Out of Brokenness, Reimagining Hope

I have been thinking a lot lately about hope, and I have come to believe that hope is essential to life. When you think about it most people hold onto hope on a daily basis, even if it’s not a conscious thought. You hope the weather will be good on the weekend, you hope the guy you met calls, you hope you get a raise at work, you hope traffic won’t be bad, you hope you get over this cold soon, you hope you lose ten pounds…. With hope we are constantly planting wishes in our immediate and distant future with the expectancy they will blossom.       

This is why with chronic illness the loss of hope is equal to that of the physical suffering; it’s an internal death. Pain can be pushed through if you have hope it will end. Isolation can be endured if you have hope of socializing again. We can endure much more than we can imagine if we have hope throughout; hope for healing, hope for a better future, hope for life as we wish it to someday become a reality…..      

When we construct our hopes and dreams they are built on a foundation of what we feel is possible. After all we do not tend to realistically hope for things that are not in the realm of possibility, I guess if we do we call them pipe dreams. But when long-term illness and passing years of suffering rob you of the possibilities that are still attainable for a “normal” person, how then do you dream? What does hope look like with the shifts in what is possible 

     Of course the first dream for anyone that has been sick for a long time is for health, and subsequently health is the gateway to everything else we want in life: relationships, activities, happiness, success, travel,  family…LIFE. And in my opinion there are few things as painful as when hope is squelched and snatched away from you.  

     Now chronic illness looks a little different for every individual. For myself I am immensely blessed that I have come a long way in my 6+ years of treatment since Lyme diagnosis and there has been a lot of improvement. But the struggles continue and I may continue to struggle with autoimmune and other conditions for the rest of my life. So as my “younger” years continue to diminish like a fading horizon line, I have had to construct how to rebuild hopes that are now built on a different foundation, a foundation of what is possible for me now.  

    I had an emotional reshaping of my hopes with my last downturn in health, and a lot of the hopes I had been holding onto for many years got torn down; these constructs were apart of my reality, part of the paradigm that made up my world. These things (that in my mind) were apart of what life had in store for me. The realization of loss was a sickening sucker punch of reality that knocked me down flat. I had been living in that place of rubble for several months, and I had to basically go through a grieving process and lay to rest my virtual hope chest. Coming back out of the dark it took a lot of questioning whether rebuilding the hope tower was worth it. Should I accept a state of apathy as my reality… live in the small little box that life has given me and never expect anything more? Or is apathy just another unhealthy coping mechanism that will ultimately rob me of even more life? Questions questions…. introspection.       

Rebuilding hope. 
 

     At the time I mused: “Of course rebuilding my hope tower will look very different than before and be much smaller, but right now I’m not sure what to build it with. Or should I? Is that my job or God’s? Would He approve of my giving up on hope because it hurts too much to hold on?” 

    I have never stopped believing that my future and hope is in God, that He has a reason and purpose in everything He allows in my life, but what His plans are (obviously) are vastly different from anything I ever envisioned. I am looking at leaving my thirties behind the last day of this year and this doesn’t quite seem real. In my mind I’m still somewhere in my late twenties, waiting for the all the things the normal progression of life will bring. In some ways life for the chronically ill is like a treadmill, running in place and never getting anywhere but expending energy all the same and there is no end to exhaustion.       
So friends, as I have said goodbye to children and family, to independence, to financial stability, to being able to stop working (that takes all my energy robbing
 me of having a life outside it), to success, to travel, to normalcy, and all the perks that come with those things…. (At least in my own ability to achieve them).
    
But I’m still here. The scorched earth of where my hope tower burned down became the fertile soil to plant new hope for the future, both immediate and distant. I do have seeds I’m watering, and they are founded in deeper things and maybe are not all about
 me. They are seeds of faith. Seeds of love. Seeds of family and friends. Seeds of gratitude. Seeds of empathy for others. Seeds of a commission to my chronic illness community.   I’m still here. 


