The Judgement & Scrutiny Of Living With Chronic Illness 

(*disclaimer at the bottom of article)
Judgment. 

Scrutiny.

 Those words immediately evoke feelings of negativity. Living with chronic illness is negative and difficult in itself, but have you ever stopped to think that almost every person batting a chronic illness also gets “insult added to injury” (literally) by being judged and scrutinized in everything they do?….. What they post on social media, every choice they make, every event they attend or don’t attend, everything they eat and every purchase they make? Yes. This is a huge part of living with chronic illness. 
   Can you imagine suffering from a condition and all of a sudden even “normal” activities and decisions come under the watchful and judgmental eye of everyone you know?
What do I mean? 
Example: “Shelley” suffers from chronic Lyme. All her friends and family know this. They know treatments are expensive and Shelley spends a lot of time at the doctor. Shelley also says no to a lot of family functions and activities with friends. Shelley also shares her struggles on social media and everyone knows she is struggling financially as well due to all her medical expenses. Some of Shelley’s family are very negative; they knew Shelley when she was active and vibrant and can’t understand how this sickness seems to go on and on without end. They think her posts about illness are attention-getting and that Shelley is needy, especially being that she is single and they think therefore she is trying to get sympathy. They think she is pathetic. Some of them let her know and express their anger. Some of them no longer speak to her at all.
Shelley also feels like she can’t win when it comes to socializing….
(NO) When Shelley says no to an event or dinner (or has to leave early or rest in the middle):
People think Shelley is being a drama queen again, or lazy, or being anti-social, etc. 
“She always says no so why bother asking”
“She is so self-absorbed with her problems. If she just got out more and acted normal she would feel better”
“Sickness has become Shelley’s identity. If she just stopped owning it she wouldn’t be so sick” 
“Shelley is not as sick as she thinks she is. Lyme is an excuse”
“Shelley has some kind of social disorder and is using sickness as an excuse”
“There she goes again, lying on the couch in the middle of a party. Apparently she wasn’t getting enough attention…”
(YES) When Shelley says yes to an event, or dinner: People think
“how can she be sick in bed yesterday and out today looking normal today?”
“She is such a liar, she said she couldn’t go out his morning and there she is tonight out with friends”
“She must be getting better, finally this Lyme thing is going away”
“You look good! You look healthy, you must be better”
“How can she afford to go out when she was just posting her Gofundme yesterday?”
“All this posting on social media about being sick, and yet when I see her she looks fine”
“Should she be eating that?”

You see I am Shelley. If you are ill and reading this, you are Shelley. And I know dozens and dozens of Shelleys that have the same experiences. 
Most people don’t think twice about going out to eat, taking vacations, hanging with friends, going to movies, buying a pair of shoes…

But when you deal with chronic illness things are a little different. Have you ever considered how much judgment someone who is sick receives? And this is on top of all the physical, emotional, mental, spiritual and financial suffering. 
That’s why I write. Because most judgment comes from naivety and simply not understanding. 
I have to deeply think before I post anything regarding my illness; TMI? Who’s my audience? Sharing info with fellow Lymies versus relatives that are going to roll their eyes at another health post?

Am I going to get negative backlash?

Are people going to get the wrong idea?
I also think twice before I post anything about going out, being with friends, or anything that has to do with spending money….. 

You see guy can buy new shoes if you need them without a second thought. But if I do I have to assess who might judge me knowing that I struggle financially. See what I mean? And I also don’t want to hurt that friend that I said no to yesterday when I felt super fatigued when they see me out with someone today because I rested and feel a little better.

I also struggle with guilt and and moral questions whenever I do something fun or spend a little money. Am I “allowed” to have fun? Can I justify a purchase for myself? Even though I am. It by any means extravagant (I rarely go shopping, buy clothes, and almost never eat out) I feel funny when I do and feel I have to answer for myself to everyone I know. 
Conclusion. 

This isn’t a perfect essay, and I didnt touch on a lot (including judgment and negativity from the mainstream medical community that doesn’t understand certain chronic illnesses), but there are tons of bloggers out there and they are doing a great job being a voice for this community. All we can do is try our best, and have an extra dose of grace as we raise awareness to those who would judge us. 
*Please note that this essay is on the topic of judgment and scrutiny; There are a LOT of kind and understanding people who do take the time to learn, ask questions, talk and give support. Thank you all my friends and family that fall in this category. 💚

  

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The People Society Forgot

Have you noticed how insanely busy everyone is? And I do mean insanely!!! Life is non-stop running from this place to that, calendars are full, people have very little time to invest in each other anymore or cultivate relationships.

It is almost hard to remember days gone by (hey I’m getting old) before cell phones and social media when people actually talked to each other more. They had time for their friends, getting together to visit was simpler… it didn’t involve so much coordination and stress. Oh, and people cared for each other. Remember that? 

