I grew up on Hallmark movies. We all the type... Those movies that always begin with a single, independent, seemingly flawless woman with some high-end job in the city, or some cozy gift shop or bakery in a small town. And after a short intro of this stunningly beautiful girl, we're then introduced to Mr. charming, handsome, CEO, or buff small-town handyman who only wears plaid and manages three small businesses of his own. Along the way Mr. Charming meets Ms. Independent and in less than a day this unlikely couple can manage to save a town... or their small business... or Christmas; all while simultaneously falling in love, finding some reason why they'll never work out, separating for a few minutes, and then later (in the same day I might add) manage to resolve everything. Furthermore, we all know that every Hallmark movie ends with the world's most romantic kiss. And at the end of every Hallmark movie, we all assume the success of that perfect couple.
I suppose that somewhere in my adolescent heart I believed that such perfection could exist. As I grew older I subconsciously held my expectations high and my hopes even higher that someday my Hallmark life story would become a reality. Let's just say I put the word "hopeless" in the term "hopeless romantic." I aimed high and hard for that reality. My perfect reality. My perfect lie.
I'm sure you can imagine my shock when life didn't turn out the way I thought it would. Now, don't get me wrong; for I do not solely blame Hallmark movies for cultivating my perfect lie. I have found society, social media, social norms, and the status quo nurturing this perfect lie more often than not.
I've watched young people my age post fundamentally every Olympic moment they experience in their short lives to their various social media accounts; leaving others relentlessly comparing their personal worsts to everyone else's public bests.
I've observed pictures of endless glamorous and fun first dates. I've scrolled through perfectly edited engagement pictures in perfectly white fields or stunningly flawless mountain ranges. I've clicked on flashy engagement rings and completely enchanting wedding videos. I've liked and commented on many college degrees, job promotions, immaculate maternity photo-shoots, and perfectly clean pressed children. I've seen it all and aimed for it all, only to find that it is not all real.
The problem with this subconscious facade is that it manifested in my very conscious life. I spent my days making never-ending lists of qualities in a "perfect man", only to find that there isn't a man that will check everything off on my list, and the most important things in a man weren't even on that list! I went to college because that's what you're supposed to do when you're young and fresh out of high school, only to find that college wasn't for me and that didn't in any way make me a failure. I've been obsessed with lists, schedules, planning, and my idea of perfect only to find that sometimes the lists and the schedules are significantly less important than God's timing, and that life is what happens AFTER you make plans! My reality was that I flirted with perfection because I thought it looked pretty, and the ugly in life scared me.
I learned very quickly that the easiest way to overcome your fear of the ugly is to face the ugly head on and trust that God will lead you through the painfully imperfect moments in life.
I found myself sitting in a dentist chair the other day conversing with the dental assistant who was cleaning my teeth. She asked me a few things about my life in which I shared with her about my blog, the gift shop I'm opening, etc. I mentioned a few small things about my life that I currently feel good about to which she replied:
"Wow! It's like your life came straight out of a Hallmark movie! You inspire me!"
To be honest, I'm still minorly laughing at that statement because oftentimes there are a lot of things that go unseen in other people's lives. It's natural to miss the sweat and tears that go into starting a business. Many people do not comprehend the long nights and overly stressful days that accompany earning a college degree. There's a lot of hard work and effort that is often overlooked among young people who can only see the outward "perfect relationship." Most people don't see that I have a debilitating chronic illness that adds extra weight and struggle to my daily life. Most people don't witness that agony of betrayal or abuse. The agonizing pain of many things that often feel like more than we can handle is often not talked about or recognized. This then leaves a lot of us wondering what we're doing wrong and why the long hard journey is something that must be borne alone. And then for those who are at high peaks in their lives it leaves them blind to the suffering around them and unknowing how to help, or unaware that it's even necessary for them to help at all!
My life is far from perfect and that's okay! I've lived my fleeting moments of perfection. I've been the young girl at college with the world at her fingertips. I've fallen in love at Christmas and have pranced around with a flashy diamond ring. I've had perfect mistletoe kisses and perfect family photos. I've picked out the perfect wedding dress and posted perfect engagement photos to my social media.
But there are shadows in every picture and wounds that go unseen. I also went home from college due to chronic Lyme disease and have spent years suffering and praying for relief and healing. I've passed through "a boyfriend for Christmas" only to be met with a breakup in June. That perfect mistletoe kiss only lasted for a second, and that flashy engagement ring meant nothing when glaring straight into the face of dishonesty and betrayal. Those perfect engagement pictures never lead to a wedding, and those family photos were originally meant to be wedding photos and are missing a few members of my family.
And all of these imperfect things were things that were and are out of my control simply because they are a result of mortality.
So, life is far from perfect... where's the hope in knowing this?
The hope is in knowing that the value of your life is not calculated by the sum of your perfect moments or the moments that everyone sees on social media.
