Something I haven't been sharing on here recently is my health struggles. Beyond the depression and anxiety, last October or so I began to have back problems. I have had different types of back problems throughout my life, but this time, they have been much worse. Between x-rays and MRIs, doctors have found any number of things that could be causing the pain, but so far nothing has helped. On top of that, my doctors think I may have fibromyalgia, which would explain the fatigue, body pain, brain fog, word recall and memory issues.
Because of these myriad physical issues, I have been out of work from my primary job since mid-March. Unfortunately, I am nearly at the end of my employer's ability to wait and hold my job for me while I get better. I have four appointments in the next week to try to come up with some new avenues to consider, but I've got a deadline to be back at work in order to keep my job, and I don't think I'm going to make it. I am terrified. Having a job to return to has been both a safety net and one of my motivations to get better. I love my job. I want to go back. Work gave me a sense of purpose. I was helping people. I was good at it. It helped push me forward through my therapy and depression last year, knowing my work family was waiting to warmly welcome me home. Now, I have to face the very real potential of the loss of this motivation and safety net.
This week, I was forced to admit that my mobility is much more limited than I wanted to believe. My doctor wrote me a prescription for a wheelchair, which arrived yesterday, and I received my handicapped parking permit today. My pain medications render me unfit to drive. If I know I have to drive, I don't take them, but then the pain renders me useless for much of anything. Now that I have the wheelchair, doing the occasional errand or getting to doctor's appointments is easier because I don't have to walk or stand, but lifting that bugger into and out of the car (sans pain meds) means that, at best, I can only do two errands a day. I have been unable to ferry Mira around to school and gymnastics, do laundry, make beds, load and unload the dishwasher, clean the house, etc.
Phil has really stepped up, and he is positively amazing, but he is burned out and exhausted. He has to do not only most of the work a single parent would, but take care of me on top of that. He has earned all the "good hubby" and "good daddy" points that exist and then some. Lord knows he has lived up to the "for worse" part of our marriage vows these days. But I hate watching the light die in his eyes. I hate seeing how tired he is from trying to do it all. And I hate that I feel powerless to help. Instead, I feel like a giant time and energy suck. Spending my time trying to mentally overcome physical pain just results in physical, mental, and spiritual exhaustion.
Because I feel as though I am of no use to my family or myself, I have begun trying to figure out what makes me valuable. When I was growing up, I struggled to make friends and often felt inadequate or worthless, but I knew I was smart. I knew I was good at school and nothing those people ever said about me could take that away. I measured my value with every "A," every "summa cum laude," every advanced degree I could achieve. I had value, and I knew it. I could see it. It was tangible and measurable. Now, I am very likely about to lose my favorite job in the world and may no longer have the ability to do a vocation for which I am still paying off student loans. As I stare at the approaching precipice of job loss, I am trying to determine what else gives me value.
Sure, I can provide love and hugs to my family, and with my wheelchair, I can now contribute to more chores around the house. But does what I have to offer offset what it takes for them to care for me? Sure, Mira loves me, and I can give her only the things a mom can, but is she going to resent me because I can't go out and play, or run around, or do all of the things I used to do with her? I set a goal to complete half-marathons in honor of Patrick. Ultimately, with enough training and weight loss, I may be able to do them in a wheelchair, but I feel like a failure for having been unable to complete this small gesture to honor his memory.
So, what makes me valuable? The easy answer is I am a child of God; that God saw fit to create me gives me value. That helps me spiritually, to some degree. It reminds me that I have a purpose, and I am here for something, but it still doesn't tell me why I matter. Why should Phil stay with me? Yes, he made a promise, but people do that all the time. Now that I am no longer an equal partner and participant, why should he stay? All I do is make his life exponentially harder. He reassures me that he's in it for the long haul, and I try to believe him. But, unless I can figure out a way to feel valuable without needing his reassurance, I'm going to end up sucking him dry, and it will be a self-fulfilling prophecy.
I think one of the reasons it is so difficult to figure out why/how I am valuable is that I have always used the measuring tools of the "powers and principalities." Can I work? How much do I earn? Am I attractive? Am I capable? Am I able/fit? These are not the reasons I want to value people, and now that I have no value under these standards, they are certainly not how I want my worth evaluated. So, here's the list of characteristics that I have that I think give me value.
1) I'm strong. I've been through a lot of stuff and I am still going. I haven't given up.
2) I'm empathetic and a good listener. I know lots of people who either are going through or have gone through rough times. I provide support by helping them feel heard and, when asked, helping them problem-solve or come up with a plan to overcome issues.
3) I'm funny. This one took me a long time to figure out, mostly because my brother was SO funny, I couldn't see my own skills until I was out and about on my own. I can make people smile. I can usually get Mira to come out of a frump and turn things around to "find the fun" as Joy says in Inside Out.
4) I'm a great planner. Even with my foggy, forgetful memory, I have managed to use alarms on my phone, post-it notes, and any number of other coping tools to keep myself on track even when basic word recall fails me. Mostly.
5) I try. The other day, it was clear that Phil was done. He was beyond done (still is, I imagine, but this was a pretty low level). So, the next morning, I got up and got Mira ready for school. It took every ounce of energy I had and left my body weak and my pain level around an 8. But, I knew that I would have the rest of the day to try to recuperate, and it allowed Phil to sleep in and get a little bit of rest before starting his day. It's not a lot, but I am working hard to show my appreciation and make sure Phil feels valued for everything he's doing.
This is not a complete list--I'm hoping I can still find more value in my existence. And, if you have additional thoughts (whether for me specifically or for people generally), please share. But, it's a start. It's enough to keep me going and feel like I have earned my place in the world for another day. I am still very angry and frustrated that all of this is happening and that I have zero control and absolutely no idea where all of this is going. But I am doing my very best to use it as an opportunity to learn. Because I'm smart. Ooooh. Look at that, I get to put that one back on the list. :)