Divorce, A Personal Story from Someone Living With Chronic Pain

By Tracy Rydzy MSW, LSW

 

Today I have been released, officially, of my marriage.  I am divorced.  I have prepared myself emotionally and mentally to say that, so I do so with some sense of acceptance and peace.  I was allowed, by the judge, to return to being me (my maiden name).  The irony of that is not lost on me.  I lost myself in my marriage and subsequent illnesses and pain.  Now, with permission, I can return to being me.

In June, less than two weeks after my 34th birthday, my world was turned upside down when my husband said he was leaving me.  We had had fights before and threatened separation and divorce, but never followed through on what always seemed like idle threats.  This time, however, we knew it was over.  That morning we woke up, he put his arms around me and we both lay silently in bed before the arguments started back up.  It was in that moment that I knew that this was the end.  Looking back on it, the end came long before that summer day.  Marriages don’t end because of one fight and they are usually over long before someone actually leaves.

If you ask his side of the story he will tell you the love simply died.  I have a very different view of the situation, one that includes dishonesty, but what good does it do to point fingers?  It will not change the outcome. I take responsibility for my part.  I was not a perfect wife.  Do I blame the chronic pain and back surgeries for my divorce?  In part, yes.  I think a marriage can withstand any number of catastrophic events, even very early on, but only a STRONG one.

I learned a lot from getting married and divorced.  I learned that not everyone marries for the right reasons.  I learned that love is not all you need, despite The Beatles’ claims.  I learned that you cannot give of yourself until there is no more because if you do, you will have nothing left when it ends.  The day he left, I had nothing left.

But, in going through the divorce I also learned that I was still me.  It was buried under 5 years of unhappiness and the constant fight to survive a disability, but, deep down, I was still there.  I learned that despite having been taken care of for two years I was still capable of taking care of myself and doing everything that needed to be done, alone.  I learned to forgive myself.  I even learned how to almost forgive him.  Some things are unforgivable and may well remain so for a long time, but I learned to forgive enough to have peace.  I learned not to hate, even when the inclination was to do so.

Most of all, I learned to follow my dreams.  I wanted to act since I was a child but never had the courage.  This summer, literally weeks after he left, I was called and given the opportunity to train for an improv group.  Since I was already studying at the school to pursue acting, I could not possibly pass up the opportunity.  Fast forward five months and I am now a member of the improv group, completed one play with the largest part I had been given at the time and am currently in rehearsal for another production with one of the lead ensemble roles.  No, it is not professional acting…yet.  But, this experience has given me the courage to pursue my dream of one day acting professionally.

I look at it like this:  two years ago I was in a wheelchair, 300 pounds, barely able to walk, with a husband who had to walk me to the bathroom and on more pills than I could count to manage the pain.  I was miserable.  I had no self-confidence and, it seemed, no future.  I was ready to throw in the towel, and almost did on more than one occasion.  But, I did not.  I fought my way back.  I got stronger than I ever thought possible, lost 153 pounds so far (more than 50% of my weight), found my hobbies, cut back to as few medications as possible and the self-confidence is coming back.

Although I do not have much respect for my ex-husband due to the circumstances of our divorce, I can say that I would not have gotten through the last couple of years without him and for that I will be ever grateful.  It may have ended the marriage, but his emotional support (in the beginning) as well as his financial support and health insurance made it possible for me to recover, go to physical therapy and start my weight loss journey.

The bottom line is that we all make mistakes.  I truly believed I was marrying the love of my life, my soul mate.  I realized too late that he was not right for me.  When I think about soul mates I am reminded of a quote from a movie that got me through the past several months, Eat, Pray, Love:

“He probably was [your soul mate]. Your problem is you don’t understand what that word means. People think a soul mate is your perfect fit, and that’s what everyone wants. But a true soul mate is a mirror, the person who shows you everything that’s holding you back, the person who brings you to your own attention so you can change your life. A true soul mate is probably the most important person you’ll ever meet, because they tear down your walls and smack you awake. But to live with a soul mate forever? Nah. Too painful. Soul mates, they come into your life just to reveal another layer of yourself to you, and then they leave. And thank God for it. Your problem is, you just can’t let this one go. It’s over, Groceries. [His] purpose was to shake you up, drive you out of your marriage that you needed to leave, tear apart your ego a little bit, show you your obstacles and addictions, break your heart open so new light could get in, make you so desperate and out of control that you had to transform your life.”

This quote was comforting to me because it meant I no longer had to feel guilty for choosing the wrong man.  I did have a soul mate that did help me in the end, even if it broke my heart.  He broke down my walls and made me desperate to change my life, so desperate that rather than talk about the things I wanted to do I finally went out and did them, all of them.  Not just acting, but all sorts of things that I have wanted to do that I hadn’t done before!  I am unrecognizable from the person I was 5 years ago, 2 years ago or 8 months ago.  I have accepted that this was simply not meant to last.