Painting is titled “Hope Through Sorrow”, a piece I recently finished 

Confessions Of A “Functioning Lymie”

I look fine. I may seem fine. I probably sound fine. There are some new photos on Facebook from a couple weeks ago of me out with friends, smiling and having fun, having a few days of normalcy that are momentous and rare to me, but would probably not be a big deal for you and just a normal part of life. They were taken during one of those glorious and all too rare periods when I had several consecutive days of energy and feeling pretty good. (Today is not one of those days.) 

(*disclaimer; I have to attest to the fact that I am still on an upward track with my overall health and what I am experiencing right now as far as this current setback is die off from recent treatment on May 23rd….at least I believe so). 

But what people don’t see are the days inbetween, the days that I spend in a hazy purgatory of fatigue, fuzz, pain, swelling, isolation and my body’s betrayal against life itself. 

I have to work tomorrow and I know that somehow I will pull together like I always do and put everything I have into doing my best at work, doing everything I can to just seem normal and do my job to the best of my ability, and thankfully I have been blessed over the years to stagger along in this manner; being a functioning Lymie.

 I also have a gathering to go to after work tomorow and this is causing me distress. Why? Not because I don’t want to go, but the complete opposite! I want to badly and it is vitally important to me. But for me I don’t usually do anything on a work day afterward because I just spent the day giving 100% to my job and I will be drained, tired and numb. Instead of having fun I am worried I will just be in a haze of fatigue and rather than enjoying myself I will be a half-human whose mind is only about 30% present and therefore will get about 30% enjoyment being with my dear friend. These are the challenges faced by the upright and mobile Lymie. Spoons anyone? (Spoon Theory)

That said, when others can’t see the sickness (I haven’t lost hair, I don’t have an IV port or a wheelchair, I’m not gaunt or jaundiced) how can I convey what it’s like to be a functioning Lymie? (Please note I am also using the term “Lymie”right now in a generalist sense because I believe I am clear of the Borrelia itself at this point but I just got treated for still-present coinfections: Erhlychia, Clamydia (non-STD form), Epstein-Barr, Lyme Virus Coinfection A, Lyme Virus Coinfection C and Protozoa. But as we all know chronic Lyme is never just Borrelia). 
I know that the yoyoing makes no sense to outside observers, those who don’t understand chronic Lyme; how can you be having fun at a festival one weekend and then in bed unable to socialize the next? Trust me it’s complicated, and frustrating isn’t a strong enough word for those of us that live through it. It is like being baited with tastes of life and constantly having it snatched away again. 

So what is life like when I’m not doing so well, and you don’t see me, and there are no photos taken? :

I wake up at 10am, I  don’t feel like moving. I feel groggy and heavy and “hungover”. I had a hard time falling alseep last night, like most nights. It’s a catch 22 because the stuff I take to help me sleep can also leave me feeling tired the next morning. Despite getting 9 hours of sleep I don’t feel rested at all….I may need to take a nap today. My brain feels like it is still in that state of shutting down, you know like how it feels when you are in the process of trying to fall asleep? It is doing the opposite of what it should be doing, being that I am trying to wake up. I do haul myself out of bed and I try and have some caffeine to counteract my wayward brain and body. I also take my morning pills. Since they are supposed to be taken away from food I wonder as I do every morning whether the creamy fluids are a problem. As usual the matcha green tea hemp latte isn’t doing it as far as waking me up, and although I am not supposed to have coffee, I reach for it anyway hoping that it will be my nectar of life. Sigh, I know this will continue the vicious cycle of inflammation and irritating my iGg reaction, but I so desperately want to feel awake. Choices choices…

I then decide to take a bath with Epsom salt and baking soda to help with the pain and stiffness, and to help me detox to (hopefully) help with this hungover feeling. After my tea and coffee and morning pills I feel too nauseous to really eat. I will probably have a bite of something here and there but on most days like this breakfast and lunch sort of meld together and meals get messed up. I also have my two doses of meds, morning and night that have to be taken two hours away from food and other pills….I am already off schedule and my day just started. I pretty much know that my dose of cholestyramine will get skipped yet again (like it does most days) because it also has to be taken 4 hours away from food or other pills. Then there are the pills to be taken with food… Might not get those in today either. This is impossible. 

