I frequently travel through my life with a sense of a double identity as our society loudly screams frivolous ideas of success and popularity that seem to be difficult to ignore. And as I attempt to "fit in" with my peers, I always find myself feeling slightly fake and two-faced.
As a woman living in a world brimming with photo-shop, snap-chat filters, and unrealistic glimpses into other people's lives via social media, it's easy to blindly chase after the false belief that in order for me to be a thriving influence in society I must be living up to society's standard: I must be going to school full time, holding a job, eating the best tasting food, traveling to the most exotic places, fulfilling all my callings in the church, and I must be stunningly beautiful every day. I must never have problems... and if I do I must keep my mouth shut in order to avoid causing anyone discomfort. If I experience emotional pain, I must quickly throw it under the rug and pretend it doesn't exist. I must smile... but not too wide and not too frequently. I must be happy... but not too emotional or enthusiastic. I must be tired... but simultaneously drill myself to accomplish all the to-do lists, schedules, and appointments. And while I'm juggling all that... I must also be having the most fun and posting it all to Instagram and Facebook so that everyone else can feel bad about how they're not having enough fun. Thank you social media for this unrealistic and impossible view of reality.
I've tried to be that girl. That girl that has perfection in the bag. That girl that appears to have vitality and richness overflowing in her life. That girl that doesn't talk about her inward struggles in fear that she'll make other people uncomfortable or that she'll give the wrong image or idea. But that girl is fake. That girl isn't real. That girl is living a double life and because I've always tried to be that girl, it makes it easy for my peers, associates, and family to assume that I'm not really sick.
"You don't look sick."
"She must be faking it."
"You're a beautiful girl that probably just feels like you're not getting enough attention."
"You must thrive off of attention."
Some of the comments that all chronic illness warriors hear on a regular basis cut us deep because we're simply trying to survive in our own skin to the best of our ability. What's worse is the words that go unsaid. What's worse is the gaping mouths and blank stares we receive that translates to the disbelief that any person actually suffers on that kind of level. What's worse is the attempt of someone apologizing and stating how hard that must be because they don't know what else to say. The silence is just as painful as harsh words simply because it traps us in the corner of disbelief where we constantly feel the need to prove that we're sick.
So I'll be the first to admit it... You're right... I'm faking it.
I'm faking the smile on my face when I'm trying so desperately to hold back tears. I'm faking that I'm feeling okay when I'm usually riddled with muscle pain, nerve pain, or severe anxiety. I'm faking that I'm living life pain-free when there are so many times that I feel like I'm suffocating under my own skin. I'm faking my sanity when I feel like there are bugs crawling under my skin. I'm faking that I'm flying when at times I feel so utterly close to drowning beneath the pressure of it all. I'm faking that my heart is whole and complete, when really it feels exhausted, broken, and bleeding.
When these things that I'm faking are expressed out loud, I simply feel inadequate. I feel like I lack the ability to ever be "good enough." I feel like it's my fault and if I just tried a little harder.... maybe my pain would subside. I feel ashamed of my own existence, and I often wonder why at times it feels like the world keeps turning while my time stops and I'm trapped in one place until my inward storm chooses to cease for a while. And as these feelings envelop me, the vicious cycle of feeling forced to "fake it" starts all over again.
We live in a society that believes that pain can be relieved with substances. We cope with alcohol, drugs, pills, porn, food, or anything we can do to numb our afflictions. But at some point, we have to realize that the SUBSTANCES DO NOT HEAL US. The substances numb us to the harsh reality. Instead of relying on substances, we can rely on God and on each other so we don't have to feel the desperate need to "fake it till' you make it."
LOVE is the key to healing. "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son." (John 3:16) God loves us, so He gave us His son so that we don't have to suffer alone. Christ knows of our pains and our sorrows, and He loves us all the same. If we strive to be more like Him, we can act as a rock and relief for others who are suffering. We don't have to have all of the answers for the chronically ill. We don't have to take their physical pain away. But what we can do is seek to understand the depths that others and in, and then... we simply love them through it.
Here's the joyful message of it all... Because I have a Savior who loves and sustains me... I can find pure joy through pain and illness, and I'm not faking it. Because I know that people are more important than substances, I can understand that after I walk through my own furnace of affliction I develop the ability to love others through their afflictions. I also understand that as I suffer I gain a greater capacity to later help others which in turn helps me. What I stop trying so hard to fake it, I can be true to myself in enduring pain and happiness.