In the end, Alfred Lord Tennyson put it best when he said “‘tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”  But, a funny T-shirt I saw on the boardwalk also summed it up nicely: “Tis better to have loved and lost than to be stuck with a ___”

 



Living with Disability and Its Affect on Relationships

By Tracy Rydzy MSW, LSW

floor

Having a disability, be it medical or psychological, can put a strain on relationships.  I am not just talking about marriages or romantic relationships.  All forms of communication and relationships can suffer when someone is going through a hard time.

In my case (of course it would be my case, it’s my blog), I have noticed changes in various relationships that I have with friends and family.  It can be broken down into different categories, positive and negative.  These are all actually relatively normal reactions to one person in a relationship going through a major life transition, be it significant other, sibling, child or friend.  One very important thing to remember for most of us living with pain or disability is this: I KNOW HOW I SOUND AND I WISH I DIDN’T HAVE THIS TO TALK ABOUT!

The negative:

These are the “categories” of negative changes in relationships I have noted or experienced in the past:

1-     I hate to see you upset, so I just won’t see you.  I know people this has happened to, me included.  This is not just limited to physical pain, this came into play a LOT when I went through my separation and had emotional pain.  Whether it is because I feel they do not want to spend time with me because they are tired of listening to me or whether I feel they are not supportive and are not positive, I avoid spending time with them or vice versa.

2-     Wow that sounds bad, but listen, my situation is so much worse than yours.  We are all guilty of this in life.  Sometimes you want to be heard and feel you need to top the other person’s story.  I have noticed that when someone has a really bad run of luck, some people, in an attempt to “relate,” will tell their tales of woe rather than listen.  I met a man in physical therapy who told me, “I am 70 years old, whatever you tell me, I am sure that I can top it, but right now we are talking about you. Later we can talk about me.”  I thought this was the most incredible advice I had ever heard.

3-     I am tired of hearing you talk about your health, so I will cut you off.

4-     I am tired of hearing you complain, so I won’t ask how you feel.  This can lead many people to feel as if they are a burden or as if their health, pain or emotional concerns are not being heard or, worse yet, not being believed.

5-     I can’t help you, so I won’t try anymore.  Generally, when a relationship gets to this point, I find it is best to cut ties.  Although no one can really help with your pain, relationships are a two way street and if someone has decided they cannot help you the options are either you are left unsupported and you are doing all the supporting, or you just don’t have the relationship anymore.

The positive:

1-     I have been through something like this, I can relate.

2-     It sounds like you are having a rough time, what can I do to help?

3-     Life sucks, let’s be silly and distract you.  Since I believe laughter is the best medicine, these are truly the best, most positive influences in life, those that recognize the value of distracting you from your pain.

4-     Wow, that sounds terrible, tell me about it.  Although it is not necessary to complain repeatedly, sometimes it is important to feel heard, even if just for a few moments.  Just be sure that you are also doing part of the listening in the relationship to keep the two-way relationship open.

How can you resolve some of these issues? 

It helps to educate the people who have in interest in understanding you and trying to figure out how to help.  When people say, “what is it like? I don’t understand,” then I will explain to them how I feel, or refer them here where I tell the whole world what life with physical/emotional pain is like.  It’s good to keep the lines of communication open.

I think the most important tip I can give is to try and discern between, “I am miserable and want to complain, I could use an ear,” vs. “I could use some advice,” vs. “I am not complaining and I don’t want to be like this.”  I think that is the part a lot of people do not understand and therefore become annoyed or angry and therefore distant.

I am sure most living with pain or disability would tend to agree that very rarely are we talking about our issues to get pity.  We talk about it because we need an outlet, to be heard.   When it comes down to it, we really just want to be like everyone else.

Comforting a friend image available from Shutterstock.



Mourning 2013 for a Better New Year

By Tracy Rydzy MSW, LSW

No Christmas in Connecticut

First, although this is a post about New Year’s Eve/Day, I once again reiterate the fact that it is a ridiculous and stupid holiday.  It is the ONLY day of the year that we celebrate the fact that it is 12:00.  So, ranting aside, yesterday was New Year’s Eve and it got me to thinking about New Year’s Resolutions.  Normally, this would be a post about the hopes I have for this coming year, what I would like to accomplish, etc.  But, as those of you who read my blog know, I don’t believe in resolutions (though I do believe in having HOPES for the year).  As far as I am concerned, if I am going to change my life, I will, and I have done it, on ANY day, not just the first of the year.  As a matter of fact, I believe the day I chose to lose weight a couple years ago was a Tuesday in March.