I spend maybe an hour in the bath catching up with Facebook  and mail, listening to my current audio book, reading my Bible app and playing Candy Crush and Words With Friends. I eventually drain the water and spend at least another 30 minutes sitting in an empty tub because after a bath or shower I usually feel weaker, more lightheaded and struggle a little with feeling breathless and have a harder heartbeat. (This phenomenon: Why Do I Feel Worse After A Shower?). 

I finally get out and get dressed, my equilibrium is off and I’m a little tippy. This is not entirely normal for me and I attribute it to die off/herx (What is a Herx?)

I look down at my body which I usually try and avoid at all costs; it is swollen and the edema is especially bad, and my legs are jiggling like a water bed (you think this is an exaggeration, it is not). The water retention makes my legs much bigger than they would be (come to think of it I haven’t seen what my body would look like without fluid in the last 7 years or so), It has also been this long since I have worn jeans or slacks because of aforementioned fluid. Did I mention it also hurts? Imagine the worst sunburn you have ever experienced, now picture the deep muscle ache of a hard workout after having not worked out for months… Got it? Okay. Now combine the two together and imagine them not on your skin or in your muscles but in all the deep tissues in your legs. Now imagine that pain is constant and you’ve had it for so many years you can’t remember a day without that pain. The only variance is that on good days it’s a low-grade 2, and on bad days it can be an Advil-inducing 8. This is a further incentive to keep a strict diet because increased pain and swelling can be almost instantaneous with ingestion of “bad” foods. (although I fail so often with a bite here, a nibble there…and remember the problem of coffee!) Thankfully for the most part it has been improving and today the fluid is bad , but the pain is maybe a 4, even though the lower half of my body  (that I always hide and cover up) looks like Rosemary from Shallow Hal. I am just blessed not to have cankles today. 

I see my face in the mirror for the first time today and it is of course all puffed up, most notably under my eyes. This is now of course also my normal and I wonder what I would look like “unpuffed”, I do get glimpses from time to time.

It’s now into the afternoon, I  haven’t eaten much, I feel fuzzy in my head and tired despite my green tea and coffee. I really don’t know what to do with myself today because I’m too tired, so I sit on my bed with my phone. I would love to go on a walk or bike ride, but I feel like I can’t even force myself to get up and go do anything. I have my standard low grade headache; this is something I actually don’t really complain about or even acknowledge because it is so normal I don’t know what it feels like not to have a headache. 

Many of you wonder why I don’t paint or do something artistic on my days off like this, it’s hard to explain. There is a definite disconnect in this hazy purgatory where you are aware that there is a part of you that can do those things and enjoys doing those things, but you can’t access that piece of yourself, even if you wanted to. Believe me I’ve tried! I’ve sat down and tried to paint on days like this and it’s like trying to draw water from an empty well…it just doesn’t happen.

So here I sit, another day of nothing. Another day of waste. A day where the tears do come. Another day sacrificed to the hungry Lyme gods that eat our lives and our souls…one apathetic day at a time.                                                                   

I’ve given so many years of my life to days like this they can’t be counted. I’ve given my twenties, and now most of my thirties. Only Lymies will understand this, but this disease EATS YOU! It eats your body, your mind, what makes you you. It also eats your time on this earth.. Like water eroding the shoreline.

Today I need to pray more. Today I need to focus on God’s truths; because on days like today that are empty nothing’s sucked into the void, I have nothing else. 

Looking “fine” a couple weeks ago

The Recipient Of The “No Reply”

Just some musings for today and food for thought.

It’s the feeling you get staring at your IM messenger and seeing that your message has been read by the recipient, but no reply.
It is the feeling of looking at your phone and seeing that you sent that text…..days ago, but no reply.
It is checking your e-mail inbox and wondering if that e-mail you sent per chance went into their spam folder, or into a digital vacuum, or if (gasp) maybe they are injured on the side of the road having flipped their car because they were illegally trying to answer your e-mail while driving and now they are in desperate need of medical care with their phone just out of reach of their fractured fingers….But the result is the same; no reply.

