I’m still alive. And one of the reasons I haven’t been around is because I knew when I returned, I’d inevitably hear about all the people who were not. That might sound a bit crazy, but, even when I’ve taken a month long break, anywhere from 3-6 people in our community will have died. With the winter stretch of the year always being the worst, I can only imagine who we’ve lost, now.
I don’t know how anyone is supposed to be okay with this. No one can possibly be okay when the only people they can truly connect with are those with similar diseases, and then to continually, year after year, watch all those people keep dying. Or otherwise become unable to communicate in a sort of living death, something that happens all too often in my communities. How do you not develop some type of complex around this? How do you deal with the constant stress of knowing that any time you go to make contact, there’s a 50/50 chance you’ll be knocked out by grief for weeks by the death of yet another friend? If anyone knows (and most do) what it’s like to live with a loved one as they’re dying, it’s the same fear you feel that the next time you enter the room, they will have already passed. That’s been my reality for years now, and I feel backlogged with grief. This can’t be healthy for anyone.
I’m 100% out of the loop with everyone. It’s as if I ran off to meditate in the remote forests of India for six months without telling anyone, and just got back. I haven’t been in a position to be anyone’s friend, as cold as that might sound. Or maybe it just sounds honest. There’s a family that needs me here; to coax them away from their fears by being their voice of reason, which is really just their own voice that they haven’t yet given themselves permission to hear; to nudge them towards seeking help, seeking God, and taking care of themselves; to fight for and protect the needs of the children, who might otherwise be overlooked; to show them the possibilities of loving life even when nothing goes the way they expect, or desire; and most importantly, to lead by example that you can face life exactly as it is; it might not feel great, and you will probably feel overwhelmed for large stretches of time, but it’s possible. The pain of facing the hardship of life is far, far, less than the destruction of a lifetime that comes from trying to avoid or ignore it. I’m so glad I’m able to be this person, still, for those in my immediate vicinity. But with the condition I’m in otherwise, it’s both the least and the most I can do. My cup is always full, and any spare “spoon” I pick up I try to use doing something I enjoy so I still want to keep living. So far so good.
Of course, when I do feel happiness–which happens more often than my serious, direct style of writing here belies–I’m immediately courted by survivor’s guilt. I’ve come to accept those intrusive thoughts for what they are–mental lies–and try not to take them too seriously. I know they’re a sign I need help, which I plan to get, somehow. As I keep saying: I won’t abandon myself. I just wish it didn’t feel like I had to abandon so many others to get through my own life, at the moment. I might be pouring too much thought into that, but that’s just part of who I am.
Lately, most of my attempts at self-compassion immediately detour to shame and guilt. Only after meditation did I even notice this had been happening. One moment I was feeling gratitude that I was able to wake up and listen to music for an hour and meditate, the next I was thinking of children in war zones who can’t do that, and people with illness so severe they can’t listen to music, and my brain’s idea of logic was that somehow me being able to do those things makes me “bad”… Because of course, me feeling guilty over the things I enjoy will help other people feel better, you see. Sigh.
My succinct, “life lessons style of writing” was never something I planned to do, but the extremes of my life birthed it. What I’m going to try to do now, is to take my site back to old school journaling. If you like to read that type of thing, read it. If not, don’t. I’m still non-existent on e-mail and social media for right now. There are “good days” and “bad days,” good stretches and bad stretches.
“Needing to isolate has to do with us, the sufferers. Pushing you out of [life is a] way to have some control over what is going on… We can’t handle the shit going on with us when people are always present, adding little things to the swarm going on in our heads. Sometimes it’s just too much and having people around, especially the ones we really love, it adds to overload. We get feelings of insecurity, worthlessness, and don’t want to put that on others. Being in a relationship with someone with PTSD means understanding a sufferers need to isolate, and all the other shit that comes along with it.”
via user “silver.” on MyPTSD support forum
With a few exceptions, this level of distance from others has been the case for me basically all of 2016 and thus far this year, after a period of extreme acute stress in late 2015; the straw that broke the camel’s back and turned my solitude into survival. When I read that bit above, it’s spot-on about how the presence of people, even people we like, somehow adds “little things to the swarm” of mental overload. Just asking me a question can cause my thought process to short-circuit, but it’s impossible to describe why. I know how I feel inside, and what I think inside, but getting that across is another thing entirely. It reminds me of a certain interview with Whitney Dafoe before he became 100% bedbound, where he said he wished sometimes he could just be around his loved ones without them talking to him, if they could just let him be around them without actually interacting, he’d enjoy that very much. I enjoy that immensely, as well, but it’s nearly impossible to experience unless you’re with another Buddhist or on a silent retreat somewhere.
Last Spring I got to thinking I was just in a rut, so while having a good spurt, decided to force myself to socialize in the event it might help. But while I enjoyed myself at the time, it backfired spectacularly. Even that which I actually want to do, accumulates into a ticking time-bomb of how long I last before I need weeks of isolation to counteract it. This has been worsening for years, and after the flood… I just don’t know.
