When I was in my mid-twenties, there was a period of about one week in which I cried most of the day, every day. That doesn’t sound like a long time, but it felt like months. I was completely disabled by my emotions. I would fluctuate from a few tears to hysterics. I had friends that I would call and cry to on a regular basis. Some of them tried their best to assign a good reason for my distress. The theories were astounding! A popular one, and one I attempted to work with, was that I was grieving the future loss of my lungs. I was preparing to move back home for my transplant and therefore I was unconsciously sad about the prospect of my body parts being replaced. Yes, we were grasping at straws. The emotion was so out of control, however, that there was a desperation to hone in on the problem and resolve it.
One night, I was sobbing in my bed. I thought I was losing my mind. I got up and began to get dressed. It was time to check myself into the funny farm. I needed help and I couldn’t stand the mysterious angst any longer. Ultimately, however, I chose to put off the funny farm, got back in bed and decided I’d start by calling a therapist in the morning.
I got a few names from my CF doctor and placed a few frantic calls to local psychologists. None of them called me back. (What’s up with that?) I was left to my own devices.
I don’t know what made me think of it. I don’t know how the bell went off in my head. Nonetheless, like a light bulb in a dark room, it dawned on me that all of these problems had started around the time I began taking birth control. I called my gynecologist and spoke with her. She explained that I must have a problem with estrogen withdrawal. I am fine when I am on the pill but when I take the sugar pill, during the week of my cycle, my body reacts to the lack of estrogen. In short, my hormones were making me crazy. I can’t tell you how much I wished I had been informed of that possible side effect!
As much as I want to interact and enjoy myself, I just can’t physically find the energy. As much as I’d like to be able to engage in conversation, my brain is simply out of order and I can’t form clear thoughts. As much as I’d like to smile, my mouth is too heavy and it remains flat.
This is how depression feels. This is how fatigue feels. This has been a part of my illness.
For so much of my life, I have thought of myself as a somber person. I have labeled myself “serious”, “dull” and “dark”. That is, before I started getting more sleep. The difference in my personality when I am sleepy and when I am energized is striking. My body needs more sleep than the 8-9 hours a night suggested by the experts. If I miss some sleep, I must make up for it with naps. If I don’t, I will quickly fall back into my fatigue and depression.
There were so many years that I was unaware of this need. Instead, I went about labeling and identifying myself by the behaviors that manifest when I am just exhausted. Today, with consistent and sufficient rest, my husband thinks of me as “One of the happiest people he has ever known”. I still laugh when he says that. It’s so hard to see myself in a different, cheerful light.
There are so many things that can affect our mood. Sleep. What we ate. Medications. Hormonal cycle. Blood Sugar. Pain. And yet, it is often our inclination to search for an emotional source instead of considering a physiological one. While I am a huge fan of dealing with emotions, there are some feelings that will only pass with time or a physical adjustment. Did you know that it is possible to cry as a release without assigning a meaning to the tears? I didn't.
To act on physiological emotions can prove hazardous to one’s life. How many times have I decided that my feelings were related to a person, had a fight with them and then regretted my words once my physical state resolved? Too many! How many times have I gotten fed up and threatened to quit my job? Pretty much every month around “that time”! How many times has rage flared up within my chest at the mere raising of someone’s eyebrow? Every time I take a certain dose of prednisone!
It is important to pay attention and consider biochemical reasons for emotions, especially when you are dealing with illness. Unfortunately, you can not make negative feelings disappear with your desire. You can, however, allow them without needing to act on them. Often, discovering that an intense feeling is coming from your physical state, not a problem with your life, can be a relief. That alone can help to calm the storm. Regardless, one must hunker down and wait for the storm to pass without doing too much damage to your life in the meantime!