So the next time that you meet somebody, or the next time that you're talking to somebody... "treat them as if they are in serious trouble. And you will be right more than half of the time." (Henry B. Eyring) It would all do us well to bring our shallow existences to a halt. The next time that somebody says they are doing well and you sense that they are not, do not believe the words they speak. Believe the silent plea for help in their eyes. Believe their subtle look of discouragement and pure exhaustion. Believe that little voice in your head telling you that maybe this person needs help. Believe the inherent ability you have to love somebody through their pain.
We all have that power. May we seek with pure diligence to know how to help ignite that power in ourselves and in others.
Throughout my life, I've had the privilege of sharing my story with lots of different minds and hearts that I've met along the way. Putting the intense battle of so many various kinds of pain into words that are relatable to the average person always seems to be an arduous task on my part, and I frequently seem to receive the same message from people that don't know me very well yet:
"Wow, Claire... That's really personal." or,
"I'm surprised you just shared all of that with me... that's really personal." or,
"Wow... you've been through a lot."
As expected, these comments are usually accompanied with wide eyes, dropped jaws, and a look of bewilderment. It wouldn't surprise me if at times people read my blogs and think similar thoughts.
Now, don't get me wrong... I have experienced very valuable conversations with people about my adversities as well, and this isn't to say that I don't appreciate the chances I do have for listening ears and open minds to hear me out and answer my cries for help with love and compassion. Those people know who they are, and they are very much loved and have forever left handprints on my heart.
But for this particular post, I want to articulate to my dear readers why I'm so very vocal about illness and tragedies, and why I feel such a deep desire to share my story, even if at times it may sound terribly personal, or be overwhelming to listen to or read.
I recently came across this quote on a Facebook page I follow that is dedicated to spreading awareness for Endometriosis (something that I've struggled with for years). This quote really hit home for me personally and is partially why I felt inspired to write this post. Which brings me to my first reason for refusing to stay silent in the midst of suffering:
1. It took me a really long time to develop a voice, and now I finally have it. I vividly remember in high school I obsessively agonized over what people thought of me. I was the "perfectly well behaved high school girl." I couldn't stand it if a single hair on my head was misplaced, or if a single drop of makeup was smeared or absent. I didn't have enough courage to say what I thought most of the time, and when I did say what I thought I was usually ridiculed or quickly shut down by my peers or teachers. This subconsciously lead me to believe that being fake and keeping my mouth shut was the best option in most cases. That, or subconsciously believing that I was incredibly unintelligent at least kept me in a social standpoint where I never had to step outside of the status-quo unless I was around a trusted friend where I could finally just be myself.
All of these false beliefs turned out to be incredibly damaging to me as I grew older and suffered greater tragedies than mere harsh judgments from my peers. I reached a point where I truly believed that I was stupid and worthless, and it's been a battle ever since to remember who I am and why I'm here. About a year ago, I suffered tremendous loss in my life, and when that happened, something inside me finally woke up. Ultimately, I'm tired of pretending. I'm tired of being afraid. I'm tired of thinking that what I have to say isn't worth hearing. I FINALLY found my voice. And now that I have it, I'm not going to be silent.
2. Deep connection and inspiration don't come from silence. Here's something to consider: Why would all of us be put on this earth TOGETHER, to experience pain and suffering, if we were never supposed to talk about our experiences? Adversity and hardship exist so that we can learn, grow, and be inspired, but we were not meant to do that alone. If we were, we wouldn't all be here TOGETHER.
Everybody has a story that can bring tears to the toughest of people, but cold hearts and false beliefs are born out of silence. If I choose to stay silent about my suffering, I'm depriving someone else of the strength that they may not know exists yet. If I'm too afraid to share my story, I'm sending a message of fear to a society that is already riddled with fear and anxiety for the future. In order to understand and truly appreciate the light in life, you have to experience and understand the darkness. That's non-negotiable, but thankfully God blesses us with other people to help us to understand the darkness so we don't have to experience every ounce of suffering by ourselves. And through our pain and suffering, we can learn to succor others... which is my next point.
3. We're not meant to suffer alone. When I think back to the times that I've been bedridden for months on end, I've tried multiple times to pinpoint the worst part of it all. And I have to be honest... The worst part of Lyme disease and Endometriosis isn't the long nights of seizures, puking, and indescribable lower abdominal pain. It's not endless exhaustion, joint pain, and muscle pain. It's not panic attacks, depression, and fits of Lyme rage. The hardest part of chronic illness... is the isolation. I've had so many nights where I've felt like I'm the only one in the world who is suffering on such an immense level. I've felt completely and utterly alone as I've come to realize that while I'm fighting a disease, everyone else's lives are continuing on without me.
