Life Experiences Part 2: Allow Yourself Time to Heal
In Part 1, I described in detail the events in my life that led up to my breaking point. I explained that after I broke, I was a complete mess. Life was nothing like I had imagined, and I didn’t know how to cope. Honestly, at the time I don’t even think I had yet developed enough maturity to realize how to properly cope with my circumstances. So, needless to say from being diagnosed at 14 to dealing with other issues after, and learning a lot of valuable life lessons in the process, it took me years to heal.
The process of grief
In Psychology, you learn a lot about the process of grief and the stages that follow. Whether it’s healing from the death of a loved one or dealing with some other tragedy, grieving and healing are vital in continuing to live past devastation. While I didn’t lose a loved one, I did lose the life I imagined. After my diagnosis and the trauma I faced afterwards I grieved for the life I once envisioned and grieved for the things I had already lost. The 5 stages of grief and mourning were first proposed by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in 1969. And, I have always felt that I can relate to these stages on many levels. The 5 stages of grief are as follows:
It is important to note that not everyone necessarily goes through these stages in this exact order and some may not even experience all of them. However, I feel that in my instance each stage was experienced and in a lot of ways, the same order.
Denial and Isolation
My first reaction was most certainly denial and isolation. I denied the reality of my situation. I was so young, so in my mind, although the diagnosis was scary it wasn’t the end of the world for me. I was in this stage for years. I would definitely say it inhabited the first 5-6 years after I heard those words, “Calie, you have Multiple Sclerosis.” This couldn’t be happening to me, I was just 14, I had my whole life ahead of me. I blocked as much as I could out of my sub-conscious and I hid from the facts. Only my closest friends and relatives knew I had MS, and most didn’t even really understand it-which was fine with me. The less they understood the less they knew. The less they knew the more I could pretend it wasn’t real. I basically lived feeling that if my peers didn’t know I had it, then it wasn’t really happening to me. The doctors must have been wrong. They had to have made a mistake. There was no way this debilitating illness applied to me, much less would affect me for the rest of my life! In my first introduction as an author for MultipleSclerosis.net, I explain how it took me exactly 11 years to let the world know I had MS. That’s how long it took me to fully accept that my diagnosis certainly wasn’t changing and that I was ok with it. That I was ready to be free of hiding, and I was ready to talk about it with anyone and everyone. For 11 years of my life I hid my disease from everyone that I possibly could. Like I said, I let my closest friends and family know, but other than that I liked to imagine that if they didn’t know it somehow gave me the one up. If they didn’t know, then it wasn’t happening-right? I secretly relished in the fact that when people would tell me how good I looked they didn’t know what I was facing. I don’t look sick, so I can’t really be that bad off. Those were the thoughts that went through my head. I was ashamed for people to know-especially people at school. I didn’t want them looking at me differently; feeling sorry for me, or assuming that when I was older I would automatically be enslaved to life in a wheelchair. That most definitely wouldn’t look appealing to boys my age at the time. So, I hid from it, I denied it, and I let the weight of it bear down hard on me mentally and emotionally. It was the heaviest weight I’ve ever carried, much like 10 stacks of explosives sitting on my chest, but I was afraid to come out from under it because if I moved, if I changed my outlook the explosives (MS) would surely detonate in my face.
If you read Part 1, full-fledged anger came about when I was about 20. After the 6 years of masking the truth with denial and isolation, the reality of it all emerged. Oh I still denied it and hid it from as many as possible, but in my heart I began realizing the cold hard truth. And, boy was I mad about it. I resented my parents; I resented my other family members and friends. I had no one else to blame so I blamed those I loved the most and pushed them as far away as possible by my actions and words. Somebody had to be at blame for this. I acted out my anger in other ways too. I moved out of my parents’ house and did everything I knew I could possibly do that they would hate. I didn’t care if they would be disappointed anymore, I didn’t care if I was possibly doing things to ruin my future or drastically change my life even more. In my naïve mind, my life was hopeless, full of havoc. Nothing good would ever come of it, I thought. The hurricane of life had hit and it had surely destroyed me and my future. I needed revenge; I needed to feel anything but the honest truth. And while I say I didn’t care about who I hurt or what I did, deep down in the depth of my heart I did. Anger is funny in the way that you begin to feel guilty for acting out of anger, and yet those feelings just makes you angrier and want to do what you know you shouldn’t do even more. Oh, anger, you ironic little devil, you.
