There are times when winter is reminiscent of being swallowed by a deep black hole. And if we're not careful, we may forget the light that's right behind the cloud cover.
I hold deep antipathy for darkness, and I often look up at the sky in the wintertime wondering if the bleak gray of winter will come to an end. It's common to hear talk of "winter depression" or "seasonal depression," but I almost never hear talk of what it's really like, or what it even really is. I wish I could say that wintertime was merely a battle with sadness, but I've found it's often much deeper than that, and the PTSD that comes from long months of illness is as real as the PTSD that comes from fighting in a war. In all reality, this is a war for those of us who push through winter with chronic illness, one heavy step through deep snow at a time.
Last year at this time my family was walking right into "The Lyme Flare of 2019." I took up my bed in February of 2019 with pain so deep and penetrating that I couldn't lay on one side of my body for too long without having to sorely role over to another side to release any pressure that was weighing on my pained muscles. I had been in this place many times before, but this time was a complete recession from how I had slowly been improving throughout 2018. Like falling down the stairs or off of a tall cliff, I looked up at this beast referred to as a "Lyme flare" that I was somehow facing once again and felt completely destitute and defeated.
At the time I had been struggling with piercing feelings of insecurity, worthlessness, and the fear that I will never be enough. I had been striving so relentlessly hard to work through life on my own, that my mental health had completely receded. I prayed for relief from the monsters inside me and instead of relief I was left to cope with physical pain and my ability to do anything removed from my grasp. And it was in this time-frame that I resolved to surrender everything to God and hope that by some miracle I could be pulled out of this darkness that swallowed me while I lay helplessly in a bed or on a couch. The "winter depression," as one might call it, was so heavy that I often felt completely paralyzed. I remember at this time that every time I could manage to glance out of a window my eyes would be met with gray skies and cold frigid air.
What I didn't know at this time was that this wintry flare that left me feeling completely lost and pained, ended up being one of the greatest blessings of my life, and resulted in one of the greatest lessons of my life.
Up to this point in time, I was living subconsciously as if I have to do everything on my own for quite some time. I'd never done anything half baked, and I'd always found myself meeting my problems and pitfalls with ambition and hard work. Unfortunately, there are things in life that one cannot possibly do on their own, such as facing monstrosities like Lyme disease, betrayal, or abuse, and I often found myself passing blame to myself for the misfortunes that happen simply as a result of mortality. I blamed myself for my negative feelings, and I numbed myself to my heartaches and hurts as a way to somehow prove that I was strong and that I could heal and survive on my own.
If there was anything that "The Lyme Flare of 2019" taught me, it was that I simply could not do it on my own. I had been driven to a place where burning over my pains with work and busyness was no longer efficient because my body would not allow me to. And as one can imagine, I faced my pains with the quiet allowance of feeling. It was excruciating. But with that, I learned about grace.
It was as if God had answered my cries for relief by giving me permission to stay in bed and sleep for a month or two. I felt His love and support even when all I could do was rest. And surprisingly, life went on. He took care of what I couldn't and I felt great peace and comfort that this was a time of RECOVERY, STILLNESS, and HEALING.
You see, we are not expected to pass through toil and trial on our own. And in a world where I have heard the phrase "God doesn't give you more than you can handle" run freely from the mouths of those who have yet to taste bitter cups in this life, I commonly assumed that there was something wrong with me because THIS was more than I could handle.
Lyme is more than I can handle.
Betrayal trauma was more than I could handle.
Watching parts of my family fall apart because of this disease was more than I could handle.
Living day, after day, after day for years watching my mother in pain and suffering that is seemingly endless is more than I can handle.
And the heartache that comes from isolation and loneliness is MORE THAN I CAN HANDLE.
The truth is that there are many times in life that God will give us more than we can handle and that is simply because we were not meant to handle it by ourselves. We were given grace, tender mercies, each other, and a Savior who loves us tremendously. So as we pour out our aching souls to Him, He gives us grace for grace, and mercy for mercy. Who knew that lying in a bed in debilitating circumstances could teach me that I am enough, that I don't have to "handle" everything by myself, and that just because I can't handle something doesn't mean that He can't.