It’s taken me years to realize that what I’m doing is a response to something else that’s happening internally, that I’m not just choosing to do this because I feel like being alone. I do enjoy being alone, and I will always make the best of things even if I can only tolerate my own company. As I read somewhere and found quite truthful, sometimes the fight to fit in becomes worse than the illness. But enjoying solitude is not the same as wanting to socialize and engage with your community, and care for the friendships you’ve cultivated, and in fact even knowing you need to socialize because isolation begets all sorts of awful things, but then being completely cognitively stunned by the first response you’re required to generate. I don’t know what’s happened, I don’t know why this is so much more difficult than other mental tasks or why it affects me so profoundly, but whatever this is, it is very clear to me now that it isn’t just some preference. And I have to stop beating myself up about it. I can’t be the only person who goes through this. In fact, I know I’m not.
The gist of it is: Sometimes interacting makes me worse, but sometimes I can handle it, and there is unfortunately zero difference in how it feels to me at the time, so absolutely no warning I can give if a disappearance is about to happen. It’s like trying to predict when my OCD or stuttering will suddenly worsen. Or like asking someone with RA or Lupus or MS when their next flare-up is due. It just doesn’t work that way.
Because of this, I’ve noticed it’s started to become self-perpetuated, also. There have been times when I wanted to finally reach out, only to then stop myself because I feared so much being unable to continue the momentum; that I’d just end up disappearing again. It’s my way of trying to minimize the damage of suddenly disappearing around people I thought I could keep contact with. I don’t want to hurt anyone, but this is all so unpredictable, so that feels inevitable. As one person said, “Who the hell wants to be around a touchy individual who tends to disappear off the map for reasons most people cannot fathom?”
When I write this, and really look at it, I find compassion for myself in dealing with multiple, multiple diseases–of brain, of body, of thought–that make isolation my current reality. Being in stillness was, and can be, very therapeutic. I can find acceptance for where I am, and others tell me I’m some sort of inspiration for finding a way to enjoy life despite all of this, but I still end up thinking about my inability to be what others want, or need, or deserve. On top of it all, maybe I’m also grieving yet again for the loss of my former self, this time the person I used to be just a few years ago, who was able to engage with the world. Everyone I met, even strangers, would tell me that they could somehow feel my love for life when they were around me. And now…
More to say about my brain, so switching gears. Sort of.
Opportunistic infections are something I’ve been dealing with constantly since the flood. Skin infections, fungal infections, follicle infections, eye infections, repeated ear infections, repeated sinus infections, gastrointestinal infection from probiotics because I accidentally ate yogurt more than once… Then my seasonal winter relapse, followed immediately by a major health discovery that I’ll have to talk about on a different day.
Right now, I’m being worked up for multiple sclerosis, and/or increased intracranial pressure (aka intracranial hypertension), or both, or who knows what. Two doctors have confirmed my optic nerves are very pale and not getting adequate blood flow (suspected papilledema). My neurologist thinks this is because the pressure around my brain is.. well, pressing on things, and causing a significant amount of my symptoms. Yesterday I got a shit ton of bloodwork to make sure my kidneys can handle upcoming tests, then I’ll be getting another MRI with contrast, and an infrared-assisted lumbar puncture (spinal tap), both next week.
Much of the time I can literally feel a pressure in my eyes. Then with my ever-present headaches, the vision problems, worsening dizziness, tinnitus, and photosensitivity, alongside my significant changes in personality and cognitive decline, intracranial hypertension seems a given at this point. If confirmed, it will then boil down to why is it happening. There are endless suspects. I wonder if the IVIG may have either initiated this, or worsened something already in progress, because a lot of the changes I’ve experienced started immediately after that. Not that I’m complaining, because even if it did contribute to this, without the IVIG I would not have beaten the bartonellosis, or even be here to talk about this. I also wonder if the Lyme disease has any role, because while I haven’t had the symptoms I used to associate with it, these things currently happening are pretty much exactly what happens in late stage neuroborreliosis, which still, no ones knows whether or not is curable. You’d think it’d be as easy as checking for bacteria in my cerebrospinal fluid, but system-wide, borrelia prefer body tissue to hanging around in fluids where they’re more vulnerable. It’s almost impossible to tell what’s caused what, at this stage. And who knows, it may be something entirely new.
As for multiple sclerosis, I already meet all criteria for it, alongside a significant predisposition to developing it, so an official diagnosis could be imminent… But again I wonder how one would differentiate that from everything I already have going on? We shall see. But until the results are in, my IVIG infusions are on hold, because the possibility that an immune response to the blood product or a reaction to the intravenous fluids could worsen the pressure in my skull is too risky, not to mention getting others’ antibodies infused into me could alter my own test results. And “you have to do another spinal tap” is not something I ever want to hear.
I’m not going to say I’ll keep posting, because I’m not sure that I will, even if I want to. I won’t say I’ll try to get back to replying to comments and emails, because even though I want to, I’m not sure that will happen. I just know that I’m here, I’m posting right now after a huge effort to accomplish this, and despite 1000% evidence to the contrary, I still expect good things to happen in the future. Until next time…