This week I continue the theme of recovery in the context of illness. Last week’s blog post focused on the assumptions which lace the recovery process due to society’s interpretation of recovery:
a) To have (the use, possession, or control of something) restored
b) To regain the use of (a faculty) or be restored to (a normal or usual condition)
c) To regain one’s health, strength, composure, balance, etc., after illness, trouble, disturbance, or the like
d) If you recover, you become well again after an illness or injury.
Maybe you got seriously ill a few months, a year, or sometime ago. You don’t always feel great, sometimes downright poorly. You are following the doctor’s advice yet you don’t feel like you are getting anywhere. You are asking yourself, ‘Is this all the recovery I’m gonna get?’
This is tough. Especially when you know you are doing all that you can be doing for yourself. Making it harder can be those times when you catch family and friends looking at you and you worry they are thinking you are faking it. And the days when you are just bloody sick of the routine of being sick.
Although I can’t directly change the path of your recovery, I can show how varied the recovery process can be for people depending on the illness they have. You can use this to share with family, friends and colleagues. By doing that, it starts to dismantle the assumptions and stigmas surrounding recovery. Thereby hopefully bring more understanding and support in our society to people like you, whose recovery may be ongoing. I also offer ideas on redefining ‘recovery’, which can offer you additional options for your own recovery and maybe even make it a more manageable process.
Dismantling the assumptions and stigmas surrounding recovery. B Babcock 2016
I was once out for a drink with someone who also has Transverse Myelitis (TM) and the bartender asked her why she was using a stick. My friend briefly explained TM and the bar girl responded, ‘Oh, but you have recovered.’
My friend hesitated then replied, ‘Yes.’ In addition to being surprised and wondering how my friend would respond, I was conscious of standing next to her without a stick and having walked into the bar normally, but with the constant buzzy feeling in my hands.
So here we were, two people who had TM, but the impact of the condition and recovery were very different. The impact on my friend was visible, on me, not visible.
The bartender’s response got me thinking about the notion of recovery and what as a society we mean by it. I realised the assumptions tied into it and how they can hinder the recovery process. This learning has helped me and my clients find new and different ways of explaining to people the nature of our recovery in relation to a condition, illness or injury and how not to let it hinder our recovery process. So read on to learn more.
The meaning of recovery. B Babcock 2016.
During the week of 9-15 May, the #BigConversation took place about death and dying. This is the kind of conversation that can happen at any time though and so I am contributing to it this week. I take a broad view of death with a focus on how we are living our lives now no matter how much of our life we have left.
Within the context of many long-term conditions, serious illness/injury, death is ever present and it takes many forms.
In the cases of sudden onset injuries and serious illnesses – heart attack, stroke, brain haemorrhage, traumatic accident, at whatever age – you may have stood on the threshold of death, greeted it, yet were able to turn around and return to your life.
You may have made a decent recovery yet may also live with the background thought of ‘will it won’t it happen again, and if it does, will I survive’. Death can feel like it is just around the corner, but you don’t know where that corner is in your life. You live with that ongoing uncertainty.
Death in the sense of something has ended can also be present in the recovery process as you come to terms with the loss of your previous body and life. In conversations I’ve been having on the concept of acceptance in these situations, an actual end of one’s life is sometimes considered as an alternative to the new reality.
Death is imminently present for those living with terminal conditions.
Death is also present for each and every one of us, no matter the current state of our health. It is a life truth that we will each die one day.
So how do we live our life with this presence of death? And how do we live our life well? These are big questions so I am only addressing it in part. Also, the question may strike you as scary. I find it a scary topic too. I attempt to address it in an introductory sort of way whilst also, I hope, respecting the enormity of it.
Our one life and looking into the existentialist void of that. B Babcock 2016
Unexpectedly experiencing a rapid onset of a long-term condition or serious illness is a scary thing. You don’t know what is happening to your body. Minute by minute, even second by second, you are in more and more pain and becoming more helpless. You cannot control anything. You think, ‘I am dying.’
Eventually, you get help. You’re in hospital. You survive.
You faced your mortality, something which not many people have to do.
This is something my coaching clients and people I support in the charity where I work often speak of and how that experience often stays with them long past the acute stage. They describe how the memories come back, sometimes unexpectedly. That along with missing your previous life, learning how to live with a changed body, wondering why you feel stuck yet want to move forward but not sure how, it is normal to feel the way you do. You have a lot going on.
It’s a profound thing to have felt and realised, ‘My time in this life is ending.’ Given the enormity of this, there isn’t a quick fix solution to feeling better. It can take time but there are three things you can be doing now to move yourself forward. Read on to find out.
There has obviously been a hiatus between my last blog post published in early November and this one. Even after I wrote about committing to posting here on a regular basis. The hiatus wasn’t intentional. A medical crisis – where life and death opened the door to greet one another – unexpectedly occurred on Remembrance Day. That day has taken on a whole new meaning. I won’t go into the details of the story as it is not my story to tell and the person in question wants privacy. But I can tell my story, edited in parts to protect privacy.
There was the onset of the medical crisis, death had opened the door. Then 2 seconds of panic. Then moving into action doing what needed to be done to save a life. Ensuring that life and living could stand fast while it stood on the threshold looking at death.
Going into detached mode, thinking through logically what needed to be done, sorting out the care that was needed and getting it. I was in the situation taking action. Yet detached reflecting on what was the best thing to do given the situation.
Looking back, the best decision I made was not to say what I thought was happening, shutting the door to anxiety or panic.
Great care was given quickly by the NHS. A life was saved.
Then the routine of hospitals, tests, endless appointments with medical professionals, recovery, learning about the impact and the upcoming forever changes to a life, learning about the medications, reading to learn more, and the uncertainty.
The rest of November and December felt like I lived life in a kind of suspended bubble with sporadic contact to the outside world. In that first month, if it wasn’t essential, it didn’t get done. It couldn’t. There wasn’t the time. Caring for someone in the acute phase of a medical crisis can be full time. Even when things were just starting to calm down a little bit, I dropped the ball on a number of tasks and things I had promised people. I simply didn’t have the head space to hold everything.
Yet life continued. Thanksgiving and Christmas were celebrated. Family visited for both. A busy time caring and guesting. Now life is returning to some kind of normality. A ‘new normality’ I often say. The life we knew and had has ended. We are constructing a new one. Day by day, experimenting with what works and what doesn’t, learning with each new experiment. Life even looks in part like it did before.
But looks can be deceiving.
We know our life has changed and we know the nuances of that change may not be readily visible to others. One thing remains the same, we work together in partnership and I’m so so so grateful I still have this living partnership.
© Copyright Barbara Babcock 2014