Anyway, prior to my divorce, even though I had someone, I spent about half of my married New Year’s Eves alone.  The past few years have been difficult because of pain and illness and the sadness and lack of desire to celebrate, so instead of bringing down the party, I had opted to stay alone.  I wouldn’t recommend it.  My ex would go to his party and I stayed here with the dog.  This year I decided that I need to get used to my “new normal.”  The old tradition, before getting married, was dinner with my parents and my best friend and her kids and her parents, since her husband usually works on holidays.  At first I said no to having margaritas afterward, preferring to wallow in my own self-pity at the terrible year I had had.  I thought I was entitled- a divorce, car accidents, whiplash, depression and of course chronic pain.  I felt I was entitled to have the pity bash of the year.  Until I realized that it would do me no good to sit home, alone, and cry about the crappy year that I experienced, especially while my best friend was also home alone.

But, there is a process to moving on with life and getting on with a happier, New Year.  This year was a shit year.  Sorry to put it so bluntly but this year, like the last two years, kicked my ass.  It was full of disappointment, a LOT of loss, sadness and pain.   But I have to remember that I have had many blessings in my life, even in this ass-kicking year.  My family is healthy, happy and together.  I have a group of friends, some old and some new, which were by my side through the roughest of times.  I also learned who wasn’t there for me, which is a blessing in itself. I have my wonderful dog, Coco, to keep me company and help me through the hard times.  I have family who has done more for me than I could have ever imagined or asked this year, because they love me.  I also got back on stage and I was officially not only accepted into an improv group, but I was cast in a play with a real role where, for the first time in my life, I had more than 8 lines (I have about 10 times that and we go on next weekend! Yikes!).  And of course, my greatest accomplishment is my physical strength.  I have a body that despite being put through hell, has served me well by becoming stronger and a lot smaller (I’m down an astonishing 145 pounds, 32 of them from this year alone, and I have dropped 20 clothing sizes!).

But, alas, this year, I do not feel like I can exactly celebrate the year.  So, I thought to myself, why not mourn the year?  After all, the point of funerals and wakes is so you can mourn the deceased.  The process of mourning allows you to MOVE ON.

Now, I don’t want to sound macabre and say I am planning my own funeral, but in a sense, I have a lot to mourn this year and maybe if I can mourn it, metaphorically speaking, I can move on from it.  I am mourning a loss of my life, the life I knew before the divorce, before the back problems, before my life was turned upside down.  I am mourning the loss of a lot of happiness.  This year brought me pain I never thought possible, but at the same time pain I never thought I could bear, and I did.  So, this year, I am mourning 2013 in the hopes that by mourning my losses, I could move on and make next year even a little better.

Last night, with my best friend of almost 30 years, we also listed our accomplishments for this year as I did above.  Much in the same way you would mourn someone and talk about the wonderful things they did in life I have approached this New Year’s Eve/Day in much the same way.

Here’s hoping 2014 is a kick-ass (as opposed to an ass-kicking) year!

Happy (and HEALTHY) New Year to everyone!

Photo courtesy of  Nick Kenrick via Compfight



Opiate Withdrawal (Outpatient): Slow and Steady Wins the Race

By Tracy Rydzy MSW, LSW

rosy glasses,crimson pillsCreative Commons License

Several months ago I made the conscious decision to cut back on the narcotics I was taking to control my chronic pain.  For two and a half years I have been prescribed a variety of medications, including narcotic to control my pain.  I made this decision, on my own, for various reasons, most of them financial (being that I won’t be able to afford pain management and prescriptions following my divorce next month), but also because I realized that the medication was no longer very effective in treating my pain. When a pain management appointment a few months ago led to discussions about increased dosages and very strong medications, I realized that at age 34, I was heading down a slippery slope.  If my pain was not being controlled now, what would happen if my much degenerated spine were to need another surgery requiring pain medication in later years?  The answer: I would be out of options.

I began taking these opiates two and a half years ago following an emergency herniated disc repair, followed shortly by a three-level lumbar spinal fusion.  A year and a half after that I had a car accident that damaged my upper back and neck, followed by another car accident that damaged my mid-back and temporarily dislocated a rib.  I have spent the past 20 months doing intensive physical therapy.  I have done my part.  I lost almost 50% of my body weight and increased my strength considerably.  Physically I am in great shape and yet still struggle with chronic pain.

When I began to cut back I started very slowly.  I began by decreasing one pill a week for several weeks, then cutting back on shorter acting ones, etc.  But the side effects have been difficult to deal with because narcotics are something your body is DEPENDENT on.  I never abused my medication and took them as prescribed.  That being said, my system still became dependent on them and in decreasing the doses, it has thrown my body into a tailspin and cutting back on these medications has proven to be a very difficult undertaking.  It is a SLOW process.  I am doing this with the help of my doctors, but no amount of research could have prepared me for what I am experiencing.  I want to share my experience with you for those of you who are considering this because, although I do not regret my decision, I think it is important to be prepared for the side effects.

