Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Stressed Out!

As you can imagine, I've been dealing with a significant amount of stress since my accident. I would say my day to day stress level is relatively high compared to the average person. I say this based on my past experience and the comparison in the types of problems or stressors I dealt with before my injury versus now. I can also cite examples based on all my friends and family. I realize that all emotions or moods are relative; given that each person has different coping skills and life experience. Stress is not something we can really quantify so it's hard to compare stress levels between people. Not to mention, one man's problem could be another man's blessing.

My entire perspective on life now is different from before my accident and in many ways I feel like a completely different person. My accident changed me both physically and mentally. I think of my life in two parts and feel as though I have lived two separate lives. It's as if the "old Christina" died June 5, 2005 and the "new Christina" emerged. Obviously, this is figurative, because I didn't actually die. However many of my old thought processes and view points "died" and have been replaced with new ones. I imagine even if I were to be cured and on my feet again, that the experience of living with paralysis will have left me forever changed.

I have to admit that despite all the hardships and loss I've endured, the accident made me a much stronger person mentally. I've been able to deal with things that I never thought I could. The human spirit is pretty amazing and I even surprise myself at times. Most people think they know how they will react to stress or trauma, but I've found that a lot of people don't give themselves enough credit. I know for sure that if someone asked me how I'd react to my situation before I was injured, I would have said I'd rather be dead. There have been many times I've thought that since my accident. However, there is a huge difference in imagining something versus having experienced it. Prior to my accident I had never so much as broken a bone. My closet "brush with death" would have been a sprained wrist, four stitches or perhaps my old driving habits. In the past I imagined giving up would be easy in comparison to living with paralysis, but the fear I felt those seconds or minutes I spent under the water that night changed all that. I felt no peace or comfort when I was drowning. There was no white light or sense of calming. In those few moments, I felt overwhelmed with fear, sadness and fear. It's hard to let go of that fear, especially knowing what I went through in the hospital. The thought of returning to that state terrifies me. I was naive in thinking how easy it would be to just give up. The cliche "ignorance is bliss" rings true when I analyze my thoughts before my injury. There's no way of really knowing how much stress you can handle unless you are faced with it. For me, the experience of coming so close to death has made push to stay alive. My driving force is based on wanting to fix my mistakes and my hope for the future. Every time I think I can't possibly go on another day I try and remind myself of everything I've been through and everything I've somehow overcome.

I feel as though paralysis is the source on ninety percent of my stress and it is frustrating trying to figure out ways to cope. There is no guarantee that my paralysis will ever be cured, therefore I live with the fact that no matter what I do there are certain problems that might not ever go away. That is why I say that I have more stress than the average person. The only true solution would be a cure to paralysis. It is especially maddening when people suggest medication or talk therapy to me. I've done both with little success. I take medication, but still feel depressed and anxious. How can I not, given my condition? Isn't it normal to be bothered by paralysis? Who on earth (of sound mind) would be happy to be sick or have a chronic illness? I think it's only logical that my situation bothers me and find it useless to think I'll ever be completely satisfied this way. If there is no remedy for the source of all my problems, all I can do is find new ways to deal with secondary issues created by the underlying cause. I'm sure most people with chronic illnesses can relate. It's difficult to cope with symptoms or outlying issues, when you know you can't get rid of the root of the problem. It can become so overwhelming at times, because I know no matter how many days I get through, there is another day of the same stuff waiting for me. My paralysis effects everything; until it's cured I will always face certain obstacles and stress.

So many of life's stress factors have solutions or resolve themselves with time. Relationships, financial troubles, raising children and even grief can be worked out over time; the pain dulls or solutions are found. In my situation, there are many stressful things that I need to do just to stay alive. As much as it bothers me, I don't have the luxury of moving on, or getting over it. I'm faced with the consequences of my accident day in and day out. Although some things that used to bother me seem ridiculous to me now, at the time they seemed valid. I try and keep that in mind when I talk with family and friends. I can see how easily someone in my situation could slip into cynicism and bitterness. It's hard to be sympathetic when your problems seem so grave in comparison to the people around you. I can't tell you how often I've thought, "I wish those were my problems." It's at those moments I have to remind myself that most of my friends and family will never truly be able to see life from my perspective and I shouldn't fault them for that. I try and think about how I might have reacted before my accident and try my best to recall my past. I push myself to make an effort to take a genuine interest in my loved ones lives. I value them and don't think it's fair to drag them down with me or belittle their problems (regardless of how insignificant or shallow they might seem to me). No one wants to be around a grouch or someone in a constant state of self pity.

