When someone is facing illness, injury, or surgery, it seems like everyone has a story to tell and advice to give. Some people have had bad experiences and others have had good ones, but usually when you’re facing the problem you hear all about the bad stuff. It seems like everyone has advice on what you should do, and no one’s advice is the same. These people have good intentions. They want to help you, but they don’t realize they are only hurting you. When you are struggling with mental illness, all these experiences and advice can lead to worsening of your illness.
In a past blog post I wrote about injuring my back. One of the physical therapists thought that maybe I had a bulging disk and she told me that it could be treated by therapy. She suggested I get an MRI to get a diagnosis. I tried everything to get better. I went to my chiropractor, I took a week and a half off from work, I called my doctor who prescribed muscle relaxers and pain killers, and I started physical therapy. Everything caused more pain, so my doctor set it up for me to get an MRI.
I prayed and prayed it would just be a bulging disk and therapy would make it better. I even convinced myself that my therapist was right, and I would be fine. When the nurse from my doctor’s office called, I was devastated. She said I have degenerative disk disease and narrowing of the spine. She went on to tell me she was going to schedule me with a surgeon to discuss my options. I called my husband at work, crying, and then I called my mom, crying. I couldn’t stop crying. I’ve already been through so much. Seven surgeries and breast cancer.
I texted a family member and the response I got was, “Don’t have back surgery. Back surgeries are not good. You can go through pain management.” I told another friend and she started telling me stories of back surgeries that went wrong and caused more problems. In the first place, the last thing I wanted to think of was another surgery after I been through so many. Secondly, their stories and advice made me even more scared to see a surgeon.
The more stories and advice I heard from friends and co-workers, the more my anxiety grew, and I began to worry obsessively. What if I have no choice but to go through surgery and end up crippled? What if surgery makes my back worse and I must quit my job? I fought so hard to keep this job while struggling with mental illness and now a back injury could take it away. How could I live with this pain? If I just manage my pain, then I can’t workout anymore and I’d gain back all the weight I lost. I can’t go through another surgery. Not one that would ruin my life. The worries go on endlessly.
The surgeon’s office called last Tuesday with my appointment day and time, July 8th. How could I wait three weeks? What am I supposed to do for three weeks? Listen to more advice and people’s experiences? I can’t wait that long!!! I’ll go crazy wondering, “Will I need surgery or are there other procedures they can do?” I need to know now!! How do I stop worrying? How do I keep calm? I’m going to fall apart. I can’t fall apart. I came too far to lose it now. I’m going to have to go through another surgery and I’ll have to do it with Lou at home. I can’t do it without Lou. I can’t do this. I can’t have another problem.
One co-worker told me, “Join the crowd. You just have arthritis like everyone else. You’ll learn to deal with it.”
This made me feel like my pain was no big deal. The sudden shooting pains that made me nearly drop to my knees were nothing. The pains that made me cry out during the night were no big deal. One minute a family member was telling me to try pain management, and the next a co-worker was telling me my pain was normal like everyone else who was aging. I couldn’t just do nothing but learn to deal with it. I wanted to scream at her, “This is more than just arthritis. I’m suffering.”
Depression began to drag me into that hole again. The emotions ran through my body like a raging thunderstorm. I wanted to lie in bed and cry, but lying in bed hurt. The only way I can sleep in bed is with pain killers. All those people with their stories and advice meant well, but instead it hurt me. I felt like I was losing control of my mental wellbeing. I couldn’t let that happen. I couldn’t risk my mental health. I came up with the idea that I would from this point on only share my back problems with positive and encouraging people. For those who couldn’t provide that, I would kindly ask them to keep their negativity and advice to themselves. I also sit each night and journal my feelings.
If you are facing a situation where everyone has an experience to tell you about or advice to give you, politely ask them to stop. Tell your friends and family you need positivity and encouragement. In the end, it’s your body and your choice. Don’t let others’ attempts to help you hurt you and push you down the dark hole. Stand up for yourself and tell others what you need and only tell those who can be supportive and uplifting.
I chose that from now on I will only discuss my back problems and whatever lies ahead of me with those who will encourage me, be positive, and who will just listen. These people will hold me up in the light despite what is to come.