I do not discourage cutting back or stopping opiates by any means (it is a completely personal choice that should be made by you and your doctor only), I just think everyone should know the unadulterated facts. Here are a few withdrawal symptoms I thought were important to share:

  1. Anxiety/Agitation- This is one the most difficult withdrawal symptoms to deal with.  Having already had issues with anxiety, the reduction of opiates causes, at times, severe anxiety and agitation.  The reason is my body got used to having certain medications every so many hours.  When that medication doesn’t come, my body gets very anxious.  Opiates are calming and a lack of them can produce severe anxiety, especially in the morning when a nighttime dose is omitted.  I have been prescribed medication to assist with anxiety, which I use when it gets bad, but this is where coping is difficult, but a necessary evil.  It is hard to tell your body, “I know you think you need this and you are confused, but you will be okay.”  This is also why a slow taper is so vital because a sudden steep reduction can lead to blood pressure and pulse increases that can be dangerous to your health.
  2. Automatic Behaviors- For 2 ½ years I became accustomed to reaching for medication every so many hours or when I was in pain.  It became as automatic as getting a glass of water.  When I began to cut back that behavior was frustratingly difficult (and anxiety-producing) to break.  I had to trick myself by replacing opiates with Tylenol or Vitamin C or other non-narcotic options.  I also found it helpful to write a note on the bottle of pills that asked, “What is your pain level?” so I could truly judge if it was an automatic habit or if the pain warranted taking a pill.  Eventually I put the pills in a drawer so I was not seeing them and therefore had less of a reminder (temptation) to take them.  Just another way the brain/body can be tricky when it comes to chemical dependence.
  3. Emotional Fallout- As anyone on these medications knows, narcotics have a numbing effect on emotions.  This is not to say I didn’t feel emotions, but I was number.  After going through the trauma of a divorce, the numbness was, frankly, welcome.  Perhaps the most terrible side effect has been the emotional fallout due to the reduction of these medications.  The less I began taking, the more I began to feel.  I didn’t even understand where all the tears and additional emotion (on top of high emotion already) were coming from until I realized I was actually feeling more because I was less numb.  It has been difficult to feel such additional emotional pain, but, the upside is that it has helped me be a better actress because I have been able to access the emotion I needed for character development.  Although there is no real solution for how to remedy this, the truth is to be human you HAVE TO feel your emotions.  Being numb is not healthy.
  4. Pain- obviously the physical pain can get pretty bad sometimes without having a constant stream of pain medication, especially with additional emotional distress.  However, I realized there is less up and down like there is when constantly taking medication for breakthrough pain.  Personally I am trying to take Tylenol (allergic to NSAIDs) in limited quantities to manage pain and make it more bearable but your doctor is the best advisor on alternatives to narcotics.
  5. Depression- Opiates have a tendency, as I stated above, to induce somewhat of a euphoria, so the lack of opiates can cause depression.  This is a very common side effect when detoxing.  This is something that can be discussed with your especially if you suspect your detox will be prolonged.
  6. Mood Swings- The lack of opiates in your system, at times, can make you feel like you are going a little off your rocker.  These are powerful medications that significantly affect your mood.  There is a reason they are sold on the streets.  When something can affect your mood so significantly in a positive way, it is logical to assume the lack of said medication can negatively affect your mood.  It is vital to watch for signs of paranoia, hallucinations, psychosis, etc.  Again, your doctor can prescribe mood stabilizers to get you through this transition period if it is proving difficult to cope.
  7. Stomach Issues- Opiates tend to cause a slowing down of the gastrointestinal system and constipation which means a lack of these medications can cause…you guessed it, diarrhea!  It can also lead to stomach cramps and nausea.  Your doctor can prescribe medications that can ease discomfort.
  8. Night sweats- keep extra pillowcases on hand!  Even when they room temperature is 55, you can sweat through your pajamas!
  9. Insomnia – I feel like a zombie during the day and then I cannot sleep at night.  Narcotics have a sedating effect, so it is logical that a lack of them at bedtime will cause insomnia. Your doctor can prescribe a sleeping pill to help with insomnia.
  10. Flu-like symptoms/Headaches.

I am still in the process of cutting back and will likely be doing this for a year.  I may never be free of my “as needed” medications due to flare-ups, however my goal is to take them as little as possible so that they may be more effective.  I am happy to say that since decreasing them (at this point by almost 1/5 or more) when I am really in pain, the medication is actually effective in treating the severe pain.

If anyone is considering this, I would advise talking to your physician and all doctors involved in your treatment.  They can help in supportive treatment, reducing your dosages and trying to keep you as comfortable as possible while monitoring possible complications.  There are several times  I suggested a doctor can prescribe medications to help with withdrawal symptoms, and these are all medical and personal choices, but a word to the wise, you don’t want to come off a few medications only to take five more to combat those that you are removing from your daily regimen.  The most important thing to remember is that this is uncomfortable, it does suck, but it will pass.

