Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Exiting Sicktown

Having a chronic, debilitating, and/or life threatening health problem gives you an unwelcome ticket.

A ticket to Sicktown.

Sicktown is sneaky. You usually don't even make a conscious effort to get there. It's not a fun place. Sometimes you never even knew you were on a train there and then two years later you look around and think "Where the hell am I and why am I so sad?"

That's what happened to me.

One day I "woke up" surrounded by books on health, a humongous bowl of one of the most unappetizing salads I had ever made sitting before me, looking at current pictures of myself that did not look like me. I realized I wasn't living in the actual world anymore.

So let's play Jeff Foxworthy.
You might be in Sicktown if:

-You have at LEAST one doctor's appointment a week
-You can't count on one hand the number of health professionals you consult with on a monthly basis
-All your fiction and non-fiction books have been replaced by books on your condition, nutrition, spirituality, etc.
-When you see people going about their normal lives your first thought is, "Don't they know?"  
Don't they know what you might say?
Don't they know you are struggling? Don't they know that life contains scary possibilities? That it is dangerous and full of suffering?

Nope they don't.
And if they do - they have put it out of their minds during dinner.

And they are enjoying their cheese dip.

I'm ready to get out of here and rejoin them. But I'm not sure how to leave. The exits are not well marked and there is always the nagging fact that even if I leave Sicktown, I still carry my problem (and my numerous doctor appointments) with me no matter how many times I try to put it all down.

I admire those with a chronic illness who keep on keepin' on with a smile on their face. And I aspire to be one of them. I can't change my disease but I can change how I react to it.

So my first baby steps out of Sicktown include:

1) Reading normal books FOR FUN again and avoiding google. 
I know all the things that anyone knows about IL. I'm not going to learn anything new anytime soon. I'm getting rid of all my sick books. A few get to stay on the shelf but only if they are uplifting.
I highly recommend Louise Hay's You Can Heal Your Life and Heart Thoughts and Carolyn Myss's Defy Gravity. I also really enjoy Kris Carr's Crazy Sexy Diet and her blog. Although I don't eat that way anymore I love her voice. They get to hang around.

2) Switch my process around.
For the last several years I've been trying to reach happiness through health. For many people this probably works. But what happens if you can't really do anything about your health? So I'm switching my goal. I'm going to try to reach health through happiness. I'm going to remember that being vegan made me pretty miserable. No matter how many vegetables and beans I ate I was ALWAYS hungry. I need some meat. Maybe not a lot but at least some. However, after all my health research I will remember to try to eat as many vegetables as possible, I will drink my green juice (when I can), and I will never ever look at dairy as a health food again. Will I still eat dairy? Yup! Especially yogurt and delicious, stinky blue cheese, but I'm not going to kid myself that eating low-fat cheese sticks constitutes a healthy snack. And drinking cow milk? No way!

What makes me happy? Coca-Cola! Kraft Mac and Cheese (made with almond milk)! Clothes! Writing and reading! Knitting! The beach! Happiness: that's what I'm going to focus on.

3) Let the phrase, "This to shall pass" be my motto. 
I'm lucky in that I'm not always dealing with the effects of my IL. It comes and goes. But when it comes it is painful and present and I tend to get really upset (ok ok slightly hysterical) and forget that in the very very near future it will go again. So I will always try to remember that my condition is not permanent. And for that I will be grateful.

4) Take a cue from JTS and welcome change.
I'm a worrier and I don't like change. To me all change can only lead to terrible, new problems. My husband looks at change as an open invitation for something great to happen. He is inspiring in that regard and that's going to be my goal. Instead of saying "oh no!" I'm going to try to think of the good that can come.

5) Releasing my worrier without relying on my anxiety crutch: alcohol.
For a little more than a decade I honestly thought that I had gotten rid of my crushing anxiety. I even bragged about how much of an anxiety addict I was in early high school and how I had left her behind in a cloud of nonchalant dust. Then I joined Sicktown and stopped drinking nightly. Slowly, very slowly, I realized that my worrier had never gone anywhere at all. I had just taped her mouth shut with beer, wine, and gin and tonics. And that was easy and honestly, pretty fun. But it wasn't real. And it wasn't healthy. So my new task is to bid adieu to the anxiety on my own.

So in 2013 I'm heading out of Sicktown whether I actually have a clean bill of health or not. I'm creating my own map of a full life, not just the sick parts. I'll send postcards along the way.

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