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Stockholm Syndrome and Chronic Disease

Updated: Sep 1, 2020

In the days leading up to my first hip surgery, I found myself experiencing a bit of Stockholm Syndrome between my failing hips and I.

Let me explain.

We all have these insanely layered lives, right? So, there I was in the prime of my 20’s, working hard to build my career and figure out who I am in this world when BAM, my hips started failing. But life had to go on.

I kept working and living my life, as you do. Eventually I wrote a book, I moved several times, I opened my own hair salon, did a lot of traveling, for several years I found myself maneuvering through an emotionally abusive relationship and on top of all that, I was still a closeted lesbian. All the while, my hips continued to deteriorate. They were my one constant.

When my relationship ended, and life as I knew it got flipped upside down, I realized I didn't want the life I had. This would’ve been an ideal time for me to take a look at the fact that I had a body that was failing me entirely before I’d even hit 30 years old, and every day tasks, like putting my pants on while standing, were becoming impossible. But I still wasn’t ready to do that. Was it influencing my distress and general sense of disease? Of course. But not enough for me to do anything about it.

In my mind, what I really needed was a fresh start. That would fix everything. I needed a new career that would allow me the freedom to travel and work from anywhere (which was a goal I’d always had). I needed to come out of the proverbial closet and start owning my truth. I needed to heal from some emotional trauma from my youth. All of these things were absolutely true and valid, but what was also true and valid, was that my body was falling apart and I was in physical agony every single day, and the mental and emotional toll that was taking was quite possibly worse than everything else combined.

But I was stubborn as hell. I mean truly the textbook definition of stubborn. I was ready to sell all my belongings, give up the life I’d built and go adventuring overseas for awhile, but I wasn’t ready to start demanding answers from any doctors.

I wanted to live my life the way I wanted to live it. I was angry about the pain. Every time my hips gave out when I stood up or stepped to the side or sneezed for that matter, it was infuriating, but eventually I’d gotten used to it. Somehow I was still living in denial about it all. I still thought it would correct itself and if it didn’t, then I guess I’d just figure it out, wouldn’t I?

I joked about my granny hips and shrugged off the severity a lot because I didn’t have any plans to do anything about it anyway. Between shitty insurance and my previous experience with those initial failed doctors visits, I didn’t have any faith in the medical system or myself to get to the bottom of what was going on. So, I decided it was probably nothing. I walked with a severe limp but I just got used to it and I guess everyone else must’ve too.

Nothing mattered more to me than feeling like I was living life on my terms. But there’s a difference between feeling like you’re living life on your terms and actually living life on your terms.

I was not living life on my own terms. I was trying desperately to free myself from aspects of the life I’d built that no longer felt like mine, while avoiding dealing with the things that would truly transform both me and my life.

I focused on things I felt I had control over. I could control selling my business and my possessions. I could control what kind of business I started online. I could control what countries I spent time in, how long I stayed and what I did while I was there. I couldn’t control what was happening to my joints. The more out of control I felt of my body, the harder I tried to maintain some semblance of control over whatever else I could.

The thing I didn’t stop to consider until much later was how alienating all of this was. I expended a great deal of energy trying to keep up with my friends and live a normal 20-something life. I was exhausted all the time, but I just kept going.

Sometime around 2014 my mental health was deteriorating rapidly. I was having panic attacks and leaving work in the middle of the day because I couldn’t stop crying. There was a whole array of reasons I could point to for why it was happening, some of which are clinical, but dealing with my hips falling apart and trying desperately to be okay had a great deal to do with it.

I spent years gas lighting myself. I felt the pain every single day, and every single day I told myself it wasn’t real. It wasn’t that bad. It would go away. It was probably my fault anyway so I deserved to be in pain. I thought if I did the right kind of workouts, yoga, diets, meditations, personal development work, massage therapy, chiropractics, you name it, that I’d be able to cure myself, and when none of that worked, I berated myself even more. Why couldn’t I just be “normal?” Why couldn’t I fix this?

Some part of me was convinced that going to the doctor would lead to me finding out I just needed to start wearing insoles in my shoes and everything would be fixed, so I might as well not embarrass myself and just not go. Again -- It must not be anything serious.

What I’ve realized through all the unpacking I’ve done over the last couple of years, is how damaging this repeated thought pattern actually was. I didn’t trust my body at all. I pushed her and pushed her and pushed her while she screamed at me to listen, begged me to hear her, and I kept telling her she was fine. I made light of her pain because I thought I couldn’t do anything about it anyway. Suck it up, buttercup! Keep pushing yourself! Keep going!

I abused the shit out of my body and she didn’t deserve it.

When it came time for me to get my sad-sap worn out hip joints sawed off and replaced with my fancy new bionic equipment, I had a moment leading up to my first surgery where I found myself feeling a bit mournful. How could I possibly be sad about losing a part of my body that had been causing me so much agony for so long? I felt a sense of camaraderie with them. We’d been through a lot together. I never really blamed them for failing me. I don’t know who or what I blame… nothing really. It’s just the hand we were dealt, my body and I.

I was sad because their journey had come to an end. We couldn’t continue on together anymore and I knew, whatever was coming down the road for me to deal with, I had to deal with sans original hip joints. I knew my hips deteriorating wasn’t, in and of itself, the problem, but a symptom of a larger problem. I was right. I’m still actively searching for those answers and being misdiagnosed and then undiagnosed is a shit place to be, but I find comfort in the fact that I am able to fiercely advocate for myself now in a way I wasn’t able to before. I can make demands and follow through in ways I’ve always deserved.

I think in a way, we often want to choose the scary thing we know, rather than take a risk on something new. I knew what to expect with my decrepit old joints. I knew how to deal with them. They were in control more than I was, they ruled the show, but I knew what to expect. New joints held the hope of relief, but they were also strangers that could present a whole new set of problems, and that made me nervous. But of course, not nervous enough to keep my crusty old hip joints around, may they rest in pieces.

With great risk there is often great reward. I’m not out of the woods yet with my heath. I am in an on-going battle. But I am glad I got both my hips replaced. I’m grateful every single day that I don’t require my trusty purple walking sticks to get me around.

Be brave. Let the toxic thing go. Make room for new.

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