If you have ever done this, are doing it or have done it, my heart goes out to you and I congratulate you!  If not, I do not condemn the use of opiates or narcotics.  I believe that they are effective medications for pain management and that this is a purely personal preference!  Best of luck!

Resources:

http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000949.htm

Photo courtesy of psyberartist via Compfight



Merry Melancholy and the Holiday Blues- Part II

By Tracy Rydzy MSW, LSW

Dicken's Village at NightCreative Commons License

In my last post I spoke about Merry Melancholy and why the holidays are not always so happy.  As I am suffering from both physical and emotional pain, especially during this time of year, I have put together some tips on how to put the happy back in the holidays.

1-     Know when to get help.

First, depression can feel like it will never end, but in most cases, I can tell you from a personal and professional standpoint, that it will ease up.  However, if your depression is serious and you feel as though you may harm yourself, please seek medical attention.

2-     Let go of perfection.

If you are like me and you remember perfect holidays from your childhood and you are trying to recreate them, look back on those holidays with adult eyes.  I don’t mean to look back at the negative or to tarnish wonderful memories, but look at the “perfect” Christmas for what it really was and try not to hold yourself to an impossible standard.  You are not a Kay Jewelers commercial.

Like I said in the earlier post, I remember Norman Rockwell Christmases as a child, but I know that behind the perfect picture I was seeing was a lot of stress.  Perhaps the “perfect” holiday only seemed perfect because I was with my family and there was enough love to cover the many imperfections.  I remember one particular Christmas, when I was about eleven, when I began to see just how hard it was for my parents to pull off these perfect festivities.  Santa always came to visit on Christmas Eve which just seemed…magical.  Even after I stopped believing, Santa’s visit was still just so fun.  I’m sure, however, that it was not as much fun for my Uncle Fran, who sadly passed away this year, who dressed up as Santa.  One year, to combat the kid’s pulling off his beard and exposing his true identity, he used glue to secure his beard.  It worked.  No one saw that Santa was actually a young Italian, but that evening I remember seeing my uncle, my mother and my aunt in the bathroom at Grandma’s house trying to unglue his beard while Uncle Fran used some pretty un-merry words as his skin was being ripped off.  It was hysterical and it just goes to show you that there is no such thing as perfection, it’s about perception.

3-     It’s okay not to be happy.

If you are not happy and merry, it’s okay.  Remember, 45% of people are not as happy as they seem during the holidays, so you are not alone.  Try not to let being down get you down. Sometimes, hyper-focusing on the fact that you are not happy when you are supposed to be can make you feel even more agitated and unhappy.  I sometimes go to parties and feel very sad.  I don’t force myself to be happy, yet sometimes, without trying, I am able to smile and enjoy myself.  The pressure to be happy only leads to more unhappiness, so let it go.  You are human and no one expects you to be jolly all the time, after all, you are not Santa Claus.

4-     Take care of yourself.

If you suffer from chronic pain, like I do, schedule a few appointments to pamper yourself.  Book a massage, get a pedicure, or just take a bath and try to ease your pain. If money is tight, like it is for most, make sure to book time off just for yourself and relax, read a book.  Take some you time and enjoy your decorations.

Remember to take your medications, even with the crazy scheduling and, of course, check the warnings on any medications you take to be sure that adding a few cups of eggnog are not going to make you feel worse! I know that pain doesn’t disappear during the holidays and that it can put a damper on events, and that’s okay.  It’s not your fault you are in pain and your friends and loved ones should understand if you can’t make it or stay through every event.  Although the holidays are about good will towards others, do yourself a favor and take care of YOU first.  You can’t help others if you don’t help yourself first.

5-     Screw New Year’s resolutions.

There, I said it.  Same goes for thinking back on the year.  The year was what it was and harping on what you did or didn’t do won’t change anything.  I pretend that January 1st is the same as any other day.  When I want to change something in my life, I do it when I am ready, not just because it is the first day of the year.  It is okay to think back on the year and have hopes for the future, but ruminating on either (or both) will only increase your anxiety and depression.  For auld lang syne, my dear.

6-     Set holiday spending limits.

Finally, when it comes to spending, set limits and try to stick to them.  When the over-commercialization of the holidays gets to you, try to think about the non-commercial joys in your life, like family and friends, and especially pets.  If you are Christian, take time to pray and to remember that the Christmas season is supposed to be about Christ, not Macy’s and Target.

The holidays can be a very difficult time of year for many people.  I have to remind myself every day that the depression will ease up.  When I feel sad, especially during the happy holidays, I try to lean on those I love the most.  I try (not always successfully) to focus on the things I love about this time of year and to be thankful for what I do have.

I wish you all a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays and if you are not merry or happy, that’s okay too.

What do you do to battle holiday blues?