Life is not about the flawless moments that take your breathe away. Sometimes it's about the moments where your heart feels like it can no longer beat because your grief is too great to bear. Occasionally it's about sudden rainbows in the sky or dancing in the rain. More often then not it's about the moments in tears on the bathroom floor because we've all be there at one point or another. Sometimes it's about laughing so hard your stomach hurts. Often it's about embracing through the hard and wiping tears through the sorrow. It's about long nights and headaches. Intermittently it's about the first good night's sleep you've had in forever. Frequently it's about worrying and praying for a good outcome. Sometimes it's about problem-solving, and hand-holding, and enduring, and pouring your heart out to God in prayer. You see... life is the sum of all human experience because without the pain, sorrow, and imperfection, we would have virtually no recollection or appreciation for the joy, love, and beauty that comes in life.
The most beautiful moments in life, are the moments that are borne out of great suffering. They come in the form of sudden beautiful vistas, sudden miracles, and moments of peace, hope, and unexpected smiles. Without opening up about the ugly imperfect moments of life, there are no hands to hold when you are called to pass through your life's ugly. So instead of hiding in secret, may we all be safe spaces for people to share their imperfection. Because becoming perfected for the eternities is all about striving to overcome the imperfect in mortality, and thanking God for the beautiful journey that life is.
"Anyone who imagines that bliss is normal is going to waste a lot of time running around shouting that he’s been robbed. Most putts don’t drop. Most beef is tough. Most children grow up to be just people. Most successful marriages require a high degree of mutual toleration. Most jobs are more often dull than otherwise. Life is like an old-time rail journey–delays, sidetracks, smoke, dust, cinders, and jolts, interspersed only occasionally by beautiful vistas and thrilling bursts of speed. The trick is to thank the Lord for letting you have the ride." (President Gordon B. Hinckley, Ensign, Nov. 1984:86 )
We have Christ to heal us from the imperfect of mortality. And we have each other to aid in the healing process if we so choose to lift each other in love and support. May we all share our imperfect. Because at the end of the day... all of the outward perfection is just a lie anyway.
I once used to be a young girl that found every detail in life to be absolutely magical. I used to record every moment that seemed completely enchanting on little strips of paper, and I'd fold them up and put them in a small jar that I kept on my dresser. And as I now look back on those moments that I never would have recalled otherwise, I'm reminded that every one of those moments was perfectly ordinary, but my mind recorded them as memories that were special.
I've jumped in huge piles of golden leaves whose crunch sounded like a symphony to my adolescent ears. I've smelled fresh baked cookies only to run into the kitchen carefree and joy-filled. I've balanced on sidewalk curbs and rolled down hills with the only side effect being pure laughter. I've watched clouds form shapes in the sky almost like magic, and I've walked barefoot in the grass without a worry in the world.
I've taken long walks with people who make me wish that the path we were on wouldn't end. I've watched sunsets and prayed in small groves of trees. I've felt my heart skip beats because I thought I was in love. I've waded in streams knowing without a doubt that my feet would leave footprints in every place I've tread, and known later that footsteps and hand-prints can remain in hearts as well.
And now... I grasp these beautiful moments tight because throughout the change and pain in life I find it significantly more difficult to experience these things. Or perhaps the difficulty is less from the lack of opportunities, and more from the lack of my ability to see artistry and charm because life can often be coated in tragedy, heartbreak, and pain.
So how does one compile all of the magic and the pain? How does one process the Olympic moments with the pitfalls and darkness? Perhaps the beauty of life is that we are not required to live it all at once, and we are not required to live it all by ourselves.
So, for now, I'm putting one foot in front of the other and leaning for dear life against the One who has experienced this all before. For now, I'm praying for eyes to see the magnificence that is so graciously placed before me, and I'm praying for fortitude in every ounce of pain and suffering that I may experience.
And most of all... I'm praying for all of the cuts and scars to be healed because carrying this all on my own has proved to be soul-destroying.
And then I seek for extra faith and practice deep trust. Because my God and my Savior have never let me down, left my side, or broke my heart, so why would I doubt for a second His infinite ability to heal my body, my heart, and my soul? For as I practice and reach for daily faith I'm reminded that God is writing an unforgettable and breathtaking story for me, and He's simultaneously preparing me for glory and joy that I can't comprehend in this life.
So may we all remember the enchanting moments that are perfectly ordinary. And may we all learn from life's agonies that prepare us for life's greatest joys. For no being can live in a state of endless bliss without missing some greater exquisiteness, and it's very possible to be in the midst of suffering while simultaneously witnessing miracles. There is room for all of it in life. And we must remember that there is a purpose for it all in life. As we do that, we'll walk paths that will bring us to our greatest peace and joy. And that's worth living for.
Let's talk about dating for just a minute. Dating, relationships, friendships, social outings, you name it; I guarantee that anyone can relate to feeling like their illness is CONSTANTLY third-wheeling it with them!
It's normal to feel different and want to spend most of your energy on hiding your differing lifestyle from your friends, dates, or even family at times. I've found that it's best to just be yourself, and if your illness happens to rear it's ugly head into a conversation or situation and people don't response well, then those people are not worth having in your life anyway. Illness and disability do NOT define you. It may make my life look a little unique. It may add a little sparkle to the conversation, but in no way does it determine your worth or your power in life.
