Still Learning to Cope

Back in the fall of 2014 I had a major breakdown. I have lived with POTS for many years, but in the last 2-3 years my symptoms have become more severe. Then I reached a point, where I felt that I was losing the daily battle to keep a life worth living. I was exhausted both physically and mentally, and in the end I contemplated doing the most drastic thing, which a person can do, to escape my situation. But luckily some part of me fought against the temptation, and in the end I sought help.

Since then I have been trying to come to terms with living like this. It has not been easy. I went on sick leave. I got professional help. And I used hours just staring at the wall trying to figure out what to do with my feelings about my life. I had been ignoring my feelings for quite some time because I felt like I should be OK with my medical condition since I have lived with it for so long. It was like I had a deep-rooted feeling that it was unacceptable to struggle with the whole concept of having a chronic illness for more than a few years after being diagnosed.

Well, I was not used to it, no matter how much I wanted to be. I had focused so much on getting my life to work, on keeping my job, on keeping my husband and on maintaining a social life that I had not been focusing on keeping my sanity. And that fall I was paying the price for the neglect. It was a very scary time for me, and I can only imagine how scary it must have been for the people close to me. I hit the bottom and then had to climb even though it made my fingers bleed and my body ache.

I knew that it was important that I did not let my body fall apart as well. I, therefore, kept doing all the things I normally do to keep it as healthy as possible: yoga, eating right, breathing right, meditating, keeping hydrated, etc. In some ways, I made that my “job” in the period where I stayed at home. I tried to establish a feeling of joy in all these activities. In the beginning, this was not easy since I felt like it was an almost useless effort. I mean, why use time and energy on preserving a sick body, when I wanted so much to get away from it, that I thought death was a solution. But I have always been stubborn, so I kept doing it and kept seeking a feeling of pleasure in the tasks.

At the same time, I started working with my mind. I went to a psychologist, who helped me a lot. But the main change came, when I began working actively with my thoughts by studying and meditating. I found a lot of different books about various aspects of developing a healthy mind: books about Zen, meditation techniques, changing unhealthy thought patterns, etc. I did however NOT read anything directly about sickness and chronic disorders. My choice of inspiration was not a conscious one at the time, but I noticed the tendency afterward. In some ways I think it was a smart move to focus on finding a positive attitude instead of focusing on the sickness. My studies gave me a lot of new techniques, thoughts and ideas on how to change my mind in a way that made it healthier. The studies then gave me the inspiration to contemplate ways to cope with POTS.

Gradually I started to feel a calming sensation spread in my body and mind. I felt connected to my body in a new and intense way. I started feeling more that “I am my body” instead of “I have a body”. And since my body has POTS, the sickness is also me, and, therefore, “I am my POTS”. But not in a way, where I define myself only in terms of POTS, but more that POTS is a part of me in the same manner as my lungs are. I do not define myself constantly by my lungs, but I have no doubt about them being a part of the entity that is I.

In spring, I was back at work on part time and gradually increased the work hours until I was back on full time. Today I feel so much better, and last fall seems like an unreal nightmare that happened to someone else. But I know it happened to me, and I know I have to take care not to end back there again.

Although my mental health has improved, my physical health has not improved, for no amount of rest or healthy routines can make my POTS symptoms disappear or just decrease. Every day is still a battle for living a normal life within POTS’s constrains. And now I also fight to keep a healthy mind. Although I, therefore, have an increased “workload” for my everyday life, I do feel stronger and happier today than I have felt during my whole life with the chronic condition. In the same manner as I keep my body strong by doing yoga every day, I now seek to keep my mind strong by meditating, studying inspirational books and contemplating my life for a short time every day.

Of course there are days when I don’t have as much energy for all this work with my body and mind (which I do along with a full-time job), so I do take breaks. But after just a day of relaxation I start feeling an urge for my routines because I can feel how good they are for me. At some point, I hope that many of them become second nature, so I don’t have to be quite so focused. Now I just keep my fingers crossed that I do not fall back into that dark and terrible pit of despair. And I keep reminding myself that learning to cope with a chronic illness is not a one-time thing, it is a continuous effort that needs attention and hard work.

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