Nobody deserves to suffer alone. Almost 50% of America suffers from one or more chronic illnesses, and while the other 50% are near oblivious to the excruciating suffering of us warriors of invisible illness, we're fighting for our lives. Everybody needs help. Every one needs support. Every person needs compassion. We were put on this earth to help each other. We're put on this earth to experience pure love, but I truly believe that we cannot do that without experiencing hardship and being willing to walk the more difficult roads in life. If my story can bring hope, peace, or strength to even just one person... it's worth it to me. It's worth the vulnerability. It's worth the chance that I could be shut down or ridiculed by some. It's worth opening up and being personal. We all need people we can relate to. Silence cuts us off from that connection that we all need in order to survive this life.
This is why I refuse to be silent anymore. This is why I speak up and speak out. This is why I believe that we all need to be a little more personal... because connecting hearts and promoting comfort and healing is so much more important than feeding our fear and protecting our pride.
Note from the Writer: I've suffered from Lyme disease all my life, and one of the very critical symptoms of such a disease is severe anxiety. This is my personal account of what it feels like to suffer from severe anxiety caused by the physical bacteria in my body. Anxiety disorder is not always necessarily just a disorder all by itself, rather it is often times a symptom of greater imbalances in the body. This has been my case for years, and I've finally decided to open up about it and raise awareness for the inward torture that so many people seem to struggle with.
I've spent such a large majority of time thinking as I've laid in bed sick, and I've come to believe that life often involves large amounts of loss...
The loss of a job...
The loss of an irreplaceable item...
The loss of physical abilities that you once had...
The loss of someone you love dearly...
The loss of certain people you know should be in your life, but they just aren't because they choose not to be... I've lost all of these things at one point or another, and it's lead me to believe that loss is something that creates anxiety and depression in the minds and hearts of so many hurting people.
Because when you lose something precious, it opens the door to the fear of what you could possibly lose next.
I supposed that's what happened to me in the midst of my Lyme journey... Lately, I feel as though I'm losing more imperative things...
My will to live...
I don't believe that my anxiety triggers my Lyme disease. Rather, my Lyme disease is a root-cause of the severe anxiety that plagues me on a daily basis. And because Lyme disease never appears to cease, I've come to recognize that I've already lost so much... and my fear of losing more is petrifying at times.
There are countless times where I'm sitting in church, and my heart feels as though it's pounding relentlessly hard in my chest. Over the next passing minutes I begin to fear that one day my heart is going to suddenly jump out of my throat and run down the hall. But I cannot vocalize that feeling to people... because it sounds crazy.
There are times when I'm shopping in a store, and I feel like no matter how deeply I try to breathe I cannot possible intake enough air in my lungs to stay alive. So I feel this desperate need to breathe harder in attempt to acquire more air, almost as if all the oxygen in the room will never be enough. But I cannot express this awful sensation to people... because it sounds crazy.
There are times where I feel like I have microscopic bugs crawling down my spine, hiding in my joints, and lingering under my skin. And I feel like if I can scratch them out of my skin then maybe I'd be a little less broken, and a little more beautiful. In reality this illusion that my anxiety creates only leaves me with ugly scars and more feelings of brokenness. But I cannot verbalize this itch to people... because it sounds crazy.
There are times I fear like everyone is out to attack me. There are times I can't get my hands to stop trembling. There are times that the pit in my stomach just seems to grow bigger and bigger without any warning, and suddenly I feel as though the world around me is about to explode in one massive freak accident. These feelings exist in my head, even if the world outside of me is perfectly silent, and perfectly at peace. But putting such feelings down on paper makes me feel crazy.
These are a few of the MANY sensations of anxiety brought on by Lyme disease, and the saddest component of it all is that these symptoms that so many of us suffer from are NOT TALKED ABOUT ENOUGH! Nobody is listening and nobody is expressing enough compassion and love, therefore creating a more fear, anxiety, and a sense of loss in the hearts and minds of our society.
So what do we do? How do we cope? How do we gain a sense of safety and security in an anxiety-riddled body among our fear-riddled society?
Well... I can share with you what I do:
I spend a little time every day breathing deeply and remembering the strength and power that I have as a daughter of God. I avoid talking down about myself as I seek to recognize that the disease that I have is very real, and I still have worth despite the regular symptoms that I deal with. I seek to stand out in a shallow and uncaring society and attempt every day to love deeply, care about others, and seek to have compassion toward those around me.
