This is the second of a two-part series exploring a recent mental health counseling case. Part 1 explored the therapist’s perspective and process. Part two shares experiences expressed by the client. Identifiable information has been changed to protect confidentiality.

Part 2

The last ten years has been unbearably hard. People look at me. I am walking and talking so they think I am ok. But I am ill and afraid and don’t know how I will afford to stay alive.

Before my diagnosis, I knew I was sick, and I was scared. Despite receiving care from several medical professionals, no one could pinpoint the real problem.

I was working as an RN, trying to keep going, struggling. At Thanksgiving, I visited relatives; also present was a child with a respiratory infection. Within two days, I was sick with a fever which developed into severe bronchitis. I had difficulty recovering. A visit to my physician five days later with a stop at the grocery store landed me back in bed for a few more days. With time I recovered, but the chronic symptoms persisted.

Something had taken over: I was constantly exhausted. I had painful, red, dry eyes, dry mouth, dental caries, severe sun sensitivity, neuropathy, brain fog and fatigue. There was a name for the collective symptoms. I felt sure of that. But who could help me, if not the doctors I had already seen?

I began to google dry eyes and Sjogren’s Disease came up. It was all there. An autoimmune illness. Reading the information at www.sjogrens.org outlined my symptoms. I was overwhelmed.

I became depressed. The pain, fatigue, and sun sensitivity were too much to bear alone. There were the regular stares at my bloodshot eyes which were almost as hurtful as the ocular pain. No one cared. I talked and talked but it did not seem to penetrate. It seemed that having depression contributed to a lack of credibility on my part.  People thought I was “just depressed” – they didn’t know what Sjogren’s Disease is; in their world it didn’t and doesn’t exist.

My counselor is the only one that knows how this complicates my life. I thank her for caring enough to learn about the emotions of an individual with a serious, debilitating, chronic illness. There are 4 million Americans with Sjogren’s Disease and another 2.5 million yet to be diagnosed. I cannot go it alone; none of us can.

How will this condition look and feel as it progresses? Who will be there if I am hospitalized? Who will help me? Who will pay my bills when I can’t? I was forced to retire very early because of my condition. I am single and childless, living on a meager Social Security check and savings. The future is scary.

My counselor at Catholic Charities is a huge Band-Aid on a giant open sore. She helps me believe that maybe emotional healing is possible. Because my Counselor is a woman of faith, we have common ground to stand on. All of life points to God. He continues to be with me as my body and dreams are dying. He’s who I have.

Learn more about mental health counseling through Catholic Charities Family Services.

Grace, not her real name, receives therapy at Catholic Charities Family Services. See part 1 of this post here.