So there I am, lying on the floor of the workroom, pins sticking into my arms and legs, covered with thread and the piecing I am hanging on my design wall, the bruising ladder across my body. A yardsale scrabble of everything from the sewing table is scattered across the room. The iron scorches its way through my cutting mat.
"What the hell", I think?? And then, 'Ow", but, "What the Hell??!"
How did I get here? Why am I on the ground? Did we have an earthquake? Where are the cats??? Did I break anything?
I pick up the iron, remove all of the pins from my arms, and thighs, and apply liberal amounts of neosporin. I am glad not to have landed on any with my face. My pins have been everywhere. Everywhere. On that romantic trip to Maui, to the Galapagos, to visit my Sis in Yuma... on jaunts during a life being lived.
Strange, I think. I must be dehydrated.
And then it happens Again. Cross country skiing on a sunny blue bird day with the Dawg and the Hubster. And then Again that same day, on that same family outing. My husband can't understand why I am so stiff. Neither can I. The Dawg keeps refusing to leave my side. The cats have become barnacles, fastening onto me the moment I am still.
I am so stiff, I can barely move. Exhaustion overwhelms me, permeates my soul. I need help getting up from any sitting position, am too tired to stand to iron. Can't get out of the tub by myself. "Dammit!" I think, "I've got work to do!!"
And then Again, in the snow on a hike, out in the glorious backcountry.
Seven miles from home.
Just me and the Dawg.
It takes me four hours to stumble and stagger my way back through the foot deep snow. A twenty something laughs at me as I near the trailhead, and home. Thinking I am drunk. Or something else, more shameful. The Dawg patiently props me at her side as I try to lift a leg out of the snow to take a step. Then, exhausted, subside into the cold wetness to rest. Then struggle up to take another excruciatingly slow step. And then another. And finally up the hill, 150 feet and 30 minutes, to home.
No one offers a hand or expresses concern to see someone's Mom struggling to return to home and safety. Bizarre, I think.
I am embarrassed. Deeply, Deeply Embarrassed.
As I wait for my appointment, half thinking I am a lunatic, and half angry for believing that, I have increasingly frequent vertigo and lose the hearing in my left ear. I cannot walk upright. I cannot read. I cannot use a computer. I cannot hear on the phone. I cannot meet my obligations. I break a finger when I accidentally close it in a drawer when I have a sudden attack. I spill a pot of boiling soup over my hand and get third degree burns. I begin to go out less and less. I spend the two months home-bound, not able to drive, too embarrassed about staggering and stumbling everywhere, to go out without my husband, and his arm to lean on. Using the computer becomes an impossibility as the light and typing make the vertigo much worse. I begin to drop things more frequently. I stumble to the end of my road and back, 3/4 of a mile, several times a day, in order to get outside, where the vertigo is less. One of my neighbors begins to come out as I go by, and leer at me. I ignore him and continue on with the Dawg at my side. It is my fervent wish that she will bite him. If she doesn't, I think, I just might. His ankles anyway, since I'll be laying on the ground.
Having unexplained and unexpected vertigo is like being mugged. Something comes out of nowhere and takes everything you have worked so hard your entire life, for, for no reason, and leaves you shaken and mauled, on the ground. Then you get up and tell yourself that you were in the wrong place at the wrong time. That you shouldn't eat this, shouldn't do that. Slowly, your life returns to normal, and you can work again, albeit less. Slowly, you forget what being mugged was like. The terror. The Fear just after, everywhere you go, everything you do. Slowly, you get most of your life back, although it will never be the same. A different life now, but maybe one almost as good.
Then it happens again. Out of the blue. Everything gone. Everything taken away. And you struggle to your feet again, bruised and bleeding, and with less faith. You pare your life back so that what you think you did wrong, won't cause this to happen again. You go out less. You worry that it will happen again, and that it's your fault. You wonder what of a million possible factors that may or may not be under your control, contributed to this awful event happening again. Then it happens again. And Again. AND AGAIN. Many people with silent illnesses never venture out. Many, many, take their own lives.