Every single person on this planet has baggage and problems. Everyone has things that we are working on. Everyone has that something that third wheels it with them. I used to have to work on getting out of bed and walking across the room. Now I work on not letting PTSD run my life. Whatever it is, the important thing is that I keep aiming for healing, improvement, and joy. Chronic illness may be something that is often accompanied by stigma and fear in the eyes of many, but the truth is that chronic illness has a way of bringing out the strength and beauty in those who carry that cross. I may have Lyme disease, but Lyme does not take away the strength and spunk that comes with it. As is with all chronic illness warriors.
Comment below if you relate and tell me what character qualities you have that your illness will never take away from!
I always find it minorly amusing when people express to me how happy they are for me that "all my dreams are coming true." I must have developed the art of appearing to be successful on social media the past few years because the truth is that I often find myself on my bedroom floor in tears because my life seems so drastically different than I imagined it to be in my younger years.
Dreams are funny things. Funny in that when I was younger I often thought I could make my dreams come true by wishing on a star, dropping a coin into a quaint little fountain, or blowing out birthday candles. The unlikelihood of dreams coming from those simple acts of belief are slim to none, and when I was diagnosed with Lyme disease I learned that hard lesson fairly quick.
Through the Lyme battle, I've been blessed to learn a few things that have shaped me into a completely different person. This odd transformation hit me not too long ago when I realized that I often don't recognize myself when I look in the mirror anymore. This fighter that was stripped of all of her dreams was once a young girl with her head in the clouds. And it turns out that this dreadful disease has compelled me to see life in a whole new way; a way that I never before would have thought possible. I've rolled this one over in my head multiple times in an attempt to discover whether or not that fact is a blessing or a curse.
It has been five years since I have felt like I have done anything worthwhile, and five years since I received my diagnosis and returned home from my first semester of college. I remember leaving before the semester ended, and feeling like a complete failure because my body could not physically handle being in college for one minute longer.
Since then I have spent lots of time doing things that always seemed useless and often ended in failure. For the first two years, I watched seasons of my favorite shows dozens of times over while I often felt like I was drowning in supplements and protocols, and yet saw no results as the pain relentlessly persisted. I went to three different colleges (and dropped all of them.) I picked up every hobby I could find and quit many of them after I realized that I couldn't keep my brain fog away enough to even finish what I started. I couldn't hold a job due to Lyme crippling my abilities. I planned a wedding; only to call it off and find myself right back where I started (single and still sick). And in my head, all of these failures made up the sum of me as I continuously was forced to fight Lyme every step of the way.
But I did something recently that made me realize that a person is not the sum of their failures. It is often when you stand back and look at your life as a whole that you realize that most of those seemingly big failures were stepping stones to successes, and Olympic moments weren't meant to occur every day.
I recently had the opportunity to participate in a vendor event where I was able to sell laser engraved products that I've been working hard to design and produce. Learning something new is always scary and can often seem like a large task when you begin to glare it in the face. I had many a moment where I was ready to give up. Moments when I butchered an entire basket of products while I was learning to use the laser (to which I now call the basket of misfit items!), moments when the wind and rain would destroy my entire display after I had just barely set it all up, and moments when I would spend the morning in discomfort and pain from Lyme, only to get up and buckle down for the busy evening and rush of busy customers. But despite it all, I persisted and pushed myself harder than my Lyme disease has ever allowed me to before.
Many may not realize this, but this vendor event was a huge victory in the life of Lymie like myself. I spent eight days on my feet and overworking my body in ways I haven't done in years. I spent eight days around huge crowds while my Lyme riddled nerves burned with anxiety. I spend eight days surrounded by food vendors that were a constant reminder to me that I don't eat what "normal" people eat because I'm sick. And I spent eight days smiling and rarely ever mentioning my illness because every time I mention Lyme to the average person, it is rarely graciously received.
My overall response to the crazy week I just lived is pure victory. Victory that I set a goal, saw it through to the end, and it was a success. Victory that people liked and bought a product that I made and that I just had a whole new start to a business that I'm hoping will grow and be a success. And victory in that I was able to interact with hundreds of random people and my nervous system was strong enough to hold its ground and not put me in a panic.
Although the experience was far from perfect, and there were days that I fought through pain and Lyme symptoms, I feel like I just broke through a massive wall in my Lyme journey. And that wall was the big fat lie that Lyme disease makes me a failure. Lyme disease in no way made this event easy as I found myself fighting symptoms all along the way (and now paying for the overworking of my body), but it made it worth it because that wall in now broken and never again will stand tall.
The fact of the matter is that I learned some things through this experience, and they're things I'll hold with me for life.
The first lesson being that people with chronic illness and disability can still do wonderful and amazing things. The fact that they fight through debilitating life challenges makes them all the more strong for being able to do all of the great things that they accomplish. A great victory for someone who is sick may seem minuscule to the average person, but when a child is learning how to walk we never complain and tell them how they should be talking by now. So when my biggest victory was managing the pain just enough that I could manage to take a shower by myself again, that was something to celebrate. And now my biggest victory is starting a small business that may go absolutely nowhere, but that isn't going to stop me from trying.
