A DIVORCE JOURNEY: BLOG 4 - Part 2
HEALTH ISSUES AND DIVORCE: in 3 Parts
By Lynn Kaplan, Certified Divorce Doula and Divorce Coach
In Part 1, I began to chronicle how my health challenges intersected with my divorce. In this Part Two, I continue my story, with hopes especially for those who suffer themselves, that my readers may find comfort and inspiration. I've never before shared my chronic health issues publicly, but I decided that now is the time. The more work I do with my clients as a Certified Divorce Doula, I see that my story is not so unusual. Physical and mental health issues can be the root of many marital breakdowns.
The Blessing Of Having My Body Fall Apart
So what exactly are my health issues? In a nutshell, I had mild symptoms of undiagnosed fibromyalgia brought on when I was just 18, from a head injury while skiing on a sunny spring day in the Grand Tetons. This was long before helmets were commonly worn. The symptoms didn't stop me from getting a Bachelor of Science and a Bachelor of Fine Arts while studying in Northern California, nor did they stop me from moving to Israel for five years where I lived for part of that time on a kibbutz (a communal farm) doing hard physical work that included caring for the lambs and chickens and working in the bakery. It was there on kibbutz that I met and married the Canadian.
Fast forward to 1990, a new immigrant Toronto, getting to know Canadian winters. I didn't know that one shouldn't shovel heavy snow while eight months pregnant. I ended up with two herniated discs that absolutely needed surgery to repair. I did a very good job in adjusting my life to lower back issues. For one, I learned to let others shovel the snow and do the heavy lifting : )
When our daughter was three, the Canadian and I amicably divorced. I chose to stay in Toronto so we could co-parent. I started building a very successful business (Whimz- a hands-on Live Animal Educational program; small mammals, reptiles, amphibians, bugs and birds). It was all so magical for me. I had always wanted to find a way to share my love of animals with others. It's success gave me the ability to buy a home in Central Toronto. It was just around the corner from the Canadian so that our daughter could easily go back and forth.
I remarried a few years later. This time to an Australian who had also immigrated to Canada. Life looked quite promising, and there was soon another baby on the way. My now 11-year-old daughter was so excited to become a sister. I was ready to start a new chapter in my life.
But that “new chapter” began to look very different when, during my pregnancy, with my hormones raging, my fibromyalgia flared up; completely and truly changing my life forever.
After spending four months on bed rest, my baby boy was brought into this world through a scheduled cesarean at just 37 weeks. The doctors decided my body and back couldn't handle a natural birth, or even to have my pregnancy go to full term. I was riddled with pain, debilitating fatigue and horrible brain fog. I started physical therapy when my late-preemie baby was just four days old. Along the way, my spine began to curve from functional scoliosis. This naturally increased my back pain and still constricts me from certain activities.
The bottom line was that I had a combination of chronic pain and some other challenging symptoms that ebbed and flowed. I came to understand that chronic health issues are not stagnant, that they do ebb and flow, they evolve and change constantly. That often means moving through every single day not knowing which symptoms will show up and when. Not having stability, having no choice nor control over how you will feel at any given moment. And then trying to parent, trying to have a social life, trying to work, trying to lead a “normal” life.
Fortunately, I'm a problem solver.
From the day my son was born, I was on a mission to find anything and everything that could give me relief. I sought out anyone and everyone, both traditional medicine (allopathic) and natural (holistic), who could possibly offer me help. One psychic healer even told me I had a dead woman hanging off of me, and that this was why I had fatigue and brain fog. I can wholeheartedly say I found amazing people to help me in profound ways with both the physical and emotional challenges. Many of which have become close friends.
Nonetheless, I had to accept that these issues would be ongoing and my “job” was to learn best how to manage them. I was blessed to have a young son who loved to just cuddle and do quiet activities while I rested, and the gift of a very wise daughter who told me that my fibromyalgia was the best thing that could have happened to us. I do see what she meant: it slowed us all down so that we could “stop and smell the roses.’'
As I wrote in Part 1, the challenges and limitations from these chronic health issues were at the root of the problems that led to the end of my marriage to the Australian. But with “Hope and Hard Work”, along with creativity and courage, I was able to raise my son and daughter, as a single parent, while living far away from my family in California. Both of them all grown up, filled with empathy and strong wills; they take on the world with wisdom, kindness and a zest for each day.
Here’s a good spot for a shout out to Air Canada and airport wheelchair service that I used as needed to get us out to my family in California on a regular basis. And to all of my amazing people who spoiled us while we were there, while giving us unwavering support from a distance. Lastly, to the unbelievable friends who always willingly and lovingly took care of us, wherever we were and whenever we needed it. Plus another shout out to my incredibly dedicated family doctor, who consistently, over the past seventeen years, always checked in also on how I was doing emotionally. As there is a high risk of depression in fibromyalgia sufferers (understandably, because it really is a hard condition to live with), he wanted to make sure if I needed any psychological or emotional support. I feel blessed to have been spared from the overwhelming challenges that can come with depression. My heart certainly goes out to those who do.
