Mental health is such a tricky subject for me as of late. I have felt like a person swinging on the tip of a pendulum with greasy hands that is about to slip off. It is hard to keep my bearings and my mind in the right spot. I just split with my husband and I no longer have my kids with me. Everything around me is shifting like tectonic plates rattling my life apart.
My body reacts to stress, weather, and its own ridiculous machinations. I have less stress because my ex is gone, but I have more stress because my kids are gone, nothing is solid – including my job, and everything is in transition. I live delicately with my own extremes just hoping that I do not fall off the tightrope. Up and down and up and down my emotions go. I am being squeezed in life like a water balloon surrounded and sat upon. At some point it feels like I will burst from emotional stress and physical pain.
In addition to all this turmoil, lovely new partners in life have stepped out of the shadows – anxiety and depression. I never knew they were there. Now, they are ever present and guiding my choices. Heart palpitations, racing thoughts, anxiety that gets more and more wound up like a child racing around the room after sucking down every bit of sugar possible – this is my life.
I live with fear that overwhelms my thoughts and all I can do is hold on until the surge is over – because I have no other choice. My mind and emotions get whipped into a tornado-like state causing destruction to my logic and stability. I can only hold on until the house is dropped on the witch and the ruby slippers appear on my feet.
Statistics say that about 40% of folks with RA struggle with depression – but I think that number is much larger. We often don’t feel safe or comfortable talking about our emotional state. I have struggled with that myself and I am much more open than most people with where I am.
Oh hell no – you have come to the wrong place if you are looking for answers or a cure. I only have coping mechanisms and techniques to help me get through. I cannot tell you life will be easy with an autoimmune disease that constantly attacks your body. I cannot say your pain will ease or that your life will get easier. In fact, the choices and decisions just get harder and more challenging.
I cannot believe the difficult decisions I have had to make over the last six years – deciding if my kids will have enough food or I get the medication that allows me to work; pushing myself just a little more so I can meet my metrics or pay for it the next day by missing work; hiding my pain and sucking up the ache inside my mind so I can feign normalcy, or being honest about the pain that makes me unable to sit all day while inflammation licks the bones in my back with searing pain.
Do I reveal my grisly struggle sooner rather than later to those I meet, or do I wait until the last minute when I feel like they are more emotionally invested in me? How much do I really talk about the pain? Am I a burden? Will the loneliness ever become easier to handle? How much guilt can I wrangle with when I continuously have to cancel or say no to social events? Is it ever possible for someone without an autoimmune disease to truly understand the severity of my daily struggle? Can an outsider truly understand what it feels like to wake up inflamed and out of breath so that lifting the hair dryer after a shower makes my arms tired like I just lifted weights? Will the burning and swelling in my shoulder joints ever translate to another person’s reality?
I honestly don’t know.
Friends & Help
All I know is I have friends and family. Amazing people who love me and encourage me and hold my hand. I get through my days because I ask for help and humbly thank those who are willing to do so. I manage because I am learning to listen to my body – including my emotions – and do what is right for me. I have to take care of myself and I know I cannot do it alone. When pain fogs my brain my best friends are always there to lovingly support me. When ache distracts me from what is important, my friends wipe that mirror clean so I can see clearly.
With the help of a therapist I am learning that putting my health first is not selfish. It is okay to say no and to make choices that are best for me – even in the face of another person’s loss. I need that outside set of eyes and ears right now because my anxiety and depression are dragging me into the bushes. I need someone to help me discover the right path, and teach me how to treat myself better instead of letting guilt and shame and anger ruin me.
It is hard and scary to know this disease will never go away. It is ominous to realize that destruction of my joints and continuous pain are my existence. Taking naps are a priority when I am tired and my body aches. Pain pills are now and will always be a part of my future.
But I only have one life to live. I will not miss it because I am bitter or angry. I try to deal with what is happening and make good choices because this is all I have. I do not want to look back over my life and see ruin and destruction. I want good times, good memories, and good love. So, I push through. I push on. I learn and I lean on those I love. That is how I take care of my mental health and live with RA.