The second lesson learned came to me the last day of the event when I thought to myself how I wish I could go back to that sixteen-year-old girl who had dreams of being a vocal performance major, opening her own vocal studio, getting married and raising a family. I wish I could go back to that girl and tell her that all of those dreams were going to be utterly smashed to pieces by a disease that can manage to strip you of everything. But I also wish that I could go back and tell that girl that through all of the rubble and scattered pieces of her broken dreams, she would find beauty, peace, and great joy in her renewed view of life and the endless possibilities that it holds. Life is not easy. And it isn't supposed to be. For if life were consistently easy, we would miss out on some of our greatest victories.
My third and perhaps most important lesson I have learned from this experience is that it is the little things in life that bring us the greatest joy. Little things like laughing so hard your stomach hurts, and crying tears of joy for the first time in forever. Things like stopping to smell the flowers or walking barefoot in the grass. I often missed the little things in life that give depth and meaning, and I often gave too much of my attention to things in life that are artificial and temporary. For I have found that the only thing that can strip a person of their artificiality is great trial and affliction that burns the artificiality out of us and compels us to look a little deeper and take note of the little things that the average person misses. And although I sometimes question that deep sensitivity I've developed in the past five years, I am also deeply thankful for it, for I have come to see the world in a completely different manner than what I saw it before.
The reality of life is that the cure for broken dreams is to dream again and to dream deeper. And as you walk the painful path that's lined with seemingly shattered dreams, you will find new dreams among the rubble and the ashes, and I guarantee you that you may grasp some of your dreams past as well. Whatever you do, just don't step off the path no matter how painful it may be. Because walking the path of your broken dreams can lead to the most beautiful of destinations.
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.
For this post Chronically Beautiful teamed up with The Hello Lovely Project. The Hello Lovely Project exists to promote self worth in young girls and women illustrated through pictures and stories. In a day and age when women's contribution to the world is so often objectified and diminished, it's more important now more than ever that every woman recognizes her Divine worth. The heart of this project rests in the fact that women are so much more than what you see on the outside. Women are human beings that have hearts that pump blood and determination through our veins, lungs that breathe air and influence throughout our society, and minds that hold treasures of knowledge and wisdom that ought to be recognized. Every woman has Divine gifts and Divine worth that makes them absolutely amazing, and for some it's incredibly difficult to see the beauty and worth that lies within. For the Hello Lovely Project, we strive to let that truth penetrate the hearts and minds of women all over the world.
Let's face it... the years that we all walk as a teenager are always the most difficult, and my road to discovering my individual worth began here. Bottom line: I hated the mirror and I never felt like I was ever enough. I spent countless amounts of time in Sunday school lessons and seminars about beauty and worth and yet I couldn't quite seem to visualize in my head how it all applied to me. I was told time after time by my peers how I wasn't smart enough or how I lacked in one thing or another. Due to physical disability, I wasn't as quick to think on my feet as some of my friends were, which lead me to believe that I was just plain stupid. Stupidity was also implied multiple times through that sarcastic comment that rolled off the lips of my peers on multiple occasions: "It's a good thing you're pretty because you don't have much else going for you." Those words cut deep as I let them penetrate my heart and allowed them to affect how I viewed myself and my worth. For these reasons, I rotted in the belief that if I could look "perfect" then maybe I might have something to offer in the world.
At this time in my life, I spent a lot of time watching beauty "how-to's" on Youtube, and wondering why my hair never seemed as shiny, or my teeth as straight, or my lips as full, or my skin as clear as all the girls in the videos. How did they master this idea of "perfection" and yet no matter how hard I tried, I would never be enough. No amount of makeup or hairspray could help me reach the level of physical "perfection" that I could see in others. And yet I didn't pause a minute to strive for anything less than excellence in my appearance.
As you can imagine, living in a way that makes everyone else happy and comfortable with you can be very exhausting, and I often wondered what it would be like if I ever resolved to show up to school as someone who was comfortable in my own skin (without all of the extra makeup and hair care). The truth was that I couldn't ever get myself to take that step due to fear of what others would think. I was often told by women that "beauty is pain" anyway, so I figured that it was normal to never find true comfort in my appearance. The truth was that I never was comfortable in my own skin. I didn't like my own face. And I didn't want to think about what I actually looked like because my looks were seemingly "all I had to offer."
Let's fast forward to post-graduation and my first taste of young adulthood. How does one's self-worth play a part as a young woman attending college who had just been diagnosed with a debilitating disease? I was diagnosed with Lyme disease soon after I began college, and naturally, the obsession I had with looking perfect came to an end. I lost 15 pounds my first semester of college (keep in mind that I already only weighed 125 lbs and I'm 5'9" in height), and could often feel and see my spine, wrist and ankle bones protruding from under my skin. When I came home from college I found unnatural amounts of hair coming out in my brush and I remember standing in front of the mirror in tears as I'd pull the hair out of my brush to throw it away. I remember my face, neck, arms, and back very frequently being broken out in lesions and rashes that would itch and hurt to the point where I had a constant relentless urge to pick at my skin whenever I felt nervous or panicky.
Naturally, the makeup, hairspray, and the need for "perfect" appearance quickly vanished. Suddenly my drive to stay alive became more important than my desire to look like society's ideal woman. Naturally, I felt horrible about myself day in and day out. I was useless. I had to stay in a bed and participate in laborious treatments that frequently made me feel worse. What could someone with Lyme disease ever have to offer in a world that pushes work, education, money, traveling, exercise, and looking amazing while doing it?