Photo Courtesy of  Kevin Dooley via Compfight



Merry Melancholy and the Holiday Blues- Part I

By Tracy Rydzy MSW, LSW

You're a mean one, Mr. Grinch. 

Maybe I am the Grinch.  Maybe Scrooge had it right when he said “Bah-Humbug.”  What is it about the most wonderful time of the year that makes it so depressing?  My home is decorated beautifully. The smells of (fake) pine and hot apple cider (scented candles) permeate the house…on the outside everything looks merry and bright.  But on the inside, I am battling a depression that is very unmerry.  According to the National Institute of Health, the rates of depression and suicide skyrocket to 45% during the Christmas season.  What a merry thought!  So, why is it that the happy holidays make us so unhappy?

Let’s start with perfection.  It seems there is an even greater demand to be perfect at Christmas.  With every commercial depicting Norman Rockwell-type picturesque Christmas scenes, many of us feel the need to create the “perfect” holiday.  I don’t even have to a holiday event and it still stresses and bums me out.  As a child, I remember these amazing, festive, fun Christmas Eve parties with my whole family, not to mention a visit from Santa.  From what I remember it was…perfect.  As an adult I realize the perfect Christmases that I experienced were probably far from it.  Because I was viewing Christmas through a child’s eyes, I didn’t see that my mom was probably sweating through her Santa hat while in the kitchen trying to put together our Italian feast, my brothers and I were likely having temper tantrums over toys we didn’t want to share, the tree decorating always caused a fight and half the time the darn thing ended up being tied to the window to keep it from falling.  In effect, the notion of a perfect Christmas is something for children, as it’s a little less perfect as adults.  Yet at this time of year we hold ourselves to an unrealistic standard of perfection and when we don’t meet that, it leads to depression.

There is also the expectation, nay the demand, to be happy and merry.  After all, we say Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas, right?  When you are less than jolly during the merriest time of year, it can lead to feelings of guilt and further perpetuate depression.  It’s the hap-happiest time of the year, so why am I not happy?  Having to smile when your heart hurts is very difficult.  I often feel like my unhappiness, if not well-hidden, is going to ruin everyone else’s time.  I liken it to being in a dark cave where I can see the twinkling of Christmas lights at the end of the proverbial tunnel, but I can’t seem to walk toward it.  It feels like the closer we get to the holidays, the further into the hole I go.

In addition to the emotional pain of depression, over the past several Christmases I have also been coping with physical pain.  Do you know what a six-hour holiday party feels like when you are sitting on a tailbone with nerve damage?  It’s holiday hell.  I spend most of my parties shifting positions and taking pain medication, only to have to fight to stay awake after they make me want to crawl into bed.  Add to that a fibro flare which has been brought about as a result of the added stress and depression, and aching joints and bones because of the cold, well, let’s just say I don’t know how ol’ Mrs. Claus can handle the North Pole.

The fact that it’s another year over also means I spend a lot of time looking back over the past year.  What have I accomplished?  What could I have done differently?  What can I look forward to next year, what are my resolutions?  Anyone who has been following my blog knows that ruminating on the year I have had is NOT going to make me feel a whole lot better.  I have had the most difficult year of my life.  Thinking about it and what next year may or may not bring doesn’t exactly put me in the Christmas spirit.

And how can I forget the commercialization of Christmas. I enjoy shopping, right up until the middle of November when it seems like the stores pump evil in through the heating vents.  Everyone is hurried and harried trying to check off their lists.  Children are having meltdowns in every aisle (probably sensing their parents stress) and it seems that every year the prices of gifts gets higher and higher.  It’s no wonder it’s hard to be jolly when this time of year brings about additional financial stresses.  I love giving gifts, but this year, sadly, I am unable to afford more than my Secret Santa and a few small toys for my nieces and nephews.  That, in and of itself, makes me feel guilty.  The spirit of Christmas is not giving and getting gifts, but when you can’t afford them and you know you aren’t really getting much, it is another cold reminder that Christmas is not like it was when you were a kid.  No, Christmas as an adult carried responsibilities and a bigger price tag and if you can’t afford that, well, then the price is guilt!

I know I sound like the biggest Grinch in the world, but heck, even the Grinch’s heart grew.  I do really enjoy Christmas, or better said I really want to enjoy the holidays. I haven’t given up hope on the Christmas spirit yet.  Stay tuned to my next post for tips on how to combat holiday blues.

In the meantime, tell me, how are you feeling this holiday season?

Resources:

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/wired-success/201011/why-people-get-depressed-christmas

Photo courtesy of slworking2 via Compfight



Holiday Depression

By Tracy Rydzy MSW, LSW

Do you like my Zine?  Dicken's Village by Mary

This time of year, when everything is supposed to be “merry and bright,” can be an incredibly painful, lonely and depressing time of year for so many people.  This has been, by far, the most difficult year I have faced and the holidays are making that even more noticeable. I seem to have succumb to holiday depression…and according to recent statistics, I am not in the minority.  So, why is it that holiday depression or depression in general is so hard to fight?  Especially for those in chronic pain?

