I’m still struggling with the Polarocalypse this year. It’s my sixth winter in Minnesota and the most difficult by far and not just because of the brutal, bone-chilling, make-me-cry-cold. Not the normal difficulty of missing my homeland of California and the sunshine, family and friends. I’ve actually adjusted to life in Minnesota very well and after all, I do have my family with me, just not my extended family. I’ve built the village I knew I needed since my kids were just 10 and 13 when we moved here.
On the surface, I have everything I need for a happy life. But inside, I’m struggling to stay healthy and keep weight on to survive this unholy, bitter, no one-should-have-to-endure-cold. I’m struggling just to be.
For the last year and a half, I’ve been working through vertigo and upper respiratory infections. It may sound minor, but to a writer, it’s career-stalling. When your head is swirling like s snow globe, creative new ideas for your latest novel are absent. When your sinuses are swollen like an overdue mother’s belly, any hot marketing ideas for your unreleased paperback do not exist. When you can’t sit at your computer to write for long periods of time, you are not a writer. You become just a person. Because a writer who does not write, is well, not a writer. Right? (sorry, it was just too irresistible)
A writer who can’t write lives in a white tunnel of isolation.
Add a back and neck injury from a car accident and you have the makings of any writer’s personal disaster. The irony of the car accident is that I was in it because I was having dinner with the cast of characters from my book. I know. Crazy right? The Gridley Girls character, Tonya, was driving me from dinner with my husband and the character Jock, to my house where the characters AnneMarie and Kelly were waiting for us, when a texting woman rear-ended the car behind us sending two cars right into our backsides. It’s not been fun.
The problem is, I’m a mother.
Sure, that’s not a problem, per se, but when you are a mother, there are no sick days. And even as a mother of a college student and a fairly self-sufficient high schooler, kids don’t care about vertigo and neck injuries. Kids don’t care about your inability to breathe properly, or to sit at your desk for long periods of time, or your lack of creative ideas to fuel your career. Teenagers care about food in the house that suits their needs (read: junk food), rides to their friends houses, being picked up on time at their millions of activities, and having enough spending money to keep their social lives fueled.
So for me, all this illness was an opportunity to teach my kids about empathy and compassion. It’s so easy for teenagers to take their parents for granted. As an organized mom, it was pretty easy for me to allow it. Vertigo changed that. Vertigo kicked my butt like nothing before. And vertigo during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays shut my a$$ down. Literally.
I had to ask for help.
That was really hard. Exactly two weeks before Christmas, when on the phone with my doctor, they quizzed me on how long my vertigo had lasted and number of days on meds, etc. Doctor stuff. That’s when I counted up the five months. I had had vertigo and sinus infections for five out of the last 15 months. I was floored. I had no idea it had been that long because it was spread out. I realized then that I had been taking the whole thing too lightly and needed to ask for help.
Ask and ye shall receive.
My husband was awesome. He took over all Christmas present responsibilities and did his usual wonderful job of barbecued turkey and prime rib for 20 people. My friends from home (more characters from Gridley Girls) put up our Christmas tree so we would be greeted by it when we arrived in California. As usual, the rest of my family rallied to bring additional food for both holidays (we host my husband’s family on Christmas Eve and mine on Christmas Day).
My kids rallied to whine less and help more before Christmas, even with cleaning. They still don’t fully understand what I’ve gone and am still struggling through (I think that’s difficult if you haven’t experienced it yourself) but they have gained some understanding and compassion. I’ve found that with chronic pain or illness of any kind, even the most compassionate adults struggle to understand.
Chronic anything is a challenge for everyone. That’s why you have to be strong enough to ask for help. I think we need to spend a little less time trying to look like we’re okay (when we actually feel awful) and more time asking for a little help.
I’m nowhere near 100% yet. I still see the chiropractor once a week to maintain my 60% improvement in the neck and back injury. I manage my diet constantly to keep the vertigo away. It is so intense that a half a cookie can cause a flare-up.
I’m not telling you any of this for empathy or sympathy. I’m simply sharing my story. The one thing I’ve discovered in writing books based on true events is that my truth can help others going through similar issues.
Moms get sick. What matters is how we deal with it when we get sick. It took me a year and a half to figure that out. I’m hoping by sharing this, it might take you less time if it happens to you. If I had figured it out sooner, maybe I would have gotten better sooner? Or maybe I would have gotten help sooner? The latter is probably more accurate and that would have saved my entire family some grief.
So ask for help. Your family and friends are there and they won’t mind.
Follow a few simple (they are simple if you think about it) steps:
- Prioritize your life. If you have a job outside the home, then most likely your duties at home are what are suffering. Get a notepad out and write it down. And then slash it apart. Get down to the basics of life: your health, running your family and managing your job. Everything else has to come after that until you are well. It will be hard but it will get you better faster. It will help you out of the white tunnel of isolation.
- Sit your family down and explain how you feel. Not just physically but emotionally. Tell them about your struggle and ask for their help. Have your expectations clear in your head before you do it. Clear requests, rather than vague ones, are much easier for husbands and children.
- Think of three of your closest friends who can help you. Before you ask them for help, ask yourself, “Would you do this for them if they asked you?” If the answer is yes, then go for it.
Have you struggled with health issues (or any issue) and asked for help to manage your life? I’d love to hear any suggestions you have to help us all.