Eventually, as I learned to find comfort in my own face and my own skin, I learned the answer to that question. I had to come to a place of acceptance in my life. Acceptance of who I am no matter where I happen to be or what I happen to look like in my life. A place where I learned that the worth of a woman has nothing to do with how she looks. The worth of a woman doesn't equate to how smart or stupid society tells her that she is. The worth of a woman isn't about what men or other women think of her. The worth of a woman isn't drawn based off of her abilities or her disabilities. The worth of a woman isn't determined by how perfect she can get herself and her life to look.
I didn't realize when I was younger that my worth comes from my heart, not from my body. To say that one's worth comes from their physical appearance doesn't make sense simply because the heat of life being turned up doesn't equate to the worth of a soul being turned down. If my body determines my worth, then when my body breaks down from physical illness I don't have any worth! I know now that this perception of 'worth" just isn't true. I suppose it's true that "beauty is pain" not because of eyebrow plucking and long hours of makeup application, but because my illness does not make me "less beautiful." If anything it makes me more beautiful because of the extra strength and resilience that is accompanied with all the painful aspects of Lyme. I choose to not let Lyme define me, and even though it's incredilbly difficult... it doesn't determine who I am or my worth. Every single one of us is blessed with innate worth and ability when we are born, and that worth doesn't merely vanish when life gets hard, or when we feel inadequate in various aspects of our life.
In God's eyes, every single one of us has an undeniable amount of worth. When I can see that my worth comes from God, then I can also see that my worth is enduring and eternal. The glorious message from that is that every single one of us has the power to take our worth in our own hands and create something beautiful with it. I never was stupid. I never was ugly. I never was useless. I simply perceived myself to be that way which held me back and made it so I was living way beneath my privileges.
I've always been beautiful, smart, and capable. I've always had something to offer to the world. It is so with every woman if they so choose to discover and realize their internal worth. God loves His children. God loves His daughters. That doesn't change because of things that others say or expectations of society. My hope is that all women can come to an understanding of who they are and the innate beauty that is instilled in there own hearts and souls wherever they may be in their lives.
*This post was inspired by #thehellolovelyproject. You can learn more about the incredible woman who started this project by visiting her "About Me" page here.
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I remember participating as teenager in various Sunday school classes, youth groups, and general life courses in high school where the teacher inquired the following question: "Where will you be in five years?" or "Where will you be in ten years?"
I remember having a thorough, well thought out image in my head of what my life would look like in five or ten years. I planned to marry straight out of high school at age eighteen. I thought to myself: "I'm a socially apt, talented, smart, beautiful girl! I'll snatch a man no problem!" I always planned that I would never date anyone who treated me less than a queen, and I'd fall in love in a "whirlwind romance", just like in the romance movies. I'd earnestly mapped out my life. I'd attend college as a music major, while my husband attended for some other high end profession. I'd live in a modest home with perfectly trimmed lawn and flawless flower beds.
By the time I reached age thirty I'd be a successful business woman with her own vocal studio, and six children. My family would be the type that wears matching pajamas, and holds hands all in a row at the store. We'd wake up at 7 every morning, never a moment later! My house and children would always be clean my husband would always come home on time. He'd greet me with a kiss, and I'd always be dressed flawlessly with my hair and makeup precisely in place. My children would never complain or make bad choices and they'd all grow up to be successful, well rounded adults.
As a teenager, my vision for life didn't include imperfection and flaws. It wasn't comprised of unexpected pitfalls and adversity. It didn't encompass imperfection. It didn't encompass Lyme Disease. Lyme disease wasn't part of the plan.
When I was 18, I wanted a husband, but instead I got a diagnosis.
I graduated high school as planned. I had two scholarships to the school I would study music at. I had a boyfriend, and a circle of friends that I was content with. I was ready to set sail into my "perfect" life. Little did I know that life is what happens AFTER you make plans.
I'll never forget the night I received that phone call. I was sitting in my small room in my apartment and my mom called to inform me that she had received the test results for the thirty vials of blood I had drawn a week prior to leaving for college. The reality is that I already knew the answer to those tests. I was struggling beyond belief at that point. My fatigue was impossible to fight. My muscle and joint pain made it hard to move from class to class. The daily panic attacks that took place were debilitating, and my endometriosis symptoms left me all alone, in tears, struggling through fits of pain. I lost a lot of weight, and I just kept shedding pounds as the time went by.
Time passed. More tests results came back positive for Lyme Disease. In multiple moments of self reflection I thought: "I already struggled to watch my mom suffer from Lyme. So why me? Why now? What about my dreams? What about my 'perfect' life?"
I came home from college three months into it. I felt defeated. I felt exhausted. I felt depressed. I felt sore and achy. I felt ugly. I felt lonely. I felt unlovable. I felt like a failure. I was in tremendous amounts of pain, and I couldn't help but feel like it was my fault. I couldn't help but feel like my dreams had been burned right before my eyes. I couldn't help but feel like my vision for my life was NEVER EVER going to happen. Thoughts recklessly spun in my head on a constant basis: "What man would want a sick girl? I probably can't even have children. I'm worthless."
