For the fourth month in a row I’ve waited until the very last minute to write my post for the month. Even though I usually know what I’m going to post about well in advance, I continue to procrastinate, because I keep picking these topics that hit very close to home and force me to examine, critique, and better myself. Yay! So much fun…that’s sarcasm if you didn’t catch it. A few nights ago I procrastinated by making an epic playlist of my favorite R&B songs from the 90s and 2000s. You should definitely listen because I have amazing taste in music and this playlist is nostalgic af: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/6IMgR9w03EQRDNoP7ZA2Qr?si=qeCJvcbFSs-EkyHzuKkCsA
Welp, that’s enough avoiding the hard truths for now. You want to know what it’s like being an independent, high functioning, chronically ill person, and I’m going to tell you, but first let me give a brief history for context.
I’ve never thought of myself as a sick person. Even with everything that’s been going on with my health for the past four plus years, I've refused to let it “stop” me. Through the insomnia, anxiety, burning and stinging skin, discoloration, flaking and constant itching, I carried on with business as usual when this first started. I actually took the physical symptoms as a sign that I needed to leave DC, and I did. I just thought I’d be moving to New York; not Seattle for an indefinite period of time.
It was one of the hardest decisions I ever made to move back home, but I knew I needed to heal and home was the best place to do that. I immediately started looking for work and applying for promotional gigs to cover the cost of all the alternative medicine practitioners I was seeing. I basically lived in the kitchen attempting to commit to the GAPS diet, and eventually started auditioning, despite not having resolved the health issues I was facing. I was also constantly putting in work to launch this blog by my 26th birthday on May 29th. Just to give you a sense of the timeline, I moved home in March of 2015. By the summer I was an instructor for the all-teen summer musical in Seattle, working on a production lab of a new show at 5th Avenue Theatre and teaching a kettle bell class three times a week at my local gym. By November I was back in DC doing A Christmas Carol and had two more shows lined up after that. I was booked until June of 2016. Oh yeah, and before November I managed to travel to New York to volunteer for the American Black Film Festival and Atlanta, Chicago and New Orleans to visit friends. Team too much. Table of one. Oh no, don’t worry! I’ll seat myself.
Looking back at it now, all I can say is, what the hell was I thinking?!? But I digress. Let me stay on track. Fast forward to April 1st of this year. I stopped using the Dr. Aron medication and decided to dedicate this time to my healing. Here’s the thing with me: whenever I am not in a show I view it as a break, because I’m not going to rehearsal or doing shows every day. Here’s the reality: when I’m not in a show I’m still auditioning full time, doing gigs, working on my blog and usually attempting to tackle a huge to-do list of goals. Soooo…that’s not a break. It’s just not being in a show.
My list of goals for the spring/summer included writing and producing 5-10 new sketches, applying for a grant, writing a short film, Marie Kondoing my life, revamping this blog, seeing shows, starting a business, traveling, writing, producing an EP, and maybe planning another show before I leave Seattle, all while auditioning, booking and working gigs. If you haven’t guessed by now, I have a problem being still. I HUGELY underestimated how hard this “time off” and period of healing would be. I walked into it excited about all the time I’d have to accomplish my personal goals and couldn’t wait to get started. I was so confused when that initial excitement was met with general feelings of apathy. All of the sudden I could only muster up the energy to audition and work the gigs I booked, and I was barely able to do that. Then came the depression. Some days I felt like I could conquer the world and some days I felt like I could only conquer my bed. So that’s what I did until my mood shifted. It’s the most frustrating thing to want to be productive, but not be able to get out of the bed in the morning. I was so sad, and I didn’t want to be.
A few weeks ago I was in therapy explaining my lack of motivation and frustration with the ups and downs of my emotions. While sharing my erratic sleep patterns I was struggling to find a word, and my therapist mentioned that I was displaying many symptoms of adrenal fatigue. What’s adrenal fatigue you ask?
“A relatively new term, “adrenal fatigue” was proposed as a new condition in 1998 by Dr. James L. Wilson, a naturopath and chiropractor. His assumption was that an overstimulation of the adrenal glands (or “adrenals”) by chronic stress over time could lead to an inconsistent level of cortisol (the stress hormone) in the bloodstream, sometimes far more than normal and at other times, far too low. In addition to this overload or improper cortisol level, people with adrenal fatigue often don’t have enough DHEA, the “parent hormone” responsible for the creation of many necessary hormones in the body.” - https://draxe.com/3-steps-to-heal-adrenal-fatigue/
Symptoms include brain fog, chronic fatigue, hormone imbalances, moodiness and irritability, depression, and sleep disturbances. Check, check, check, and check! Also, surprise, surprise, I had adrenal fatigue in 2015 when I was team too much, party of one. While it was good to get an answer for why I’ve been feeling so crazy (I confirmed that I did indeed have adrenal fatigue when I saw my new naturopath the next week), initially I was overwhelmed and so frustrated and just depleted. The adrenal fatigue symptoms were making it difficult to deal with the Topical Steroid Withdrawal symptoms, and there were many times when I just looked up at God and said, “I have no more fight left."
