More than Surviving

More than Surviving - Blog post about taking care of yourself, thriving, instead of just surviving day to day.

It’s been sometime since my last post. Life has been overwhelming. Two jobs, illness, pain. So this is what I want to write about. These things that take away from our ability to do the things we want to do—take vacations, care for our children, visit friends and family, hike in the woods, take walks on the beach, fall in love, enjoy life. The drain of this loss is enormous; I’m exhausted.

But almost as degrading is the shame I feel at not being able to be present the way I want to be—in my kids’ lives, in my life. My reaction? To push myself harder and further. If I just extend myself, I can accomplish it all … and be sick, work sixty hours a week, and cope with chronic pain. I’ve done so in the past and I’ve been guilty of it in the last few months. Until I hit my breaking point.

We’ve all be there, that moment when we are certain we can’t go another minute with things as they are. Now, the majority of the time we soon discover we actually can keep going. We persevere and we succeed. We survive. For me, not surviving it all—and doing so on my own—is shameful. If I can’t do it alone and make it look effortless, then I’ve failed. Seeking and allowing help, pausing for a period of time, not giving my all, putting myself first, these are symptoms of failure, shameful behaviors.

Last month, though, I decided—realized—just surviving wasn’t enough, and I made a change.

I have occipital neuralgia; basically, chronic pain in my occipital nerves (located at the back of the head) caused by prior nerve damage. The neuralgia causes its own headaches, plus exacerbates and increases the number of migraines I experience. It’s debilitating and exhausting and not really “curable,” but it’s definitely manageable, and I’ve managed it before. So I met with my neurologist last week and started intense physical therapy this week. I also have an appointment with my primary care physician in two weeks. I feel like I’m building a team for myself: Team Kate, dedicated to get me back on my feet and back to enjoying life and being present again.

I also arranged to take a leave of absence from my part-time position with Target, a decision that will lead to more sleep and less physical aggravation to my body. My manager gave me leave without hesitation and made it clear she truly wants me to get better. Her compassion overwhelmed me. It was easier for her to accept my need for time to heal than it had been for me. She values me, and I appreciate that, and I realize I should do the same, even more so.

It’s not easy to be honest about my health, or the need for a break and rest, to chance appearing weak or needy. I’m fighting shame with every step I’ve taken in the past weeks. Others are sicker, hurt more, are unemployed while I work two jobs. I believe I should be stronger not weaker. How dare I sink to such a level as to need to stop the world and take care of me? It’s humbling … but humbling doesn’t necessarily mean it’s something I need to be ashamed of. The way my manager reacted and the way my physical therapist responded to my pain and hopes for healing, those weren’t the reactions of people shaming me for my needs; those people understand and want to help me have a better quality of life. It’s okay to want to feel better.

I don’t think just surviving should be enough for anyone. It is instilled in many of us to accept our lots in life and to do the best we can with what we have. To ask for more is selfish, or worse. But by human nature we are built to adapt and grow and evolve. We are wired to seek better lives for us and our loved ones. This is a good thing, for us and the rest of the world. I think I finally understand—there’s no shame in wanting to thrive.

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