Saturday, August 24, 2013

A Year and A Half in the Making.

"There is in every true woman's heart a spark of heavenly fire,
which lies dormant in the broad daylight of prosperity;
but which kindles up and beams and blazes in the dark hour of adversity."
~Washington Irving

Life has been rather unbearable for me lately. I know we all have rough days or weeks (or years), but I just feel like I am having a particularly difficult time managing it. Getting over it. Rising above it. Enduring it. I am on the edge 85% of the time. Most moments of the day, it wouldn't take anymore than one word, one look, one drop of spilled milk to cause the floodgates to burst open.

In some ways this started a year and a half ago when I got sick. January 6th, 2012. It was a Friday. I'm not sure I've ever really talked about it on here, but initially I called this sickness "the heart-attack flu" because that's exactly what it felt like. Friday morning it started, when I woke up feeling like my muscles had been poisoned. I'm not sure how to explain it, but they felt foreign. Poisoned. Compromised. Sick. I figured I was just feeling tired or something, but deep down I knew something was very different and something was very wrong. And just a mere six hours later, I was heading to the doctor.

I was truly down and out for two weeks straight. High fever. Vomiting. Extreme shortness of breath, shallow breathing, and chest pain. I woke up in the middle of the night on Day 3 because I couldn't breathe. I couldn't even lie down without having the feeling that the pain in my chest was going to kill me. It was excruciating. I was so tired that night, but I had to attempt to sleep sitting up. Another trip to the doctor. She didn't know what it was. Maybe a blood clot. Maybe pericarditis. Sitting in the waiting room in my wheelchair, waiting to be taken in for my CT scan, I was oddly coming to terms with the fact that I might not live. That something might be terribly wrong. But the EKG, the CT scan, and all other tests came back normal. Normal. Really? You call this normal? I thought I was going to die. Truly.

Aided by the fact that my phone fell in the toilet at the doctor's office during a stupid urine sample during that initial visit on Day 1, rendering it, well... dead, the fact that I had fever-induced brain-shutdown, and the fact that I removed my contacts for two straight weeks, I somewhat disappeared into a world of my own. Being with out vision (sans corrective lenses, I'm on the scale of oh, BLIND) and being without any communication with the outside world (no bag of rice was going to save that phone), I really felt like I was living (or dying, as it were) in my own world. Interestingly, I was too sick to even care.

It took ten days for the fever to even begin to lift. My mom came and stayed with me to take care of me. Because she's like a total saint. If we were Catholic, I'm certain she'd have been sainted a long time ago. With the shallow breathing and heart attack problem or whatever it was, I could barely muster enough energy and breath to even walk ten feet to the bathroom. I cried to my mom that I really didn't want to die. And that's truly what I felt like, that I was dying. That I would never get better. I've never experienced anything like it in my life.

And then. I got better.

But then three weeks later, I had a cold. And a few weeks after that I had another one. And this pattern of every 3-6 weeks, coming down with some sort of ailment continued on the ENTIRE year of 2012. With the exception of a couple of 8-week breaks. I mean, 2012 was also the year I bought my house. It was busy.

The sickness also manifested itself in my need for constant sleep. I became anti-social. I stopped running. Often, I could barely muster enough strength to go to work. I was just tired. And depressed. So, so depressed. I'd have moments of true hope, which were often dashed with the onset of a new cold or something. I began to think this was my new normal. I mean, it was indeed my reality, so I thought this was just who I was: a sad, depressed, tired, anti-social, fat, lazy slug.

In October, I got sick again. I had this mild sore throat that wouldn't go away and so I finally went to the after-hours clinic at my doctor's office. I'd already been to my doctor once that week. This doctor, who had never seen me before, was very quick in her examination. Maybe it was due to years of medical experience or the fact that it was 8pm on a Friday night during "after-hours" and she wanted to finish up. Either way, as she was feeling my glands she told me she was going to have me give some blood so they could test me for a few things, one of them being mononucleosis. Ha. Right. I don't have mono. I audibly laughed. But whatever. I'll give my blood.

So a week went by. I was still tired and depressed. But remember, this had become my norm. Then the Friday at 12:30pm, I received the standard phone call following up after blood tests. Only this time, the nurse said, "Your blood tests for mono came back positive." I started laughing. Really? For ten months I was searching for some kind of answers and now, this. Just like that?

Let's be honest, I had stopped searching for answers because I just thought it was me. In my head. My new normal. But it was this after-hours doctor (experienced, as she was) who took all of three minutes to ask a couple of questions, touch my glands, and order a test that finally gave clarity to my own personal spiral staircase to hell over the last ten months? I felt like jumping for joy. This didn't have to be my new normal. There was true cause for my desire for constant naps and sleeping in. I didn't have to feel guilty and depressed that I cared more about being under my covers than being with friends. There was a reason. For everything.

