A HEALING JOURNEY
I have decided to start a blog where I will share new insights as they come into being. They have been flooding in of late. I get a bit of information here, a bit there, and suddenly I have an incredible "Aha" moment. I have another piece of the puzzle! The world is finally starting to make sense, and I am growing.
A HEALING JOURNEY
For years now, I have been asked to share the story of my journey back to health. Today, I finally felt strong enough to share it with you. What led to a new understanding was Marissa Peer on Mindvalley. She recommends telling one’s story in the third person. This allows us to review our past instead of relieving it. As it is, much of this blog no longer feels like it is part of me, it is just something that happened but no longer holds power. I went one step further. I have given this part of myself a name: Angelika. (One of my sergeants in the US Army kept calling me that.)
Angelika joined the military in 1987. It was her way out of a failed marriage and a way to provide for herself and her two children. All went well until the day she stepped into a hole and severely twisted her ankle. After a while, the pain in the entire lower leg made it impossible for her to run or to stand for more extended periods. She spent times working on crutches which caused more health problems.
During her time in the military, Angelika was taking night classes. She was determined on getting into the green to gold program and to become an officer. As the pain increased, this avenue was barred to her. She was the only one in her field who was promotable, had the points for the promotion, but could not attend the necessary training. Realizing this she worked harder on her geology degree. When she ran out of accelerated classes to take on post, she agreed to apply for a medical discharge.
Getting out of the army and exercising on her own terms helped immensely. Angelika enrolled in courses at a local university and continued to work towards her degree. The semester she was to graduate, she met her new husband. Several months later they were married and bought a house together out in the country. For a while, all went well.
Since all the universities having geophysics programs for a Master Degree were located on or near major earthquake faults and her husband was a professor at the school she had graduated from, Angelika switched over to Biology and later Health and Human Performance. The farm was something Angelika had always wanted but going to college and working she was too busy to truly enjoy it. While she was attending classes, she had also been working in various positions at the university. Trying to keep up the house and garden, take care of the family and the beloved pets, remodel the old home, and work started taking a toll. Once she had completed her degree, she was hired as the temporary lab manager for the Geology Department. Her husband worked there as well making commute convenient for the pair.
The job turned out more stressful than it should have been due to conflicts within the department. The old problem dating from the military once again started to flare and this time with a vengeance. An incident at the university ended up in the elimination of Angelika’s job. It was also in many ways another nail in the coffin of an already failing marriage.
Angelika was trying to be a good mother, to do the right thing for her daughter even at the expense of herself. She had been staying with her husband because she did not want to drag her daughter through another divorce. This fed right into a martyr complex. From a young age on it had been instilled into her head that women sacrificed themselves for their children and husbands. This was what her mother had always done. The lady had made sure that the family knew it. Guilt, after all, is a great way to control.
The bond of the marriage had been broken. For many years Angelika had tried to make things work and get close to her husband, but she lacked the knowledge and the tools to effectively deal with the situation. The self-sacrificing attitude now took on all new proportions. Angelika did what she had done all her life. She started to turn within and retreated more and more. Giving up her life for her daughter was easy, living and facing the world was so much harder.
Over time, her condition continued to worsen. On top of the RSD (Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (a progressive and often irreversible pain disorder) she developed fibromyalgia, panic attacks, severe anxiety, arthritis, IBS (Irritable Bowl syndrome), asthma, migraines, just to name a few. With every passing month, things deteriorated. The downward spiraling was picking up speed all the time.
As the emotional ache grew, so did the pain in her body. She had this notion in her head that if she could not make this marriage work, there was no chance of happiness for her ever. She might as well give up on life. Soon this led to feeling that she was better off dead. The descent into darkness had truly begun.
Angelika became more and more dependent on a wheelchair and medications. At first, she had not wanted to take morphine, but when the pain became unbearable, she finally relented. The drug did what antidepressants had not been able to do, it created a sense of warmth and well-being, of being disconnected from all that agony from her body and soul. Unfortunately, higher and higher doses were needed to have the same effect. For a while, she was also getting injections into the spine to numb the nerve, but this only worked for a while.
When Angelika finally maxed out on morphine, other painkillers were added. The number of different medications and gadgets was at one time up to 28 items. She was no longer able to read, could not remember a conversation, only left the house for doctors’ appointments. Even with all that medication, the pain patches, tens unit, and so on she was still in unbearable pain. The doctors told her that eventually, the pain would completely overwhelm her, life would become unbearable. She had taken steps for just this event.
At this point, Angelika’s life expectancy was a few years at best. She was waiting to die, and all that kept her tethered to this plane of existence were her beloved pets. She had already disconnected from the people around her and life. The garden which had once been her pride and joy went neglected. She grew afraid to even set foot out the door. The young woman had resigned herself that her life was over, it was just a matter of when.
Somewhere along the line some will to survive started to assert itself. The back injections began to increase the pain and had to be stopped. Angelika was in agony no matter how much medication she took. The pain clinic treating her was ignoring her requests for physical therapy. The doctor seemed to be more interested in prescribing than healing. Any attempt to reduce medications was met with “Nobody goes down on medications, you just keep going up. That is just the way it is. You will never get out of that wheelchair.”
Angelika finally hit rock bottom. Monthly visits to the emergency room and yet more medications resulted but nothing even came close to deadening the pain. Fate, however, was about to interfere. Her husband had hidden how much all that treatment was costing them. They were basically bankrupt. It was time to go back to the Veterans Hospital for medical care.
