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Divorce, chronic illness, big change, and me

by Jenni Prokopy, the Editrix

A few months ago, I wrote about big changes happening in my life. I was obtuse for a reason; I wanted to send a message to the universe, and to you—dear fellow ChronicBabes—that big things were happening in Jenni-land. But I wasn't ready to talk specifics. And it wasn't completely my story to tell, anyway.

But it's time that I filled you in, because big change has happened, and it's had a huge impact on me. I want to share what's been going on, how it's affected me (and ChronicBabe), and what's going to happen moving forward. And I want to share some of the things I've learned from the experience.

I got divorced

It's the hardest, saddest thing that's ever happened in my life. Steve is a good man, and I don't want anyone reading this to think that I harbor ill will toward him; in fact, our split is amicable, and we remain friends. I've written lots of stories on this site about lovely things he did for me—and with me—over the years, and all of those things remain true and valuable. I wouldn't change a thing about any of that. But unfortunately, our relationship had to end.

It took a major physical toll

We separated 18 months ago, and it's been a long road. At first I thought I was handling things fine, and physically I was feeling OK; my fibromyalgia symptoms were pretty much in check, behaving themselves as usual, flaring about the same amount, from the typical activities and triggers. I thought things were cool.

But pretty soon my anxiety symptoms reared up like an enormous fire-breathing dragon, bearing down on me and forcing me into a corner. And depression set in, bringing it with a malaise and a general feeling of fear about the unknown. What's going to happen with my career? How will I pay for health care? How will I be OK alone? My mind was full of questions that had no answers. Many of them STILL have no answers. 

And about six months ago I woke up one morning feeling really exhausted, and suddenly I was in a tailspin. It's like my body just gave in to the stress of everything and stopped functioning. I could barely climb one flight of stairs. It was like nothing I had ever felt before. The pain was intense. The fatigue was like the weight of the ocean pushing me down down down. I didn't know what to do.

Good thing I have a team

Working with my primary care physician, pain care specialist, and psychologist, we came up with an attack plan. Each of these docs has been in my life for years, and they work really well together, so it was pretty easy to coordinate. Slowly, over a period of months, I started to get better. I tackled my slump with yoga, meditation, exercise, stretching, diet, naps, daily affirmations, business coaching, cheering from my team—you name it, I did it. 

And I did it with the support of amazing friends and family. My sisters, Lauren and Meredith (plus her husband Mike and my niece Vivi), are just incredibly awesome. And my friends are just, well, I can't even explain how amazing they are. I could list SO MANY PEOPLE here it would be ridiculous; I am so blessed that my life is overflowing with love. 

Old practices came in handy

I've written here before about practices for organizing your medical paperwork, and I put those same kinds of practices to work in organizing all the legal paperwork I faced. It was a daunting task; this was a challenge unlike anything I had ever faced. I'll be honest; a lot of things fell through the cracks. I wasn't the best about tracking my health paperwork while the legal stuff was going on, and I've had a lot of catching up to do lately. It's been tough. But I tried to prioritize as best I could. And enlisting experts, like a trustworthy lawyer and divorce coach—plus my long-time accountant—really helped me feel solid about decisions I was making for my future. Once again, Team Jenni was in full force. 

Stress management was a big issue. I tried my best to use my old standbys for handling the extreme stress of the situation, like meditation, relaxation, distraction, visualization, journaling, exercise, and—sometimes—medication. They all helped in some ways. There were days when I felt like I needed EVERY SINGLE ONE of them and still couldn't get enough of the stress relief I wanted, and my symptoms would go through the roof. Even so, knowing I had tools that helped was a great relief most of the time. And these tools are all portable, which is fabulous!

Finally: acceptance, my old friend. Sometimes I would just sit and try to ease into the idea that I had to accept the fact that there were things out of my control. If you're a long-time ChronicBabe reader, you know this hasn't always been my strong suit. But I've worked on it for years, so I've gotten better. And boy, did this divorce thing give me lots of opportunities to practice! 

I take the bad with the good

And something amazing happened: Even with all the physical symptoms—even with the depression and anxiety and fear and pain—I still have hope, and I still feel excitement about new opportunities, and I still have been nurturing a growing feeling of peace about the new direction of my life. At the same time that I was having awful physical symptoms, I was enjoying a growing inner awareness of where I wanted to be, where I wanted ChronicBabe to go, what I wanted to do with my writing work. It's almost like I was having growing pains! 

Despite the extreme difficulties of the past year and a half, it's also been a time of wonderful learning. The fact that I could keep my heart open during this tumultuous time has been a real gift. It hasn't been all bad; in fact, I've come to really enjoy living by myself, and I've learned so much about what I want and need as an individual. It feels like for every hardship, I've received just as many gifts. Even as I've felt crummy, I've been able to speak at events like SXSW Interactive 2011, and be honored with things like the Crushing It 2011 list. I've been determined to keep doing the work I believe in, helping women live incredible lives in spite of illness.

