What I'm about to say is very important for me to say. But more than that, it's very important for anyone who has a chronic illness or who is suffering from a "mystery illness" that hasn't been diagnosed yet.
For the past three years that I'm aware of, and including incidents that go back maybe seven years or more, I have been living with untreated asthma. There are three components to asthma. One is that your airways swell, making it harder to get oxygen in your body and distributed to muscles, your brain, your heart, your blood—all the places we need oxygen. That's one part of the disease. Another part is that, on top of that, your swollen airways constrict...the muscles tighten, making the airways even smaller. Then you start making phlegm and you cough and wheeze. I never had the coughing and wheezing part, but I had the other two.
Just one of those two things—swelling or constriction—can make your life miserable. When you have those two things together, you have a full-blown asthma attack. People die from untreated asthma attacks. And when you don't die from it, you're slowly being choked to death. If you can't get enough oxygen into your lungs, every other body function suffers. If there's not enough in your blood, your heart has to work harder to move what you do have around. If your muscles can't get enough, your body is weak and doesn't bounce back very fast. Your metabolism slows. If you can't breathe when you're sleeping, you don't get enough rest, nor can you get quality rest. And if you don't have it in your brain, you can't think. Simply put, we need oxygen to function. Most people's blood oxygen levels are in the 95%-100% range. We have no idea what mine were since 2013, but in the hospital, under care, recovering and pumped up on steroids, I was lucky to hit 85%.
I'm explaining all of this because everything is different today, a week later. EV. ERY. THING. I mulch mowed my leaves yesterday. Normally, that would be all I could do in a day. I'd collapse and it would take at least 24 hours for me to get up enough energy to, say, rinse the dishes in the sink. That sounds dramatic, but it is absolutely what my experience was for three years. Some days I would be awake only long enough to do work for my clients and I would sleep the rest of the day, because I couldn't get enough sleep. But yesterday, I got tired, yes. But I bounced right back and had energy to cook dinner, build a fire in the fire pit and do some cleaning. Holy crap! I couldn't have accomplished all that in a week some weeks!
Of course I complained to my doctors. My trusted doctor...I held on to him for too long. I would go in and he would tell me that of course I'm exhausted, I'm morbidly obese. And I am. I'd love to pawn that off on some disease, but the truth of the matter is that I have a) unfortunate genes in regard to my metabolism and, here's the real reason, b) an unhealthy attachment to chocolate and sweets. So if it sounds like I'm excusing my weight at any point, I'm not. But I have been working with a nutritionist for years and I changed my diet and couldn't lose a pound. I would exercise more and couldn't lose a pound. I would tell my doctor this and he would say I have to try harder. I'm just not pushing myself enough. He said I was depressed and suggested I might be a hypochondriac. And hey, I get that. That's one way to read to read the situation. But that wasn't the case. So I would try harder and still not get results.
What I didn't know then that I know now is that I would go into a full-blown asthma attack almost every day trying to exercise for my doctor...trying to do the right thing...the thing my doctor told me...the very thing that, but for the grace of god, could have killed me. There wasn't a day in three years that breathing wasn't hard for me. There wasn't a week that would go by without full-blown, untreated asthma attacks, each of which, if as bad as what ended me in the hospital, could have killed me. Hindsight is 20/20, but my doctor was giving me deadly advice, because he wasn't willing to look past my weight. And I got a new doctor.
And here's the deal...any doctor that looks at me is going to see the obvious. I'm nearly 6' tall and over 100 lbs overweight. I'm a huge woman. Any doctor is probably going to rule out asthma, because I never coughed or wheezed once in all those years, despite having smoked for half my life. So I wasn't presenting the way I should. And, to a degree, any doctor is going to question the veracity of my complaints because of my size and that damn needle on the scale that would not move. So I get it.
But the thing is, my complaints were never different over the years. I can't count how many times I said to doctors "there is something else going on here beyond weight. Something else is wrong." And, oddly, the week before I went into the hospital, my primary care doctor said "let's just try you on albuterol (an asthma inhaler) and see if that works for you when you're having trouble." And one thing led to another and I never got that prescription. My new doctor was looking for answers, but in the nine months she's been my doctor, things were a little better. I wasn't having full-blow attacks very often. I don't know if my body adjusted or maybe my new thyroid medications helped alleviate enough that, while I was still having trouble breathing, I wasn't having attacks day after day.