I started thinking of everything I could to reason with the truth that was staring me right in the face. I had to regain some sort of control. My parents shouldn’t have had me, when they first saw signs early on in my life they should have done more so this wouldn’t be happening, maybe if God would have created me differently or if I had been the perfect child I wouldn’t be dealing with all of this…everything convenient and easy for me to think of to blame was there causing me to question everything and try to find some sense in this whole mess.
Depression is the one issue I would say that wasn’t necessarily in the correct order (according to Kubler-Ross, at least). Although I would say for the most part I had a wonderful childhood and upbringing, depression and anxiety have always seemed to loom over my life. It’s not something I’ve ever understood about myself. I had separation anxiety as a child, anxiety and depression in my adolescence, in high school, and even today I still face it. The depression and anxiety I faced after diagnosis though was on a totally different level. It was as unpredictable as unpredictable could be. I never knew when it was going to hit or what was going to set it off. And, being so young when the worst of it hit, I had no idea how to deal with it. I had no idea what kind of psychotic being had taken over my mind and body. Some days it was more subtle, and others it was flaring for everyone to see. It’s taken a lot of years of therapy and many different medications, but I finally feel like an emotionally level and stable human being once more.
This stage has been by far the tip of the iceberg, the icing on my layers of unappetizing cake. Sweet, sweet acceptance. After I had my son 2 years ago is when it truly began. I knew I had to do something with my life, something had to give. I had to change my perspective on things. I couldn’t live in denial any longer. I couldn’t hide from what I knew was right in front of me. I couldn’t raise my son and nurture my marriage knowing I was in such emotional turmoil and at war with my past and this disease. I couldn’t be there for my family and friends the way I yearned to be. How could I love anyone properly if I wasn’t quite sure how to love the life I was dealt? It helped me learn that all of these stages to get to where I am now were just something I had to go through. Nobody else could truly help me go through it or understand my roller coaster of emotions. MS and what I went through shortly after diagnosis were both extremely deep and personal issues I had to work through. It was when I accepted the truth and allowed myself to not just face my past, but forgive myself and learn from everything I had been through that I truly began to heal.
Allow yourself time to heal
I know everyone doesn’t make it to acceptance. Some remain stuck in one stage or another, frozen and unable to break free. I get it. There were times I never thought I would make it through. But, I will highly recommend to allow yourself time to heal. It may take weeks, it may take years, but that’s ok. The grieving and healing process is different for everyone. Allow yourself to heal from the emotions that life-changing events and diagnosis brings. Be patient with yourself, and give yourself grace. When you go through things that not many others experience, you deserve that much. You deserve to deny it, you deserve to be angry, you deserve to bargain and go through depression. But, most certainly, you deserve to accept what is and to heal. It took years of my life to understand these things were ok, that these things were necessary. Life this far has been anything but what I imagined as a little girl. It’s been full of ups and downs, and more emotions than I knew I was capable of having. It’s been far more difficult than anything I ever felt myself able to make it through. But, I did and I believe you can too. A quote that I love says, “Healing doesn’t mean the damage never existed. It means the damage no longer controls your life”. Life is too precious to allow things out of our own control to manipulate and destroy us. Wounds, both figurative and literal, don’t heal the way we want them to. And, often they don’t heal the way we need either. But the beauty is that those wounds eventually fade and the process of sweet healing and redemption takes place. It isn’t easy by any means; it’s a battle until the end, and even then after. But once healing is done, the battle doesn’t seem as terrifying. It doesn’t seem impossible. It’s hard as hell, but healing allows the strength to keep fighting on. To finally live again.