I have often found myself wondering when the day will come, that I get cabin fever. If you watch TV, it seems to happen to almost anyone who is confined for too long, but it’s those final two words that I expect are the key to cabin fever, “too long”. What is too long? Well, if you listen to the inhabitants of places like Alaska or Finland, too long, can be the months of darkness that every winter brings. If you listen to the average teenager, it’s probably around a minute, especially if their friends are going out. Yet, here I am, in my 9th year of being housebound, and I too spend my winters in virtual darkness. Not because the sun doesn’t shine here, but because the winter is cold and shut curtains, keep the warmth in. Recently, I have been taking it one step further. Again to save money, I have always been sparing in my use of electric light, but I was finding myself getting headaches, and my desk lamp appeared to be at fault. For years, I have been able to touch type, but never truly trusted myself to get it right. So I took the decision, that I was going to turn that light off, and go for it. Guess what, I can type far better than I thought, in fact, I’m making fewer mistakes, as I can’t just take a glance down and then hit the wrong key. That discovery, I think, is also a clue to my not being caught in a fever.
Although inside, I believe myself to be the weakest person alive, always doubting myself and never sure about anything, I know that isn’t how I come across, nor is it the truth. I am just the same as everyone else, my self-doubt levels are no higher than anyone else’s, nor is my strength or anything else about me. It’s all about self-belief, something all of us lack. It is hard when we compare ourselves to others, especially when they “appear” to be doing so much better than us at almost everything, not to see ourselves as a failure. It’s just the same when it comes to our health. Because we share the same diagnosis with someone else, or they share a symptom that we have, we can’t help but compare ourselves to them. We totally forget that different people are just that, different. We ignore the fact, that something as simple as a spasm, has a huge range of possible pains attached. We just see that apparently others cope better, but do they really? Our self-doubt grows even deeper when it comes to picturing our futures. I have had countless people say to me, that they don’t understand how I can be content, having been housebound for so long, because they can’t picture themselves being where I am for me than a day. Well, believe it or not, 15 years ago when I was diagnosed, neither could I. I like anyone else, looked with awe at those who were even partially housebound, surely all I had seen meant that cabin fever was a forgone conclusion. Yes, I could like anyone else, manage the odd week here and there, but weeks, months or years, never.
I have looked at my situation in so many different ways over the years. I have come up with theory after theory, and each has held rings of truth, but none totally fitted the bill. I don’t think that living as I do has any magical formula that makes it work, nor are there a set of steps that anyone can take. In a way it’s a little like my touch typing, it’s simply about doing it. Every single component of our health is simply about doing it. If you are coping with your health right now, don’t worry about the future, as when you get there, it will be just like the now, you’ll cope. Every step up in my health, at first, felt daunting. As the pain levels rose, I thought there was no way that I could take it, but I did and I do. It is a little like being on an escalator that you have been climbing for years. The higher up the stairs you travel, the more daunting the next step level seems, but when you do take that step, somehow, it feels right, a natural progression and nothing like you thought it would be like. By the time you reach the step level saying “housebound”, well, your ready for it. Your body doesn’t have the energy or oddly, even the desire to not rise to that step, it’s natural to be there. Hence no “cabin fever”.
I have no desire to go out, in fact, it is now the total opposite. The whole idea of leaving here to attend a hospital appointment, is more daunting, than the idea of taking that next step up my stairway. If there is a trick to surviving chronic illness, it is in looking only at the step you are on, not the one that is ten or twenty levels above you. Once you are on that escalator, you can’t stop it, learning that is the acceptance phase. I have come across people who are on that escalator and they are facing the wrong direction, desperately trying to run down again. It doesn’t work, no matter how fast they run, the escalator, holds them, just where they are, they just get more exhausted and more worn down. Once you have accepted, well, the rest just follows. It isn’t about hidden strength, or any of the other things, that people choose to pin it on. It’s simply about moving forwards and upwards. It doesn’t matter whether it is housebound, new symptoms or pain levels, as long as we’re facing up the escalator, we cope, we all do.
Right now, I am caught up in pain levels that are pushing me hard, but I am coping because I know that I can. If there is one thing that I have learnt in the last years, it is that. Those people in Alaska or Finland who suffer from cabin fever each year, do so because they’re healthy enough to go out. They still have the desire to be out there in the world, unlike those of us who are housebound by our health, there is no comparison between us, we’re in different worlds. So don’t fear your future because of how you’ll cope with it, because, you already have the tools to more than cope. You’ve learned them all already and you’ve already learned the greatest tool of them all, how to adapt.