Monday, August 18, 2008

Don't Panic

I read a magazine article recently in which the author referred to herself as a "disaster magnet". While this probably sounds a bit over dramatic, my heart did go out to the writer. Everything from death of a close family member to diagnosis of a serious, potentially fatal illness, to the loss of her career and income - all of this had happened to her, in a rather short amount of time. She began thinking and saying, "OK then. What's next?" as she anticipated the next horrible thing bound to come her way. She started having anxiety attacks and found herself in a constant state of worry.

I immediately felt a kinship with this woman, as I recounted my own series of medical disasters:
April 2006: I find an odd, small, hard lump in my left breast. I see one doctor then a radiologist as it is deemed "suspicious". A biopsy concludes it is most likely a benign fibroadenoma tumor, and it may or may not continue to grow.

June 2006: I am jolted awake at 6:30AM with the worst charlie horse of my life (a possible precursor to MS spasticity?? dunno...) I am overcome with pain...and then with nausea. I run to the bathroom to vomit. I never make it to the bathroom. I faint, falling face forward onto, well, my face. I knock out my front tooth and also bite through my lower lip on impact. An ER visit, 11 stitches, a root canal and a crown later, I am doing much better, and my dentist and plastic surgeon did such great work you can hardly tell anything ever happened.

November 2006: Six month recheck of lump determines it is growing and I undergo my first real surgery to remove my stubborn growing lump. The surgeon is amazing and she does a great job.

April 2007: I wake up one morning with blurred vision. I figure I must be really tired or didn't sleep well the night before or something. 24 hours later it is getting worse and is now true double vision. I call my dad who gets me in to see an ophthalmologist, then a neurologist, then I have an MRI, then neurological function testing and finally a spinal tap. Before we know I am diagnosed with MS. Neuropathy (aka horrible icky nerve pain) starts shortly after the vision problems. I begin my treatment at Shepherd Spinal Center which includes drugs to help manage my pain and spasticity plus the Wonder Drug to help slow the progression of my disease. We wait for this first exacerbation/episode/relapse to end, hoping that with it, my pain-free-single-vision body will return.

March 2008: Almost a year later, the pain and double vision are still hanging around. But I am adjusting as well as anyone can. Then comes...my first official relapse (they actually don't call your first diagnosis relapse a relapse. it is very confusing). With it comes vertigo and mind-numbing pain, mostly in my arms. A round of solu-medrol later I am doing much better.

Frankly, I think that is a lot of medical drama for a 2 year span for anyone, even a Drama Queen! So does all this make me a disaster magnet, too? The article I read went on to say how every little thing then became an opportunity for further crisis. Evey car trip a potential for an accident, every pill taken could end with allergic reaction, every phone call was surely someone calling with more bad news. I also have days where I am certain something horrible will happen. I started to become totally neurotic about taking any new medication, certain that I would anaphylax, end up in the hospital. There was a chance I would die.
On my really bad days when my eyesight is crapola and neuropathy is kicking my butt, I sometimes don't think there will ever be light at the end of the tunnel.

I have now found that the trick is asking yourself, "In this situation, what's the worst thing that could happen? Now what if that thing DID happen?" I know it sounds a little depressing, but stay with me a minute here. Let's say the worst thing would be losing your job, for example. Yes that would suck. In this sucky economy, it would really really suck. (Sorry Mom, I know you hate that word, but I just had to use it here!!) But would losing your job mean you are any less of a person? Would it mean that you aren't wonderful, smart, loving, beautiful, etc, etc? Of course not! You would still be You. And as Fred & Ginger said, "You pick yourself up, dust yourself off, start all over again," and you would then go out and find an even better job. Or you decide to rethink your career entirely! And this mentality can be applied to whatever it is you are most afraid of- even if it DID happen, you would still be You. You would find ways (possibly after some tears, some yelling, lots of support from your loved ones, perhaps even therapy!!) to be happy and make a new path for yourself. Because let's face it, the alternative of feeling sorry for yourself, constantly feeling anxious, dreading each and every day...that is no way to live.

I will share a dirty little secret. Ok, it's not really "dirty" but secret nonetheless.
I had started to become really-super-neurotic about taking my medication, especially new medication. Sometimes I would get panicked before my nightly meds, or right before I had to do my injection I would start hyperventilating, feel lightheaded, the works! (Dad, I know how shocked you are that I had to get out the paper bag to breathe in! haha) Anyhow, in my intelligent brain I knew how ridiculous this was. The chances of having an adverse reaction to a drug you have been safely taking for a year is slim. It happens, but rarely. There was no cause for immediate concern, and yet I couldn't help myself! Something HAD to be done here. This had to stop.

So I said to myself, "What's the worst that could happen?"
"Well," I told myself, "You could anaphylax and die right here on the living room floor, as your poor husband stares down at your lifeless body and your bipolar cat gnaws at your lifeless hair, which is beyond weird, because though my hair smells good, it can't taste that good and yet cats seem to love..." and suddenly the whole thing just became so ridiculous I couldn't help but laugh.

And that is the key: the ability to laugh at yourself can make all the difference in the world. So now when I try a new med or when I start to feel the tightness in my chest before my injection, I have a new little mantra (which WILL remain secret!) and it always makes me laugh at myself and reminds me to never Never take myself, or anything, or anyone TOO seriously. The world isn't out to get me, though it has sometimes seemed that way :-) It is just trying, though often in very strange ways, to make me a better person.

XOXO

1 comment:

Adam said...

Douglas Adams would be honored, as are we.