My appointment arrives. I park in the parking garage, the sequence of poles making my head spin. I stagger up to the front entrance, where the attendants smile kindly, and open the door for me, telling me how to get to the elevators. There are three floors of glass enclosed stairs in front of me. A vertiginous nightmare. I am overwhelmingly thankful for their kindness, and for the fact that they haven't laughed at me, or treated me as if I am a freak. It's just an ear infection, I think, perpetuated by the broken nose from the car accident. I'll get this fixed in a jiffy with some antibiotics and, maybe, nose surgery.
I sit in a cold, empty room, eyes closed because the fluorescent lights make me dizzy and nauseous. Palms sweating because I am certain he will tell me I am a hypochondriac, and that this is all in my head. The door opens and the doctor walks in. He looks at me, slumped, deaf and desperate. Three seconds later he asks me, "Do you have a thyroid problem? Have you ever heard of Meniere's Disease?" Three seconds to make the diagnosis that gives me most of my life back. And allows me to come to peace with what can be of my life, and make more beauty out of the rest. Three seconds to act like a human to someone lost and in need. Three seconds to re-teach me something I have known all of my life. How to be kind to others. How to care even if you don't know what they're going through. How to have empathy. Three seconds to humanity.
It's been several months now, and every day, three times a day, I do vestibular rehabilitation, so that my brain knows where my body is in space and time. I have changed my entire life around, to make it work so that I can do what I want to do. What I NEED to do. To not let others down. To perform at my best. To be reliable. To do what I say I am going to do.
To not cancel my life and exist in Fear.
Fear of failure. Fear of missed opportunity, Fear of what others think, if, no WHEN, they see me stumble, Fear of disappointing others and what they want to see me do and become, Fear of having a sudden attack and killing someone's beloved family with my car.
Fears big and small, Fears real and unreal. Fears to freeze and inactivate, Fears that lead to a despair so deep that many with chronic disorders can't get out, so drown. Fears perceived, Fears that deceive and lie, Fears that dominate.
Fear is no place to live. Fear is for dying. Little by little as it pares away at your soul, and who you are. I refuse Fear.
I Refuse to Live in Fear. This is My Life. The only one I'm getting. I will not exist in Fear of failure because I will have an attack and miss a deadline. I now know and have practiced how to schedule my time so that that will not happen. Fear of missed opportunity. Strange, how life teaches us our lessons, whether we want them or not, isn't it? I have had to learn to take life at a much slower pace. To live in the moment, to cherish that moment. To be where I am and with whom I am with. I notice color and smell so much more. I enjoy life fully. I rest when I need, and run every day. I deeply regret working two jobs and going to grad school while raising my son as a single parent. I now know, even more than I ever did, that time spent with him is worth more than any grocery or sport at school. But sometimes, you need do do what you need to do. But I wish I had the knowledge then, that I have now. Opportunities are there. Plan how to take advantage of them in proper time. Stick to the plan. Time is precious, don't waste it. Be present. BE. Be you. Don't let what you think others will/are thinking keep you from going out and living your life. Do your best. Take time. Be loving.
When you see me out and about, I will not be using a cane, so that people can know why I stumble. If they want to know why, they can ask. I will be moving through life as if it were a ballet. Because I choose to see the beauty in each moment, and choose to dwell there, rather to rush from task to task and thing to thing. I may stumble, I may look a wee bit crazed. I may take a brief break to stabilize myself. But then, Won't you come join me for a walk in the flowers, or a cup of joe and a chat about the fam? A making of a quilt and a memory together? You'll find me in the midst of things, hearing people's stories, occasionally gripping a table edge, and Happy to be there. With You. Living.
Here are several other silent chronic disorders. This is not an all inclusive list, but folks with these disorders look perfectly fine from the outside. Won't you touch their hand and smile into their eyes and tell them you're there? Click on the link to see what you can say to them, or to learn more.
Arthritis and chronic pain
Autoimmune disorders such as Type 1 Diabetes, Multiple Sclerosis (MS), Rheumatoid Arthritis
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
You can expect to see lots of quilting, and pics, and love over here at SewPsyched! in the coming years, but you will also see some pieces that I am doing to help increase awareness of vestibular disorders. I hope that they help to spread the word so that people can live their lives more fully.