When my daughter was 2 years old, she had a scary bout of stomach flu. She finally started eating again and was keeping down fluids and food. So I was shocked when I was carrying her out to my car after a visit to grandma’s, when she had a seizure in my arms. There are moments in your life that brand themselves on your memory, and this was one of those moments. I remember her lying unresponsive on the floor while I talked to the 911 operator. When the paramedics arrived, they tested her blood sugar. It was 60. Later I learned that a seizure is sometimes a defense mechanism with low blood sugar; it can act as a way to rapidly get glucose levels up. My daughter was later diagnosed with hypoglycemia. Many things, including her delayed motor skills, delayed speech and her inability to sleep through the night made sense with this diagnosis. She is doing amazing now and her condition is very manageable.
I had another frightening experience with my youngest child. He had been struggling with solid foods. It seemed like he couldn’t swallow more than a bite or two of anything. We were celebrating that at 7 months old he had finally eaten something: two tablespoons of chicken. Two hours later, he started intense bouts of vomiting. He wouldn’t stop. He turned blue. He lost consciousness. He would regain consciousness only to vomit again. He vomited nine times in 45 minutes. After a trip to the ER and conversations with some intelligent doctors, he was finally diagnosed with food protein-induced enterocolitis syndrome (FPIES). And later, after many scary episodes where he refused to eat or drink for days on end, he was also diagnosed with eosinophilic esophagitis (EOE). He is doing great now. He eats four foods and is on elemental formula. He is happy and healthy.
As it turns out, I’m the one who isn’t OK.
I have serious daily anxiety and recurrent nightmares. I remember sitting in the waiting room for my son’s second endoscopy and overhearing a conversation nearby – two women taking about their children who had leukemia. And I thought, “What’s wrong with me? My kiddos have very manageable conditions. They aren’t at risk of death from their diseases any longer. They see great doctors. They live relatively normal lives. We aren’t facing terminal cancer — I should be grateful!”
What I’ve come to realize is that traumatic experiences are traumatic. There’s no other way to go about it.
There are a lot of “at least” statements out there. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve heard from well-meaning people, “Well, at least it isn’t cancer.”
And my plea to all of you would be to stop telling yourself these “at least” statements, and stop listening to them.
If something is hard for you to deal with, it is hard for you to deal with.
And you know what? That’s OK.
I have been left with emotional scars from my experiences with my children and because I deal with the management of their conditions on a daily basis, it is like those wounds are reopened every time I make a sandwich or bake a muffin.
I think it is easy for us to convince ourselves that we don’t need help from a therapist or psychiatrist, just because we aren’t dealing with the scariest disease out there. But if you are struggling with anxiety or depression related to your own chronic illness or a loved one’s — don’t let the “at least-ers” get to you.
Take care of yourself. Find someone to talk to. Get the help that you need.
Your feelings and experiences are valid and unique to you.
If something is causing you distress, it means it is a big deal — and it’s OK to ask for help.