chronic illness · chronic pain · mental health · sean · writings

why do bad things happen

Oh Charlottesville how I love you?

We as humans, always long for answers.

We always have. Our ancestors long long ago seeked understanding when natural events occurred and created incredible intricate religions to explain the hows and whys of living on this planet. We have continued to do in our own ways be it with faith or hard science.

It is difficult to understand why things happen so we search for some kind of answer, some kind of reasonable explanation because some things are so terrible it seems beyond comprehension that isn’t a x+y=z equation for pain and suffering, loss and grief.

Some black and white in a terrible sea of murky grey.

Like many people, life has not been easy for me in some ways (I say this while still having a deep amount of gratitude because life has been abundantly easy for me in other ways)

I have struggled for most of my life with anorexia and bulimia along with bipolar disorder type 2 and other addictive behaviors. Self destruction has been a significant part of my story. I have the scars that tell this tale all over my body but far more you can’t see, they rest inside my head and burn and smoke and singe when I am having a hard time be its stressful day, a breakup, or other things that feel too hard to bear. I have had to come to terms that this will be something I struggle with in some shape or form for the rest of my life.

For a long time when I was younger I believed that my eating disorder and mental illness would be the hardest thing I would ever go through. This was terribly naive on my part but I guess at times things felt so unbelievably hard that I didn’t see how anything could possibly get any worse.  I remember watching America’s Most Wanted tv program when I was 16 or 17. The show was about a young woman who had been murdered  and as they were telling the victims story they mentioned she had been bulimic for several years. This shocked me almost as much as the horrendous tale of her death. This explicitly proved my “theory” wrong. I realized then and there that I had not “gotten the hard stuff” out of the way and that life was not that simple.

I relearned this in a new way when my mother-in-law died.

We found out on the night of December 30th 2011 that she had colon cancer after she went to the ER with terrible stomach cramps. The preliminary scans showed blockage in her colon and that her liver was 3x its normal size. When she called to tell us we both just sat in shock in the parking lot of a frozen yogurt place with no idea of what lay ahead.

We spent a somber new Years Eve in her hospital room, all of us nervous for what the next year would hold. I left my job 2 days later as they would not let me take time off to be with Robin and prepare our family for whatever would happen next. I was told “cancer is a slow process”, a ridiculous statement that I still marvel at. We crossed our fingers for chemotherapy or radiation, terrible things to wish for but at least this meant she had a shot at getting better.

January 2nd the oncologist came to her hospital room tell us that it was stage 4 colon cancer that had metastasized to her liver and that she only had a month to live. He said he had no idea how she had been living a normal life with how large the tumors were.

She died 13 days later in that hospital room on the 5th floor. 

I had never watched anyone die.

I had never helped someone I loved deal with a dying parent. You see it on tv and in movies but nothing can prepare you when its real and in front of you. It was shocking to watch her deteriorate so quickly. The first few days she was her feisty self and adamant about helping me with wedding planning. A week from her being admitted she was on oxygen and her organs began to fail. The second week she was a shell of her former self. Her limbs bloated from kidney failure, barely speaking in the daytime, horrible nighttime rages where she said awful things, tubes coming out of her body, an oxygen mask on her face to help her breathe long rattling breaths.

I never imaged I would help change her bed pan or lay awake all night on a uncomfortable sofa in her hospital room waiting for her to breathe another breath.

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It was like watching someone drift out to sea.

Watching Robin die changed me.

It was heart-breaking, scary and yet a part of what happens. We all die. This is the simple cycle of our existence here on earth. We are born and we die. There was beauty in it which sounds strange and unconceivable but through her period of dying, I saw people come together to put old grievances to rest. I saw the true nature of forgiveness, raw and unyielding.

Her ex-husband came to see her after years of them not speaking. Her sister and brothers came from all over to gather together for this passing. They joked in the waiting room of old stories about how sassy and stubborn Robin was. How she complained that flat shoes hurt her feet and thats why she only wore 4 inch heels. I watched her pet Sean’s head and tell him to have a good day at school after years of them having a difficult relationship. Despite accusing me (and the nurses and her boyfriend) of killing her one night in one of her rages, she let me know how much she loved me in those last two weeks.

