Anyone who has read my other blog knows I’ve been struggling through Pneumonia. Anyone that doesn’t read my blog now knows as well, although really, you should go over there. I’m just saying. Anyway, while I have been able to see the humor in sickness and the medical profession, I felt it important to express that there is much more to being physically ill, especially when this is coupled with another illness, depression.
So what is overwhelmation? I’m glad you asked. Here is the definition.
a. The feeling of being overwhelmed
b. A step before total meltdown
c. A totally made up word
Lately I have been feeling overwhelmation. Pneumonia is an impressive sounding name for a rather impressive illness. It even has a silent “p”. Why is that? Did they add that in to give kids trouble on spelling tests, or is the disease named after the guy that discovered it? Was there a Dr. Pneumon? I could probably answer these questions easily, but who cares? Where was I?
It stinks being sick. This goes without saying of course, but if you are depressed, any sickness becomes much, much worse. Your average person will contract some disease and feel bummed about it, but realize that it will pass and they’ll be back up again in no time. A depressed person will contract the same disease and think ZOMG I am going to DIE and here I haven’t made a will or anything and my husband better not remarry quickly or I will so haunt him.
In case you don’t know much about Pneumonia, it’s a disease of the lungs. Mucus goop gets lodged in your lungs and then gets infected and the body sends soldier cells off to defend you by burning you up from the inside out with fever. Not exactly the best plan, but hey, the body has been doing it for centuries so why change now? In other words, your body is much like the medical profession itself. In my case, I happened to have strong reserve systems, so the doctor was shocked when my Xray came back with so much of this stuff on my lungs. Apparently I was supposed to be without oxygen at that point, but there was my body, pumping away from God knows where.
But at a certain point you reach a breaking point. And I did. They decided that two different antibiotics hadn’t worked, and put me in the hospital. By this point, I’d been sick a week with a horrible cough that threatened to split apart my lower abdomen and a fever that just wouldn’t quit. I was miserable. And I was scared. I got the IV and the blood draws and the Xrays, all at the most convenient of times of course. And I got nurses who were quite good at taking care of my physical needs. But then my husband had to leave me to take care of our children, and I was all alone, and I started to cry. And the nurses backed off, leaving me in tears. Only the sweet Hispanic janitor came to me and gave me a hug saying “God is with you, ‘kay?” I really appreciated that, more than she will ever know.
Why did the nurses ignore my emotional distress? I realize they are very busy people, and they have a lot of work to do. But would it have hurt for them to, say, touch my hand and say “It’s going to be okay” or something? I remember when I gave birth to my eldest daughter, and was again alone in the hospital, and having a panic attack. A sweet nurse brought me cocoa, and it calmed me down. Did the cocoa really take her that long to procure? I don’t think so. But what a world of good it did me.
The mind and body are connected. We know this for a fact. A mental illness can make you physically ill. A physical illness can break you down mentally. It is hard to say where the brain ends and the body begins. Ever gotten a stomach ache when you were nervous about a test? That’s your brain there, but the stomach ache is also quite real. The two are connected. So why do doctors ignore that connection? The mind / body connection holds the key for many people getting over the harshest of illnesses, because hope is more powerful than any manufactured drug.
And that’s what I was struggling with that night. Hope. Despite my cynicism, I actually am an optimistic person. I want to believe that the world will one day be in peace, or at least that countries will stop bombing each other for a few minutes. When I was fourteen and my grandmother was ill with Cancer, I never lost hope. She would get better. It was just a matter of time. One more Chemo treatment, and she’ll be fine. When my father sat me down and said, “You realize that Grandma is going to die, don’t you?” my world crashed. Hope was an illusion. I’d hoped and hoped, and I’d thought positive the whole way through. My grandmother still died of Ovarian Cancer, just months before she was eligible for Social Security.
Hope is a huge part of many religions around the world. I was raised in a secular household, with a family that did not care for organized religion. They certainly had their reasons. And yet here I was, growing up in the Bible belt among believers, but forever shut out. I did join my husband’s church as an adult, but I never really believed. I tried, truly I tried. But I just couldn’t convince myself that there was a happy hunting ground out there for me at the end. It didn’t make logical sense. There were too many holes in the argument. No one wanted to study the Bible with me. I couldn’t make it out of Genesis without driving people crazy with questions.
My husband is a believer, and always has been. His family has for generations had strong faith in God. In some ways, I envy him, for my agnosticism adds one more level of fear to my life. I don’t think about it most days, but when I’m ill, what else is there to think about? There’s only so much Wipe Out you can watch on T.V. after all. So, like Moaning Myrtle in the Harry Potter books, there I was, hanging about in bed, thinkin’ about death. What would become of me? Would I just disappear, vanish, for good? Was that a bad thing? Like Mark Twain, I’ve often wondered why some people wish for a Heaven that is so much like church which, let’s face it, is often incredibly boring. Do we want that for eternity? I don’t know.
There isn’t just Christianity, of course. I could be reincarnated. If I was, I would totally want to come back as a house cat because those little furballs have it made. 17 hour naps and kitty food in those little glass dishes. That would be great. But even if I enjoyed the afterlife, there was one problem. My children. Who would be their mother? That’s what scares me the most. I am their Mom, and no one else. No one can teach them the things that I can. That’s my job. And it can’t be taken away from me so soon. It just can’t.
Now did I truly think this Pneumonia would kill me? No, not really. But I did know that there were other illnesses that could, illnesses that run rampant in my family history. Cancers that eat you inside out, slowly killing you. That is the worst death imaginable for me. I don’t handle ill well. There’s too much time to think, and that is what someone with depression does not need. So as I lay there, day after day, hoping that the next day I would wake up better, but didn’t, I felt the hope slipping away, and I felt myself realizing that this would be what a terminal illness was like. Pain, nausea, misery day after day after day. It’s a horrible thought. And the relentlessly happy campaigns for raising money for Cancer, while noble, sometimes make people feel worse. What do you mean you aren’t going to fight the good fight like a soldier? How can you not be positive? Because I’m sick, that’s why! I’m sick, and I’m sad, and I’m so very, very scared.
Fear is a hallmark of depression. Hope is one of the few cures, however temporary it might be. This long illness, going on three weeks now, has taught me a lot. I’ve realized what is more important. It’s not keeping a neat house (let’s face it, that ain’t gonna happen), and it’s not being the top worker, or making the best grades, or even being a blogger champion. It’s just enjoying life the best you can, and keeping hope alive for yourself and for others. That’s why I believe that hospitals and doctors must focus on both mind and body, even for mentally healthy people. Only then can you heal the entire person. For our bodies are nothing without our souls.
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