Over the course of the next few days, I scoured the internet for information on mono. I read all sorts of standard Wikipedia information and along with other medical websites, and realized that my heart attack flu illness was, indeed, the on-set of the mono. I had many of the standard symptoms: fever, vomiting, muscle aches, weight loss, drowsiness. But I also discovered that I had experienced many of the worst less common symptoms such as: neck stiffness, shortness of breath, chest pain, and rapid heartbeat.

But maybe most interesting to me at that point, ten months after the initial on-set, was information I found in several scholarly articles that explained who I had become. Although not widely known, there is tremendous evidence linking infectious mononucleosis with depression and anxiety, specifically in women for prolonged periods of time after the disease takes its course. Also noted was that while most people who have mono are symptom free in anywhere from 3 weeks to 3 months, a large number of patients experience prolonged fatigue without the features of the infectious mononucleosis. I cried and jumped for joy all at the same time. (Okay, I didn't really jump for joy because I had no energy to do so.)

Suffice it to say, the diagnosis and my research following liberated me. Validated me. Helped me to have hope that my current state was not my new normal. That I could get beyond this someday. I shared the diagnosis with my family, co-workers, friends, FB, and just about anyone who would listen because I was so thrilled that I had an explanation for being mentally and emotionally absent. And I allowed myself to just go to bed at 8pm nearly every night for the next few weeks. Interestingly, I found a couple of friends who had had very similar experience with mono and the prolonged depression. Why isn't this widely known or talked about?

Sadly, I wasn't out of the woods at that point. I had a horrible sickness over Christmas. I didn't leave my house for another two weeks. It was bad. It's the one my mom got while we were on our cruise to Hawaii. You know the one I gave her, causing me guilt that may take years to get over. So I started 2012 with a massive illness and I finished it with another. But I'm happy to say, knock on wood/cross my fingers/hold my breath and make a wish, that I haven't had any true sicknesses since then. Nearly eight months without any ailments (besides stupid bladder infections, that I won't even get started on.)

However, the depression and anxiety have hung on. So has the lack of desire to do normal things. So has the weight I gained in all of this because I stopped running and only wanted to sleep all the time. So I guess the "ailments" have not ceased. Depression is real. Anxiety is real. Very real. To top it off for me, I'm very unhappy at work and that doesn't help matters AT ALL.

So these are the challenges I'm working on conquering now. My unhappiness at work combined with my depression and anxiety make for a sometimes unbearable situation. While finding a new job is the number one thing that will alter the situation right now, that's easier said than done. But I know there are other things I can be doing that will help: starting to run again, sleeping on a regular schedule, praying, eating a more balanced healthy diet. But all of that is hard to be motivated to do when you're consumed by depression. And in case you have never experienced prolonged depression, I'll clue you in: it's consuming.

But, it takes one step, right? So I promised myself that today I would start running again. I'm starting over with my training. Using the C25K program. I will do it today. I will.

And I hope I get a massive dose of endorphins to give me a boost and replenish the desire to keep moving forward and getting back on track, reclaiming my pre-mono self, mentally, physically, and emotionally. The first step is the hardest, right?

Well, I've got my sports bra on and my running shoes. Wish me luck.


Becky said...

Being sick is so horrible. I'm sorry you've been sick for so long. ((hugs))

Shelley Balough said...

Emery, I knew you had been sick and I knew you had been diagnosed with mono, but I never realized how devastating it has been for you. I am so, so sorry. I just want to cry because I love you so much, and I wish there was something I could do for you. I have not been physically sick like you, but I have dealt with some pretty serious depression and anxiety over - well, my entire life - but I only recognized it about 10 years ago. I take antidepressants which have helped, counseling has helped but the "cure" or treatment is different for everyone. I remember feeling so alone, so apart, from the rest of the world. And I remember wishing I just wasn't alive. I wasn't suicidal - for reasons you know, I just could never do that to my family. Plus I am inherently a very optimistic person. But looking on the bright side can only help true depression for so long. I actually think that chronic, clinical depression is a Smith trait. I always thought that my issues were because of how I grew up and that I inherited depression from my dad. Em, I really do love you so much. If you ever want to talk, please reach out. You are a beautiful woman with a wonderful heart. We don't talk much but I feel connected to you in a way that doesn't need constant communication. Maybe it's because I knew you when you were 3 :). Aside from all that, I originally started to read your post because I am impressed by how well you keep up with it, AND you are a talented writer. Perhaps another Smith trait :). My thoughts are with you, cousin. Love, Shelley

by Kimberlee St. Clair said...

I agree with Shelley. And just recently began working through some pretty severe anxiety and depression myself. I love you and I was sad to hear about your illness. I hope you are on your way to feeling better. Let me know if you ever need me to talk, stop by, bring lunch/dinner/breakfast, or just a little prayer.