This is going to be a very long read I’m afraid. Perhaps you can read this when you have to pretend to be busy or when you actually are busy but need a distraction? Either way, buckle up and keep a cookie ready (you’ll know why when you reach the end)!
Birth and Childhood
For as long as I can remember, I have had a brilliant mind and a tired body that just couldn’t keep up. I do not recall being a very humble person, or a patient one either for that matter, which is probably I was born as a premature baby in a government hospital in Madras, India, and survived thanks to its incubator.
I had primary complex as a child, and remember my regular visits to a pediatrician (who called me “vendaikkai” – okra, for how I looked) with my father. Sports or any physical activity made me tired faster than anyone else in my class or friends circle. I remember cursing my father for not letting me go to new year’s eve celebrations with my friends in my neighbourhood while silently thanking him in my head as my feet would kill me from just a few hours after the cultural events that we kids did together.
Teenage and University years
I was also extremely anxious, which was just chalked to being nervous and over-ambitious. I used to throw up or have severe nausea before any major exam or competition, despite the fact that I would go to be the topper in almost everything I tried. There was a joke in my circle that if I didn’t throw up before an exam I wasn’t going to do well. What can I say – this is the stuff vicious cycles are born of.
When I was 19 or 20, I was diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome. College years were not the best to have crazily irregular periods, acne, facial hair and weight gain. Needless to mention, my feet were planted firmly in nerdville, being that girl towards whom boys ran only the morning of every exam.
Let the diagnosis game begin!
When I was 23 and newly married, I was diagnosed with PTSD, months after I had undergone an assault (of which no one, except my then fiance and now husband) knew. Starting your marital life being scared of sex is not great – let me assure you, if you had any doubts on that count (although why would you?).
When I was 24, I started having severe back and knee pain, which was chalked up to bad posture and weight gain. Lose weight, they said, not making it clear how that was supposed to happen when nothing I ever did shifted the needle on the weighing scale except to the right.
When I was 27, a few months after I gave birth to my only son, I was diagnosed with degenerative disc disease and patella femeral syndrome.
When I was 28, I was diagnosed with post partum depression and chronic insomnia. I remember throwing a mug with coffee on the kitchen shelves at 2 am – I don’t remember cleaning those stains.
When I was 29, after almost five years of living with pain, I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia syndrome. You would think I must have been devastated. On the contrary, I was relieved. Relieved that all my pain and problems had a name. If I knew what was about to come, I probably wouldn’t have been so relieved. Oh well, those were the days of naivety.
When I was 30, I was diagnosed with gallstones, after a terrible attack.
When I was 31, I was diagnosed with RSI and underwent a surgery to fix it which only made my right hand worse than it originally was. I should have sued that surgeon and considering that suing people was my livelihood, I have no idea why I didn’t!
When I was 32, I was diagnosed with dysphagia caused due to Helicobacteria pylori, followed by severe GERD and stomach ulcers. I couldn’t eat solid food for months but then I lost 17 kilos. Even-Steven?
When I was 33, I was diagnosed with cluster headaches and I had high blood pressure for the first time which was not really treated – either by my primary physician or taken seriously by me.
A near death experience
When I was 34, I nearly died from a hypertensive crisis while on vacation on top of a mountain in the black forest region. I will write a lot more about this separately. I started suffering from debilitating episodes of anxiety and severe panic attacks which put me in the ER. I was diagnosed with severe burnout.
After months of testing and trials, I was diagnosed with asthma, costochondritis, serious hormonal imbalances involving the adrenal glands causing high blood pressure, severe vitamin and mineral deficiencies.
The pain part of my life has been covered. What about the rest?
In between all this, I got a law degree (with honours and gold medals), fell in love and got married, moved to a different country, got a a masters degree in international law cum laude, set up my international law practice and expanded it to have clients from seven countries and a team of lawyers I supervised, gave birth to a wonderful boy and bought my first home with my husband.