Anyway, now, with all that background, I can get the point of this post. For years, I was told I was lazy. Not trying hard enough. I was fat shamed. I was called a hypochondriac. I had a doctor throwing antidepressants at me because I would cry about how much I was suffering and how he wasn't listening. Outside of that guy, I know how society in general looks at a woman my size. There is absolutely no one who can look at me and not say "I wonder if her energy issues have anything to do with her size." I get it. I really get it. But add that up and pile it upon someone who has been merely surviving for years, and it takes an emotional toll.
So I wouldn't complain as much as I wanted to, because the overall consensus was that I was a fat, lazy whiner. And I started asking myself "can I try harder? Have I just become lazy? Is it possible I'm depressed? Is this just normal for people over 50?" And I started doubting that thing inside me that kept saying "something else is wrong here. There's something really wrong." I knew I wasn't able to do the stuff I should be able to do, and I gave in to the belief that I was weak, lazy, a complainer, in denial about my efforts at weight loss. I lost or was losing my ability to believe in myself.
While the spiritual part of me was probably in the best shape of my life, keeping me positive and seeing blessings, my self definition and self esteem was at a low point. As a writer, I've had a successful career, imo. I'm able to be self employed doing something I love. I win awards. And on top of that, I'm a published author, an expert on tarot, a tarot teacher, a blogger. I'm not lazy and I'm not a loser. In fact, my ambitions reach beyond what I have already accomplished in my life. I believe I can do big things.
But I was beginning to believe that those ambitions were beyond me. I was beginning to believe I'd lost my chance to accomplish what I came here to accomplish in this lifetime. This goes beyond depression. Maybe I was depressed, I don't know. But this went to the very core of my self beliefs and my mission here on earth. I can't tell you how upsetting, demoralizing and sad it is face having to put your dreams for yourself to the side, possibly for the rest of your life. It attacked everything I believed in about myself and how the universe moves through people. It was more devastating than the disease itself.
Now, in the wake of last week's hospitalization and FINALLY being treated for this disease, everything I thought about myself and worried about myself is out the door. I'm not a fat, lazy, complainer. (Well, I am overweight, but I wasn't sick because I was fat. You don't get asthma from being fat.) What I am, instead, is a fucking badass.
Really. You put a 100lb suit on any human and take away their ability to breathe for years and I'd wager few would come out of this as well as I have. There is no amount of words that can express the constant pain, exhaustion and fear I've been managing, all while serving my clients, writing my blogs, staying positive, maintaining relationships and keeping things like mowing and dog care and the everyday chores of life done. In fact, I didn't even know until I felt the absence of it, but I've been in a state of low level panic/fear for years..."what if I have an attack? Will I be able to make from the car to the store? WTF is WRONG WITH ME???" I get why I doubted myself. I think anyone would. But all along, I've been a fucking badass.
I have had a lifelong flirtation with allowing others to define my reality. I think it's one of those things that comes from being human. Right now I know someone out there is beginning to doubt themselves and starting to believe the things someone else is saying. Maybe it has nothing to do with illness. Maybe you have an abusive friend or partner. Maybe you've just been rejected for a job. Maybe you've bought into society's stereotype of a fat person. Or a black person. Or a disabled person.
Whatever it is that has you doubting yourself, hang on. Someone or something is counting on your total submission in order to control you. Don't let it win. Keep believing in yourself. Keep trusting what you know is true. You are not alone. Either a solution is at hand or the problem that leads to the solution is forming. Don't give up. Take care of yourself. Keep yourself safe. And don't stop believing in yourself. A week ago I was in an Emergency Room situation. Now I'm on top of the world. Things can change quickly and suddenly for the better if you're not able to change things for yourself. Your time is coming.
During my story, I began to believe I was weak, lazy, depressed and unworthy. But now that this particular volume of my life appears to have come to a conclusion, I can see context and have perspective. And it turns out that I was fucking awesome and amazing through every single chapter. I just couldn't see it. I couldn't see all I was doing. I was in survival mode and my perspective was skewed. I think anyone would have been challenged by this. And, realizing that, I can't go back to the insecure, unsure person I was before I got sick. I now know what I'm truly capable of. And that is the gift of these crises in our lives.
We can become trapped by our stories, and many people choose that through victimhood or giving up on ourselves or just not letting go and moving on. Or we can mine our stories for their gold and use them as a launchpad for the best ever version of ourselves. It's purely our choice. So the good news is, if you're currently in crisis, you will have an opportunity to rise above. The bad news is that you have to be willing to choose yourself first—before choosing your story, before choosing another person, before letting others define you—until. I now know how hard that can be, especially when you stop believing "until" will ever come. In retrospect, I can't believe I survived the past few years in such a way that, a week later, I can be ready to move forward and not look back. But I know if I could hold on long enough to get here, you can too.