Resolutions of two varieties

So the positive resolution is that finally, almost six years after my son got hit by a car, our lawsuits against the insurance companies have been settled without going to trial.

I’m glad it didn’t go to trial because I definitely don’t feel strong enough right now to relive that chapter of my life. The deposition (by now a couple years ago) was hard enough, reliving the details of the accident. I definitely have some PTSD from that.

Since my son and husband are co-plaintiffs now that my son is a legal adult, they’ll be allocating the money between them somehow, my son obviously getting the majority. We didn’t get as much as we hoped for but our share will likely be enough to pay off the balance on my car and pay off some small debts. My son will get a pretty good chunk of change, especially for an 18-year-old, but fortunately the only thing he wants to spend it on is a used car and wants to save the rest.

My youngest should get enough to pay for an inexpensive used car as well as compensation for witnessing the accident. So that long and painful chapter of our lives will soon be coming to an end.

Just in time for other battle: my husband’s cancer. For the second week in a row, his chemo treatment was canceled because his white blood cell count was too low. It actually dropped from last week. I guess that’s a testament to just how powerful the chemo was.

But even though I really don’t want to be brave–in fact, it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done, even harder than when I moved down here alone–I have to make a resolution to be optimistic. I can’t be around any negativity at all.

It’s time to find that fighter spirit in me, the same one that healed my dermoid ovarian cyst weeks before surgery, using only visualization and chakra healing. That was almost 20 years ago and I haven’t used it again, but it’s time I find that reserve of strength that I know is still within me.

I’ve done a lot of things in my life that required great strength. From coming down here alone for almost four months to make a way for my husband and kids to pursuing big publications to getting through undergrad with honors with virtually no child care and three little children, I can be tough when I need to be.

My anxiety is coming back and it’s taking more effort to beat it. Every time my husband’s chemo gets canceled, it fills me with more fears. I’ve even started obsessing more about my own health and my future. I am torn between living in the moment, not borrowing trouble thinking about the what-ifs about the future, and planning how I’ll survive as a widow. It’s a terrifying rollercoaster ride to be on.

My best friend can’t leave me yet. If he does, I’ll cope somehow, but I just can’t let myself think about it in advance. I truly believe that it will all work out how it’s supposed to, whether or not that’s for the good. But the next few years are going to be a fight.

So it’s time to make and keep a resolution to be strong. To call on the strength that has gotten me through other times almost as challenging as this one. I’ve never really tried to cure my MS using my strength of mind, figuring it was my cross to bear. Yet maybe I can.

But for my husband and my desperate wish for his survival, I will summon that strength and be the best fighter and advocate for him that I can be.

Anxiety, religion, and finding calm

I was reading through some of my old blog entries and noticed that it’s now been almost six months or so since I stopped forcing the issue of religion at all and accepted that it’s just not for me.

The part I realized that surprised me: I found the freedom from anxiety and peace that I was always seeking from religion–but I found it within myself.

Perhaps ironically, it was getting a very Catholic tattoo of the Miraculous Medal that was the turning point. It led to me finally giving up on the tortured struggle I’d been putting myself through for nine years.

When I gave myself permission to let go of trying so hard to believe something that I mostly didn’t that I shifted my focus to developing my own sense of inner peace. I do have a pretty strong sense of my true self and the reason for the years-long religious struggle was because I was fighting against what I really believed.

I don’t have anything against people who choose to believe. I think that it’s really childish to look down on people just because they’re Christian. But as much as I wish I could be a devout believer of an organized religion, I’m just not–that’s not the way I’m wired. I still have a few Catholic practices and sacramentals around my home because that’s a largely cultural thing that brings me some comfort.

But I had a really interesting revelation yesterday. I realized that even though I have moments when I’m scared of my husband’s cancer diagnosis, I am also calm about it.

That doesn’t mean that I never acknowledge the potential gravity of the situation. That doesn’t mean I never cry about it. I don’t even know that I can adequately explain the difference, other than to say that my reaction is free of the anxiety and panic it would have caused in me a year or two ago.

I don’t think it’s because of the medication I’m taking, although I’m sure that doesn’t hurt. In truth, my medication helps my depression. But I had to retrain my brain to fix my anxiety.

Somewhere along the way, I learned that my anxiety was almost always an over-reaction to things that hadn’t happened yet. I let my thoughts of “what if” run away from me, which kept me in an almost perpetual state of panic. Even if I wasn’t in panic mode, it took almost nothing to get me there.

My oldest, who also deals with anxiety and is seeing a therapist (about which I’m SO proud), often talked with me about our mutual tendencies toward what we called catastrophizing. We both had habits — which I’m sure he learned from me, in addition to sharing a genetic component — of assessing a situation and assuming the worst possible outcome, despite a lack of evidence.