Yes communication has changed and we now live in a digital age. This is a wondrous thing in that we can communicate with each other like never before, anytime, anywhere. For some this is AMAZING because we see too little of people in person and we are hungry for fellowship with friends. For some I know this can also be an annoyance in that we become slaves to our devices. No matter how you feel about digital communication I want to set that aside for a moment and have you consider the thoughts and feelings of the recipient of the “no reply” (please note I am not talking about those that get back to you hours or a day or two later, I know we are busy).

The things that the No Replyee might be thinking or feeling

1. I don’t matter to you.
2. I annoy you
3. You don’t like me
4. I am very low on the list of people in your life
5. I think you are a rude person who is giving me the equivalent of the silent treatment
6. I have offended you
7. You just forgot
8. I am a stupid/annoying/unimportant/obnoxious/ugly/wasteofspace person and no wonder people ignore me and I should just shut up and not contact people because it puts them in the awkward position of just “try and ignore her and maybe she’ll go away”.

    So, for those who never answer I really do spend a lot of time pondering what is going on in your head; when you see a message in whatever form it came in (especially if it is personally addressed to you) and decide to never reply. No really! I am curious because with dead air I can only guess at what is going on with you, and I’m sorry but with my history of where the enemy likes to attack me I am usually going to default to #8. So this is me really and honestly asking the question to those of you on Facebook who I can see have read my IM…..months ago and never replied, and to those who have received texts and never replied, let me know! I have a lot of grace and I am ALWAYS totally cool with “hey sorry, I don’t have time” or if it’s a question just a quick “no”. You aren’t going to hurt my feelings, but please explain the dead air which for the No Replyee is the equivalent of standing in front of you talking and you just staring back not saying a word. It would seem rude right?

Also please have grace for us, the digital communicators. Especially the vast community of us who have endured isolation due to illness and or distance and being able to communicate with our friends digitally is a beam of light in our world.

So. Am I sending this out into the void? Or by chance will a few reply……

beingignored

Little Lost Girl

Something I wrote about 2 years ago when I started this blog….

Little Lost Girl
The Other Toll Of An Auto-Immune Disease

At some point I stopped looking in the mirror; of course not quite literally because I need to do my hair and makeup in the morning, but a long time ago I stopped “seeing”. So it was a bit of a shock when one day I actually did see, and I didn’t recognize myself. I look old, I look sick, I look puffy, I look fat, I look frumpy. Gone is the girl I see in photos from several years ago, and not just physically, because that girl had things she enjoyed doing… people she wanted to spend time with…she had an inner passion for the things she loved, and had so many hopes and dreams….

I look in my closet and there are the clothes that I no longer wear, the digital camera that I have never used, the containers of craft materials that I no longer have an interest in….because life used to be not only about today, but about tomorrow too. Now I struggle to get through just one day at a time, just surviving, there is no energy for anything else, and it is more than physical, my brain is tired too. I used to love crosswords, but sometimes it is too hard to recall the words I know that I know, or to spell words that I know are locked somewhere in my toxic mind.  People are too hard to be around, not because I don’t like them, but talking and engaging takes mental energy, and that is easily used up doing my job everyday (thank God He has given me the strength. So when I am quiet and don’t feel like talking, I am more than likely not in a bad mood, and it has nothing to do with you, I am just shut down.

I miss my personality; it is actually hard to recall who I am. I know I used to enjoy so many things, but I am not sure what they all were. I think that I will need to rediscover myself, and see what emerges when the chrysalis of illness falls away.

So, I am writing this not to whine nor for pity, but just to share what chronic illness can do to the core of who you are as a human being. My sister and I talk and share all the time about what we are going through, and how what we are feeling affects us socially and mentally. How each of us wants to tell everyone we see from our friends to people in the grocery store “You don’t understand, this isn’t me, I’m really someone else…”
But thankfully there seems to be hope. Treatment has been rough, and the different medications aren’t fun, but I believe that finally after possibly two decades of having this garbage in my body and not understanding what was wrong with me, there are answers. I have been told by my two doctors and even by friends and acquaintances that next year everything will be different. I want to hope so badly that this will be true, and if it is, I might emerge again, but will I be who I was or a little different? We shall see…