When you have been sick for a long time, you find a way to define yourself as "human" without illness. For crazy lady, this means "putting pain, symptoms, trauma into a little box, and sticking that box in the back of your brain." She believes that the allusion of control over illness is critical for normal, daily function. It's a uniquely American response to sickness (you must "fight the disease" and death means you "lost the war"). It's all part of the ethos which surrounds intrinsic values of capitalism (yes, another conversation for another time...) In other words, you don't let illness control your life-- no matter how much you hurt, or how sick you feel. As a human, you learn to "suck it up."Her doctors call it "stoicism." Here's what her humongous medical chart says:
"The patient is a classic stoic personality. She is pleasant to be around, approachable, extremely intelligent, curious and pragmatic in her outlook. She will often pretend to be healthier than she really is, so be watchful of cues, especially responses to pain."
Crazy lady never saw stoicism as a personality flaw, and her doctors (until recently) never said a peep about her behavior. Do you want to strap her down, wrap her breasts tight against her body, and flip the exam table, to get a better image of her liver? Not a problem. Toss radioactive die into her spinal column and measure electrical output by shocking her nerve endings? Have fun. Want to jam giant needles into her bones to extract the marrow, without anesthesia? Enjoy yourself. She'll just add the feelings to a horror story, and then move on with her life. I mean, what are you suppose to do? Cry, scream, rant, holler, piss yourself?
Hah. Not her style.
The problem? Stoicism is not always a virtue. It gets you through the immediate crisis. It helps crazy lady focus on those things in life that bring her joy-- friends, family, fiction, and (of course) me. It also helps her ignore things in life that could be potentially life threatening. You stick those symptoms and emotions into a box, and people remark (with admiration), "you're so calm." You ignore the walls as they start to crumble. Gradually, your feelings eek through the flimsy barriers. Self doubt, anger, fear and frustration slowly creep into your psyche until you have problems eating, sleeping and reading. You begin to have sudden bouts of tears and brief periods of numbness.
Crazy lady calls this depression. And, for the first time in her life, she is really depressed.She knows the signs. She's had the shrink training, and she has helped many friends who suffer from various types of depression. Crazy lady has also had those lapses in time when she rages and cries against the world. In the past, the sadness and anxiety have never lasted more than a couple of days. Crazy lady will wake-up and move away from the blues to focus on something "more productive than anger and tears."
It has been a little harder to wake-up and feel productive, these days. She's trying. She is keeping a schedule, working to improve her daily living skills, and trying to mitigate any risk for her upcoming and scary surgery. When a doctor (or disability examiner) asks her to perform a functional exam-- even something as simple as removing her socks-- she always says, "Yes, okay, not a problem." Then, she tries, stops, and stares at her offending foot and hand, mentally demanding that her limbs behave themselves. "Move, damn it, MOVE," she silently rages against her paralyzed limb. She wants to prove to herself (and the doctors) that she is getting better, that the current diagnosis and prognosis is a huge mistake. What is wrong with her? Why can't her MIND control her BODY? Why won't she just "suck it up" and "get better, already?" If a disability examiner assumes she is faking, maybe they know something that she doesn't know? Maybe she is doing something wrong?Yes. Doubt feeds the depression, and stoicism feeds the doubt. To quote crazy lady, "it's a cluster fuck."
So, what to do? First, crazy lady is seeing a great shrink. He recognizes the signs and is working with her to manage her depression. Second, she is turning the self doubt and anger away from herself, and channeling those emotions into "constructive action." Crazy lady is forcing her doctors to address those issues that they have ignored for many, many years, especially those issues that are causing the damaged spinal cord and bone marrow growths. She is seeking second opinions outside of her medical system (Kaiser)-- and then forcing the Kaiser docs to follow-through on those outside opinions. Third, she is successfully engaging her congressperson for help, and they have opened a federal investigation against the local Social Security office. Productive behavior is excellent medicine for the psyche.
Finally, she is working on an idea. Before her life took its current "hiccup," crazy lady wanted to take time off from writing trashy horror and paranormal romances this year. She was planning to spend a year researching a social issue, and then write a "meaningful book" about "a social crisis that needed to be fixed." But, she hadn't found a topic-- until now. She doesn't know what direction she will tell her story; but she does know that her experiences with the social security and medical systems need to be told. She has ideas on how to fix the problems; but she doesn't want to lose herself in over-thinking and over-analyzing the issues. She believes a personal, honest account carries more impact than dry, boring, academic rhetoric.
So, who knows? Somewhere in her itty bitty brain is a non fiction story that could help others-- and, just maybe, help control her feelings of helplessness, sorrow, fear and anger.I'll keep you posted.