I left you all last time saying I would take you on my journey. The journey of how fibro affected my profession, my family, my friends and me. I will start with my profession; as this is the one area that was probably the hardest for me to accept. At the point of an official diagnosis I was approximately 18 years into my active duty service. I was being seen quite frequently by doctors and specialists for about a year and a ½ prior while trying to determine what was going on with me. Was it all in my head? And yes, I asked myself that many times.
That question, “Was it all in my head?” likely only exasperated my symptoms. I kept pushing through; the physical training, the long hours, the volunteering to be involved with activities, and even furthering my education. After all, I had been doing all that for years. It was and I believe still is expected of our service men and women. But at what expense?
I had dropped a class I was taking as I realized quickly that likely I was not going to do well in the class as my ability to concentrate was not nearly as good as it once had been. I had never backed out of a prior commitment like that before. It was very discouraging to me. I also declined a nomination to be president of the squadron booster club and to participate in other activities on the installation. I didn’t have the energy to give it, its full attention. The booster club events were a lot of work. Some say for little reward, but for me seeing smiling faces at the events we held, often the summer BBQs or annual holiday parties was all the reward I needed. I really did find comfort and satisfaction in knowing others were enjoying themselves because of my hard work. Being involved in these types of activities was me, it was what I did. Not participating became another stressor for me. I couldn’t seem to win, if I participated the activity would not get the attention it deserved and when I didn’t participate I felt like I was not only letting others done, but I was lost in, what do I do now?
I started making doctor appointments to coincide with physical training. Admittedly, I was never a big fan but it was necessary and I enjoyed the social and team building aspect of it. I was finding ways to get out of it. Mornings were particularly rough for me due to morning stiffness and often lack of sleep. The physical training especially at O-dark-30 in the morning was brutal for me, resulting in pretty much making me worthless for the remainder of the day. I was able to perform tasks that were routine and had become second nature for me to do after many years of doing them. But if I was asked to be creative or do something out of the ordinary it took much more time than it had in my past. That became an additional stressor as I was not exceptive of that additional time I was taking.
I had a commander, a first sergeant and a chief that for the most part seemed understanding of my situation or at the very least accepting of these performances or should I say, “Lack thereof.” They did not really know me and perhaps I’m wrong but I felt like I repeatedly let them down in comparison to my peers and the contributions that were made to our squadron and the installation. Thankfully I had an awesome crew working for me that for the most part needed little guidance and it was a great stress reliever for me.
So I struggled with making it to retirement. Was it the right decision? I knew it was what was best for all. It was best for my health; it was best for my unit and ultimately best for the Air Force as I was not likely to ever fulfill my fair share of responsibilities especially when it would come to a deployment. Deployments are another topic that has and at times still really brings me down. So as I’ve said, I chose to retire.
I gave up the biggest part of who I was. What I’ve done and known for years, the commitment to serve others was a big empty gap for me. Although I still maintain contact with many through social media sites and an occasional call or text, it is not the same. I’ve lost the connection, security and comfort of seeing my brothers and sisters in blue every day. That unspoken understanding of each other’s struggles and successes was and still is moving for me. I was losing my professional identity. And more importantly, where did the old ME go? So as I gave up that, I leaned harder on my family for fulfilling that gap. My family will be where I take you next on this journey.
~Renee will continue sharing her experiences living with an invisible illness over the coming weeks. Check back next Friday for the next installment in her personal journey series, “Where Did ME Go.”