Let’s start with these white Christmases (or almost Christmases).  Weather can be a major trigger for pain flare-ups and I am sure I am not alone in the fact that the recent sub-freezing temperatures and snowstorms are making my bones and joints ache. The increased pain can easily lead to bouts of depression.  Additionally, I usually suffer from seasonal affective disorder, whereby the lack of sunlight increases the likelihood for depression.  It seems like a logical equation: Bad weather – sunlight, fresh air and natural Vitamin D + more pain = depression L.

The worst part about depression during the holidays is that this is the time of year where every commercial, ad and song makes you believe that you are supposed to be happy during this time of year.  The truth, however, is that the holidays only highlights the loneliness and pain of the past year for many people, myself included.  This year has brought a few good things, but in general, it has been the worst, most difficult year I have ever had to endure, including a separation and pending divorce, losing a loved one and, in general, having my entire life turned upside down.  The fact that the atmosphere suggests that I should be happy when I am so sad only makes me feel like more of a failure.

This depression comes on the heels of many months of doing extraordinarily well in the face of a LOT of very, very bad circumstances, which only makes it that much more difficult to cope with, being that it snuck up on me.  Depression is a scary bastard.  I have been dealing with it, on and off, since I was a teenager.  The best way I can describe it is it is like constantly battling a demon in your mind.  Even when you logically have the perspective to say “yes, I feel sad, but I recognize this is just in my mind…” there is a “voice” (I do not mean an external voice, I mean a thought pattern, this is not to be confused with hearing voices), that says “but I am going to consume your entire life and I am not done yet.”  So you go back to being sad.  Then you start to feel a little better and once again the voice again says, “Sorry, I’m not done feeling sad.”  And so you spend days, weeks, or even months fighting with yourself and trying to pull yourself out of the depression until finally the happiness can “beat” the sadness.  It is as if you cannot win until the depression has run its course.

Depression is BIOLOGICAL.  You can fight it.  You can help it.  You can cope.  But it is biological and it does take time to resolve.  It is important to remember that you and I are not alone in our holiday blues.  Truthfully, as an actress (currently rehearsing for a play in January!) I can tell you all those people in the commercials and made-for-TV movies are FAKING it anyway, they are ACTING!  Besides, they shot those movies over the summer when there was no holiday stress and the holiday loneliness hadn’t even dawned on them yet.  It will pass, despite what that depression demon tells you, even though it seems bleak now.

Check back later this week for a two-part article entitled “Merry Melancholy” about this topic!

Hang in there and I wish you all a happy, pain-free Holiday!

Photo courtesy of Kevin Dooley via Compfight

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Making Friends with your Pain

By Tracy Rydzy MSW, LSW

206/365 - Faceless Bunny and Kitty

I was talking to a friend a while back and he said, “It must be difficult to live with pain.”

As many of you know, I have drastically changed my way of thinking and living when it comes to my perspective and how I view life.  I was quite shocked when I heard myself say, “Well, after a while you start to think of your pain like an annoying roommate.  It is always there, but eventually you learn to live with it.”  I was quite surprised at my own revelation- had I really learned that?

For two and a half years I FOUGHT against my pain.  It was private enemy #1.  It was a constant reminder of the fact that my body failed me.  At some point, I got tired of living like that.  I did something I never thought I could do- I made peace with my body.  Once I did that, the weight loss, which had already been going well, got even better and the pain, which is still there, seemed to lessen just a little.

“How do I make peace with my body?” you are probably asking.  As I think back on how I got here I realize several things:

1-     It didn’t happen overnight.  I still have bad days and negative days.  I have days and nights when the pain is bad and I curse my body.  That is NORMAL.  If you are always at peace with everything you are not experiencing real emotion and you are avoiding emotion, which is not healthy.  Backslides are normal, expected and perfectly healthy.

2-     Becoming friends with your pain starts with forgiving yourself.  “But I didn’t do anything wrong,” you say.  No you didn’t.  Now believe it.  I blamed myself for the injury, the burden, the bad moods associated with the pain.  I didn’t do anything wrong.  This injury, this life changing event was something that happened TO me.  I didn’t do anything to make it happen and I didn’t DESERVE it.  That is important.

3-     I found the importance in my illness.  I realized what I have learned from my pain.  I have been able to pass on my experiences and my journey to all of you and I have gotten wonderful messages from strangers saying my story has helped them.  I have learned to fight.  And I have learned that I am so strong, stronger than I EVER imagined I could be.