I spent a great deal of time in bed or asleep on the sofa. I stopped doing the things I loved. I stopped being the person I am. Through the pain and survival tactics I used, I forgot about myself. I left my identity in the distant past that I never thought I'd ever retrieve. I suffered excruciating pain flares that left me vomiting, seizing, and screaming desperately for relief. Pain medication didn't help. For a long time I felt hopelessly aware that nothing I seemed to be doing was working. The panic in my inner being was inevitable. I lost my motivation for life. I found myself in unhealthy relationships because I desperately wanted someone to love me. There were times that I couldn't walk by myself or stand up in the shower long enough. There were times I couldn't wash or blow dry my own hair, and there were times I resolved to lay in bed and hopefully die there.
At one point the day came that I found myself in a place so dark, I found that I wasn't even the same person anymore, and the person that I was I didn't like at all. Laying around feeling sorry for myself wasn't working anymore. Complaining about having to take 20+ supplements a day, and other forms of treatment wasn't working anymore. Negative relationships and my negative attitude wasn't working anymore.
Don't get me wrong. We all must face a mourning period of our diagnoses. In no way does recognizing and fighting the negative forces around me invalidate my pain, or mean that I'm not in pain. I've suffered tremendously. I still do on some days. But since that dark time, I've had to change the way I think.
I got down on my knees one day and prayed with all my heart that God would help me out of this dark place. I began studying my scriptures and striving for understanding of why I'm really suffering so much. I began to develop a habit of those two things, and in the process I began to discover myself again. Not just the me that was in my distant past, but a whole new me that just needed to find enough light to bloom where I was planted.
I have fought a good fight, and I'm still fighting. I'm a changed person, and there's still more to learn, and more in life to go through. Lyme disease doesn't have to be restraining to the point where you can't breathe. Lyme disease makes everything in life a little more difficult. In spite of that, I've found that if I look for the light and enjoy the Olympic moments that God blesses me with, it makes the fight a lot lighter and a lot more beautiful.
What I told myself back then about being worthless, ugly, unlovable, and broken were all lies. Lies that tore at me for the longest time. But what I told myself when I was a teenager about having a "perfect" life someday without flaw or hardship was also a lie. In a way, Lyme disease "ruined" my "perfect" life. And I'm incredibly grateful that it did.
I'm twenty, I'm not married, and most days I wake up way past the time I plan to. I'm going to school to become a nutritionist instead of a voice teacher. I spend a large amount of my day taking supplements and undergoing difficult treatments. A large amount of the time I don't wear makeup, and my outfits are less than flawless. I'm still in pain a lot and my energy levels aren't as high as the average person. I've discovered that falling in a true and pure form of love doesn't happen in a whirlwind, but in a slow progression that grows a little bit everyday. I've learned that sometimes life is clumsy, awkward, and uncomfortable. I've developed a skill at catching the curve balls that life continues to throw at me. That's life! And I'm grateful. I've learned that what I thought I wanted isn't exactly what I really wanted.
My perspective on life has changed a lot in past year. You don't get married because it's easy. You don't have children because it's easy. You don't fight daily battles and search for light on a constant basis because it's easy. Life isn't supposed to be easy! The idea that I do things because they're easy and will make my life "perfect" and "flawless" is ridiculous, and lacks eternal perspective.
God has blessed me with the strength and courage I need to keep pushing through, and to discover a better life for myself. He has blessed me with ability and intelligence to find ways to heal. He has blessed me with life long best friends who love and teach me and understandingly and patiently suffer with me. He has blessed me with talents, skills, and knowledge that I continue to develop. He blesses me everyday with beautiful moments that I will always cherish, because even though I'm sick, I still am blessed enough to have those moments! He has blessed me beyond words.
Lyme disease "ruined" my "perfect" life. But thankfully, Lyme gave me a beautiful, crazy, imperfect, painful, magnificent, glorious life! Life doesn't have to be perfect to be beautiful. In fact, life is beautiful because it's imperfect and because we have the opportunity to learn and progress in ways that allow us to understand our full potential. I plan to cherish the perfect moments. Laugh at the imperfect moments. Cry through the painful moments. And smile through all of the in between moments!
I haven't let go of my dreams for my future. But my dreams for the future have shifted and changed. I have Lyme disease! So what? God has plans for me, and Lyme disease isn't going to stop me from that beautifully imperfect life that He has in store for me. It won't always be easy, but in the eternal perspective of it all, it'll be worth it. Lyme disease may have "ruined" my "perfect" life, but it also helped me to build a beautiful life.
My whole life I've been different. I suppose we're all different in our own unique way, but for me, my unique outlook on life was so obvious that my peers and acquaintances never hesitated to declare to me the obscure differences between me and the rest of the world. I've always thought I was “weird.” In reality, who isn’t weird? As I've grown into the woman that I am, I've come to realize that at times we are too worried about being "weird" when we should be embracing our unique quality of character.
