My life hasn’t been normal for a twenty-something living in the suburbs of Washington, DC. Just 18 months after I could legally drink, I found myself stripped of all the independence I had spent time gathering while traveling across Europe for a summer program, working and taking care of myself at college, and moving to New York City even though I didn’t know anyone there. Instead of gathering more life experiences that would shape me into who I was becoming after school, I was thrown into learning the importance of appreciating even little moments in difficult days, and I was facing health issues that most people twice my age hadn’t even begun to deal with yet.
I would switch around a few of these. For example, I think taking a shower and shaving or washing my hair takes more than 2 spoons, but going shopping only takes 3, depending on the task (as long as I don’t have to push a cart or carry a lot). I have always been a really big fan of a nice, hot shower, but I honestly don’t even remember my pre-POTS showers. I don’t remember what it’s like turning the dial to the “H” without knowing that my heart is about to start racing like I’m running a marathon, and allotting some time to lie down after I’m done shampooing. I do remember the days I couldn’t wash my own hair, though. I remember first getting sick and not being able to stand in the shower because I would pass out. I remember sitting down in the bathtub in my pink paisley bikini so my mom could shampoo and condition my hair for me since the room was always spinning around me and I couldn’t stand by myself for more than a few minutes. In hindsight, the way my hair was washed is really similar to the way my dog, Macy, gets her hair washed now. We both just sat there and let someone else do a task we are less than thrilled about, but need to have done. I was 22 years old, had just graduated from college, and could not take care of even my most basic needs.
Despite making slow improvements with POTS, I still always look fine, so people usually cannot tell if I’m having a “good day” or “bad day” just by looking at me. Nobody else can see the way my vision blacks out whenever I stand up too quickly, or when my pain is acting up. Whenever I see someone pop right out of bed when they wake up on television I laugh to myself and think, “That’s so unrealistic!” then I quickly realize that it’s actually most people’s reality. Most people can jump right up from laying down to a standing position and not feel repercussions from their body. I don’t remember ever being able to do that, but logically I know that five years ago I would have been able to. Actually, come to think of it, it probably would have really freaked me out if I couldn’t pop right out of bed all of a sudden!
There are many things that I don’t remember from my pre-POTS life. I don’t remember what it’s like living with a “0” on the pain scale, I don’t remember being able to be low maintenance when traveling or going out with friends, and I don’t remember what it’s like feeling like you’re in the same boat with all your peers. College is so great because even though you are all doing such different things, you are all working toward some sort of career goal. I get sick of explaining what POTS is over and over again, and I hate the look of pity in someone’s eyes after I get done telling them about how even though I am still young, I ended up with a life-changing health condition at the very beginning of my twenties.
There are a lot of things I do remember so well from my old life, though. I remember going outside and finding out it was a beautiful day, so going for a long run. I remember deciding on a whim to train for a half marathon, and bumping up my mileage with ease. My brain remembers going to work and sitting at a computer all day long and all of the projects that I did, but I don’t really remember how it felt. I think about it now and wonder how I was able to do all of that without feeling stiff as a board and paying for it for the rest of the week. I have no idea how I ever survived without a foam roller or physical therapy. Did my body really once not hurt? Why didn’t I take advantage of that more?
I have been blessed, though. The crazy thing about POTS is there isn’t a lot of treatment that helps you get better, other than hard work in the gym (Which is done on the recumbent bike and with tiny hand weights), a good diet, and a great deal of luck. Getting sick has made me learn that there is no doubt in my mind that God does exist, and He has so much power and love to give. I still can’t believe how much more clearly I can think without all of the dizziness and brain fog, and I feel blessed to have good days mixed in with the bad. I actually think that most of the time I am probably on the higher end of the “happy scale” than a lot of twenty-somethings because I have learned to find the joy in the little things in life. I feel happy when I get to meet a new dog, I love being able to go outside for long and leisurely walks, and I really feel at peace every night when I look up at the stars. It’s really amazing to realize that even with so many planets and heavenly bodies so far away, my Creator still loves and cares about me. I always feel small when I think about how far away the stars are and how many other people there are in the world, but it really is amazing that God has a plan for each and every one of our intricately detailed lives.
I still don’t know why I got POTS or what my life is going to look like with it moving forward, but I am going to continue to share my journey and what I’ve learned with people, and I am going to keep working toward a more normal life. I’ve used a few spoons writing this and am getting dizzy because I really need a salty lunch, but I will be writing about The Spoon Theory again on my blog in the next week or so. I want you all to know what I use my spoons on, and how stealing a spoon from another day can be great because I am able to enjoy outings with friends, but it makes playing catch-up difficult the very next day. I, as well as all my other spoonie friends, just want to feel like everyone in life just gets it. That won’t happen unless we begin speaking out about our chronic illnesses, though, so I am going to continue being vocal about what life looks like on the inside for someone with a chronic illness.
Please take a minute to read this article by Christine Miserando about how she created The Spoon Theory. It is explained so darn well here, and I — along with every other person with a chronic illness — would give anything for people in my life to actually understand what it means to use spoons throughout the day.