Living in denial
For years, my coping mechanisms to deal with my pain varied from fighting it hard to ignoring it altogether. Every time a new illness or symptom cropped up, I would cry for a while, start treatment for it and keep going on after that. I would change my diet, try exercising, but eventually lapse into a pattern of over-working, little to no exercising, eating whatever I could find my hands on in between my busy schedule and sleeping whenever I could. Given a choice between playing with my son or exercising, I always chose the former as I had little time with him to begin with.
I firmly believed that I could everything I wanted in life irrespective of my pain or health issues, as long as I put my mind, heart and soul to it. Unfortunately, the mind, heart and soul can only exist and function as long as there was a body to hold them safely. As my grandmother would say, you cannot make a fresco without a wall of some kind. There is only so much a body can take, after all.
Time for change
I started making changes to my life very slowly. I stopped working when I was diagnosed with burnout. I started undergoing regular therapy and physiotherapy sessions. I started doing yoga and going for regular walks. I started singing, praying and trying out art again. I started spending more time with my family. I truly enjoyed the time I spent with my son – reading, painting, baking, writing, walking – and continue to do so with great happiness.
I started paying attention to my body a bit more. I learned to recognise symptoms, triggers and means to stop them in their tracks. I learned to differentiate between an actual physical emergency and a panic or anxiety attack. I practiced my relaxation exercises which come in handy during an anxiety or panic attack. I started advocating for my health and thankfully found an amazing doctor who trusted my instincts and adapted my treatment every time something changes. I dropped from three blood pressure pills a day to one. I dropped from 4 inhalations a day to 1 or as needed. I have lost 7 kilos.
I still suffer a lot though. I still have panic attacks. My food intolerance is beyond messed up and the list of what I can eat is very, very small. I don’t always sleep well and sometimes fear that my insomnia will return any day. There are still days when I yearn to wake up one morning and feel completely refreshed. I sincerely cannot remember the last time that happened. I don’t know what exactly to do with my life if I cannot practice law the only way I know to.
Nevertheless, I have learnt a lot along the way. I have learnt the importance of a good and balanced diet, proper supplements, exercise, appropriate treatments and above all, how to advocate for your health when the system is not geared to support you or your instincts.
So, why my story now?
The only thing that is constant in all this is my pain. It is a true and intrinsic part of who I am. I kept reading about how I should not let my pain define me and I should learn to overcome my pain and be happy. The truth is far from that, as far as I have experienced.
Imagine having the flu, as well as the muscular pain and inflammation associated with your period, a day after giving birth. That is how I feel every single day of my life. I know that men cannot understand this but I’m sorry – I have no other way to describe Fibromyalgia! It is hard not identify with something that is so omniscient in one’s life. There is just no way you can be happy when you feel like you have gone 20 rounds with Muhammad Ali even though you have just now woken up after 8 hours of sleep! It doesn’t mean you have to be depressed all the time and do nothing either.
The truth lies somewhere in between. I cannot forget my pain, nor can I overcome it as there is no known cure for Fibromyalgia yet. I can, however, accept it. I can assess what changes are needed in my life because of my pain and adapt accordingly.
It does not matter what I do with my pain or even despite it, but what matters is what I do because of it. If I can support and help others who suffer from chronic pain, by sharing with them the wealth of knowledge I have accumulated over so many trials and tribulations, or even just by letting them know that they are not alone, then that would be a great thing which arises because of my pain. Don’t get me wrong – I’d still chose a life without bloody pain any day – but since I cannot make that choice, I might as well do something good with it.
That is the reason for for sharing my story now. That, and the fact that it might be better to scream into a void in the internet (where Janet from the Good Place resides, probably) than in my own head.
To my fellow “spooners”, I do not want to be a quiet sufferer, nor do I want to be a beacon of positivity. I simply want to tell you that it is alright to acknowledge a painful identity.