So now I face this winter with similar anxieties, pain, and emotions boiling to the surface. I still glance out the frosted over windows to see bleak skies and frigid air. I still often find myself in deep weariness of soul because there are some battles in life that do not merely end.
The increase of symptoms and the seasonal depression can still weight heavily on my body and heart, but this year I fight with a changed perspective. This year I fight with quietly loud faith knowing that I am not fighting alone and that I don't have to face the scary aspects of life on my own.
The winter will always pass through where I am. The skies will always gather clouds and the storms with often rage. The cold will often chill us to the bone, and sometimes coats and scarves won't always be enough to warm our troubled hearts. But one thing I can guarantee is that bright blue skies will always appear again. Light conquers cold and dark. And there is often something beautiful awaiting us in the middle of these merely bleak or utterly terrifying winters of our lives.
The trick is to remember in the middle of them that as we strive, we are enough, we're not alone, and sometimes you can even find some beauty within the storm. For I always thought that snowflakes could turn out to be quite beautiful anyway.
God's grace can and does sustain us, and I pray for that as we persist through another winter.
"I feel like I have no purpose!"
I've listened to myself and others express this many times throughout the chronic illness journey, and it's time that we bust this myth that the chronically ill have no purpose simply because their lives look different than the average person.
I recently had someone close to me express how they were so excited that I was opening a gift shop because I would now "have some purpose." As if I haven't had purpose for the past five years of my life... On the outside, it may seem like I don't have a purpose. I spent 2+ years in a bed, home-bound, and unable to really DO anything. But there's a whole side of chronic illness that is just not seen.
I may have spent 2+ years home-bound, but I also spent my time participating in grueling treatment protocols, resting, and HEALING. I invested my purpose is growing my heart and my mind. And because of that, my entire purpose for life shifted.
Yes, I don't have a 9-5 job. Yes, I live with my parents. Yes, I've spent a lot of adulthood in pain... but through it all, my heart was growing in love, empathy, patience, and hope. Lyme has instilled in me a deep passion to advocate for the sick and love the afflicted. Lyme disease did not rob me of my purpose, it clarified and expanded my TRUE purpose. Lyme disease softened my heart and helped me discover who I am truly meant to be, and it continues to do that for me every day!
If there is anything I can say to the Chronically Ill it's this:
You have worth!
You have purpose!
You have so much to give and offer!
It simply takes time to know and understand that shift that is taking place inside you. May we all be content and patient as we discover our purposes through all the suffering.
Every time I see this meme floating around the chronic illness community on social media I can't help but laugh out loud, mainly because it's so true that it's funny!
This Chronic Illness Truth applies to anyone who has a chronic illness that affects their joints, or even just anyone who is home-bound because of their illness. I really want to focus on the aspect of being homebound for a minute here...
I am a young, single adult that lives with my parents and I live in a household of all sick people. My parents and I have chronic Lyme disease, and we survive this illness by working together and yes, we spend a lot of time at home because we're too sick to go out, or if we do go out we pay for it later.
With this situation of mine, I always find it very frustrating to receive comments from people about how "I don't put myself out their enough," or "I just need to get out more!" This truth is important in order to demolish the stigma.
I am not a recluse that doesn't get out enough. Those who have chronic illness are sick to the point where there are days when leaving the house is unhealthy for us. Those of us who are home-bound are often in pain and managing to the best of our ability, and if you do happen to see us out we're either having a good day, or pushing through pain, or both!
So my message today is to REMEMBER. Remember to call the friend you haven't talked to in a while. Remember to invite us even if we can't make it. Remember to be present in our lives just like you would any other friend. It may difficult for us to navigate this illness, but we still intend to live a full life and we still need love, just like everyone else.
If you're home-bound because of chronic illness... you are still of great worth. Never forget that.
Comment below if you relate!