I’ve always been amazed at the way the brain can compartmentalize traumatic and stressful situations to keep you functioning.
It’s protected my sanity on more than one occasion: after the death of close friends and family members, after my Meniere’s disease diagnosis, and most recently, over a difficult past 12 months.
Stress has kept my nervous system at redline for a while now.
If my body was a car, the engine would have blown months ago. Looking back, I find it remarkable that I was able to function at all.
In the past 9 months alone: My wife was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent surgery while pregnant with our first child. My son Zack was born healthy, but when he was only a few weeks old, my wife started an IVF cycle to preserve her fertility followed immediately by 5 months of difficult chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
During this time, I was diagnosed with GERD and Laryngopharyngeal Reflux, and my grandfather passed away after losing his own battle with cancer.
And all the while, I was raising a newborn, taking care of my wife, working as much as I could, and helplessly watching as the medical bills piled up faster than I could generate income.
In hindsight, it’s a miracle that my health didn’t break down completely. My symptoms spiked and fluctuated constantly, but I never crossed that tipping point I expected at every turn.
Now months later, things have finally calmed down – my son is in daycare, my wife is back to work, and I finally have time to catch up on all the projects I’ve ignored – yet I’m really struggling to get back on my feet.
After pushing myself so hard, for so long, through all this stress, I think it’s all catching up to me now that I have space to breathe.
And once again, I’m faced with the need to rest and recover when all I want to do is charge forward.
It’s hard to rest:
When you live with a chronic illness like Meniere’s disease, you live with unwanted limitations that make demands on your energy levels, mental clarity, and overall ability to function.
Managing your symptoms often requires a delicate balance. Small changes to your routine or lifestyle can have major consequences on your health, and when things go off the rails, rest is a necessary part of getting back on track.
But for a lot of chronic illness patients (like me), it’s so hard to rest and recover without feeling lazy and useless. I struggle with this more than I’d like to admit.
Even when I go into a situation where I know I will push myself past my limitations, where rest days are part of the plan, I still find it hard to slow down and allow myself to recover without feeling guilty.
And it’s even more frustrating when the need to rest catches me off guard, especially when I should have seen it coming.
But on difficult days, rest isn’t laziness, it’s medicine.
It’s an important lesson that I’ve had to learn over and over again, and it’s just as challenging this time as it’s been in the past.
Getting back on track:
Before anything else, I need to give myself permission to rest and recover.
It’s going to take time to get back to where I want to be, and that needs to be okay. It’s not the first time I’ve been knocked off course, and it won’t be the last.
Living well with chronic illness doesn’t mean that every day is perfect, or that your symptoms are managed at all times.
It’s about playing the long game, always making the most of the hand you’ve been dealt, and recognizing that despite your unwanted limitations, you are never actually powerless.
Our power lies in the choices we make. Actor Michael J Fox put it best, “I often say now I don’t have any choice whether or not I have Parkinson’s, but surrounding that non-choice are a million other choices that I can make.”
So, I’m going to start making better choices. I’m going to get back to the healthy habits and routines that have always helped me thrive in the face of Meniere’s disease.
And I’m going to force a new perspective: I don’t have to rest – I have the opportunity to work on myself while I recover.
Rebuilding healthy habits and routines:
Every time I’ve faced adversity, post Meniere’s diagnosis, the decline always starts slowly.
Maybe it’s a couple missed days of exercise or meditation. Or too many early morning appointments where I don’t get enough sleep. Maybe it’s one too many meals with a little bit too much sodium.
Whatever the case, my quality of life usually doesn’t fall apart all at once. But one bad decision, one lapse in discipline, begets the next, until suddenly my health begins to breakdown uncontrollably.
And when the cascade begins, it’s hard to fight back against that kind of downward momentum.
Small changes for the better suddenly feel insignificant and meaningless.
Even when you give it everything you got, it can feel like you’re just going through the motions, that nothing is helping, and it’s all pointless anyways. It’s how I feel today, as I write this post.
When no single choice or action moves the needle very much, it can all seem so hopeless.
But more often than not, it’s these small, seemingly insignificant changes, that start to add up over time and become the foundation of wellness.
It’s a simple idea, but it’s not easy to work on yourself in this way.
In some ways, it feels like I’m starting over. But it’s a choice I’m making – not something that’s happening to me.
I’m getting back on track with my diet and working to remove triggers in a more disciplined manor. I’m exercising again, even though I’m fighting an uphill battle against fatigue. And I’m going to jumpstart my meditation practice, go to bed earlier to make sure I get extra sleep, and focus on reducing stress in as many other ways as I can.
It’s going to take time and a lot of work to start to feel better again, but that’s okay.
Because I’m still standing. I made it to the other side of the craziest year of my life, and there’s only one direction to go from here.