy could die soon. Let’s not forget that.

Of course, all of this internalized drama, excess emotion, and lousy diet are affecting my pain levels which then is affecting my sleep. I’m not thinking clearly; the fibro-fog is rolling in fast and thick. I’m having difficulty focusing on conversation because I’m fixated on the pain and that’s adding to The Story. I’m getting short and crabby with FP. We had a reasonable activity agenda set prior to her arrival but that’s now become too much for me both physically and mentally but I don’t want to disappoint her. This is her vacation and she’s taken precious time off from work. I lose my temper and say some things I do not at all mean but I’ve hurt her. I apologize profusely and all appears to be well, but I know FP. The damage is done. I hate myself.

Shortly after she leaves, it’s D-Day. Not June 6th. Anniversary of Death Day. The following day is the surgery. I fall apart completely. I’m mourning for my dad like he died yesterday and grieving for my broken family. I’ve just had intrusive and painful surgery. I’m hurting everywhere. And I can’t get FP out of my head. I’m running with The Story again. I’ve let her down. She seems distant. How can I make this up to her? Has irreparable damage been done to our relationship? How soon will it be before My Guy’s cancer returns? What if he doesn’t respond to treatment this time? Will he die? My pain is never going to go away. I hate my life. Can’t I ever just have a freaking good day? It’s going to take me forever to recover from this. How many surgeries do I have to have? I look so old. And on it goes. I’m an official resident of Crazy Town.

Some miracles DO happen. I recovered well from the actual surgery. But after the necessary recuperation period, I couldn’t get back up again. All of my rings had fallen to the floor.

My clean and well organized house had become messy and disorganized. I became re-addicted to carbs, sugar and gluten and was freely eating the old junk trying to find that Comfort I (mistakenly) thought it had once given me. I hadn’t been exercising and when I started again I overdid it and then literally couldn’t move. My spinal pain became worse than it had been in recent years and the sleeplessness went on for weeks. My meds had gotten out of sync, causing strange nerve sensations and uncontrollable body twitches when I would try to rest. The nights were endless and agonizing. Screaming anxiety had taken control and capital D Depression was close on its heels. The black hole started sucking me in and I couldn’t seem to help myself. And, of course, The Story kept expanding and getting juicier with each passing day. I completely forgot the strongest tool in my pain management toolkit! I had become the freaking story!

Now I clearly did most of this to myself. Had I not allowed The Story to take over, I wouldn’t have gotten myself into such a fix. Oh, I would have dropped a few rings, sure. But with the right attitude, I could have easily added them back into the tapestry as soon as I was physically able to do so. Instead, I began the slick slide into The Dark Place.

Thank God I had a few aces up my sleeve! 1. My Guy, ever constant, ever loving, ever patient. (How does the man bloody DO it??) 2. My very smart and compassionate pain management doctor who really listens and never blows me off. Even when I sit in his office in a wet puddle of streaming tears and hiccoughing sobs. 3. Me. I somehow found the strength to stop listening to The Story. Every time I’d think a thread of the narrative, I’d stop myself by saying, NEXT! A hundred, five hundred, one thousand times a day. Over and over and over again! Next! Next! Next! Until The Story slowly began to fade and lose its power over me. Between the three of us, we were able to get me jump-started. Yet again.

Tomorrow I get my house cleaned! Seven more rings to go…