My friends have likened me to a superhero before in that I was capable of doing the work of ten people in the same amount of time as most normal people could handle things by themselves. My employers have always been astounded by the level of responsibility I have been capable of and the accuracy of my work has always been stellar. I have always had people singling me out for assistance and coordination on projects due to my abilities, speed and pleasant demeanor. But I paid a price for performing at such an escalated pace for the first twenty-seven years of my life and I ended up with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Fibromyalgia and Chronic Epstein-Barr virus as well as several other associated chronic illnesses which were my body’s way of telling me to slow down.
I was on track to become an Associate at my firm as I was the onsite Project Architect in charge of a $100 Million project during construction. I was the team leader representing my firm in a yearly design competition/charity fundraiser event in which we received an award every year we competed. I was also chosen to represent our firm in job seminars and attended black tie awards banquets on behalf of the firm when one of the Partners or Associates was unable to attend. I was next in line to move up as soon as I passed my Architectural Licensing Exam, which I had begun studying for and had taken my first out of nine exams and had passed. I had other firms calling me requesting me to interview with them from chance meetings when I had come in contact with other head members of their staff in public. I had Owners contacting me requesting me to do side projects for them on their beach cottages and mountain chalets.
When I developed a cough which stuck with me for fourteen months I was annoyed and didn’t want anything to slow me down. I went to the doctor after a little while to try to get rid of it and was treated as though it was a common cold. I returned in two weeks when my symptoms wouldn’t disappear and my doctor tried a different cold remedy. I continued this way for quite some time but the only thing that changed was I began to grow more tired and the cough became more insistent. Eventually the doctor began to check for asthma and look more seriously at my symptoms but nothing conclusive showed up. Luckily, my insurance changed and I was required to find another Primary Care Physician and my new PCP searched more diligently and showed concern about my lack of sleep due to the couch as it might lead to Fibromyalgia. However, when she checked my tender points, she discovered that it seemed I had already developed the illness, and my cough still had not subsided.
I grew more exhausted as I continued to cough and was barely able to sleep through the violent fits of coughing. My new PCP was very proactive and sent me to several different specialists. Before too long I had been diagnosed with allergies, severe acid reflux or GERD and minor asthma along with the Fibromyalgia. With treatment for the allergies, reflux and asthma my cough finally began to dissipate. However, I was still unable to sleep and I grew more and more exhausted. I had also developed chronic headaches, irritable bowel syndrome and interstitial cystitis. Later on I was diagnosed with chronic Epstein-Barr virus. I had continued to try to push myself at work, but my body kept telling me to SLOW DOWN!!!! I felt as though I was Gulliver as a giant and the illnesses were all of the tiny arrows being flung at me trying to bring me down. Eventually they succeeded and I came crashing down to the ground, hard.
My husband put his foot down and told me I needed to leave my job, at least for a little while, to go on disability. I needed to stop to rest because I was refusing to see what was happening to me. I could barely walk anymore, I was dragging myself through the halls of the office hand over hand on the handrail as my feet dragged behind me like lifeless limbs of a zombie. I had difficulty concentrating while at my desk and I caught myself yelling inside my mind. I didn’t know what was wrong with me, why I could not focus or even think. I wasn’t even daydreaming, I was just devoid of thought and my body wanted to sink onto the floor like a pool of liquid and lay there without any movement. My hours began to drop until I was putting in less than forty hours a week when once I was putting in fifty five to sixty hours a week. I was beyond exhausted and my body ached from head to toe. I was losing control of every part of me.
I finally agreed with my husband and my doctor and discussed it with my office. We agreed that my first day of disability would be September 17, 2003, the day hurricane Isabel hit our city. I thought I would be returning to work in several months, but it was just the beginning of my health decline as my downward slide continued. I struggled on a roller-coaster ride with my health, energy and personal life for years as I attempted to learn a balance which would allow me to live in such a way in which I would not run myself into the ground and wondering how long it would take me to recover, or if I would recover at all.
I spent most of my time slumped on the couch, barely able to hold myself in an upright position. So I used pillows to prop me up long enough to eat. My arms were like leaded weights requiring every bit of concentration and effort for me to guide my fork to my mouth. I typically rested my plate on a pillow beside my face and scraped and shoveled my food so as to minimize the effort required to consume food. When I was done I slumped down on the couch again, making sure to support every bit of muscle-containing appendage so as not to require any energy exertion and drain which wasn’t absolutely necessary. My brain began to shut down all non-essential functions and my vision turned to black and white, my hearing shifted so I could only hear static most of the time and could not discern different words or recognize the meanings of different sounds. I could no longer string two words together to form a coherent thought to convey what was going on inside of me to anybody around me. I do recall at one point an experience where I felt as though I was out of my body looking in at myself thinking how glad I was that I was too dumb to realize exactly what was going on with me, that way I wouldn’t be upset over losing my intelligence which I used to value so highly. I was for all intents and purposes a drooling idiot on the couch.