So I settled into management mode and made peace with my body. But in late 2016, fifteen years after my fibromyalgia had taken over, I received a Facebook message from a colleague. There was a link to an article on an Israeli doctor who was researching the use of hyperbaric oxygen chamber to treat fibromyalgia. His findings showed very positive results, with some patients having full recovery. Unbelievable! For the first time, there was a possible CURE!!!!! Plus there was a clinic that offered this experimental treatment only twenty minutes from my home. With my doctor's blessing, I started the protocol the very next week.
I spent two hours a day for forty days (no lie) in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber. It wasn't easy. My sinuses felt like they were going to explode, my eyesight changed and my skin started to feel like it was peeling off. But I did get to watch movies while I was in the “chamber,” from Blue Planet to Rambo 2.
Everyone, especially me, was overjoyed with the results. Success!!! The pain and fatigue of my fibromyalgia disappeared. It was so strange to have bundles of energy, no more days filled with pain and brain fog and the need to nap. I could do the things I had forgotten I loved to do.
So what’s a good story without a twist? Upon starting the treatment, I had signed the waiver for the possible side effects. I had no hesitancy in signing. Who really thinks they'll get any of that laundry list of side effects? Well guess who did. Me! It took me over two years to get a full diagnosis and begin to understand the ramifications of the sinus and lung damage I had received from the treatment. I am presently waiting to have surgery on my sinuses and septum. Meanwhile, in order to control the symptoms, I have endured months of mostly being at home taking copious amounts of medication.
The big picture for me it that this part is absolutely worth it as I no longer see any signs of my fibromyalgia. I am still free of the chronic pain and the fatigue. These current symptoms of severe asthma and sinus pain should be relieved by the surgery. But I am so very grateful for what I call my “confinement” since last December. In the dark of early mornings, with my twinkly lights and Himalayan Salt lamp glowing, I found the inspiration and quiet space to begin writing my first Blog. I had wanted to write for such a long time and it was within the realm of these new health challenges that I was able to open that door.
So what have I learned? From that day somewhere in June of 2002, when I realized that I could barely care for my newborn son, I knew it was important for me to deeply examine what my limits were, where I could not push myself any further and what I could no longer take on. In short, I mentally made myself a COULD NOT DO list. From there, I began to figure out what should be on my COULD DO list.
For example, restaurants were a nightmare, from the pain of sitting in the straight back chair (even if I brought a pillow along), to the loud noises, and even worse, if there was music playing. Instead, I invited my friends over for potluck dinners (who says you can’t start at 5:30 and end by 9 pm), where we would cozy up on my pillow-filled couch to enjoy relaxed conversations. Or I’d have them over for Sunday Afternoon Tea.
My now 17-year old son recently reminded me that I couldn't throw a ball with him. That was hard on me as I was the primary parent, but I could spend hours in a pool, as it was there that I truly felt no pain. I joined a fitness centre with a salt water pool and took him multiple times a week starting when he was just 6 months old. As he got older, we’d invite friends along for hours of fun. We’d both be exhausted afterwards in such a good way.
In short, the challenges became an opportunity to learn to look at what life could offer me from a completely different perspective, to REFRAME just about every single element of my life, even such simple things as how to get dressed in the morning. I always dug deep to find the strength and will to TURN OBSTACLE INTO OPPORTUNITY.
It’s by working within the COULD DO list that I have found joyful adventures in daily life (as tiny as they may be), a unique and rewarding professional life, a very special bond with my children, friendships that run deep, as too with my extended family, and a home filled with people, animals, nature, art, and joy!
I am certainly not saying that I would wish my story on anyone. I am saying that although it changed the path of my life forever, I have worked so very hard to turn that path into the right journey for me.
But sometimes I think maybe, just maybe could it all possibly be a blessing in disguise?
Please stay tuned for...
The Lessons I Learned
Coming in late August
BOOKS AND PRODUCTS
I’ve listed below Books and Products I’ve come across over the years that have made a huge difference in HOW I have gotten through it all, both physically and emotionally. My chronic pain has always been reduced by heat (hot baths, heating pads, heated blankets, even a heated mattress pad over winter). I also seem to be “released” (or maybe just distracted) from EVERYTHING when I immerse my self in nature. Ecotherapy (Nature Therapy) is so very powerful. A shout out to all the amazing people who have joined me over the years for my many walks through the ravines, forest and other green spaces that are a huge part of Toronto.
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The Amazon links below will help you easily find my recommendations.