Now before I come off as bashing the character of everyone in our western society; I’m not sure who to blame, it just seems to be what happened to all of us, and most people are not unkind or unfeeling, it’s just that they’re so darn busy.

For the chronically ill that have fallen off the conveyer belt of this life that drives, drives, drives and never stops moving or let’s anyone take a breath…. we often feel forgotten. 

Now what’s great is that when you are not well enough to be uber social, cell phones and social media are a life saver, at least in some ways. You see we also have a window into the world that has forgotten us; people that goon hikes, hang with friends, go out to dinner, spend time with everyone but you because everyone else is up and mobile and, frankly more fun.

Ahhh the chronic illness suffer, we are like a low budget B movie that was made 20 years ago that most people forgot even existed, until someone says something like “hey wasn’t ‘_____’ like at that thing with that other person we went to way back when”?

Now you (normal person) may actually think of us from time to time, pray for us, have us run across your mind…. But guess what? We don’t know that!!!!!. 

Silence= I don’t matter and you don’t care. 

Again, I’m sure the person reading this is a good person, and a busy person, but maybe just as a favor to me, when “_____” comes to your mind and you haven’t seen them in a while and you know they are struggling, send a quick text, an IM, or maybe one of those old-fashioned phone call things. 

Please Imagine being too sick to do what you are out doing right now, and instead that you were home alone most of the time,  imagine (some) of your friends staying silent, for weeks, months…. 

Now Imagine now if they weren’t.

Thanks for listening readers 💚

Being Real

I wanted to speak to all of you from the heart for a few minutes (besides a health and circumstances update). I know that my posts can be a little wordy, but if you can stick with me to the end I would really appreciate it. I have had some serious ups and downs recently, not just physically but emotionally, mentally and spiritually too, and that is something I am going to try and be raw and real about.
As you all know these health difficulties have been plaguing myself and my family for decades, but especially my sister and I. And with this recent setback (again) it is so easy to feel depressed, lonely and hopeless….
Today on this sunny Saturday I think of all of you out there, socializing, having fun, seeing friends, being outside, doing things…. living normally. And for me this morning my POTS is acting up and it is hard for me to even stand without feeling breathless and weak and having waves of heat. (More on POTS below). Another day of my life sacrificed to the Lyme gods as they accept my life as an offering one day at a time (please no one be offended by this little metaphor). 
So this is going to be another in a long line of weekends for me basically in bed resting. I have given about 2/3 of my adult life to this: go to work, go to bed, repeat. I’m back in that cycle where I have just enough strength to work my part time job….and not much else. I call these cycles many things, including Survival Mode and the Chronic Illness Coma. I feel isolated, forgotten, left out and lonely. I keep seeing the years of my life tick by and my life eroding away, with opportunities disappearing on a fading horizon. 

Try and picture for a moment if this was your life for years and years, and you found yourself in your late thirties having your youth behind you having never properly experienced it. You are alone. You’ve never had a significant other or even an opportunity to get one, and you watch most of your friends live there lives from a distance doing “normal” things that you have never experienced and are not normal for you.
I had a very bad weekend last week; besides having a scare and being in the ER on Saturday, I was also very depressed and the enemy saw an opportunity to open a wound. 
The mind can go down Dark rabbit holes so easily: This isn’t living. Alone. Single. Sick. Struggling. My brain and body betray me. Thinking about eventually having my parents die and (gulp) Shiloh in time, and being utterly alone and destitute with no one to be a support is not a fun thought. I also feel like I am such a financial burden and my parents would be so much better off and more secure if I just died. (That’s a major one Satan like to come at me with). 
Thank you to a couple friends who encouraged me last Sunday and reminded me who I am in Christ, and who just listened and let me be real with my feelings.

That said, I am peeking back out of that dark corner and God is reminding me that faith and Who He is for me and His power over my circumstances have nothing to do with my emotions or mindset or the infections in my body and brain that are effecting those things.

After all, faith is all about what we do not see, what we do not feel, and relying on He Who dwells outside the shallowness of those things. 
Why did I share all that? I don’t think it’s because I want pity. I want to be normal, I just want to live, I don’t want to be a person that needs pity! No, rather I just want to be heard and understood and I feel like when I drop off the face of the earth that I don’t do so to the people in my life as well, and I’m just forgotten. 

