Lately, I've found myself pondering the pure and seemingly sparkling crystals that so frequently fall from the sky these days. Snow is a funny thing in that there is no one snowflake that is exactly the same. Each has its own Divine design, and the path that each snowflake takes to reach the ground is unique to that particular snowflake and looks different depending on its time and place.
Similarly, we as human beings walk different roads, come to different bumps and turns, and come equipped with our own unique design that God blesses us with when we came down here. I often wonder why my path in life often seems so different than other's may be... but then again I'm sure that all of us experience that daunting perception at some point in our lives.
With that in mind, I've watched many people suffer from chronic illness and the wide range of differences that come from being sick. This phenomenon is something that would do everyone some good if they took the time to look into the hearts and minds of these people who suffer on many different levels. The fact of the matter is that there are no two chronically ill lifestyles that look the same. We're all simply moving along on our own individual paths, trying to survive the best that we can.
The words "chronically ill" are usually accompanied by a substantial amount of expectations and perceptions from others. There's a certain "type" and "look" that apparently we're all supposed to have, but the reality is that some of us just don't have that "look" but that doesn't make our lives any easier, and it doesn't take our painful circumstances away.
The majority of people view illness by the book. When you're sick you lay in bed with body aches and head congestion while consuming large amounts of ibuprofen or Tylenol to relieve that pain and wait for it to pass. It may take a few days of discomfort, but it passes, and you move on with daily life. Others simply push past the pain and continue their daily lives and are lucky enough when their symptom cease, despite the need to persist in their prior commitments and responsibilities.
Now when you're REALLY sick it's a little different. When you're in unbearable amounts of pain, you rush to the doctor, load up on pain medications, and wait for hard-working health experts to diagnose and treat you. And after countless tests and hours, these loving and caring doctors treat you with medication or surgery, and you go home ready to recover and your pain eventually passes so you can live a normal life.
This is what illness looks like, right? This is how we manage our health and wellness so we can feel vitalized and renewed, right?
A flu virus is one thing, but being chronically ill is an entirely different paradigm that requires a lifestyle change and a realization that maybe being sick isn't what you thought it was in the first place.
Many chronic illness patients do spend a lot of time in the hospital, and many chronic illness patients do treat their symptoms with pain medications, which is definitely not something to downplay and consists of an incredibly difficult road. But my story and many other's stories are different, and that doesn't make any of our pain less valid or less painful.
What most chronic illness patients don't tell you is just HOW MANY doctors they had to go through in order to find one that would finally help. What a lot of us don't talk about is the PTSD that comes from how badly we're treated by people, and the desperation we all have to find answers. And what a lot of us don't tell you is that hope may not be found in a doctors office or in a medication, and that doesn't mean that we're crazy or that all of our symptoms are psychosomatic. It simply means that our path is different, and our answers are different.
I'm never in the hospital.
I've don't take any medications.
I treat my symptoms with natural food, remedies, and protocols.
And I never managed to find one doctor in my area that helped me very much.
And the things I'm doing now are HELPING ME TO HEAL!
My symptoms can range from tremors to being light-headed, to passing out after taking a shower, to skin lesions, panic attacks, extreme fatigue, and severe abdominal pain. But sometimes the pattern is that one day I can feel healthy and strong, and the next day I can hardly function at all.
Sometimes I feel like I'm losing my mind.
Other times I feel free and hopeful.
I pray every day for the feeling of the floor falling out from underneath me to cease, and for the grief that comes from illness to pass. Some days it does. Some days it doesn't. And that's just a normality for me and many others.
Chronic illness is a wide spectrum of struggle and perseverance, and there is no one size fits all. For some of us, it's doctors and hospitals on the daily. For others, it's constant protocols that never seem to end. And for others, it's diet change and learning how to be healthy half of the time and sick the other half of the time. For others, it's all of those things combined and it's often overwhelming and exhausting trying to keep all of the daily health routines straight.
Whatever it is, and no matter your place in your journey... your pain is valid and I urge you to heed not the expectations and perceptions of others who have never walked in your shoes. It would do the world some good if all of us could increase our love and compassion towards those who suffer in any way. The more we're aware of the suffering around us, the more empowered we can be to pull others out of the swamps and dark places that we all can find ourselves in.