We started to gently point it out to each other when the other was doing it. Like most cognitive distortions, I’ve learned that it’s often a habit that can be unlearned with some consistent effort. He has also made a lot of progress.

How you react to anxiety–whether your own or others’–either amplifies it or defuses it. If I overreacted to his anxiety (which I sometimes did in a misguided effort to validate him), I actually gave him more reason to believe that anxiety was a justified reaction.

Being mostly free of the anxiety that was once almost crippling is giving me the sense of peace within myself that I always wanted to find in religion.

But because I’ve also started to honor my true self, I’m no longer bothered by other people’s practice of religion. My husband finds Catholicism very helpful and comforting to him, especially as he’s going through chemo and cancer. I’m fully supportive of him doing what brings him peace. Sometimes I wish it also brought me the same peace, but I no longer beat myself up over the fact that it doesn’t.

I’m grateful that I started doing this work on myself. Really, it started more than a year ago, when I realized I was better off with a much smaller circle so I could focus on healing than to be around people who were actively discouraging it. I’ve read elsewhere that when you want to work on healing yourself, you won’t be able to bring everybody with you. But I at least hope that someday they too will do the same work.

The cool thing is that as you grow, your feeling of peace gets stronger. You discover that you are indeed strong enough to handle things like being permanently disabled with a progressive illness and a husband with cancer. Because your peace is inside you, it never leaves.

All those corny things you read about becoming your own best friend are true. It changes all your closest relationships, too: you just deeply appreciate all of them in a way you couldn’t before. You no longer feel desperate and needy but more like they complement you. If I’ve made this much progress in less than a year, I’m excited to see how things will change with more time. How I’ll react if true disasters do happen.

But so far, my husband’s cancer is the biggest test of my anxiety-management skills. And other than a few scary moments, I really do feel calm and at peace.

Nature vs medicine

I saw that someone recently read one of my old posts. Whenever I see that people have done that, I like to go back and reread what I wrote before and reflect on it.

In the post, I was wondering if I really needed disability and if my symptoms would go away if I got off all medications and started exercising more. The truth is not quite that simple.

I’ve discovered that the most important factor is actually sleep (or lack thereof.) When I have jobs with standard office hours, that’s so contrary to my natural body clock that it causes my insomnia. I get anxious that I won’t wake up on time and that anxiety reaches a point where it’s so strong that even sleeping pills won’t override it. Voila: no sleep and the whole cycle of pain and fatigue begins again or gets worse.

I’ve tried to change my schedule to no avail; I’ve been this way since I was a young kid. I could resolve it with a job that works on almost any other schedule, but few other schedules pay well (unless they’re in fields I can’t do) and it takes away time I usually spend with the family. Not sure how to address that.

But the medication question is something else entirely. For me, I realize that the question isn’t nature vs. medication, as though those are the only two choices. I just needed to be on different medications.

First of all, I had to stop taking so many muscle relaxers. They were too sedating. True, I have quite a bit more pain in my legs now. But I’m learning to work around it. I suffer but in a way that has a worthwhile trade-off.

But I also had to start taking new medications. I’m probably not taking any fewer meds than I was before. I feel vaguely ashamed of that, like I wouldn’t need any meds if I were determined enough. However, the truth isn’t like that for me.

My disease-modifying drug Tecfidera works by reducing inflammation, which means that it makes me better in itself. My brain is already much clearer and less foggy after only a month on it. My cognitive symptoms are better, though that benefit disappears if I don’t get enough sleep.

I finally have medication that’s effectively treating my depression, which has been extremely rare in my past experience. But this drug cocktail (which includes both an antidepressant and low doses of two other drugs, including one for my seizures) seems to work well together.

As a result, I can finally do the exercise I need. The exercise does help. But at this point, I can only exercise as much as I do (walking about 25-30 miles a week) because of my medications. I was too depressed to do so before, even though I wanted to do it.

I also still take a handful of other supplements that are supposed to help MS, like high-dose Vitamin D, biotin, and B12. I see that all these things work together.

I’m working on other things to help as well: meditation/prayer, journaling, setting goals. I try to keep my stress low and get enough sleep. And I’m also trying to cut out junk food and eat more fruits and veggies.

I find that feeling well isn’t just about taking pills and then doing nothing else to get better. I can’t get better with just the pills alone.

I realize how much the natural health camp has influenced me because I feel incredibly guilty for taking meds. Like I took a cop-out because I was too lazy to do things the hard way. But in truth, the only thing that matters is that I can do the right stuff now.

And for better or worse, I need the pills to do well enough that I can take it from there. Trying to get well when I was so mentally foggy and fatigued, before I took the meds, was like trying to run if someone throws a heavy blanket over your head and you can’t see anything or move freely.

Does this mean I don’t really need disability? That remains to be seen. I’d still greatly love to work and to go back to grad school. But I don’t know yet if I can. I’m just glad that I’m starting to feel a bit less miserable.