Continued from two weeks ago…
Once I stopped taking the experimental drug at age eight, I no longer needed to stay in the hospital during the summer. The only thing I needed to take was anti-seizure medication and see my Neurologist periodically to have an EEG done. Now we could take a real vacation to the beach instead of our usual trip to the hospital!
It is hard to describe what it was like being a child while enduring all those medical tests. Eventually I think I developed a sense of detachment. When I went to the doctor or had a test done I could feel my brain “detach”. It was like I was on the outside of my body looking into the room. This was a coping mechanism I established to remove my feelings from the situation. This allowed me to stay calm and get the test over with so I could move on with my day.
My adolescent years were a little better for me socially. I had a small network of friends from church and a few friends at school. I still often felt different from them and misunderstood. They couldn’t identify with having medical tests and going to doctors frequently. All they had to focus on was doing schoolwork. They didn’t have the additional worries my illness caused: what will happen to me next, what other tests are going to be done on me, did I take my medicine today? Like most adolescents, my friends would tease and make jokes about me. It reminded me of the teasing I received when I was younger due to the side effects of the special medicine I took. To them it was just a joke but it broke down my self-confidence. The banter just made me feel worse about myself. You would think I would use my detaching mechanism at this point but I didn’t.
This caused more isolation. I would say that the main issue I developed from my illness as a child is seclusion. I would still spend time with my close friends but I did not enjoy meeting new people or being in a social situation. I did not like being in a group situation where I needed to be outgoing. I preferred to sit in a corner by myself. The comfort of being alone followed me into adulthood. Although the classes were larger in college, I still chose to stay to myself most of the time. I found a few new friends and hung out with them most of the time. I was always the quiet one in the group when we needed to work on a project. This also reflected my lack of self-confidence. In addition, being insecure might have resulted in lower grades. I didn’t have confidence in what I was capable of doing. Even after I married I stayed to myself. I had to move to a new city and found it difficult to find a close friend
As an adult, I was diagnosed with new illnesses, Diabetes and Thyroid diseases. Once one becomes an adult medical issues are more common. Still it is difficult for one to comprehend being ill for an entire life. Even though I was in my twenties, I was already tired of being sick. Yes I was used to having tests and doctor appointments but now I had to deal with new challenges with chronic illness. First of all, these illnesses will never go away. In addition to that there was added stress of a full-time job, marriage and maintaining a household. I lost time going to appointments and taking medication. Being ill was an inconvenience.
I didn’t realize it at the time but my first round of Depression came during a difficult period with my Thyroid disease. Finally after years of being ill I had to grieve for the time I lost due to being sick. It wasn’t until several years later that I discovered that was what my Depression was about, grief. I always thought I accepted being sick but actually I was in denial. Maybe those years of isolation were not just a lack of self-confidence. Maybe it was a mask for hiding denial of my medical challenges. It appeared I accepted my situation, taking medications and going to doctors like I was supposed to but actually I resented having to live with problems that others didn’t have to deal with on a daily basis. It was time for me to grieve all the feelings I tried to deny: anger of not having a “normal” life, fear of not being good at something, and sadness for the battles I had to fight. Ultimately, after years of therapy, I can now accept my life with all its complications. I have opened up more socially and feel confident in everything I do. I often wonder how things would have transpired if I had counseling at a younger age. Would I have reached acceptance sooner rather than in my forty’s? I guess I will never know. I have learned a great deal from my struggles and wouldn’t have it any other way.