We all know the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Whether we've actually gone through the stages ourselves or know them strictly via hear-say, the idea is a common one in our culture today- to the point where most people can name at least a few of the stages of grief, if not all of them, if asked.
Over the last ten years, age has (unfortunately) started to show in my family and we have gone through more than our fair share of surgeries, diagnoses, treatments, chemo therapies, deaths, etc.; so the idea of the five stages of grief was more than just "something I've heard of somewhere," it was a real part of my life, and that of my family's. This was something I was both aware of and familiar with. Funnily enough, though I was able to recognize these stages when I dealt with a death in my life or when I watched people around me manage their health struggles -and was able to immediately identify the stages for what they were and respond accordingly- when it came to recognizing that I was actually going through these stages myself in my own health journey- I literally had no idea. It took me YEARS to properly identify and finally just accept that the stages of grief were something that I was working through- that I was in fact grieving for the person I used to be and working on accepting who I am now, post-diagnosis.
I first went to the doctor complaining of chronic pain when I was 14, and it wasn't until a few years ago (and I will be 30 in 11 days) that I was properly diagnosed with Fibromyalgia. Before my diagnosis it was, "well, maybe you have this/let's try this and see if it works/maybe this will help you/I don't know what's wrong with you/your tests came back fine, are you sure it's not all in your head/are you here seeking medication (bc I'm not giving you pain pills you f*cking drug addict)/if nothing has worked before, what do you expect me to do for you/etc/etc./etc." and the struggle to find a doctor to listen to me, understand that I wasn't making it up, accept that there really was something medically wrong with me, and then actually try to help me figure it out (let alone feel better) left me burnt out, angry, and feeling completely disenchanted with the entire western medical community- which then led to a spiral of depression and increased introversion.
I didn't think that there was anyone who could help me, because for almost 12 years, no one could, and this made me incredibly angry. I mean, I had some hulk-level rage going on (and you won't like me when I'm angry- no really, I can be a right awful c*nt- you don't even know). Then, when anger finally got too exhausting, I started bargaining (you want to talk about what you would do for a Klondike bar? Let's chat about what I would have done for a diagnosis!), and unfortunately depression has been by my side for most of this process (that bitch... I'm still trying to kick her ass to the curb- please wish me luck!), and now I've realized I'm starting to move slowly into the stage of acceptance, or as I'm beginning to call it, the AGE of acceptance.
There was a time when I spent a SHIT TON of time and energy trying to hide the things that I have gone through, am going through, and will probably go through eventually. I mean, I'd lie through my teeth, your teeth, my mom's teeth, your grandma's dentures- the whole nine yards, because I didn't care, I just wanted people to think I was "fine," when I was anything but. I didn't want people to think of me differently (bc lord knows they do), and I was terrified people would find out "the truth" about me- like my truth was a bad thing. I didn't want people to think of me as "used" or my condition as "contagious" or my personality as "flaky" or "always negative" or "no fun anymore" or "crazy" or for people to say that I was "old" now or anything like that- but you know what, keeping my experiences and my feelings inside was making me worse, not better. It's taken me more than a decade but I've finally come to understand that you have to stop feeding the past to become fully open to the future. You can only give energy in so many directions, so give your energy to where you're going rather than where you've been or you'll never truly move on and grow as a person.
That being said, I'm starting to be more open about things, or at least I'm trying to. Have I lost friends? Hell to the yes I have, but who needs sometime-friends anyway? Oh, I'm not doing what I used to do and I'm no longer useful to you? Fine. (Bye, Felecia!) Oh, it makes you uncomfortable hearing about things I've gone through or the things I'm going through? Maybe think of how it feels to LIVE IT, or think of it as an opportunity to exercise empathy and to put yourself in someone else shoes. Use it as an opportunity to be thankful that your body and your mind isn't waging a war against you. That you aren't facing eventual disability or fighting against a stigma (or at least I hope you aren't!). Please understand that I wish I could do the things I used to do (TRUST.), but I just can't anymore, and because of what I've gone through, I'm not who I used to be either- but that doesn't mean that who I was is dead. I have been reincarnated, this is the next "me" on my life's journey. I am a phoenix rising from the ashes. I am a warrior.
So here I am, trying to accept the things I cannot change and trying to adapt to my "new life." Am I lonelier than I was, absolutely. Is it hard tying to come to terms with the difference between what my mind wants to do vs. what my body is capable of, HELL YES, heartbreakingly so. Am I making lots of people uncomfortable with my new-found frankness/openness, oh yes! Especially from people who have known me for years and are used to me putting up walls (I mean, some people have been okay with it, but overall I am really freaking people out! People CAN NOT handle the truth! [Side note: if medical/health/mental conditions upset you so much, why don't you do something to stop it instead of pretend it's not a problem and doing nothing???? Democracy requires action to work y'all!!])
After almost 30 years I finally feel like I'm at the point where I no longer need to hide from people (most of the time, lol). This is me, this is who I am, this is what I've been through, this is what I'm struggling with- this is my life. Real talk. I don't want to hide anymore, I don't want to be fake with you, I don't want you to be fake with me- fake is a waste of time, and similarly, I no longer care to keep up pretenses with you either. I no longer have the energy. So take me baby, or leave me.
*This post was originally featured on our Founder’s personal (discontinued) blog, and was copied to The FSC Blog with full permission.