I would give anything to her her call me Tootsie again.

During Sean’s brutal grief process that ebbs and flows to this day he will ask  “Why did she die?” and I will sit there with my heart breaking for the man I love because I don’t have any answers.

When Robin died my CRPS was in its beginning stages. I had had it only 2 months and was yet to be diagnosed. It hurt enough that I cried about it some nights and was desperate to find out what was wrong but I was by no means debilitated by it yet. The Lyme Disease would enter into the picture a little less than two months after Robin died.

Becoming really sick out of nowhere is really hard but becoming sick SO soon on the heals of a traumatic experience like a death just felt like a punch to the gut.

In these past 4 years I have asked why so many times.

Some days I have to remind myself I still exist. That freckled happy girl with an open heart, loud laughter, and legs that ran and ran. She lurks inside me and I'm fighting to get her back. Come back to me.

Why me? Why do I have to be sick after years of struggling with mental illness? Why do I have to be sick for the entirety of our marriage? Why do I have to be sick at all? Why do I have to be sick with multiple illnesses that don’t have cures?

For a period of time I felt like surely I was being punished. This was my answer to this awful existence I was stuck in day after day. I was being punished for my eating disorder, punished for how terrible I acted as a teenager, punished for being a crappy person in general. I had put my parents through hell and this was I got in return. I had no other reason or answer for why I was sick so  I latched on to this one.

After beginning a spiritual practice last year I had to reevaluate this belief. I was answering questions in a workbook and the question asked “Do you ever feel like you are being punished?” When discussing this further with a good friend she asked me “Do you really think your higher power is that cruel?” Tearfully I shook my head no.

Terrible things happen all the time.

How can I equate being punished for past mistakes when babies die from their cord wrapped around their neck as they entering the world, from pediatric cancer or from SIDs. These young souls had just begun their journey here on earth, too young to make any mistakes so clearly this equation I had set up just didn’t make any sense. I know some people believe in past lives and karma carrying over with each life cycle and this may be true but it isn’t a belief I myself believe (and if you DO believe this, you are awesome and I salute you in your beliefs)

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I have come to realize that bad stuff just happens.

I wish I knew why.

I know others wish that as well. I see so many people on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter all dealing with really hard stuff be it illnesses, serious money issues, loss of a loved one. A friend is in a nasty financial crisis because of a terrible renter and now having to short sale their house, another friend has stage 4 endometriosis and desperate to have surgery and yet another friend is chronically ill with multiple chronic illnesses and  going through a divorce. People struggle all the time with hard hard stuff.

We all want to understand why things hurt us so acutely to our core. Why things create grief and loss and excruciating sorrow. Maybe if we understood we could stop it. Maybe if we understood it wouldn’t hurt so much. I can’t tell you how much I long for the answers of why I got sick and why Robin had to die so suddenly.

I don’t think I will ever have those answers. Maybe I am not supposed to. Maybe I am just supposed to look for the answers these deeply sad experiences have created and just learn from them. Perhaps I am supposed to see that I am stronger than I give myself credit for.

Chances are if you are reading this you have been through hard stuff too. Maybe you have found yourself awake at night in the dark begging for answers. You know all too well that crippling feeling of fear and the sour taste of anxiety  upon your tongue. The way loss and grief can bring you to your knees.

I don’t know why my friend. I just don’t know why. I don’t think we as humans ever will.

However I do believe we can each carry on as best we can without answers. I believe we can find solace in places we never thought we could. We can find inner strength and bravery beyond our wildest imaginations. We can meet kindred spirits who struggle with these same terrible experiences. We can meet kindred spirits whose journey is different but whose sorrow matches our own.We can persevere without these answers. We can carry our heavy suitcases of doubt, fear, and resentment into the wild mountains that lay ahead.

Its a hard journey but I believe we are all strong enough to do so.

Virginia sky.

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