In high school, I was different because I was "too skinny" because I walked like a "runway model" or because I was "too pretty and that was the only thing I had going for me." I was ridiculed because I was "really awkward." For some reason I always managed to be awfully clumsy. I tripped over everything. I laughed "too much" and I talked "too loud." I got "overly excited" about my passions. I adored the color pink. I sang my way through life's troubles. I wrote everything down that inspired me. I gained a love for God and all of His principles and the way He lovingly guided me through my life. I was my own version of me, and I was harshly ridiculed for that. But I loved me, and I wouldn't want to change for anyone.
Eventually I went onto college. The harsh words of my peers faded with my past, but the words of peers past cut deep into my heart as symptoms and anxieties increased throughout my college experience. Then I got diagnosed. I got sick, and I wasn’t getting better anytime soon. I never thought that one day I would wake up as somebody else. But I did, and it was terrifying. That's when all those words started to cut hard. I had lost the person I once was. I lost the person that people disapproved of because it was “too weird.” I became a different person, but I wasn’t happy with it, and I didn’t want to let go of who I once was.
I increasingly lost weight when I was already too small for my size. My “runway model” walk turned into an exhausted limp. My face became pale and ghostly, my skin broke out in horrible rashes, and my hair thinned out increasingly more every day. My "pretty face" that “was the only thing I had going for me” slowly disappeared as I observed myself in the mirror every day.
My clumsiness and awkward character only increased as my cognitive dysfunction and loss of coordination grew. I spent more time crying, and less time laughing. My loud mouth become quiet and unheard. I stopped the excitement that pierced through my veins whenever I wore the color pink, or mentioned something about the beauty of writing. I stopped singing. I stopped my fervent prayers. I stopped loving and the pain overcame me. The reality of my younger years, was that I was ridiculed for being unique, so when those speculations finally hit me in the form of a disease, I stopped my unique frame of mind and sunk into the average sense of character and the "daily grind" form of life.
Today I’m not the same person I was in high school, or who I was when I first became diagnosed. In some ways, I feel similar to a butterfly newly emerged from its cocoon. Some days, it’s too hard to fly because my wings are too new and fresh, but other days I feel as though I could soar for miles on my new wings that make up my character.
Am I still unique and have I carried some of my old self with me into my new self? I would wholeheartedly say yes. Over time, I’ve developed fears, hopes, dreams, and a love for people and for God that I never before would have imagined. I’ve developed understanding of things that I thought I already understood, but I didn’t. I changed, and I still continue to every day. I still adore the color pink. I’ve gained a new excitement for life and my passions. I started to laugh my way through life again, and my loud personality blossomed into something that I appreciate. I’ve developed talents and abilities I didn’t know I had. I’ve gained wisdom and knowledge that I can only hope to further as I continue through this trial of chronic illness. I flew like a butterfly, even though at first I was flapping like a crow.
Most importantly, I gained a love for my Savior and my God that I never before thought possible. I gained a love for the little things in life, and I gained a faith that is only possible through the power of God and His love for us. I gained understanding of why I had to go through this, and why I must continue to learn. I gained so much from the power of God that my words fail to describe the paradigm shift that I have experienced in the past year of my life. I’ve gained a greater knowledge of self-worth, and the worth given to me by my Heavenly Father who sees my worth as something far greater than the worth of rubies.
I’ve changed so much, one post would not be able to sufficiently describe it. My message to whoever is reading this would be that God puts things in our lives to either bless us, or teach us. God wants you to be unique. My illness makes me incredibly different, and I've learned to appreciate that. Embrace your unique self, and learn to love and see yourself the way that God does. No matter what you are going through, and how close you are to giving up. Don’t. Don’t listen to the desecrating words of the world around you. Listen to the loving words of your Heavenly Father. He will always show you your pathway. And He will always give you comfort. I wish the best for all of you and whatever it is that you may be suffering through. Don’t give up yet. You are not “weird.” You are unique and incredible in the eyes of God. Never forget that, as God never forgets you.
It's crazy how it seems like I've watched my body slowly deplete over time due to my Chronic Lyme Disease. I know that nobody sees it except for a few people that I hold very close to my heart, but to my own two eyes, I look sick. It's one thing to feel sick, but it's another thing to watch yourself be sick. Watching my body disintegrate to what feels like nothing is incredibly scary for me. Honestly, I want want my old body back. I want to feel the age that I actually am. I want to be able to run and not feel like I'm going to pass out. I want to walk like I used to. I want to be able to carry myself with posture and grace. I want the color in my face to come back, and I want my hair to grow back to it's original length. I want to gain the twenty pounds that I lost. I want to feel and look like me again.
Despite all the insecurity and hopes for my body to regenerate itself, I've learned a lot about myself since I've been diagnosed. My perspective of my body and how I see myself has definitely changed, and these changes are perspectives that I will hopefully keep with me all throughout my life, lyme or no lyme.
#1.I can be beautiful despite how I feel physically or emotionally about myself.
“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”
― Elisabeth Kübler-Ross
This has currently become one of my favorite quotes. I figure I haven't quite found my way out of the depths yet, but I hope to reach that destination one day. I've known defeat, suffering, struggle, and loss. These are all things that I have agonized over and over again in my head as I've gone through trial after trial. I've watched myself bloom into an entirely different person than how I was before I suffered. I suppose that happens to all of us as we suffer and grow stronger. You don't grow and progress in a state of comfort. You grow and progress in states of misery, pain, fear, and so many other forms of suffering that we as human beings go through.
