No more wading in muck...

Recovery means a lot of things to a lot of people, but the general public seems to interpret “in recovery” as meaning “I used to be an active alcoholic/addict, but I’m no longer using.” Many would add “…and I work a Twelve-Step program.” Although I did use substances as a means of self-medicating for a time in my life, I’m blessed to have never become physically addicted. Recognizing my psychological addiction, I did begin my recovery in some of those groups. I’m grateful for the sponsor who helped me realize my addiction was to trying to escape. I’ve also been a part of “recovery” programs for mental health disorders (OCD, Bi-Polar Disorder, Major Depression). Not until recently have I let “recovery” as related to my physical health fall into the same category. With roughly 20 chronic medical condition, I’m often recovering from some bout of illness or flair-up of symptoms. However, for a very long time I was in denial about my declining health. It’s pretty hard to make progress on the path around the pond if you’re still unsuccessfully trying to wade through it. So “recovery” from my physical ailments overall means experiencing and working through the entire process of grieving my healthy self.

What I mean by recovery is something all are a part of at least for some length of time in their life. Recovery means regaining what is lost. Recovery is a process that requires active participation and what has been lost may or may not be due to our own intentions or actions, but it most certainly refers to our joie de vivre – our passion, our reason for being, our hopes, our dreams. Recovery requires honesty, willingness, open-mindedness, flexibility, patience, courage, and perseverance. My recovery is about regaining and reclaiming my reason for being. It’s about becoming the me I’m meant to be, about actively pursuing my full potential, whatever that might be. Stress, physical and emotional, is the biggest contributor to the demise of my health. I’m learning that recovery means making a lot of little, but difficult, changes. I’m exploring both the sources of and remedies for stress in my life. As time goes on, I hope to chronicle my discoveries and my progress.

Some years ago, after two malfunctions of equipment in my past home caused flooding, we simply could not get our recently heart-broken landlord to properly address the problems in a timely manner. At the same time, I was struggling as co-guardian with a frequently violent preteen boy. Moving just didn’t seem a manageable option. Mold set in under the carpet and climbed up the walls of our linen closet. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to us, an air filter shoved by a previous tenant into an air duct (not where it belonged and not visible from the air vents at either end of the duct) was collecting layer upon layer of dust and all that is a part of it. Ultimately, my already weakened immune system, inundated with allergens, was overwhelmed. I developed serious allergies to an indoor/outdoor mold, dust mites (that fed off dead skin cells), and both the dander and saliva of cats. Already having mild to moderate exercise-induce asthma, that condition worsened. In addition, I developed moderate to severe “regular” asthma. This was a hard blow to someone who at one time played sports year-round, someone who once walked 25 miles continuously, someone who loved to run and jump and play well into adulthood.

I’ll continue to tell you about my recovery in relation to my other conditions, but let me start with the allergies and asthma. We did move a few years ago into a duplex my former roommate decided to buy. Originally the top floor was reserved for a renter beside me, but realizing that the dust mites from her two dogs and a cat were causing repeated sinus headaches that interfered with my sleep and sometimes triggered migraines, I eventually had to move upstairs. My former roommate was by then my spouse and we could no longer consistently share a bed without abandoning the pets who’d become family too, not to mention withdrawing attention from a needy and destructive child who’d been neglected and abused by his biological parents. Even still, I was in denial. I’d move about too quickly, climb the stairs one too many times, take on a teenager on the basketball court at the close-by elementary, attempt coaching double-header youth soccer games, and continue to take no notice of air quality warnings. I would find myself desperately grasping for my inhaler. I drilled myself into the ground. My immune system was shot; I felt sick most of the time.

Progressing on a new path...

Recently, I returned from a vacation on Cape Cod. While I was there, I was very aware of the difference in my breathing. I could walk a few miles, even uphill without shortness of breath. The air there is unpolluted, moist and cool. No pets were shedding about me. I felt such immense freedom and energy. By the second day upon returning to our pet-filled home in a Midwestern metropolis, I was sluggish, headache-y, and struggling to breathe again. I’d for a long time found it difficult to remember my daily inhaler. Yet, before we left for vacation, I was having to use my rescue inhaler sometimes 3 times per day. Daily heat indexes of 115 and orange air quality were too much for me. Well, having tasted the freedom of breathing again, I made that daily inhaler a priority. My excuse before was that it didn’t fit in my med box and placing it on top often caused it to be lost when accidentally knocked aside. I’ve found a padded case, in which I now store both of my inhalers and a supply of emergency PRN medications, that holds its place well atop my med box. This method seems to be improving my compliance and the results are promising.

I’m putting forth other efforts too. I’ve begun to think, as well, how I might visit the Northeast Coast more regularly. Perhaps I could house-sit, but I’d still need funds to get there. Well, I don’t have all the answers yet. When I go for a PT initial assessment next week, I plan to inquire how best to build my endurance safely. I, also, was lucky enough to discover in a bookstore’s bargain bin a book detailing cardiovascular conditioning, core balance, and strengthening exercises using one of those big inflated balls. I’d learned some exercises before in PT, but had forgotten them and been unable to find anything but directions for strengthening exercises since. Now I’ve just got to get a pump for my ball. I’m moving in a new direction. I’m not doing the same old thing. I know I’m not a sports star anymore. I won’t shame myself for not being able to walk more than half of a block right now. However, I believe I can progress. I’m in recovery.

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