Living In Recovery

All roads lead to Normal. Or is that from Normal?

I went through several months after being diagnosed with hypothyroidism of the thought, this is my life.  My life was dragging my heavier self out of be for work and crawling right back into it when I got home.  I was still looking for answers as to why I was feeling worse after my diagnosis even though the Synthroid seemed to be doing what it was supposed to.

It was several months later when I was off the Synthroid and feeling better that I had an epiphany while at a training for work.  On recovery.

While the focus of the training was about recovery for those with mental illness, I was struck by similar feelings with a chronic physical illness.  I was living in the stage of allowing myself to be defined and limited by my diagnosis.   I put myself in a box and kept myself there, still thinking, this is my life.  I was resigned to living a life in which I was not 100% healthy.  That is who I was.

It’s not who I am anymore.

In mental health, recovery is enabling clients with mental illness to live life in their community to their fullest potential.  In a nutshell. Many people receiving mental health services have no idea there is a better life after diagnoses than the life they are living.  Most of them have never even heard of recovery, unless you’re talking about substance abuse, and that’s a whole different beast right there.

The stages of recovery are as follows:

  1. Handling the impact of the illness
  2. Feeling like life is limited
  3. Realizing and believing that change is possible
  4. Commitment to change
  5. Actions for change

I was stuck in the second phase for a few months.  No one ever said anything about how life could be better after my diagnosis other than, “The Synthroid will work.  Just give it time.”  Well, 6 weeks after first taking it and I’m feeling worse, I kinda felt it was all a sham.  I knew it wasn’t because it was people I knew who dealt with the exact same thing telling me this.   However, when you’re at rock bottom, you think the worst and you get stuck thinking that this is what the rest of your life will be like.

Once my Naturopath discovered the Synthroid was causing problems and I was off of it feeling better, I was still thinking, this is what life is like.  Taking supplements every day to keep my thyroid going and dealing with symptoms as they liked to surprise.  Hello, Migraine, my old friend.  Vertigo, nice to see you again.  Heart Palpitations, you scared me.  During this stage is when people tend to define themselves as their diagnosis.  Schizophrenic.  Celiac.  Gluten intolerant.  I worked with many clients who would introduce themselves and then go right into, “I’m Bipolar.”  But they were so much more than the diagnosis.

It was during the training that I started realizing, things really can change.  Why should I live in box under the misguided belief that my quality of life would never be better? Why should I have to deal with symptoms for the rest of my life?   I am not Hypothyroid.  I have Hypothyroidism and the symptoms love to plague me.  That was my thinking from that day on.

I began digging.  And digging.  And digging.  Friends did some digging.  I did more digging.  I made changes.  Many changes.   During the holidays, too.  Probably the worst time of year to make dietary changes, but I did pretty well following a whole foods diet.  I allowed myself a little of everything at Christmas and I was back to business.  I was determined to be more than a hypothyroid, which meant doing all I could to help support my thyroid through whole foods, less medications, and eliminating as many toxins in my environment as possible.

Then I discovered my problem with gluten a few months later and while I first grieved the loss, I was happy with how much better I felt 6 weeks after being off gluten.  I had never felt so healthy.

Part of moving out of the second stage and into the last stages is to stop defining yourself as your diagnosis.  Whoever you are reading this, you are not your diagnosis.  You just happen to have some kind of chronic illness that has to be managed by diet or diet and medication.  Start using person first language with everyone, including your doctor(s).  If you don’t know what person first language is I’ll give you an example.  I have Hypothyroidism secondary to either having Celiac or gluten intolerance, and I happen to follow a gluten-free diet.  Put yourself first to remind everyone, including yourself, that you are a person and not a chronic illness(es).  The same goes for family members or friends you may be helping.  They are not Celiac or gluten intolerance.  They have Celiac or gluten intolerance.

Using person first language takes the focus off the diagnosis for everyone.  Yes, knowing the diagnosis and how to live with it is important, especially for recovery.  But, to move forward and be able to live our best lives possible, we cannot focus solely on our diagnosis(es).  A quality life includes going out with friends, socializing, engaging in the activities we loved before getting sick or even finding new ones.

It’s time to live in recovery if you aren’t already!

 

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8 comments

  1. Another exceptional post, Debi! Love that graphic, too. I don’t get too hung up on how I say it, but I do think it can have a huge impact. I think probably most often I simply say “I eat gluten free.” So much ties to the victim mentality, that it’s out of our control. I took a class called Totally Responsible Person a number of years ago and it had a big impact on my thinking, as the main message was “You are not a victim. You are a Totally Responsible Person.” When I was at Dr. Fine’s conference in November and there was an open mike session, one of the folks talked about us all being victims. I winced. While many of us have been dealt a bad hand with lack of diagnosis or incorrect diagnoses, I don’t think we can move on if we think of ourselves as victims or our diseases/conditions, which is what you are saying, too. Imagining that you’re in recovery is huge for healing and being open to other possibilities like when you and your friends were doing all that digging for answers. I believe that we have to visualize, to “see” ourselves well and going out with friends and family, and being happy and healthy to move on. Some folks are angered by this approach because they believe it dismisses the gravity of the disease/condition, but personally I don’t think so. I remember thinking that things were only going to get worse and that’s what I was limited to. But then finally, I got mad one day and said “Enough!” when the gynecologist who was treating me after my hysterectomy told me that I needed psychological counseling. I never went back and that anger is what led me to the right doctors and finally answers. That was the path to recovery. I’m still on it, but when I think of how far I’ve come, I’m so grateful. I shudder to think where I’d be today if I had continued to accept that state as my life.

    Thanks for this series, Debi. It’s just wonderful!

    Shirley

    • Thanks, Shirley! I never really intended to do a series, but sometimes, things turn out different from what you envisioned. 😀 Believe it or not, I took that picture at a rest stop a couple of years ago when we were driving from Chicago to Peoria with my cousin and aunties to see Granny’s sister and brother-in-law. There really is a place called Normal! I used it in a post before and thought it was a good time to use it again.

      You are so right about not seeing ourselves as victims, especially when it comes to misdiagnoses and lack of one for years. When I think about it, I was never correctly diagnosed throughout my life and I could be bitter about it. But, there is no point wallowing in it. I at least have the right diagnosis now and that is what matters to me. So glad you went on that search. My gluten-free eating would be a lot different without you! And Chaz never would’ve finally liked pumpkin pie!

      *hugs*

  2. I needed this post today. I have so many “illness” issues that I battle and usually feel I overcome, but today they just beat the stew out of me. I am draggin’ with my thyriod issues right now … thanks for sharing. I needed to remind myself of what I already know.

    blessings on you!

  3. Awesome Post, sis! I’m stuck @ #3 … Maybe not actually having a bona fide diagnosis keeps me from feeling justified in moving on to #4. Right now it’s a hunch, and without the diagnosis the support to change (from some) is just not there.

    At least I have your support 🙂

    • Thanks, sis. Remember, I don’t have an official diagnosis either. At least not one supported by the usual medical tests only by going gluten-free and getting better that way. We both know it works for you and is not just a hunch. You know you always have the support and if I have to, I can drive out there and knock some sense into some people. 😉

  4. I just started following your blog after starting one of my own called “Confronting Hypothyroidism: eating and exercising my way to a healthy thyroid.” I enjoyed your post for many reasons–one is that I could relate. I also responded to the recovery steps, and felt even more inspired as I just recently started seeing a nutritionist and have committed to making some BIG changes in my lifestyle. I only just typed my “About” page yesterday, and am looking forward to writing my first official post. Thank you for sharing this post–I look forward to reading some more!

    ~Susan


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