Once she had an evaluation, Angelika was referred to the clinic there. She gave up her spot with her previous physician. The appointment was some ways out. At this point, Angelika had enough. Why live in a daze when it was not numbing the pain? With no one in charge of her care, she decided on Thanksgiving to leave away half of her dose of time-release morphine. It was rough and the withdrawals terrible, but she made it. This was the first step on her journey back to the world.
The VA pain doctor’s approach was very different. He prescribed a much better nerve stimulator to start with. Unfortunately, he was an hour away, and Angelika was not legal to drive on all that medication. It made it hard for her husband to take her to Nashville and make it back to Clarksville in time to teach his classes. An attempt to return to the previous doctor failed. Luck led her to a rehab specialist closer to home. The weaning of medications began.
In 2008, after undergoing an endoscopic procedure, Angelika developed pancreatitis. Days later, when she was finally able to eat, the first food she ingested had gluten as the third ingredient. Not trusting the hospital food to be gluten free and knowing how sick it made her, she had asked her husband to get her some soup. He, unfortunately, had his mind on his failing computer and grabbed the wrong can.
That night, Angelika came as near death as she had ever been in her life. None of her suicide attempts as a teenager (another form of running away) had ever gotten her this close. The doctors had no clue what to do and loaded her up with the only thing they could think of, Benadryl. As her condition worsened, the entire world was reduced to one little red dot. Then, it was gone. Deep peacefulness and a floating in darkness followed and later a gradual return of awareness. Before she became fully conscious, she saw herself on a boat on the water with trees growing right down to the shoreline. A man with dark curly hair had his arm around her shoulders, and she could feel the love which they shared.
At that very moment, a fierce determination to get her life back was born. She created a plan of recovery and set it in motion. Using both the VA and her husband’s insurance, she did physical therapy for about 18 months. Her husband, being a good man at heart and being supportive, picked her up at home and took her to her appointments at least twice a week. The last time she sat in that wheelchair was in May of 2010.
In December of that year, Angelika’s mother in Germany suffered a severe stroke. No one figured that she would survive. The old lady had never wanted to go to a nursing home. Being the only one not working, Angelika volunteered to help with the care. Her mother’s gradual slide into death took until the middle of August, and Angelika stayed with her and cared for her for all but the 6 weeks when she had to return to the States.
Angelika used the time she spent with her mother to her advantage. She organized someone to sit with the invalid every day so she could go walking. She worked on forgiving, lost weight, and grew stronger and healthy again. One of the neighbors commented that she arrived as an old lady but left as a young girl. To make sure that her dad was able to cope, she stayed on until the end of September.
While with her parents, Angelika had made up her mind. She was moving to Washington State to be closer to her son. It was time to start a new life. Having been diagnosed with heat intolerance in 2009, she had been looking for a place to move to for a while now. Her husband had been supportive of this. Their marriage was in name only, and both knew it. He was good with her living elsewhere just as long as he was still able to visit, and they stayed married. He helped her buy a house in Gig Harbor, and she moved in on the 29th of November of 2011.
For Angelika, this was the beginning of a whole new life. Being on her own with just her pets she managed to overcome her fear of leaving the house. Groceries, after all, are sort of an essential and people grew tired of giving her rides. A scare with some lumps in her breast kicked her spiritual growth into a higher gear.
Once again, the Divine was looking out for her. A friend brought by a couple of books by Doreen Virtue and by pure chance she came across a show from the Midwestern Center for Anxiety and Depression. The program made so much sense that she ended up buying it. It taught her cognitive skills to deal with her problems and lead to incredible insights and healing. The comprehension that her anxieties would not kill her was huge.
In May of 2012, she and her husband signed the documents for an official separation. He watched the pets and the house while she went on a cruise. They still spent some time together and were trying to stay friends. He enjoyed Washington State, but Angelika noticed that she got sick rather quickly every time he came to visit. Phone calls left her feeling guilty about not sharing her news with him until one day she tried. She came to the realization that what she had to say was of no real interest to him.
In December of 2012, Angelika finally managed to be accepted into the VA pain clinic in Seattle. The fentanyl patch she had been using was starting to depress her blood pressure to unsafe levels. A change was needed. This clinic had a very different approach, and the doctors were incredibly supportive when she decided to reduce the dosage. She had been told so many times that she would never do without narcotics that she had come to believe it. Doing entirely without had never even entered her mind as an option.
The switch from fentanyl patch to pill morphine, however, did not go well. The pills were making her feel downright sick. So, with her doctors’ approval, Angelika started to wean off the morphine. She did this at home and all on her own since she preferred to stay close to her pets. Getting off Lyrica had been difficult, so she was sure she could do this. It turned out to be rather intense, especially the last little bit. All you have heard about bugs crawling in your arms, the tremors, the sweats, the headaches, the despair, it’s all true.
Angelika took her very last dose on the 27th of December. What followed made the rest seem like a breeze in the park. The next three days were pure hell, but by New Year’s Day of 2013, she was clean. For the first time since 2003, she was completely legal to drive, totally off medication, and able to maintain. She managed the pain with Mindfulness, Hemi-sync, and Dr. Emmett Miller meditations. She was walking, had started to dance again, and felt like life was beginning all over again.
Since then, Angelika has sailed across the ocean from Seattle to Maui, sailed around Hawaii, lived on a boat, walks every day, and in 2016, did her first 10-mile hike! What a milestone! To come from needing a wheelchair to even get into a store to this kind of a wonderful life is an amazing feat.
I am very proud of how far I have come but also very protective of this progress. I eat carefully and gluten free, take my vitamins, meditate, and work very hard to keep a positive attitude at all times. I have become a much better friend to myself. I am also still learning, still growing, and intend to continue working on becoming an even better and brighter person. One thing I now know for certain: Anything is possible if you only believe you can do it!