Despite the difficulties and the struggles, there are some things that all chronically ill people have in common:
All of us are warriors. All of us have battled sore affliction. And all of us are beautiful, resilient people who are seeking to live life to the fullest and emerge out of the norm of society to bring light and healing to a world that craves those things. As we're sculpted into the warriors that we are, we're transformed on our path and seek to touch the world with our newfound being, just like the snowflake that travels to the ground to ultimately bring beauty into our lives and nourishment to our earth.
I found myself reminiscing today. I found myself look back, and then regretting it. I frequently resist moments of nostalgia that creep into my mind merely because the happy memory is usually accompanied by a deep ache that penetrates the strongest of walls around my heart. Happy memories are often escorted by laughter that's been silenced, love that somehow managed to slip through my fingers, and time that's been burned over with more time. It often feels like the road behind me is coated with blood and ash which drives me to never look back and fear the moment I choose to take a step forward.
I suppose this is grief at it's finest. I often grieve the life I had before, or the life that never existed because it was replaced with pain and tears that were accompanied with my diagnosis. I often grieve when I watch young people that are out living their lives without a thought as to how they feel physically, or what they eat, or what they're breathing in. I suppose that ignorance is bliss... but I never got to experience that bliss in my first years of young adulthood, and I the grieve the idea that maybe I've missed something. I grieve the idea that my moments of bliss were replaced with heartache and pain... and that just can't be fair. Becoming so well acquainted with grief at such a young age just can't be fair.
I remember when I was six year old and my pet rabbit died. I cried for one night.
I recall when I was fifteen and my best friend betrayed me. I cried for a week.
I was sixteen when my "first love" broke up with me and I cried for a few weeks.
I was seventeen when I lost the presence of my mother in my life to a disease the robbed her of her quality of life. I cried every time I came home to her screams of pure agony.
I was eighteen when I lost my will to live after I was diagnosed with the same disease I watched my mother suffer from for so long. I cried for years as I fought long and hard for my life. I still cry if I think about those moments for too long.
Perhaps I'm just an "emotional person." Perhaps I don't have what it takes to cope with real life. Perhaps some of those things were silly at the time and weren't worth my tears... but despite everything, I've found that it's possible that our hearts are meant to bleed this hard. Maybe we were meant to be broken so we can be healed and revived twice as strong. Maybe life is fair simply because it's so unfair for everyone. How does one experience pure joy if they are never exposed raw pain?
I've bled and cried, I've kicked and screamed, I've complained and raged, I've faithfully and willfully continued to put one foot in front of the other despite the hardship. And what's come from it all is a sense of comfort despite the strong discomfort that plagues me regularly. I suppose the kind of bliss that comes from ignorance isn't really bliss at all because someday you'll find yourself in the sick bed... and you'll wonder what went wrong... just like I did.
I've come to love my sensitive nature. I've come to appreciate my keen sense of air pollution and unreal food. I've come to smile at the funny looks I get from people who can't comprehend why I eat organic. I often ask myself who in their right mind would want bliss if it is required to be accompanied with ignorance? I've come to realize that joy and bliss are two different things, and wisdom doesn't come with age... it comes with suffering...
I've come to gain a deep love for people who suffer on deep and penetrating levels. I've gained a deep respect for people who suffer in ways that change them forever. Suffering that erases the ignorance and replaces it with a sense of comfort and peace even in the storm of discomfort and pain.
These kinds of people are warriors. These kinds of people are the people that have been sculpted in the midst of adversity. These people have let go and let God transform them into beings of light and vitality. These are the people that have discovered great depth in life. These are the people that have experienced the great ache that leads to resilience and fortitude that I myself have not yet mastered.
Perhaps hearts were meant to bleed this much. Perhaps bodies where meant to break down. Perhaps tears were meant to be shed. Not because we live in a cruel universe... but because God has a Divine Design that can transform blood into healing, breaking in wholeness, and tears of grief into tears of rejoicing. May we all learn that lesson in hopes that we can grow in strength and everlasting joy.
Perhaps we all need to reminisce sometimes... Because the past is at times our greatest teacher and mentor. And in the meantime, I've come to love the sound of my feet walking in the direction that God intends for them to be... because the blood and ash behind me doesn't matter at the sight of beauty and light ahead of me.
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.