Chronic Illness is a bitch.
Are you a high-performer, perfectionist, type A personality that has been living in a high stress environment and also juggling illness? This one is for you.
I struggle. I am struggling. On the daily.
First-- I am struggling to write this blog today. I was scared as hell to start it, actually. I couldn't pinpoint exactly why until I had a chat with a friend of mine. (Second call out to Cindy S!) I was inspired by Liz Connors after we recorded her MB4 Podcast last week to write about living with chronic illness and how it affects my production, life, and more. I felt called to write about my personal experience with health issues and yet I also felt so terrified to write about it and put it out for judgement in the world. Me--a person that preaches living authentically and leading with vulnerability! Ha! But alas, it is true.
A conversation this week with a fellow planner and chronic illness-thriver helped me understand why. Here it is--- As women, we don't want to be seen as weak. I, Carrie Abernathy, don't want to be seen as weak. I am known as a super-high achiever. People lean on me for advice, direction, leadership, care, experience, knowledge and more. The last thing I want to feel is that I've bared too much and lost the respect and care of colleagues, friends and family. I also don't want to be seen as complaining. We, as women--as caretakers, aren't supposed to complain--isn't that what we've been taught? Others are surely going through much worse. We've been bound by learned experience that we should silently suffer. But perhaps in putting this out there, I will normalize--even for one person--that struggling is OK. That sharing is OK. Again...perfection is bullshit, right? So here I go...
I've been silently struggling with chronic illness for YEARS. In fact, it was one of the reasons I decided to start working remotely 8 years ago. I think I've struggled so much with writing about it, because it isn't something I've conquered. In fact--it is almost easier writing about my sexual assault in 2014.. It is something that happened, I lived through it, survived it, OVERCAME it. It is done. I am able to move forward. For those of us high achievers that have high expectations of ourselves, it is hard not to want to try to fix US. Fix our bodies, our minds--and find a way to thrive and move on. Cure it and not be "that person". Chronic illness is something that is on my mind almost daily. It embarrasses me, somedays it even owns ME and not the other way around. Have I overcome it? No. But I can talk about it, normalize it, and give hope to those living a similar experience. To you: YOU ARE NOT ALONE.
So, let's talk about it. I have two things going on--they may not even sound so serious to you. Especially if you look at me and see whatever you may see. I don't LOOK sick, and I think that is what often happens with us living with invisible pain, untreatable ailments, or autoimmune disorders. We look FINE. We show up daily. We don't back down from challenges, we are seemingly perfect. Until there is a flair up, a bad day, an inconvenient moment in a meeting, during a performance or otherwise when our bodies just let us down. We silently struggle. Let's struggle together. From now on, if you need me, if you want to talk it through--I am here. No longer pretending to be perfect, but just being who I am.
I am living with the autoimmune disorder PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome). Data tells us up to 30% of women experience, yet we rarely talk about it. It isn't something that is fully understood by physicians, which makes it most frustrating. There isn't a pill to be taken or a course of action that can completely "cure" it. It is very individualized and unique. I won't dive down the rabbit hole of symptoms and reasons, but I experience pain, irregular periods to the extreme, chronic fatigue, cystic hormonal acne, hair loss, blood sugar issues, weight struggles--and most likely infertility--although admittedly I haven't done much to tread that water so I don't know for sure. I am chronically exhausted. People with PCOS benefit from weight loss, yet struggle with insulin resistance and a number of barriers that makes it almost impossible to lose a pound. I know this, because I am constantly reminded by people that I should just exercise more or just change my diet to lose weight. That I would "look so much better" if I just lost a few pounds. Those well-meaning people that want me to be someone I am not because they think my life will be "better" if I just listen to them. We won't dig in to those 'self-esteem crushers' today, but I feel another post coming on about those that want to help (yet how it can crush the soul to be so misunderstood and the emotional blow-out from it all).
Speaking of blow outs (pun intended here)--on top of PCOS, I have an unidentified bowel disorder. Currently classified as "IBS"- Irritable bowel Syndrome--both since I was 13 years old. Let me tell you, learning about and struggling through both of these disorders during my teenage years all the way to adulthood has been a struggle, a challenge, a barrier, and more. On top of a crazy number of colonoscopies and procedures before the age of 30, I've gone through an exhausting number of diet changes and attempts to make myself well and whole through food, stress control, exploratory medicines and more. Along with the "weight lossers" --there have also been a number of people that just tell me to "eat this and do that" as if we are all the same on the inside. Alas, we are not. Sometimes I eat a plain grilled chicken on salad and feel fine. Sometimes I eat a plain chicken salad and sleep on the bathroom floor after passing out from extreme cramping and diarrhea. (I so wish I could drop the "Shrugging" emoji in here right now with a "sorry not sorry"). Side note: these experiences have brought some positives. I do think I am funnier. I do tell a number of great "shart" jokes and I've had to learn to embrace laughter throughout my life. However, my struggle with IBS has also interfered with relationships, office hours, dining out with friends and colleagues, events, presentations and more. It seems light, but having two incurable disorders that are exacerbated by STRESS, while also having one of Forbes "Top 5 most stressful jobs" in the world--it makes life...interesting.
I don't type any of this so anyone will feel sorry for me. I own who I am, I just haven't quite owned this piece of me in the way that I've owned all my other quirks and 'Carrie-isms'--in a very public manner. So why not? And why now? I'm thinking that in this Post-Covid, slightly more casual--more AUTHENTIC version of the world, now is the time. If you want to love me, love all of me. If you aren't thrilled that I am literally talking about shit in my blog--maybe now in the time to de-friend me. If I've learned anything during this time it is that education, forth-rightness, and not being afraid to tell it like it is have been beneficial, not hurtful. I totally want my colleagues, mentees and others around me to own being THEM. Now, I want to own being me. All parts of me.
So in short--I see you, my beautiful friends. I see you when you can't get out of bed or put on a smile even when struggling through depression. I see you when you have to rearrange a last minute call because of your stomach pain. I see you when you fear travel or a hug because you don't know how your autoimmune system is going to handle Covid just yet. You are a fighter, survivor, and as I always like to say--a total badass. You are an example of resiliency, you are stronger than you know. I am here to tell you that you can THRIVE. I am thriving through it--fart jokes and all.
Much love as always,