April showers…..

Photo credit: gfpeck

I was determined to write about something that didn’t have to do with depression. I couldn’t do it. I lost so much in 2020, that somedays it feels unimaginable that I will be able to pull myself out. Ironically, social media has “memories” that pop up on your feed that highlight things that happened in the past. April has always been my least favorite month. Ten years ago, on April 20, I experienced such a great sadness that I never thought I would get past it. My brilliant (literally brilliant) cousin Chris lost his battle with acute lymphoblastic leukemia/lymphoma. He was 34. Chris was younger than me by 7 years. He was the baby on my mom’s side of the family. He moved to Seattle in the 90’s and we didn’t stay in contact except for holidays when he would call my parents and then talk my ear off about music. I remember his passion of telling me who I needed to listen to and why. When he got sick, I never had a doubt he would recover, but I was scared. My mom and I went to visit him during his first battle. I cherish those memories of Chris showing us his beloved Seattle. Chris fought leukemia for a while before losing his battle. I got a call the Friday before spring break. I literally walked out of of work, drove home to pack a bag and headed to Seattle (with some delays due to storms). When I arrived at his hospital room it was after 1:00 am in the morning. The hallways and waiting rooms were filled with Chris’s friends. Dozens of them. He was surrounded by love and friendship during his final days. As horrible as it was to lose Chris at such a young age, it was a blessing to be surrounded by so much love and to be with him in his final hours. I’m happy to have many of his friends now be a part of my life in various ways. He united a lot of people. Chris was the most social anti-social person I ever met. He had a magnetic personality, a beautiful smile, and the most abrasive and sarcastic sense of humor. He was utterly amazing.

I volunteered in Uganda in 2010. Before I left, Chris and I were in his sister’s wedding. He said he would look for me online while I was there. I remember logging in to facebook at an odd hour and Chris, being one of my few west coast friends at the time, was online. He asked a zillion questions and at the end said, “I’ll be following you. Be safe. Love you”. In that moment, I had a horrible feeling that his cancer was back. Sadly, I was right. He cut us off for a while as he processed what he was going through, but Chris’s facebook rants were legendary and still make me smile. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of how unfair it is that he is gone. I was lucky enough to love Chris throughout his entire life …and I will miss him throughout the rest of mine. When he passed in 2011, I honestly didn’t know if I could get past such a huge loss. He had so much more life to live. He deserved so many more experiences. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of how unfair it is that he is gone. At that time, I vowed that I wouldn’t turn down an experience or opportunity no matter how scary, because my “baby” cousin no longer had that option. I changed jobs, started writing, traveled, and followed my bliss in his honor.

As tragic as Chris’s death was, he was surrounded by love as he passed on. I held his hand for hours the day before he died. He would squeeze it at times to let me he could still hear me. The line of people trying to get in to the hospice to say goodbye to him was unbelievable. I had a weak moment where I broke down and I yelled that I knew he was holding on just to die on 4/20 as a matter of principal. His hand flew up in the air and his best friend and I laughed hysterically. Even while dying and semi-conscious, Chris was funny and determined to go out on his terms. Ten years later, and I think about people now with COVID-19, like my dad, die alone in a cold room separated from family and friends. I still pray that a nurse or doctor was with my dad as he crossed. I honestly don’t know for sure. I gave the okay to withdraw treatment and within 30 minutes, I got the call he died. I pray I eased his pain. I pray he was ready to go. I pray he felt the love I was sending him.

April always brings up sadness, but my beautiful Georgia Grace’s birthday was 4/19, so I felt like she was the yin of happiness to my yang of sadness. She was my balance until I lost her on April 7, 2020. Facebook memories of the days leading to her passing, mixed with memories of Chris have weighed heavy on my heart. I don’t think a day has past this month, in which I didn’t cry. Living with chronic illness is hard enough. Living with chronic illness like RA that is out of control is exhausting. Add in depression and I am not exactly a picnic to be around. I feel like everyone is experiencing sadness and depression now due to the pandemic, but I’ve come to realize that I need to be more proactive in getting better. A friend posted this meme this week and it hit me like a ton of bricks.

I’ve been depressed for a long time. 2020 added stress and anxiety to my ever present depression. 2020 broke my spirit. Now in 2021, I have to dig deep to get myself in a better headspace. I want to get better. Being depressed is miserable. It’s exhausting. It’s isolating. The worst part is that I walk through life hiding pain day in and day out. Emotional pain is fairly easy to hide. I function at work. I’m able to put on a happy face. My guess is most who are around me have no idea the level of my depression. The stigma attached to mental health issues are alienating, but I am done keeping it all inside. Why speak out? Because I am desperately trying to get better and I hope others, like me who may be struggling, will join me on a journey to healing.

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Kelly holds masters degrees in both Special Education and Speech-Language Pathology. She works full-time as a speech-language pathologist in both a public school setting and as an adjunct faculty member at a university, in Philadelphia, PA. She specializes in both autism and augmentative/alternative communication and took her skills to Uganda, Africa to start a special needs program for disabled children living in an orphanage in 2011. Kelly began experiencing symptoms of autoimmune arthritis in 1984 (while in her teens) but wasn’t officially diagnosed with autoimmune arthritis until 2001. Her first diagnosis was Sjogren’s syndrome. Eventually her diagnosis was changed to sero-negative RA and now Polyarticular Spondlyoarthropathy. She also manages thyroid disease (resulting from Graves Disease), fibromyalgia, renin-deficient hypertension, and disseminated superficial actinic porokeratosis (DSAP) on a daily basis. Kelly connected with other autoimmune arthritis patients via social media in 2008. She began volunteering with the “Buckle Me UP! Movement”, which evolved into the International Autoimmune Arthritis Movement (IAAM) beginning in 2009. Then became a cofounder of IFAA in 2013. She has represented the ACR on Capitol Hill as an Advocate for Arthritis, was a finalist in Wego Health’s Health Activist Hero awards in 2014, and speaks at various healthcare conferences as a patient advocate in the Philadelphia area.

One thought on “April showers…..

  1. December is always my worst month. I have difficulty every year. My best thing is to remember is that it will end. It always does and it always has. But like you I have a rough go during. I hope you recall this will end. May will be here. I am with you all the time.

    rick

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