Sunday, April 19, 2009

My mom, through the years

In all the time I've written this blog, I've barely mentioned the person that has helped me through every challenge I've encountered in my life. My mom is not just a mother to me. She truly is my best friend, my confidant, and my seemingly tireless supporter.

I think it became clear that my mom and I would have a special relationship in adolescence. When many people begin pulling away from their mothers, I found that she was often the only person who seemed to understand what I was going through. I developed clinical depression in the beginning of middle school. I had difficulty figuring out just where I fit in the changing social scene. This caused me to develop severe social anxiety. The rejection by my peers, combined with crazy hormones and a distorted self image caused me to spiral downward into a deep depression. I spent much of my time miserable and crying. My mom had gone through similar problems in adolescence, so I knew that she could actually relate to my troubles. She seemed to have never-ending encouragement, even when I would cry to her night after night.

In high school, I started developing physical symptoms that were not easy to figure out. The most obvious one was a complicated breathing problem. It began as simple exercise-induced asthma. However, even with an inhaler, I often had trouble recovering from attacks. With daily gym class mandatory in the state of Illinois, this became a frequent problem for me. My first ambulance ride was the result of an asthma attack that wouldn't stop after running in freshman year gym class. Unfortunately, the lovely gym teachers refused to let me stop running, even in the midst of asthma attacks. They would just wait until I collapsed from lack of oxygen. It turned out that my asthma was not just asthma. After my breathing problems became more frequent, being triggered by almost anything, it was found out that I had a vocal cord dysfunction, causing my vocal cords to squeeze shut, blocking my trachea. It was worsened by what I now know were frequent panic attacks. But at the time, there was very little I could do to treat this problem.

Besides breathing, I developed other vague physical symptoms. The main thing is that I just felt bad, all of the time. I was constantly fatigued, had frequent stomachaches, and ached all over. There was nothing to do about these symptoms, either. All along, my mom was still my biggest supporter. As I got older, I began to realize just how similar we really are. My mom was not just someone I would go to when I was distraught, she was someone I wanted to do things with and spend time with. As much time as she spent crying with me, I'm just sure we've spent more time laughing. We go shopping together, go to movies, go out to eat, bake, and we make music together. We've always done these things. Many of my favorite times in life have been when it was just my mom and me.

I had other assorted health problems, like recurring tonsillitis and mononucleosis that never seemed to go away. But the spring of my senior year, I got my chiari diagnosis. Life has not been the same since. I made it through my decompression surgery that summer quite well. I went to college at the same school my mom went to. But I started developing worsening symptoms the first week of school. And they just kept getting worse. I was in a wheelchair by January of that year due to frequent falls and drop attacks. The doctors diagnosed me with POTS, but they also told me that I had "health anxiety". They thought I was creating a lot of my symptoms in my head. This was the time that I most needed an advocate. My older brother, Chris, was a strong advocate. He believed that my symptoms were real and serious. My mom also believed me, and she helped me make my appointment at The Chiari Institute.

My mom and I went to New York together for the first time in the fall of 2003, a year after my symptoms began worsening. I was in bad shape by then. I had to drop out of my real college, and I attended a community college part time. I was barely getting by. I had my cranio-cervical fusion that year. The pain that followed that surgery was like nothing I'd experienced before. I was restricted to bed most of the time for the next 9 months. Psychologically, I was in a dark place. But my mom was always there. It was a horribly depressing situation. And she never gave up on me. I went back to school in the fall, but struggled with symptoms, and began using an electric wheelchair. As time went by, it seemed clear that I was not getting any better. I began to lose hope.

But my mom never did. She's always done things to show me that my life is worthwhile, no matter what my level of disability. She accompanies me on every medical trip to Ohio and New York to see the specialists. We've made each of these trips fun in some way. She stays at my bedside through every surgery and hospital visit. At home, she brings me movies to watch in bed, she sits with me in the darkness, and of course, she holds me when I cry. When I get frustrated, angry, discouraged, or hopeless, she stays with me. She encourages me.

My mom has taught me how to not give up, even when life looks bleak. She has helped by always validating my feelings and listening to my darkest thoughts and fears. She never just told me to stop feeling the way I felt. She instead helped me through the hard times, and told me that better times were ahead. And she was always right. Every time things have gotten so bad that I've wanted to give up, something would eventually change. No rut lasts forever.

My symptoms have continued, as have my times of sadness. But my mom has somehow managed to always be there for me...always! Now that I am an adult, I appreciate even more the closeness I have with my mom. I still live with her much of the time, and she takes care of me whenever needed. I wish I could be more independent, but I'm so grateful that she's there when I can't. We get to spend a lot of time together. I don't know how she doesn't get sick of me. She still helps me through the dark times. She's been with me through so many medical problems that I don't know how to be embarrassed in front of her. But more than all of this, she is my best friend. We have fun together. We talk about life. We laugh. I know that I am so lucky to have her as my mom. To me, she is Superwoman. She can do anything. She works so hard, and she still has time to care deeply about those close to her. No matter what is going on in her life, if something is wrong with someone she loves, she puts her problems aside and is fully there for them. I hope to be more like her. She amazes me, and I am so grateful that I got her as a mom.