Well it happened: my first relapse. In my recent post about the Slot, I explained how I was worried that if I didn’t keep going every week, I would fall into my old habits. That both is and isn’t what ended up happening. I cannot say that I am not disappointed, but I am also not going to let these setbacks keep me down like I would have in the past. Sometimes when I put my heart and soul into something, I allow myself to get far too discouraged if it doesn’t go exactly the way I think it should. I beat myself up about my failure, and just convince myself to give up.
It has been a little over two and a half months since my last outing, and what a rough few months it has been. I was working on a few posts at the time, which I hope to finish shortly, but had to take a break due to some unfortunate circumstances. Following our camping trip to Kitchen Valley in July (post coming soon) Jeremy became very ill, which lasted for about two weeks before he finally ended up in the hospital. He was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis 15 years ago, but he maintained it pretty well and this was the first time a flare up required hospitalization for him. He was admitted immediately and stayed for over a week, during which time he couldn’t eat or sleep and became so weak that he couldn’t even stand on his own. I spent most of the nights on a cot in his hospital room, trying to comfort him as he moaned and cried in pain. Days were spent in a chair next to his bed, watching Life Below Zero marathons with the shades down while he tried to get any bit of sleep that he could. I would leave only to go to work, and I would bring my laptop with me to the hospital to ensure I got in every hour of work I could since we knew he was going to be out of commission for a while. The stress and lack of sleep really took a toll on my mind and body, but it was nothing compared to what he was going through.
He spent almost the entire eight days in the hospital on IV fluids since he couldn’t eat, and being shot up with steroids to get his condition under control. By the time he was released he had lost close to 30 lbs. and by the next week after that it was closer to 40 lbs. since he still couldn’t stomach anything but the occasional soup. For a few weeks he required constant care, and since all of his medications were steroids he was having intense mood swings. As his condition slowly improved and he was able to get around on his own a bit, he started going to work for a few hours a day. Finally about a month after his release he was able to start working full time again, though his body was still too weak to return to his normal job, which requires a ton of physical exertion. His boss was extremely supportive throughout the entire ordeal, even visiting him during his hospital stay, and found work that he could do that was less tiresome on his body.
Things were progressing nicely, and started getting back to normal. Then one day I came home from work and discovered that Jeremy had, due to a side effect of his medication, had an accident which resulted in a nasty sprain in his knee. He was just finishing up his course of steroids, which had also been giving him awful tremors and making him occasionally lightheaded. He was shaking so badly that I could see it from across the room when he was just standing still. He had gone to his doctor for a check up that morning and asked them about it, and they told him not to worry, and that since his round of that medication was done the side effects should be starting to disappear. Then later that night he was simply standing up from the couch and became so lightheaded that he started to fall over. He went to catch himself and stepped on something on the floor, completely losing his balance (it sounds more comical than it really was!). His leg twisted underneath him and he landed on it, and at the same time his tremors started in full force and he was unable to move. He was lying there for several minutes with his leg twisted underneath his body, essentially having a seizure in our living room while I was at work. This resulted in another trip to the ER, where he was given crutches and told to keep off of it for 4-6 weeks, but because he was tired of being bedridden he insisted on returning to work the next day.
He got around on his crutches for about a week before insisting that he try to walk. His body was still so weak that it was difficult for him to use the crutches without pain and fatigue. No to mention that for somebody who is as physically active as he normally is, sitting still any longer was like torture for him. Unfortunately, he injured himself further and now the entire process as started again, perhaps worse this time. He has no choice but to use the crutches, and we’re now in the third month of this entire ordeal.
As I said, I am more than aware that this situation has been far more painful for him than it was for me. I cannot even imagine what this has been like for him! He is usually so energetic and he has been confined to a bed, hospital room, or our small apartment for weeks! I know that he has been getting stir crazy, which is part of the reason why he insisted on getting back to work so soon. And though I have been consumed with worry for him, I cannot deny the strain that it has put on my own health, both mentally and physically. Though I have been doing substantially better as of late, I am not completely stable and my mental health is still a fragile thing. Over time I have noticed a trigger for my depression is a lack of sleep, and that has definitely been the case as of late. I haven’t had a full night’s sleep since this started, and with the added stress of the situation I’ve definitely had a bit of my own relapse.
