Friday, October 28, 2011

The Girl Behind the Mask

I don't let many people see behind the mask that I present to the world. I've always been guarded. Chronic illness makes it more exhausting to keep the mask up, but having an invisible illness makes it easier to appear "fine" to the outside world.

Many people hide behind a mask in order to not burden others with their troubles / struggles, and sometimes it's just to help ourselves get through the pain (by allowing us to "pretend" to be okay for some time). But, one of the problems with hiding behind a mask is that others don't know you're hurting, so they don't offer help... then, you may feel like no one understands you or cares, and the cycle continues.

The most difficult thing now is that I'm not quite sure who the girl behind the mask as anymore. I can't just wait for glimpses of the pre-accident me, but I haven't quite accepted all the ways my life has changed. So, while I continue to re-define myself, I'll give you a peek behind the mask... some of the truth behind the smile. I can see myself writing more on this topic in the future, but here's a peek.

Stages of Grief

Chronic pain involves working through the 5 stages of grief (denial, anger, depression, bargaining, acceptance), over and over. I grieve the loss of good health... my identity... the future I envisioned for myself... and all of those moments lost to pain. I don't always go through the stages in order; and even if I make it to the acceptance stage, I often find myself back in one of the other stages.

Time is Warped

Chronic pain has a way of warping time. Sometimes time just seems to drag by, and it feels like the pain will never cease. Other times, it seems like it flies by.

It's hard to be asked the question, "What have you been doing lately?" Sometimes I haven't been doing anything, except try to make it through days of migraine pain. But, sometimes (most of the time, these days), I honestly don't know the answer. People think that I'm just trying to avoid the question, but I really don't always remember... that's what happens when you have to focus on getting through a moment at a time... time slips away, often with nothing to show for it (no memories, accomplishments, etc...).

I used to plan my life out - days / weeks / months / years. I knew that things wouldn't work out "as planned," but I found comfort in having a plan... a direction. Now, everything seems contingent on how I feel. I rarely drive, limit my time out of the apartment, and miss countless moments that I can never get back (including family get-togethers and friends' weddings). I feel like my life has no (known) plan, direction, or purpose. I know that God will use these trials to fulfill His will, but I don't feel like I'm doing anything more than trying to get through each day.

Mixed Emotions

There are a lot of different emotions that come along with chronic illness. Just some of these are: denial, anger, fear, guilt, anxiety, apathy, devastation, depression, disappointment, grief... but there is also HOPE and GRATITUDE.

It may be difficult to find hope at times, but there's always a possibility that things will get better. This isn't to say that your chronic illness will be cured (it might be, but it very well might not). But, there are many treatments and other things that you can do to help improve your quality of life. Life may not look the way you thought it would, but that doesn't mean that you have to live an empty life completely controlled by pain.

One of the things that has helped me through, has been my family. My family can see the pain in my eyes, no matter how much of a front I have up. They're always there to love and support me, and I'm so grateful for them. I also have the most caring, loving, and understanding husband I could ever imagine. He sees me in the good times and bad... he knows my battle scars, but sees who I am beneath the mask and scars. I'm so blessed to have such a loving God and family!

The Girl Behind the Mask

Who is that girl behind the mask?
What lies behind the smile?

When I go out, instead of putting on make-up,
I find myself putting on a mask.
A mask to superficially cover the incessant pain,
Lost moments, and looming darkness.
A mask to protect others from the burdens
Of living a life with chronic pain.

© 2011 Jamie Valendy.

Drug Disposal

There's a National Take Back Initiative taking place October 29th (10am to 2pm) - see below for details. Local collection sites and law enforcement agencies will be available to safely dispose of accumulated unwanted, unused prescription drugs.

Find a collection site near you.

DEA has scheduled another National Prescription Drug Take Back Day on Saturday, October 29, 2011, from 10:00 am - 2:00 pm. to provide a venue for persons who want to dispose of unwanted and unused prescription drugs.

National Prescription Drug Take Back Day addresses a vital public safety and public health issue. More than seven million Americans currently abuse prescription drugs, according to the 2009 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Each day, approximately, 2,500 teens use prescription drugs to get high for the first time according to the Partnership for a Drug Free America. Studies show that a majority of abused prescription drugs are obtained from family and friends, including the home medicine cabinet.

DEA in conjunction with state and local law enforcement agencies throughout the United States conducted National Prescription Drug Take Back Days on Saturday, September 25, 2010 and April 25, 2011. Nearly, 4,000 state and local law enforcement agencies throughout the nation participated in these events, collecting more than 309 tons of pills.

Four days after last fall’s Take-Back Day, Congress passed legislation amending the Controlled Substances Act to allow the DEA to develop a process for people to safely dispose of their prescription drugs. DEA immediately began developing this process after President Obama signed the Secure and Responsible Drug Disposal Act of 2010 on October 12. Until that process is complete, however, DEA will continue to hold Take Back Days every six months.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Social Security Increase in Benefits

Medicare costs to offset Social Security hike
(CBS News, Oct 19, 2011)
Social Security payments will be increased next year! There hasn't been an increase in benefits since 2009. 2010 and 2011 have been the first two years without a cost of living adjustment (COLA) since automatic increases were enacted in 1975.

Medicare is expected to announce the 2012 Part B premiums early next week. The expected premium will be $106.60 per month; which will lower the paid premiums for about a quarter of those enrolled in Medicare Part B, but increase the premiums for many others.

According to the article I read (here), the amount of wages that will be subject to Social Security payroll taxes will increase from the first $106,800 in wages to the first $110,000. (I think that all of one's income should be subject to taxes, but whatever). Currently, workers pay 6.2% Social Security tax on wages (which is matched by employers), but the tax rate was reduced to 4.2% for 2011.

Monday, October 10, 2011

3-Year Anniversary of Car Accident

Today marks the 3-year anniversary of the car accident that has changed my life forever.

Back before my car accident in October 2008, I worked full-time. A friend had given me this little perpetual calendar with a Scripture verse for each day, and I kept it on my work desk. Luckily, my previous boss is a dear friend of mine, and I was able to get my personal things back from work.

My accident was on October 10. The Scripture for that day is:
"Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see... By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did. By faith he was commended as a righteous man, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith he still speaks, even though he is dead." ~ Hebrews 11:1,4 NIV
The chronic, debilitating pain that was caused by the accident has been a time of great trial for me, affecting every aspect of my life. My faith has been / is being tested.

I try to keep in mind something a close friend of mine told me (on the one year anniversary of my car accident): "Think of today as the anniversary of the day God entrusted a season of spiritual growth, understanding and total dependence upon Him that you would not have acquired any other way."

In the midst of pain that never ceases, it can be extremely difficult to remember that our God still loves and cares for us. But, the lessons that I'm learning during this time are important...
  • Trust
  • Faith
  • Humility
  • Dependance / Surrender
  • Adaptability / Flexibility
  • True Love / Intimacy
  • Communication (at least with my husband)
I'm not yet at a point where I can be thankful for these trials and suffering; but I'm doing my best to accept the way things are now, to learn the lessons that come my way, and to build / deepen my relationship with my Lord (and with my husband).
Disclaimer: Nothing on this blog is intended as medical or legal advice.

What I write on this site is my own, and if it is someone else's, I take special care to attribute it to the original author. So, please don't use any of my material without proper attribution or permission. Thanks.