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  • Peggy Spear

An Illness Worse than COVID



I’m sick. And it’s not COVID.


Three months ago, I injured my shoulder while playing in the ocean in Thailand. I got knocked down by a wave and 140 or so pounds of me fell on my shoulder. At first I thought it was dislocated, but a nice man swimming next to me assured me it was not. I loaded up on Tylenol and enjoyed my vacation, but a week later I finally had to seek medical help at a hospital in Chiang Mai. They took X-rays, gave me some stronger Tylenol and assured me nothing was broken.


I had more X-rays once I returned to the states, and the video chat I had with a doctor assured me things were probably torn. My PCP was great but limited in what he could do. It was another month and a half before Kaiser could get me an appointment with an ortho specialist. Since I’m allergic to Ibuprofen, he gave me a diagnosis of frozen shoulder and a regimen of Physical Therapy, heat and icing.


I jumped into my treatment with both shoulders, aided out by yoga and some pain killers to help do the PT. More on that later. Finally, after two cancellations, I am getting an MRI next week. My shoulder is on fire, hurting like someone is stuffing it with a Thai torch all the time, and it makes funny cracking noises. But my PT has helped get my range of motion back.


And, I have a staph infection. It’s either left over from some skin cancer surgery I had in April or a reaction to my shoulder. Whatever it is, it’s like my skin is breaking out in vicious mosquito bites every day, in different locations. They itch like heck. And then they’re gone the next day, reappearing somewhere else on my legs, arms and chest. I fear prednisone is in my future.


Each of those issues are curable. But I’m also an alcoholic and have a mental illness, general anxiety disorder. With seven years of sobriety, one day at a time, to care for my addiction, and support and medication for my GAD, I’m okay. In fact, I’m better than okay. I’m finally thriving, after almost four years of depression, panic attacks and anxiety. My treatment is working, but these conditions are lifelong illnesses.


I’m sharing all these complaints because I want to make a point, something that’s been simmering since I heard of Naomi Judd’s suicide and seeing so many young athletes taking breaks at the heights of their careers to care for their mental health.


Mental illness is cascading through our world right now, and if you accept it and take care of it, you’ll be okay. Shame, embarrassment and contempt have no place in this discussion. We’ve suffering through a devastating pandemic, our country is ridiculously severed over ideologies, many of which are false. Children are getting killed by teenagers suffering from mental illness, using weapons that should only be used in a military conflict. It costs $70 to fill up a Toyota with gas. Women’s control over their bodies may be taken away from them, and voting rights are being stolen like it was a century ago. All of that causes a lot of feels: anger, hatred, confusion, anxiety, fear, grief. If you say you’re not suffering emotionally, I have a stash of baby formula in my garage for you to buy.


The fact is, we all have mental illness at some points in our lives. Some, like mine, and my son’s panic disorder – which he has been very open about on social media -- may be lifelong bugs, like an allergy. I know that’s true about my addiction, and why I’m wary of heavy pain meds, obsessive about following the dosing directions.


But boy, my shoulder hurts. And sometimes my heart hurts. And I itch like mad. My mental illness is no different than my shoulder injury and staph infection, except I didn’t get my mental illness in paradise, attacked by a rogue wave. And like my shoulder and staph infection, there are treatments for mental illness. Please seek help if you are experiencing panic, extreme anxiety or depression – or if you see it in a friend or loved one.


You’d hate to miss out on a trip to Thailand.


If you are considering harming yourself, please contact the national suicide prevention hotline at 800-273-8255.


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