I have actually been amazed at what I was able to push through in order to help him, simply because I didn’t know I had it in me. His own mental state, especially while in the hospital, has been one of despair. With autoimmune diseases like this one of the biggest side effects is anxiety and depression, and now I understand why. He has been laid up in pain for months, and unable to go anywhere, cook for himself, or really just do anything but go to work. I’ve been having to stay calm and keep a brave face on for him, when it is often difficult enough doing that for myself. When people have asked me about him, I just smile and laugh it off so that I won’t become overwhelmed with emotion. When it is difficult just to pull yourself out of bed in the morning, taking on another’s well-being can be too much. My life has been consumed not only with his needs, but by trying to keep myself together in an extremely stressful time. Once he started to get to the point where he didn’t need me to be there every second, he encouraged me to get out and go for walks or hikes again. By then it had been weeks since I had been hiking, I was starting to lose the stamina that I was building during our adventures, plus I was worried about going by myself. He was usually my hiking partner, and though I am part of female hiking groups online I always feel too self conscious to go out with them. On top of that, my body ached from weeks of sleeping on either a hospital cot or futon, and I was just plain exhausted.
It may seem as though I am complaining, which I am sure that I am, but in reality that is not my intent. In an odd way I feel that some positives have come out of this experience, for both of us. For him I think that this ordeal helped him to really examine himself, and his life. From his thought patterns, behaviors, and mental issues, to even just the food he was eating. He started meditating while he was in the hospital, and I bought him some books on nutrition that have been helping him to understand how his diet had been contributing to this backslide. And though he may not admit it, I feel as though he had been running himself into the ground. Being on his bike all day wears his body out, and he had not been taking in the right amount or types of food to fuel this energy he burned. We have both been stressed out a lot lately, which we both struggle with releasing. Though I don’t wish this situation on him or anyone else, I feel as though his body really needed to be allowed to rest. Sometimes our bodies have to break down in order for us to stop, and I kind of believe that is what happened here!
I too learned similar lessons, but I feel that my take away was a bit different. I know that my mental struggles can sometimes make me selfish, and there are times when I can’t bring myself to care about anyone or anything. If you don’t have the same struggles, perhaps that sounds harsh. It isn’t intentional, and of course in reality I do care. Sometimes it just gets to the point where it consumes you though. You feel nothing, you go through the motions and get through each day by just pretending. I feel a bit like soulless Sam Winchester, minus the whole psychopath part. I pick each word, I laugh at the appropriate part of a conversation, I play the part of a functional human being and yet inside I don’t feel any of it.
So here I was, unable to muster up any care for myself on a daily basis but all of the sudden having another person relying on me completely. On my bad days Jeremy has been the one to take care of the driving, groceries, cooking, etc. and this is something that I sadly came to depend on. Though not purposefully, I used this to enable my unhealthy habits. I was finally getting the kick in the butt to become independent again. Shopping, cooking, cleaning, going to work… it was like I was becoming the functioning person I had been pretending to be! And though it has been overwhelming, I am feeling more confident and self sufficient. Another issue that has reared its head is my own over sensitivity. I take everything to heart, and consider everything more personal than I should. Having somebody that you care about, whom you are trying to take of during a difficult time, jacked up on steroids and getting pissed off about everything is extremely taxing. This has been a harsh lesson in not letting things get to me, but one that I welcome even if it has been painful.
I have also had a chance throughout this experience to realize some of the blessings that we have in our lives, and focus on being thankful for them. I am thankful that I hold a position where I have the freedom to work remotely, since I was able to be at his side while not causing further strain to our finances. I am thankful that though we my not be rich, we are in a much better position than we have been in the past and this situation did not completely knock us down. I am thankful that after several years with this employer they finally extended some benefits to their remote workers, as I was able to utilize some of my “family health leave” for the hours that I could not complete. I am thankful that his boss has been so unbelievably kind over the last few months, not all employers would be so understanding about their employee missing so much work. He found a way to get him back to working full time until he can get back to his normal job, and even started driving him to work every morning! I am thankful for the lessons that we have both learned, which will enable us to be better individuals and partners to one another. Most of all I am thankful that this situation was not any worse. It has been long, and it has been trying, but many people with his condition are completely disabled by it.
So while this may not be some fun adventure like those we have been experiencing lately, it has been an adventure nonetheless. Instead of giving up because it has been too long since I’ve gone out, I’ve started trying to condition my body again by walking to work and getting in some yoga. I refuse to be drawn back into the unhealthy state that I lived in for so long. Yes, I am stressed out and mentally burnt out. Yes, I wake up each morning having had way too little sleep, contemplating if this is the day I have a mental breakdown. But I am pushing through it and not allowing myself to be defeated.