I've found ways to not only cope with my paralysis, but how to mask a lot of what I'm going through. In some respect I feel it's not fair to those around me, even if I start to feel overwhelmed by everything I've kept bottled up. Most times I feel disenchanted and see no point in discussing my problems. The majority of stuff that bothers me is directly related to my paralysis such as, needing help with every single little thing. I never get a break from people and never feel like a truly have privacy. I've been injured now for over four years and still haven't figured a way to deal with needing help with highly personal things, such as going to bathroom, being bathed, fed and dressed. Outwardly, I'm not breaking into tears every morning or going into hysterics, but on the inside there's a torrent of emotions running through me. If I do express my discomfort, most people try and brush it off or down play it like it's no big deal. I understand there aren't many right answers or advice to give. No words can ever make me feel 100% better. In fact, most of the time I find myself getting annoyed and/or frustrated with the person, especially if they are able bodied. My able bodied friends and family sometimes think they can imagine what it's like to be paralyzed, but they can't. It is one of those things that you have to live through to understand. The problem with imagining something is that you are limited to drawing from the experiences you've had. There is no experience you could have that compares to certain aspects of paralysis. Often times I can't even find the words to explain what I'm feeling, because it's unlike anything I ever experienced on my feet. It can be very frustrating, because no matter what I use as a comparison, it's just not the same . Sure, you could try and simulate the experience by restraining your limbs; to experience the discomfort of having to have help, or feel the sense of vulnerability. However, such a simulation doesn't even begin to truly mimic what it's like to be paralyzed. A good example of this is how nurse's aides often have to "ride" in a Hoyer lift to help promote empathy for their patients. Although some people might feel nervous at the thought of being suspended in the air, it's nothing close to what it's like for someone like me. For starters, an able bodied person can grab onto the machine for security. I have no way to stop myself from falling or brace myself if I do fall. Secondly, an able bodied person can feel the sling beneath them. I have no sensation below my chest and therefore, if I can't see what's going on it feels as though the rest of my body does not exist. Not to mention the fact that someone taking part in a simulated exercise knows that there discomfort is only temporary. If I knew for sure that I'd be back on my feet, it'd give me a tremendous boost of strength and motivation. It's the difference of an innocent person serving a short jail sentence and being on death row. In both cases the innocent person is being unfairly punished, but the person with a designated time frame has the advantage of knowing that it's temporary. If I knew the date of when a cure will be found I would have the peace of mind in knowing what I'm up against. A set time frame gives you something to look forward; there is an the end. Even if that magical cure date was beyond my lifetime at least I'd have an answer. My situation overwhelms me at times because of the uncertainty of ever getting cured. Granted, my accident is an example that, despite set plans, no one ever really knows there future. Plans give us the illusion of control over our lives, and there are times when life throws in surprises. However, there are certain definites, just as I know for sure that my birthday will be on July 4th, it would be awesome to know when there will be a cure.

One of the many bad things about stress is that can have a direct impact on your health. Stress, like many emotions, it is not limited to just effecting your mood. I think keeping all of my stress bottled up is having a negative effect on my body. Lately, my aides and I have noticed that I'm losing hair. Having long, thick hair that is prone to knots means I'm accustomed to losing a certain amount everyday, just by brushing it. Recently though, it's been much too much to be normal. I know it could be from a dietary deficiency, but I doubt it. My diet is well rounded with fruits, veggies and protein and it hasn't changed drastically in any way. My medicine and environment are stable, so I'm thinking it's got to be stress related. I've also been battling acne since my accident. My skin used to be near flawless, which I had chalked up to good genes. Now I'm beginning to wonder if other factors (like medicine) were keeping my skin so nice or if the problem is only related to my current situation. I have several theories as to the cause; stress being number one. I have been going to a dermatologist and trying various treatments, but none have been very successful. My body has already been through so many changes because of the paralysis and now it seems I'm creating more problems by stressing out. I know emotion/mood has an effect on health and healing, but it is near impossible for me to eliminate the stress, anxiety or sadness I often feel. My hair and skin are not only proof of stress, they are now also a new source of stress. I feel faced with a double edged sword.

I've decided to attempt to lower my stress level by writing letters to a few people close to me. I think some of the things that are bothering me could have solutions, if the people doing them are willing to compromise with me, or change. Although I don't particularly mind arguing, I'm terrible at approaching situations where I have to tell someone they are doing something that bothers me. I'm fine once the ice is broken, but I struggle to bring up the subject. I have the most difficulty when the issue effects me specifically. In other words, if you did something mean or bothersome to my friend, I have no qualms about opening my mouth immediately. I'm fine at speaking up to help others, but I stink at sticking up for myself. I often just bite my tongue or let the frustration roll off my shoulders. I can forgive easily, so minor annoyances often get overlooked. The problem is, if I ignore or avoid things when they are small, they tend to snowball into something big; making it even harder to address or fix issue. It is the one area that I have a hard time expressing myself. It's especially worst with adults and even more so the closer you are to me (relationship wise). Writing down my thoughts gives me the comfort of being able to say almost anything. I also get satisfaction in knowing I've said everything I wanted to say, without getting interrupted or forgotten. So, I'm hoping to break the ice with a few people, about a few issues that are resolvable. I'm hoping the letters will open up the dialog and that I'm able to get a little relief.

1 comment:

  1. Sis, first, I want you to know I'm ALWAYS available to you. You have my Skype info, so if you're on the comp late at night and need an ear to vent to (even if I can't do anything but listen!) I'm always around, and live 4 hours in the past (so 4am your time, is only midnight my time!). As Kiki will tell you, you don't have to worry about pissing me off because even if you do, I move on and forget SO quickly! Haha, when we fight, she'll be steaming for days, and 5 mins later, I'll be fine. Anyway, figured skype might be easy for you because you can talk and not type (even if you said typing stuff out works best for yah, it may be easier for you to talk when you have an ear)...

    As for perspective... It's funny. On Monday's we have to wear our blues uniform (the shirt and tie kinda deal, vs the normal utility uniform). People bitch and complain all the time on Monday's about having to wear it... Obviously it's less comfy and all that, but it's 1 day of the week, and it's not that big a deal. This past monday, I asked one of my Amn how he's doing, doing the friendly boss thing, making sure nothing's bothering him and all, and he tells me how bad his day is because he has to wear his blues uniform... I just look at him and go "you're alive, right?" but he was just so damned focused on having to wear his blues vs his utility uniform that he couldn't see all the good things he had going for him...

    Anyway, think I'm starting to go on a rant, and I'm going to stop here before it gets too big...

    Just remember, even if I can't do anything at all to help you from Alaska, I can listen. It can't be good for you to keep it all bottled up inside sis!