On ageing with chronic illness
Updated: Nov 15, 2020
CW: discussion of alcohol/alcoholism as a maladaptive coping mechanism
When I was younger, I was always stressed about not feeling my best, because that meant not being productive, and being productive was a sure fire way to fill my brain with the good neurotransmitters. Something something, internalised capitalism, something something.
So when I drank a lot, I’d always be sure to drink a lot of water, and if I hadn’t had much water throughout the night, or I thought I’d overdone it, I’d drink a litre of water before bed. It didn’t matter to me if I had to get up and pee ten times in the night, because it would mean I’d wake up and still be able to get things done.
Lately I’ve been aware that I don’t pace myself with water so well anymore, and I definitely don’t do the one litre of water before bed trick, and I was thinking about how maybe it’s just because I’m not as positive and self loving, like it’s a form of self sabotage to just let myself be hungover the next day.
And then I realised, that’s not what it is. It’s that having a full bladder is a pain trigger for me.
Of course the reason is really endo. Endo/chronic pain is the reason my relationship with alcohol became much less healthy, and why after years... nearly a decade of being a one drink drunk, I now have an alcohol tolerance that I never wanted. It’s the reason I can’t one-for-one alcohol and water anymore, and it’s also the reason that I can’t say “it doesn’t matter if I have to wake up to pee 10 times” because it’s also fucked up my sleep cycle, and I now find getting to sleep and staying asleep almost impossible.
And this seems to contribute to a larger theme of something that’s been brewing in my head for a while. When I talk to my age-peers, and the conversation turns to things we can’t do anymore, like stay up all night and be fine the next day, drink like we used to without getting hangovers, eat junk without gaining weight, or, you know, just exist without aches and pains, but the thing is that I don’t feel like any of those things are caused by me hitting 30.
It feels like all those things I've lost over time are due to something that is caused by endo/chronic pain/depression/anxiety/cPTSD from medical trauma. None of those things just feel like ageing, and that’s in no small part because as an athlete and all round “healthy” person, I feel like I was well on track to still be living like a 19 year old at this point in my life, if not for my endo.
Because I was very sedentary and not particularly concerned about health as a younger person, I spent my twenties getting progressively more and more healthy and robust (except for the increasing chronic pain), and that is definitely part of the reason that it feels like such a kick in the guts to have lost the health, fitness and robustness (both physical and mental) that I worked my ass off to gain.
But then, when I’m speaking to those friends about those lost remnants of our twenties, and I feel stuck between a rock and a hard place; I don’t want to alienate my friends, by implying any kind of moral value in being a person who happened to pursue a physical career because I was lucky enough to love doing it, that has or would have protected me from many of the symptoms of ageing, but it also feels like a betrayal to myself to imply that all those experiences are just the result of time passing and ageing, and not the fault of a horrible medical condition and an egregiously unfair medical system.
Unsure how to best approach this dilemma, I usually just dissociate a bit and “uh, yeah, for sure”. Whoops. Well, at least I put all of this into words now, which makes me feel a little more equipped for the next time this conversation comes up. And at least I’m not blaming myself for “self sabotage” and have a little better comprehension of my own maladaptive coping mechanisms for my trouble.
Still, it sucks not being able to embrace ageing, because it feels like my chronic illness is speeding up the process in a really unfair and unfun way. I was going to be that surprisingly youthful 30 year old, but I ended up being unexpectedly senescent and cranky.
[Image description of post coverphoto/thumbnail: a stylised illustration by @ChronicallyHonest showing a white person with shoulder length brown hair, sitting with their knee up, elbow rested on their knee, face rested on their hand, wearing a dusty pink knit jumper and dark green pants. There is a blank space where the face would be, and text that follows their silhouette which reads: it's hard not to feel like the odds are stacked against me.
Follow Chronically Honest at instagram.com/thechronicallyhonest for more chronic illness art]