I’ll have to say, having a chronic illness has certainly done nothing to aid in my fight against my anxiety. It seems like the more physical symptoms I exude, the more anxious I get.
This makes sense really. The more physical symptoms I experience, the more I suddenly have to fear, or lose.
The scariest thing of all is when I push my beyond my brain’s limits, beyond what I think I can’t do, and I try my absolute hardest only to realize – I still can’t do it.
This looks/feels/tastes/sounds a lot like failure.
A few nights ago, I went to a concert with my boyfriend and two of our friends.
I was excited about this plan, and I even took off of work for the day after the show, knowing I’d probably be up late.
There was a voice in the back of my mind the entire day leading up to the show – the same voice I’ve heard for years now. The voice that reminds me that every single time I try to go somewhere or do something fun (especially something that has time constraints) I end up getting sick. My stomach flares up and I’m stuck sweating, nauseated, and suffering from stomach pain and diarrhea.
A strange way I’ve attempted to combat this attack is by driving myself everywhere I go. If I’m in my own car, by myself, I can typically combat the anxieties of feeling ill, stop anywhere I need to whenever I can, or if I get so sick and I cannot stop, well – at least I’m alone in my own car.
Unfortunately, the practicalities of these strange and unusual parameters I’ve placed on myself are rather nonexistent when I try to do anything with anyone else.
The day of the show was no exception.
As I left work, preparing to drive to my boyfriend’s home, my stomach lurched and stabbed. Sharp, unforgiving pains made me wince as I walked to my car. I breathed heavily, my best friend and coworker’s voice was reaching my ears but I couldn’t digest what she was saying, not like I had wanted to – “You’ll be fine! You’ll have fun!” Tell that to my stomach. Tell that to the pain, the urgency, the sheer panic, that had started so quickly there was nothing I could do to stop it.
Christ, I thought I’d been through it enough times to learn how to make it stop. I thought I’d worn myself down from stress and worry enough times that I could get a grip on it. I thought I’d taken the right combination of drugs. I thought I’d eaten the right foods. I thought I’d breathed deep enough, cried about it long enough, fucking talked it through enough times that it just wouldn’t even have to happen this time.
I was wrong.
I drove quickly. I was miserable. I didn’t even want to go anymore. I was defeated. I was angry.
I got to his house. I spent nearly 20 minutes in the bathroom and then our friends arrived. I held no lies, my face wasn’t going to fake anything for me. I stated I didn’t feel well, and that came as a surprise to no one. It was time to go, and I was already exhausted.
We got into the car. My boyfriend was driving, as he has plenty of times with me in the passenger seat, I reminded myself. Our friends sat in the backseat.
We began talking about a relevant and current topic. A topic that held enough of my attention that it should’ve served as a valid enough distraction to what was happening in my body, but it did not.
We were 26 minutes away from the venue. We’d left only 6 minutes prior. My lower abdomen writhed, a cold sweat broke across my forehead, and the urgency that followed brought tears to my eyes. We were stopped at a red light. “I need a bathroom”, I choked. “Okay.” My boyfriend navigated to a restaurant parking lot nearby, and I went in to use the bathroom, apologizing to our friends in the back as I stumbled out of the car.
After using the bathroom, I got back into the car with a deeper misery that I’d shown up with. We began to drive away and I felt like I should’ve just stayed locked in that single stall. I rolled the window down, tears threatened my eyes, and closing them only seemed to make me nauseous.
17 minutes away and I stated again that I had to stop, just as we approached traffic. I began to cry and hoped that the sadness and emotional pain I was feeling would dull the physical pain and sickness that was relentlessly holding me.
The wave of urgency passed, as it sometimes does. It’s so very rare that it does, but I am so grateful that it did.
I made it to the venue, I was even feeling well enough to stand outside and wait for the doors to open – we were early.
7pm – I had crossed what I expected to be the only bridge I had to cross that night, but I was wrong.
I stood with my boyfriend and our friends, sipping ginger ale, and listening to talented musicians play songs I didn’t know, but enjoyed nonetheless. The nagging pokes of my chronic pain were begging to be noticed, and I kept pretending I didn’t feel them. I swayed and smiled and tried my level best to be thankful I wasn’t stuck in the bathroom, and happy that I was with people that cared for me while doing something I love – but as hard as I tried, I was not strong enough.
- I could’ve taken my cane out of my purse.
- I could’ve maybe used it for support before the pain got too bad.
- I was embarrassed and chose not to do so.
Pain hooked around my hips and shot down my legs. I had been standing for 4 hours straight.
I let the pain hold me for another hour before I pushed passed people singing at the top of their lungs to get into the bathroom.
I stood in the stall and cried. The music wasn’t very loud in here and I wasn’t alone. I wondered if the other women in the bathroom thought I was crying because I was drunk – or because I’d heard a song that reminded me of heartbreak.
I wiped my face, and walked myself to the bar in the back where I’d remembered seeing a small square high top table and two chairs shoved against a wall. The space was occupied by a couple when we’d first arrived.
The couple was still there when I found the table, but they were both on one of the chairs and I practically yelled in their faces when I asked if I could sit in the other chair.
I sat for what felt like hours. The venue got louder, my body grew heavier. I was exhausted. I could not feel the energy of the crowd lifting me. I could not enjoy the music. I begged for it to be over.
My boyfriend found me. He held on to me. He did not make me feel bad for sitting.
When the entire show was over, I stumbled my way to the car and once home, I collapsed into bed and slept for 13 hours straight. I did not wake up one single time. Not to pee, not for a drink – nothing. I had pushed myself past all of my limits, and I was to pay for it.
I cannot really wrap my mind around the disappointment I have in my body for not letting me enjoy what I’d set out to do. I pushed myself passed my anxieties only to suffer what I’d tried so hard to avoid, and suffer after what I’d not expected would be nearly so harsh.
I want to believe that what does not kill us merely makes us stronger, but I do not feel stronger. I feel tired.
I’m not going to stop doing the things I want to do because of these hurdles I have to jump over – but I’m going to have to do things at my pace. I’ll have to drive myself. I’ll have to take the cane out for support regardless of whether I’m embarrassing myself or the people around me.
I have restrictions and challenges, and I cannot pretend that I do not, just because I want to do something fun. Chronic illnesses do not take breaks. They do not relax on holidays. They do not lay low when I am busy.
I am still learning my limits. I’m learning I can set boundaries. I’m learning that I have boundaries that I haven’t set willingly, and if I do not accept that – this battle will be that uphill both ways in the snow ordeal that our parents always told us about.