4-     I got moving.  If you can move, at all, try to exercise.  Even if it is for five minutes a day and that is what you build on.  Exercise motivated me to do more and it taught me my strength.  It showed me how much more I can do.  If I look back at day 1 of physical therapy and what I do now in a week, I can (gently) pat myself on the back and say “look at you!  You did amazing!”

5-     I stopped looking at my pain as something that was ruining my life.  Yes, it has changed my life.  Yes, I wish it was not there.  Yes, it will likely be there for the rest of my life as I am almost at the recovery mark and I am still on medications and in significant pain, but instead of looking at the pain as destroying my life, I started looking at it as something I simply had to work around.  I can’t do certain things, that is true, but I can do others.  Like a pot hole, living with pain is like learning to drive around the pot hole.

I know that this is oversimplified.  I know that pain is difficult to live with and it takes a long time to make peace with it, but I know it is possible.  You are looking at someone who used to be very negative and fought AGAINST her body for years and years.  But I finally realized that it was so much easier to work with my body, rather than against it.

I hope that, if you haven’t already, that you can make a new friend!  Sometimes even the biggest jerks can be good acquaintances you never know what it will teach you!

Photo courtesy of Helga Weber via Compfight



Internalizing Chronic Pain

By Tracy Rydzy MSW, LSW

Listening to brain activity? Recently I returned to physical therapy because the whiplash from my car accident has gotten to an unbearable level.  Part of my program involved a massage where the therapist works on the areas that are causing pain.  I had an interesting interaction the other day.  The therapist was working on the nerves in my neck and it hurt like he!!.  As he was working he finally said, “I am trying so hard to read your body, but you do not give ANY indication of pain whatsoever.”  I was confused.  He said that most people, when they are in pain, at the very least have a quickening of breath, curling of toes, involuntary movements of some sort.  He said he could feel based on the muscles that I had to be in a lot of pain because he could feel the muscle spasms, but I gave no sign whatsoever that I was in pain.

I laughed.  From a therapy standpoint, that is sociopathic behavior, and I told him so.  He laughed, but was perplexed and concerned.  “Do you have a high threshold for pain?” he asked.

“Given everything I have gone through, I think I have a higher than average threshold for pain,” I told him.  I have had my spine cut apart and screwed together like a puzzle.

“Everest isn’t for everyone,” he told me.  “But I would love to know where you are internalizing the pain.”

He spiked my curiosity and this post- where do we internalize our pain?  I came to a few conclusions:

1-     I have become good at hiding my pain over the 2+ years because if I said “Ouch” or walked the way I want to walk, hunched over and grimacing in pain, or even if I talked about my pain as much as I feel it, I would have no friends and no one that would want to be near me.

2-     I have gone through procedures and tests that require me to stay still when having needles jabbed into me, so I have learned to stay still despite high levels of pain.

3-     I internalize my pain through my moods.  My chronic pain has absolutely caused a LOT of emotional issues, such as depression, anger, irritability, hopelessness.

I believe that long-term chronic pain hurts more than just our bodies, it hurts our emotions.  The side effect of living with pain and trying to look and act “normal” is that all the pain in my back and neck gets shoved into my head.  I think about it, worry about it.  It comes out as irritability, depression, hopelessness.  It comes out in my quiet time when I try to watch TV and rather think of how I will make money without being able to sit at a desk, or when I cry in bed because the pain changed me so much that I feel it makes me responsible for destroying my marriage.  It comes out in IRRATIONAL ways because I know that some of the thoughts I have about my pain, my future, my anxiety are NOT true, but the pain has worked its way into my psyche and caused a shift.

Living with pain often means internalizing it just to be able to fit into society.  Think about how you are physically feeling at this moment.  What if you were to verbalize that and show it through your words and actions?  Do you?  I would love to hear from my readers because I have a hunch most of us internalize pain…

Photo courtesy of Daniele Oberti via Compfight



When You Miss Out On Life

By Tracy Rydzy MSW, LSW

 

 

Christmas #25

I apologize for doing a way back Wednesday post, however, I had a car accident last week and am suffering from whipash that is very painful and am unable to sit for very long.  No worries though, I have plenty to write about as soon as I can sit down to write!  For now, wnjoy some oldies but goodies and talk among yourselves!

When you have a physical limitation or disability it can really, well… stink to miss out on certain things in life.  Everything I do has to be planned out.  If I am going out for an afternoon I have to be sure to have my medication and my seat cushion.  I need to know how long I will be in the car and how long I will be walking, sitting and standing.  The unfortunate truth is that disability can sometimes mean that you have to forgo things in life that you really want to do.  From the minor things, like a day trip to the city, going shopping or vacations, to the major things, like having a family or a career.

So how do you deal with the letdowns?  How do you stop fearing that life is passing you by while others live it?  I wish I had an answer, but truthfully, living with a disability makes me sad because there are many times I feel like I have gone AWOL on my own life.

Continue reading… »



 
 

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