On Days When My Chronic Illness Forces Me to Admit Defeat
Although I’m not one who likes to dwell on the negatives or things I cannot change/don’t have much control over, sometimes I do have to admit defeat and give in to my health conditions. I prefer to look at how having such chronic illnesses such as hypothyroidism, Hashimoto’s and adrenal fatigue have changed me for the better, taught me things or otherwise helped develop me as a person. But today, I just had to admit defeat to them and put off today’s plans until tomorrow.
Lying awake in the early hours of the morning, I’d been trying to sleep for hours but couldn’t. I felt physically tired, my body heavy and eyes drooping, but my mind wasn’t switching off. I didn’t have racing thoughts, anxiety or worries for once, but it just wasn’t calming down for sleep. I got up several times, tried a hot drink, a snack, reading a book, but it was just another one of those nights. Tired but wired, thanks endocrine system for the confused state my body is in.
My alarm goes off for work at 6:30 a.m., after just a couple hours of sleep. Like a zombie, I slowly reach for my phone, turning off the alarm, then popping my BBT thermometer into my mouth to take my temperature. I take it every morning to track my cycle due to sex hormone imbalances. Tracking it helps me to see what they’re doing and if the imbalance is resolving itself (it’s gotten steadily better over the last year or so).
After taking my temperature and recording it on an app on my phone, that tells me it’s a normal reading for cycle day 11, I take my thyroid medication, before my head hits the pillow again in a daze. As I try to keep my eyes open and focus on the text on my phone long enough to try and wake me up, my eyelids fight back. Trying to keep them open is a conscious effort. The room spins and my body feels heavy, but I don’t want to call in to work sick today.
I decide to set my alarm for two hours time and go in to work a bit later, making up my hours another day when I feel well enough. My head crashes back to the pillow and although my eyelids can now safely close, I can’t sleep. Waiting for the alarm to go off at 9 a.m., when I know I’ll have to make that call saying I’ll be in a little later, I fill with anxiety. Anxiety over the alarm going off and startling me awake from sleep again but also anxiety for needing to call my manager and explain why I can’t turn up on time like a regular person. And so, the alarm goes off at 9 a.m. and I’ve had no more sleep and feel no better than at 6:30 a.m.
For 10 minutes, I play with the idea of just calling in sick today and taking the day off, but I’m stubborn and one of my biggest fears is failure. Imperfection. Admitting defeat. My fiancé suggests I take the day off and gives me encouragement that I can indeed make the call to tell them, but as a colleague answers the phone, I tell them I will be in a couple of hours later due to poor sleep from my health conditions. I sense no judgment in their voice – I feel proud. I can do this.
I stand up and my feet feel swollen although they look how they always do. As I wash my face in the bathroom, I notice how deep the bags around my eyes are and that the whites of my eyes are pink. Makeup will help with that, I tell myself. I want to throw on some baggy jeans and a hoodie, but decide that today, I will take back some control and wear a more presentable, well put together outfit. Now dressed, I smile in the mirror at how “normal” I look.
Making my way downstairs, I move carefully so as not to trip or slip from feeling faint and I take my seat in front of the window to do my makeup. Why bother? you may ask when I’m clearly not very well. Because being able to take pride in how I present myself, just as I did before I developed these health conditions, gives me a huge sense of control and independence, despite what these health conditions take away from me on days such as this. In just 15 minutes, I’ve done my makeup and brushed my hair and with my well thought out outfit, I look normal. For the first hour of the day I have managed to convince myself that I am like everyone else.
After packing food into my bag for lunch, I leave the house, locking the front door and feeling accomplished. Sure, I’ll be at work two hours later than I should be but at least I’ll be there. And I won’t have work mounting up or people waiting on me for another day before things can be done.
But three minutes into my 15-minute walk to transport, a wave of shock hits me. As I grab onto someone’s front garden wall, I almost pass out from overwhelming fatigue, weakness and nausea. Scrunching my eyes tightly closed and taking deep breaths, I try to stabilize my body to the point that the brick wall is digging into my tightly gripping hands. And although I can feel the brick creating cuts on my palms, the nausea and faintness I feel is so much worse. Immediately, I turn and make my way back home. I’m scared I’ll collapse there and then in the street.
My phone pings with a message from my fiancé who had left for work an hour earlier, saying “I hope you’re OK,” as if he knows at that moment I’m close to passing out. I try to focus on sending him a message back, “Heading home,” as I put one foot in front of the other. Something to focus on as everything spins around me.
I may have walked three minutes down the road before being stopped in my tracks, but this walk back is going on and on as I focus on my house, yet it seems to stretch out further into the distance the more steps towards it I take. I’m going to throw up, I think.
I reach the front door, keys shaking in my hand and as I unlock it, I fall through and onto the bottom step of the stairs inside. Seeing black spots and noticing the bumpy texture of the carpet under my hands, within a few minutes I come back around. I feel foggy headed and dazed but safe.
And so I had to admit defeat today. At various points this morning – getting out of bed, having a wash, getting dressed, putting makeup on, getting my lunch together and even leaving the house – I could have said no and decided to stay home. I’d have been very entitled to make that decision. But I tried my best to make today as much like a regular person’s day as possible, when it just wasn’t going to happen.
I’m home now and actually feel OK about missing work. Frustrated? A little. Feeling like a failure? No.
I really tried this morning, I really did. And I take comfort in that.
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