I'm still dealing with the aftershocks

My body still isn't where I want it to be. I'm still coming back from a crappy place physically, and I've got a lot of work to do. Because I couldn't exercise for months, I've gained a bunch of weight, and I'm not thrilled about it. But it's where I am now, so I love myself as I am. I'm just also loving salad more often. And cupcakes less often.

And I've got a lot to think about. Sure, I'm a single girl in the city, and I can do as I please, when I please, and that's super fun. But I'm also a SINGLE girl, with CHRONIC HEALTH ISSUES, and SELF-EMPLOYED…which means I've got some serious issues with HEALTH INSURANCE to figure out. And that's pretty scary. So I'm working on that for sure. (Hmm, I smell a post coming up on that!)

What I want you to know

For months and months, I've wished I could tell all of you, my fellow ChronicBabes, what was going on. I've wanted to confide in y'all like a close girlfriend. But I just wasn't ready. And after all, the details aren't what matter. What's valuable—what I think is really important for you to know—is that I learned that even if you're a sick chick, you can make it through something as challenging as a divorce, and come out the other side with hope. 

If you go back to the top of this post and work your way down, you'll see what helped me through: 

- I have a great team of doctors, people I've worked with for years who communicate well with me, and with each other. They helped me figure out what was going on with my body, and my mind, and how they were connected—and how I could take control and get better again.

- I used every tool in my toolbox to get well. And I took responsibility for as much of my health as I could. It hasn't been easy, and I certainly haven't been perfect about it, but I've done my best. When I've slacked off, my team has kept me in check.

- Speaking of my team, I've leaned on them A LOT during the past year and a half. Team Jenni deserves gold stars for their awesomeness! I try really hard to acknowledge them as much as I can, because I love every one of them and they have helped me feel safe and loved. Those relationships go both ways; I nurture them to keep them strong.

- I've relied on old practices that are familiar to me. These are ingrained, and easy to pull up and use at a moment's notice. If you keep practicing, you'll be able to do this, too.

- I've kept an open mind and an open heart. This might be the hardest thing to do, but I think if you really set your mind to it, you can do this as well. Even when your situation is at its worst, gifts and opportunities can show up; if you're open, you can see them. They'll bring you out of your funk. (I'll be writing more about how to be open in future posts.)

- Finally, we're all on each other's teams! If you need support, those of us in this community are here to help each other. During times of great stress I've hopped on the Forum and chatted with other ChronicBabes and it's been oh-so-helpful. Never forget that you are not alone. 

While I hope none of you ever have to go through something so difficult, the reality is, many relationships end. It's my sincere hope that the lessons I've shared from my experience will be of some help to you, should you need them.

What's next for ChronicBabe

During this most difficult time in my life, I haven't written quite as much for ChronicBabe as I would have liked. On the flip side, we launched the Forum, which has nearly 1,100 members; our Goodie Bag newsletter has nearly doubled to pass 3,200 subscribers and is now way beyond 100 issues; our new blog carnival has had more than 30 editions; and we've exploded our Twitter and Facebook followings. So it's not like I disappeared. But I'll admit I haven't been as present as I would like to be.

That's about to change in a big way, because throughout this past year, an idea has been brewing in my mind for something big. Something powerful, just for women like us. There are thousands upon thousands of women in this country living with chronic illness who are struggling to improve their lives, climb the career ladder, strengthen their relationships, feel more empowered in the health care system, enjoy more intimacy with their partners, and find more time for themselves—and I want to help. I believe the ChronicBabe way of life has the answers, and I'm getting ready to show you how it's done. So stay tuned: In just a few weeks, I'll have a BIG announcement about that! 

Big thanks

Finally, whether you're new to the site, or if you're a long-time reader and ChronicBabe, I want to thank you. You're part of a community of women who care enough about themselves to make a choice: to improve their lives in spite of illness. You are, quite frankly, awesome. Every day, I receive messages from fellow ChronicBabes telling me how much this site means, how valuable it is. There have been days during the past 18 months when those messages kept me afloat. Truly. Each and every one of you is a gift. So I want you to know that I appreciate you, and I thank you for being here and being part of Team Jenni—and Team ChronicBabe. 

This time has been a hard time, and a time of great change. But it has also been a time of great insight and learning. I can't wait to share loads more fabulous conversations and ideas with all of you! Sending you much love - XO Jenni

Posted: 6/29/2011 in Relationships  |  Also posted in: Announcements

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