Our Savior, Jesus Christ suffered all of the sins and pains of the world. My ultimate goal is to become like Him. And in order to do that I must suffer just like Him. It is through suffering that you gain the attributes of Jesus Christ such as patience, long suffering, hope, faith, charity, and so many more. If through suffering I find myself one step closer to becoming like the Savior, then my suffering is completely worth it. Just because I momentarily feel ugly, does not mean that I am ugly. I'm beautiful because God created me to be that way, and I continue to become beautiful as I center my life on Christ and strive to become more like Him.
#2. Having a healthy body is a matter of taking care of yourself and balancing your life out in all aspects.
I'll never forget my high school Physical Education classes I had the pleasure of experiencing while I was growing up. The concept that I acquired from those classes are that if you work yourself to a pulp working out everyday then somehow you're supposedly healthy and in shape. My experiences in those classes were less than pleasant. It was simply a long line of self absorbed teachers that worked their students incredibly hard and then claimed that it was healthy for them. Well let me inform you that for me it just meant waking up everyday for the next week with aching joints and muscles and not wanting to even get out of bed. No offense to all of those teachers of times past, or to even teachers now, but you're teaching physical education completely wrong.
Keeping your body healthy and strong isn't a matter of working out so hard that your body can't move the next morning. Health is all about balance in all things that take place throughout your daily life. Eating healthy, a healthy amount of exercise, and filling your mind and heart with healthy pastimes are all a part of improving your physical health. Being sick all the time has taught me that maybe I can't go on a long run everyday, and maybe when I walk on the treadmill I have to walk at the lowest setting, but that's the level that my personal self is at. That's all my body can take, and that's okay. Living a healthy lifestyle is something we all have to work toward, and for me it's hard. I hate exercising. Just as some people may hate eating healthy food. But we can always progress in life. I've come to know that through living a healthy balanced lifestyle, I can feel healthy and do things to improve my physical self, despite my chronic illness.
#3. My scars do not make me ugly, but instead they signify strength in overcoming hard things.
Throughout my life I've developed a lot of scars. I once drew a picture of what I thought my heart would look like if you could transfer it to piece of paper. Pretty beaten up right? On a creative tangible level, that's how I pictured it at the time. I had been through a lot, and I needed a visual to get my thoughts straight. I suppose if I drew a current picture of my heart it would look quite different. There would still be scars, open wounds, and maybe even a knife or two gouging out a portion of it. But there would be a special part of my heart that has been healed from past experiences. Healed through patience, hope, faith, prayer, and lot of love from my Heavenly Father, and from the people around me.
I don't just have scars on my heart. Chronic Lyme is to blame for not just emotional scars, but physical scars as well. I don't like talking about my physical scars. I don't like drawing attention to them. I don't like their existence. But despite the scarring that will hopefully fade with time, I don't believe that scars make me ugly in any way. A scar, whether it be physical or emotional, is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength and perseverance. I used to think my scars were a mark of defeat. But I've come to know that they are truly a mark of beauty and continuance of healing. As they continue to fade, they remind me of my journey with chronic illness and how far I've come. I hope one day I'll be able to look back and hardly see them at all, but know what I went through to heal completely. Some of the horrible things I've experienced through this illness I will always hold close to my heart simply because they've taught me a lot and helped me to grow as a person. My scars will be one of those things. Even as they fade, I still hold them close as a reminder of my incredible journey.
#4. I'm not beautiful because of how I look, I'm beautiful because of who I am.
"Do you suppose it matters to our Heavenly Father whether your makeup, clothes, hair, and nails are perfect? Do you think your value to Him changes based on how many followers you have on Instagram or Pinterest? Do you think He wants you to worry or get depressed if some un-friend or un-follow you on Facebook or Twitter? Do you think outward attractiveness, your dress size, or popularity make the slightest difference in your worth to the One who created the universe? He loves you not only for who you are this very day but also for the person of glory and light you have the potential and the desire to become." -Dieter F. Uchtdorf
Each and every one of us have individual worth given to us by God. Without this quality we would be nothing. Without God, we are nothing. He is the almighty creator that created us and is the reason behind every divine breath we take. He loves us. And in His eyes, we are of infinite worth. To Him it does not matter how sick I am, or how sick I look. His love for me is infinite and it is through THAT knowledge that I have come to know what beauty is.
Beauty comes through living the way that our Father in Heaven would have us live. It comes from prayer, love for God, and believe it or not it comes through our trials and afflictions. I'm not beautiful because of the amount of makeup I use to cover up my gray face. I'm not beautiful because I wear less than a size two and have a thigh gap that is apparently "attractive" according to social media. I'm not beautiful for any physical aspect of me. In fact right now, I feel sick and ugly. But despite that, I'm beautiful because I'm a daughter of God who loves me and my love for Him is everlasting and true. I used to think that if I looked a certain way I would be beautiful. That's as far from truth as it gets. Beauty doesn't come from outward appearances, but from inward struggle, testimony, and purpose given to us by God, our Father in Heaven.