Winter, Pain, and Depression. Oh My!
As a person who deals with pain and depression on the best of days, the dreary and cold days of winter can be a real challenge. The challenges don’t just affect me. They also take a toll on my relationships, the state of my house, and the quality of my work.
When you’re used to pain on a daily basis it’s very annoying when people who know you ask, “How are you?” If I say, “I’m fine,” they assume I’m pain free and should be happy-go-lucky. In reality, “I’m fine,” means I’m no worse than usual and I am muddling through. If I say “I’m having a bad day,” suddenly I’m being treated like an invalid who can’t do anything for herself or like I’m going to be a drag to be around.
The truth is I consider it a good day if pain doesn’t stop me in my tracks, if I can walk down the steps of my front porch without holding on for dear life, if I can bend over to scoop my cat’s box without holding onto the wall so I don’t fall over. It’s a pretty good day when my fingers aren’t so stiff I can’t type or my knee isn’t in so much pain I can’t bend it without making noise. If I can shave my legs or stand in the kitchen to fix a meal without breaking out in a sweat because of the additional pain, that’s a fabulous day.
I also suffer from extreme anxiety which has worsened as I age. This mostly appears when I’m aware I’m about to face a large crowd of people or it comes out in my sleep as nightmares of the great “what if” that many of us constantly run through in our heads.
Pain, depression, and anxiety are just a part of my life and I don’t dwell on it. I take medication to help dull the affects and I go on about my day. What I don’t do is talk about it unless necessary to protect myself from making it worse. If I need to rest I say so. If I need a break from people I’ll say so. BUT, people who ask every time they see me, “How are you?” make me want to pull my hair out.
The responses in my life range from, “How am I to know you’re in pain if you don’t tell me?” to “All I hear is how you don’t feel well and it’s unhealthy for me to be around you.” So you learn to say “I’m fine.” because that’s what people want to hear and you try not to limp, and you help carry things even if it hurts, and you join the group activities because it’s “healthy,” and you find a way to sleep and hope you don’t cry too much in your sleep or be loud when you deal with it all in your nightmares. Because, for some reason, if I share with someone my pain or sadness or anxiety I’m an unhealthy person in their life and they need to not be around me.
Why do we do this? Why do we punish people for sharing feelings, for showing weakness, for being uncomfortable, or having a genetic health issue?
I’ve been dealing with arthritis and pain in my knees since I was 17 and had my first car accident, followed by injuries twice in college that affected my knees two more times. Add 30 years and you get that my knees are not super happy. YET, I walk 5K’s for charity when I can get to them. I carry in my own groceries and laundry. I never ask for help carrying in two 35 lb buckets of kitty litter. And I make love as often as I can.
I started recognizing the affects of depression in my teens also. It’s emotional and chemical. I didn’t want to be depressed. I did crazy things trying to chase happiness. (I do need to put in here that I never did drugs, but I did drink.) I played the flirty, social girl who was all in no matter what was going on. I went to all the parties. I had too much sex. I had too much alcohol. I hang out with all the wrong people for all the wrong reasons. And then I’d go home and lie in my bed and imagine everyone in my life leaving or dying until I’d cry myself to sleep. Had I lost someone early in life? Nope. No reason for it that I can pinpoint. That was just where my mind drifted to when I’d close my eyes.
Later in life I had some actual bad things to stress about. Bad relationships, a daughter to worry about, a toxic relationship with my mother, the realization that I was losing my hearing, loss of a job I loved when the market crashed, broken bones, increased pains in new places, moving to a new state, and then a fall that left me with a torn hip. I found out I had two torn rotator cuffs, 2 slipped disks in my back, degenerative arthritis, and yes I was going deaf and needed hearing aids. The day I’d found out I’d torn the labrum in my hip during a fall in the snow I fell again and broke 3 bones in my foot. The day I went to get the MRI before surgery to fix one of the rotator cuffs I got a 3rd degree burn that took almost 6 months of doctor visits to close up enough so I could have the surgery.
You can’t make this shit up.
Put all of those things in cold wet weather and “VOILA!” Increased pain, which leads to increased depression, which leads to decreased sleep, which leads to increased pain, which leads to increased anxiety, etc., etc., etc.
I’ve learned to smile and fake it because no one wants to hear all that. I’ve learned that people who aren’t in my skin will never grasp what a day in my life is life. I’ve learned what is getting through a day for me is lazy and unhealthy to others. I rarely drink anymore and I’ve still never done drugs, but if I were to do so and get a jolt of energy to clean and run around the block, no matter the affects it would take on my body, and lose weight because I’d be too high to eat I’d actually get less crap from the people in my life. What kind of bullshit is that?
Because I don’t push my body into more pain I’m “not trying” or I “like feeling bad.” (That second one makes me want to slap someone.) I’ve been told, “It’s easier to feel sorry for yourself than to do something about it.” That’s always a favorite. Because, of course, who wouldn’t want to live in this body and mind. I need to just “be positive” or meditate or walk more.
Am I overweight? Absolutely. Do I want to be smaller so there’s less pressure on my body? Damn right! Do I want to fight tears for 3 days recovering from a walk around the block? Not particularly, but I would if I thought it would make it hurt less the next time. Unfortunately you can’t “walk off” a torn labrum and you can’t exercise away a torn rotator cuff or slipped vertebrae so one at a time I will have the surgeries I need to correct these pains in me and hope to hell I can find that blissful feeling of no more pain than usual after a nice brisk walk again.
Just thinking of the things I want to do, but knowing the pain I would face afterwards causes another burst of depression. The cycle is nonstop.
People who don’t live with pain, or depression, or anxiety will never understand how much we truly want it to be just about being more positive or more active or more whatever else we are told we should do or be. If it were a case of mind over matter no one would choose to live like this. Absolutely no one.
So don’t tell me you can’t be in my life because I’m “unhealthy” to be around, because if you knew what it felt like everyday to get done a fraction of what others do you’d think I was a damn superhero. You’d have mad respect for the fact that I get out of bed, that I want to cook a meal, that I want to walk my dog, that I sometimes take the stairs instead of the elevator, that I participate in any physical or emotional activities, or that I allow your ass to say things to me like I’m “unhealthy.” You SHOULD see me as a survivor, because that’s what I am.
What’s unhealthy is being around people who have no empathy and expect perfection or standards they themselves don’t measure up to.
It’s winter. It’s cold. I’m still making it through one day at a time, but I’m making it through. I’ll be damned if I keep letting anyone who can’t see past their own crap to blame me for their own failings.