I do want to thank the couple people who do stay in contact with me, it means the world. Just a text, just a “hi”, nothing fancy, just knowing I’m not forgotten.
Why The Chronically Ill Post TMI

Thank you so much for reading this far.
As far as myself and my sister Holly as you know we are going through treatments right now to deal with some deep parasitic and other infections in our bodies that are not only gut related but are attacking our livers, kidneys and other organs too, and the treatment has been rough. I just did my retest lab work this last week to confirm what infections remain after phase 1 and how to approach my Phase 2 in this next round of treatment. I have had it confirmed that (among other things) I do still have Bartonella: What is Bartonella & its Symptoms?

 Babesia: What is Babesia & its Symptoms?

which are the two major Lyme coinfections. 

My POTS which is usually mild also goes to more of a moderate degree when I have a flare up, and that’s been difficult ( Lyme & POTS )
My sister and I could use prayer that these treatments work, and that maybe this will be the beginning to the end of this multi-decade battle.
Lyme (collective term for Borrelia, coinfections and complications) is so hard to treat because it can change form, hide from the immune system, be antibiotic resistant, cross the blood-brain barrier and infect any and all parts of the body, and treatments are basically going layer by layer, getting deep stuff to come to the surface, and repeating the process. 

A good metaphor would be weeding a garden: you pull weeds, you rototill, you use poison, you pull up roots and do your best with what you see. But you miss a few roots, you can’t always identify every weed, and the “poison” ruins the soil so you have to keep replenishing as you’re killing, and just when you think you got it all…. you find there’s stuff you missed that starts growing and taking over again.
Here is also a good link on why treatments make you feel worse: What is a Herx?

Wow guys, thanks for sticking with me and hearing me out! Even with all that writing it is still just a summary. 

Please also pray for God’s financial provision as for this season expenses have again skyrocketed into about 5,000 a month.

I have been unable to paint again, and that has been disheartening. If anyone has any clever ideas for fundraisers let me know! (It would have to be in the realm of my capacity). 

Steidl Family Lyme Fund
Jennifer’s Lyme Fund
Thank you again for taking the time to read all this. 

Don’t Miss Out On The Collateral Beauty 

I just watched a movie called Collateral Beauty; (you probably saw the trailer at Christmas time), a tale of a broken man and a call back to life from unexpected sources. Well not what I would call a great or life-changing film, I would say it was a good one, and it had some good life lessons that were given to us by “death”, “time”, and “love”.
One line in the film spoken by “love” to a hurting man who lost his child was “yes I was there in her smile, there in her laughter, there inside you in the happiness…..But what you need to know is that I am here also in your pain. I am in everything and the reason for everything. ”
I found this incredibly profound and in a sense very true; but instead of simple love as the world would understand it, I replace that with the person of Jesus Christ; Who in himself is the embodiment of love. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son….”

He is the reason. He is the purpose. He is as relevant in our joy as He is in our suffering. He catches every tear and often we feel Him more closely in pain than in joy. 
In the blindness of our own humanity so often we fail to see Him working underneath the surface, but He is, even (especially) in our misery.

For He said He causes all things to work together for the good of those who are called according to his purpose. That is where our faith and our hope lies; nothing, I repeat nothing is wasted when we are in Christ. Quite the opposite. All things are redeemed for his glory and our good.

Sometimes we are lucky (blessed) enough to catch glimpses of Him working miraculously in the most difficult and tragic circumstances. When we get these glimpses of his hand at work sometimes we call it a miracle. But may I propose that this is the normal and not the extraordinary? Do we need to see with our eyes, or do we need to know what God is up to in order to believe that He is always, always working underneath the surface of all things at all times? For his ways are higher than our ways, his thoughts are higher than our thoughts. And in his omniscience He weaves webs with a million strands of intricacy with multi-faceted intentionality in every life circumstance. Not because of who we are, but because of Who He is.
So no matter what is happening, whether you see a purpose or not, whether you simply see the circumstance or maybe get a glimpse beneath the surface into the divine….. “just make sure you notice the collateral beauty”. 

When Life Punishes You For Living

Here I am again, posting on another “bad” day.

You see I’ve had some decent ones, even though I never feel “great” I’ve had consecutive weeks/months of having a better balance here and there. Inflammation has been acutely worse for weeks, but I’ve been able to maneuver around it to a point. Yes I’ve had days of crashing more and napping more, yes I’ve had to say no to going to church and Bible study because “extras” are too much. (Hey wait a minute! Maybe I’ve been struggling more than I’ve acknowledged). But anyway, then there is today; today when I feel my body is getting revenge for all my betrayal. Today when I feel stripped to the bone. I woke up at 11am (yeah I know), and still felt I could barely climb out of bed. Breakfast happened at 12:30 sitting in a detox bath, and I feel completely horrible: achy, stiff, toxic, beyond fatigued, heavy, swollen, fuzzy-brained. The autoimmune overactivity is high and I can both see and feel the fluid and pain.

