The Struggle is Real
What I thought of as a cliché has become the central theme of my life.
The tea spilled out of the pot, dripped down the counter, and flowed across the floor. Rivulets of honey brown liquid followed the grout line to the edge of the cabinets and then disappeared out of view. I stood there just staring at the tea and then at my hand like some sort of simpleton, as if I couldn’t comprehend what had just happened.
Frustration bubbled up in the form of a sudden sob and I choked it back while accidentally slamming the pot against the counter. Shards of glass shot in ten different directions as I closed my eyes and willed it all away to the cornfield like that classic episode of the Twilight Zone. It was only 9 a.m., Monday morning and I’d been awake all of two hours. This day, like the one before it, was going to be a struggle.
The saying “the struggle is real,” must have been coined by someone living with a chronic illness. Many of my days are a struggle mentally, physically or both. Once upon a time in a body far, far away, I would wake up each morning, stretch languidly with zero pain, stare at the sunlight filtering through the blinds, and think to myself, “Today is going to be a great day.”
That memory seems like a lifetime ago. My mornings now begin with a silent assessment of where I hurt the most before even moving a muscle. I don’t write this to complain, but rather to contrast what my ‘new normal’ was like long before the phrase was adopted by the media to describe the abbreviated life lived by most in the current pandemic.
The struggle of living with an invisible illness isn’t new to me. This particular struggle I know intimately well. We went all the way on our first date and got hitched on day three. Now, we spend everything waking moment locked together in misery. Still, it seems that each week brings some new annoying and painful reminder that there is no ‘normal’ in chronic illness.
When I speak with others who suffer from a similar affliction, our stories are all the same. It begins with some innocuous pain or malady, followed by surgery and/or medication, and then by some sort of conclusive diagnosis and a corresponding series of comorbidities. The last straw is the resulting depression that inevitably develops while learning to live with our limitations and torments.
A month ago, my new specialist added a diagnosis to my list: atypical pain. This really means “we have no idea what causes this or how to treat it.” For me, it feels like all my teeth are being knocked out Cast Away style and I just went ten rounds with Mike Tyson. For my doctors, it’s just another in a long list of neurological issues that tend to occur in people with my primary condition.
The little bit of hope I held that there would be a miracle cure for all my broken parts flew out the window when the doctor asked, “Know how to treat phantom pain? With phantom pills, because there’s very little we can offer you.”
“The struggle is real,” I told my neurologist a week later when she asked what the specialist prescribed. The new medication does help control my pain, but not without consequences. I’m tired, but can’t sleep. I break out in hot flashes in the middle of winter. My nose runs non-stop which causes a slight cough, not ideal in the time of COVID. As of last week, I have developed severe paresthesia in my hands, which means sometimes they don’t work so well as evidenced by the shattered teapot on my kitchen counter.
I shake it off, both mentally and physically. I grab a roll of paper towels and a dustpan since nothing disappeared to the cornfield as I had hoped. It’s Monday morning at 9:30 a.m. and the struggle resumes.