My health literally kicked my butt and made me sit down. My body started shutting down so I had to listen. When I broke down in my therapist’s office I finally realized that I wasn’t acknowledging that I’m sick, and I have to slow down. The next day I emailed my agent and told her I have to stop auditioning for a while so I can focus on my health. Not only did I finally accept my need to be still in order to heal, I realized that the people in my life have no idea how hard this journey has been. Because I’m so independent and have always attacked this illness with a solution based mindset, I think people assume that I’m okay. I try to keep a positive outlook and know that everything I’m going through is ultimately for good, but these past few months I haven’t had the capacity to be positive most of the time.
In reflecting over this entire journey, I realized that I never actually stopped and took the time I needed to heal. I moved home to lighten the financial load, but as you read earlier, I was working multiple jobs within a few months. Being still is hard for me, because I feel like if I’m not producing a product I’m not being productive. Healing naturally has been hard, because I’m not seeing results right away. It’s difficult to keep in perspective that everything I’m doing is for long term healing, not immediate results.
I’ve also been having flashbacks of the many times that my feelings or attempts at healing have been belittled. Most people don’t understand how constricting and emotionally taxing eczema can be. When you’re still able bodied, people don’t recognize the seriousness of skin conditions. The skin is the largest organ of the body!!! When it’s not functioning properly that’s a BIG problem. Do you know what it is to be uncomfortable in your own skin 80% of the time? To itch so badly that you can’t sleep and constantly have open wounds on your entire body? To sting, burn and itch when you sweat? Not to mention the myriad of other conditions that are usually attached to eczema. I cannot count the number of times people have belittled my diet changes, pressured me to eat things I didn’t want to, pressured me to drink alcohol, pushed me to audition or accept work when I wasn’t sure if it was the best thing for me because my skin was flaring, pushed me to leave the house when I was flaring and not feeling well, questioned my choice to not use steroids, given me unsolicited advice about my health, credited my health issues to not having a positive mentality…the list goes on. Sometimes I confront these people, but a lot of times I brush it off and go on about my life, because I figure it’s more of a hassle to explain than to just ignore. However, in reviewing all of these instances I got really angry.
I actually created a video for my solo show explaining Topical Steroid Withdrawal and depicting the crazy reactions I got when I first started changing my diet. See below:
In my independence and avoidance of confrontation, I haven’t been setting the necessary boundaries I need to thrive. My aloneness in this fight for my health has become more apparent than ever, and a huge reason for that feeling is the fact that I haven’t been advocating for myself enough. It’s just as hard for me to ask for help as it is for me to be still. There I was sitting in my therapist’s office feeling like I was drowning in my life, and no one was throwing me a life raft. I don’t want to discredit the help that my family has been these past four years, because they’ve definitely been there for me, but there’s the help they’ve given and the help that I need. The only way they can know the help that I need is for me to tell them.
I left that session knowing that I had to have a lot of really hard conversations. I had been attempting this entire healing process alone, and I knew I no longer had the capacity to continue in that fashion. I’m sick, and I need the people in my life to recognize that, and I need support. I’m still learning exactly what that support looks like, but I do know that right now I can’t handle pressure from others to perform or leave the house if I’m not feeling well. Now is my time to be selfish and tend to my needs, and that’s what I’ve been doing.
All of June I prayed for radical healing over my body, but y’all know the good Lord works in mysterious ways. I was aiming for physical healing, but God was like nah, you bout to get this emotional healing. I wanted to stop being depressed and get back to the life I wanted to live, but instead my eyes were opened to the reality of my health and my need to be still. As an independent, high functioning individual, it’s hard for me to sat down, but there is value in resting. There is also nothing wrong with asking for help. Because I’m so independent, the people in my life don’t always recognize when I need it, but there’s no reason for me to carry this load alone. I have to advocate for myself and let people know what I need in order to feel supported. I have never related so much to the saying, “check on your strong friends.” I won’t speak for all the independent ladies in the world, but I know that I very much have a “I’ll handle it,” or “I’ll just do it,” mentality. I don’t expect anything from anyone, so I make sure that I’m taken care of. I’m learning that, that mentality will only take me so far. God put us on this earth to be in community and to help each other. Being independent is fine, but don’t be so independent that you don’t know how to ask for help. Take it from someone who knows. If you are an independent individual, I encourage you to evaluate your life and see if there’s something you need help with, but you’ve decided to tackle it alone. I also encourage everyone to check on your friends. A simple text to say “I love you” or “I’m thinking of you” or “how have you been” goes a long way. And if you’re a friend of mine, holla atcha girl! I’m feeling a lot better now, but can still use all the love I can get. Dueces and until next time friends!
I'm Lauren, aka Just Du Pree, and I want to thank you for reading. This is a space where I share my very personal journey healing from eczema and topical steroid withdrawal (among other things), life lessons I've learned along the way, and occasionally the thoughts of an awkward Black girl (no Issa Rae). I'm a performer and filmmaker, so if you feel so inclined, pop over here to see what goes on in my mind on the regular. If you like what you see, you can stay up to date with my work here. Much love, friends!