When a New Diagnosis Brings a Storm

If I had ever been skydiving, I would know about the wind having its way with you. I could tell you, no problem, that when you’re turned topsy-turvy in an earth-less void, up and down become abstractions, not facts to orient yourself by. You lose your bearings.

But I am the last person on earth to go skydiving, or SCUBA diving, or bungee jumping or riding on a motorcycle or skateboarding or surfing. I hesitate even to go on Pirates of the Caribbean at Disneyland because that pit-dropping feeling in my stomach gives me the heebie-jeebies.

So. What do I know about storms?

Physically adventurous I am not, but storms happen to us all. And my last storm, a relatively petite, health-related one, happened last month.

Losing My Bearings

You don’t want to receive major medical news with your legs in stirrups. I knew this because I was getting a pelvic exam when my OB-Gyn told me I had a chronic dermatological condition down there that can cause disfiguring scarring and increase my risk of cancer.

Between asking questions about prognoses (manageable but incurable) and treatment (steroidal creams), I tried to breathe and yearned to be fully clothed.

I think that’s when the disorientation started. I was almost literally ass over teakettle there on that examination table. Also, I was facing a biopsy and trying to wrap my head around incurable.

I lost my bearings. I’m still, honestly, getting them back. Mainly, I forgot that I had already been living with this condition pretty successfully even though I didn’t know what the problem was or have a prescription for topical steroids. Mostly, I had realized that pants were uncomfortable.

In the weeks after my diagnosis I used steroidal cream as directed. Holy moly, those things are magical. For a few weeks, I could wear pants, carefree! I hoped, desperately, that things would stay “normal.”

Unfortunately, they did not.

A new diagnosis brings up a storm of questions: what should your expectations be? Can you go back to how you felt before you had to worry? How much should you depend on medical crutches, like medications with serious side effects? How much should you worry, how much should you complain, are you ungrateful for caring about the loss of your favorite pair of skinny jeans?

I didn’t know. I didn’t know what was allowed, what was to be expected, or even (besides the two-week protocol my doctor gave me) how often, if at all, I should use the medication. Doctor availability being what it is, I’m still waiting for a follow-up appointment. Until then, I limp along with googling and guesswork. Also, did I mention the steroids were magical but have real side effects?

When The Magic Leaves

One night, I felt uncomfortable, and the cream did not make the discomfort completely go away. Suddenly, the cream wasn’t magical anymore.

Laying in bed a few minutes afterwards, a prickling feeling keeping me awake, I remembered this very disturbing factoid from my research: a lot of women with my condition become severely depressed because of the pain.

You’re going to live with this condition until you die, an ugly voice in my head reminded me. What if you can’t handle it?

After a few minutes of increasing panic, I got out of bed. I knew from experience that trying to sleep with those voices blabbing is useless.

Downstairs, I sat on the couch and focused on my breathing. Lord, I thought. Help me not give in to panic or catastrophize about the future. And then, reminded of my favorite quote from Bruce Kramer, I thought, Help me grow into the demands of what is beyond me.

Truth in the Light of Day

In the days since, the scream of those terrible voices is like the howling you remember from a terrible storm—blissfully distant in the light of day. I began to get my bearings again.

I remembered a few things.

One: Before the diagnosis, I was managing okay even though I was completely in the dark.

Two, my doctor found the disease quickly, before any scarring happened, which is the cause of the worst kind of pain. I have good reason to expect my current state is where I’ll stay.

Three, I can remember the brave men and women I know with chronic health conditions—ME, fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, and others—who have figured out how to live full lives within new limits.

And finally, I am allowed to miss unrestricted pant usage, but I can also be grateful for the health I generally enjoy.

A few years ago, I lived in fear of storms and their disorientation, lived afraid of losing control or experiencing change. I thought that the worst moments of panic in the night told the deepest truths.

That’s not true anymore. I still wouldn’t choose a storm, or assume I’ll be hunky-dory no matter what happens, but I have learned that even terrible nights are survivable. I can let them blow me over, and get help to get my bearings. With Jesus’ help, I am more resilient than I give myself credit for—and I choose to believe that I can face tomorrow with dignity and hope, no matter what it brings.

Photo by Kamil Pietrzak on Unsplash

Heather Caliri
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