You see, illness and symptoms of illness such as severe anxiety are not in control of us. It's important to recognize that we aren't losing our minds, and there is ALWAYS a reason to keep living. Severe anxiety doesn't cause weakness, rather it strengthens us. Every time I have a brutal flare, I wake up the next morning a little bit stronger than I was the day before. I become a woman with a little more resilience, a little more patience, and a little more appreciation for the moments when I can and do feel a joy more pure and penetrating than I could have ever experienced before Lyme disease. The hope comes from knowing that all of us can grow from our sufferings in this way.
We all have the ability and the means to respond to our suffering in a meaningful and strengthening way. It will never be easy, and there are absolutely days where you will feel crazy, but it's important to remember that you are absolutely NO SUCH THING. You're not alone, you're not crazy, and you have something to offer. Every one of God's beautiful children has something to offer, even if you suffer from an illness or from some other trial or struggle that seems insufferable at times.
You are loved.
You are remembered.
Your tears are accounted for.
And most importantly, your joy is something worth fighting for, and it is absolutely obtainable.
I believe that one of the most important things we can all do is listen. Stop shutting people down and shutting people out due to the discomfort that comes with discussing such difficult things. Stop spending the majority of your time looking inward. Instead, look outward and look up. Listen. Love. Care. Have compassion. Everybody needs those things from others, that's why we were all put here on this earth together. Whether or not the battle is worth it all depends on how we choose to respond.
We all can be Chronically Beautiful. Even in the midst of being chronically ill, chronically anxious, or chronically in pain. There is always hope. We simply have to look for it.
I feel like I'm running an eternal marathon against life. I run in one direction, as my dreams continually whisk further from my aching and overexerted body. How do you follow your dreams when your body is constantly fighting against everything you ever wanted? I feel as though all odds are against me and I'm ready to collapse in a defeated heap.
A herxheimer reaction is the immune system's reaction to toxins and bacteria being killed within the body. It's usually the reaction to a Lyme patient's treatment. Lyme doctors and patients usually refer to herxheimer reactions as "herxing." There were many days and nights that I watched my mom suffer through herxing as I silently suffered with her as an emotional reaction to that heartbreaking image. Now as I experience it myself, I realize how miserable life can really be.
When I was little I would come home crying with a scraped knee, and as mom provided adequate comfort and healing my tears would slowly fade away, along with the pain that enveloped my knee. Oh how I wish life was that easy now. Along with extreme anxiety comes the feeling of abandonment, heartbreak, and discouragement. As the tears come, they don't fade so easy. Neither does the pain that is reminiscent of a knife gouging out my heart. At times I feel as if I've fallen in a deep hole of total darkness, and there is no way out. There's times when I'm stuck in utter despondency and I feel my heart being crushed under the pressure of reminders that I'm sick, useless, and undesirable. Severe anxiety isn't something to take lightly. Not when utter despair surrounds the very soul that you base your entire existence around.
Herxing doesn't just come in physical pain. Although, that's also a major part of it. A herx for me is like a knife to the heart along with all of the physical pain that comes with it. Dizziness, nausea, headaches, weakness, trembling, chills... I'm feel like I'm losing my mind at times. As if it's slowly fading along with my body. I'm exhausted, and simply tired of being tired. After all those years of watching my mother suffer and not knowing to the full extent what she was going through, I agonize with her now because I'm literally feeling her pain. My mother is so graceful and eloquent in her method of suffering, and this disease has truly made her stronger and gloriously beautiful.
I want to fight this thing. I want to fight until my fighting capacity is weakened to almost nothing. I want to fight until the light of healing pierces through me. I want to come out alive and strong, just like my mother. I truly believe that I can beat this, and be completely healed with proper patience, long suffering, and enduring to the end. As I once lay awake in the middle of the night I thought to myself, "Through this trial I will cleave to my Savior so hard that no intangible substance, no person, and no illness can cut me down. And through Him, my burdens will be lifted, peace will flood my soul, and I will be healed." I'll never forget that spiritual confirmation that all will be okay in the end. Just because things are bad now, does not mean that they will be for forever. And even through my darkest of times I still believe that life is beautiful. I still believe that beauty and light can be found in every minescule crevice that life has to offer. There is light everywhere, it just has to be seen. Life is beautiful, and so is suffering.