So what did I do to myself to deserve this? That is always the question I first ask because self-blame is my automatic go-to. Well what I “did” was try being semi-normal for a few weeks: having to work a couple weeks full time, eating some “bad” stuff here and there (and by bad I mean bad for me personally; like dark chocolate, some organic mayo, some cayenne, a little vegan ice cream,etc.). Am I right in beating myself up? I am never sure how bad to guilt trip myself. It’s so hard when all you want to do is live and your body is just really not into that.

I am still counting the days until my new patient consult on the 14th at Sophia to address autoimmune issues and mast cell activation disorder (assuming that’s what’s going on). I’ve had a couple doctors confirm that Borrelia, Bartonella, Babesia, Epstein Barr, Erlychia…and all the rest including viral coinfections, are”fixed”, so I’m hoping the last hurdle is the autoimmune, but it’s a big hurdle. 

I have not paid any attention to fundraising for a long time; mostly being it makes me feel shamed, embarrassed, unworthy, guilty, and all the feelings that orbit the above. But more than that is my constant guilt of being a drain on my family. Thankfully family medical expenses have come down a bit from around 6,000 a month to around 2,000, which is good but still difficult. As my sister and I are about to embark pursuing this new clinic though they may jump up again exponentially, so I will put a link here so anyone that is able and led to help. Youcaring

So here I sit in bed on a Sunday afternoon wishing I could have gone to church, wishing I could take my dog out, wishing I could be out and about. Tomorrow may be better, I’ve been through this more times than I can count and I know that often things won’t be so bad the next day. On a day like this things always feel so bleak, but I know that tomorrow always brings new hope and a different viewpoint.

I’m glad I write on bad days, when I can’t move and I hurt and can’t think well; Writing gives me a sense of purpose and makes me feel I’m still here, still fighting.

See you tomorrow 🌅

For Your Consideration… What to say when you are put down for “being your illness”

So I have been experiencing a lot of activity on one of my latest blog posts and I have also been reposting some others that are relevant to the struggle.

I have been getting saturated with great comments on those so grateful that someone is voicing their experience and giving credence to their experiences to their friends and family.

That said of course I get negativity once and a while (as we all do); but what really hurts is when it comes from someone within the chronic illness community. 

I see it too often (mostly on the Facebook feeds of others) attacking because someone’s experience is different than their’s, or they think the person is too vocal, or whatever….

Why do we do this? Why do we hurt each other? Why are we so narcissistic that we seem to think how we think or feel or our experiences has to universal and be exactly what everyone else’s experiences should be that has difficulty and is sick? Apparently this is a mindset that allows for zero tolerance or understanding that diseases manifest differently in different people and affect our minds, bodies and chemistry differently. Wow, what a concept!
So I offer up to you the following comment left on one of my posts (that was written to try and raise awareness and understanding),  and my re-buttal to this comment. I also want to ask you; the chronic illness community to join the conversation and share your experiences. I will ask that there be no attacks, swearing, name calling or ugliness, rather let us use this as an opportunity and platform to further raise awareness and keep the conversation and testimonies going.

Here we go..

Negative Blog Commentor:

“I have what is considered an invisible illness (a pretty freaky one), and honestly, at the end of the day, I can choose to live a normal, productive life. Are there challenges? Sure. But we all face challenges. ALL of us. Some are physical. Some are emotional. Some are psychological, financial, relational, career-centered, social… you name it. 
I’m uncertain as to why so many sufferers from invisible or even visible illnesses choose to be victims daily. It’s a choice to keep life in perspective, to keep moving, and to realize we’re not special because we suffer. Who doesn’t suffer? Did you know that the average person in the western world has, on average, 5 things going on with their body that could be/are serious? Illness doesn’t excuse us from life, so live it fully. 
Maybe you’re not datable because you insist on BEING your illness, 24/7. Is it all you talk about? Post about? Think about? Is there nothing more of you than your illness? Who wants to date someone who finds their identity in being sick? Do you bring your illness up every time you meet someone? Talk on the phone? Go anywhere? If you know to converse about nothing else, then you’ll stay single. 
Stop being your illness. It doesn’t make you special. It makes you common. Be the best parts of YOU… because you are not your Lyme, fibromyalgia, diabetes, epilepsy, MS, lupus, or any other invisible condition. You are YOU. Offer YOU. Potential mates don’t want to hear about nothing but your illness any more than you want to hear about all their exes, money issues, terrible living arrangements, bad pizza, or abysmal grades if you’re in school. Be you… stop being a victim.”
My rebuttal: 

“(Person’s name), I had to pause, think, stop and pray before responding because my immediate (fleshly) reaction was anger; anger that you have projected your own experience onto others without understanding that even though we all suffer chronic illness, the nuances, experiences, manifestations, brain chemistries, how we are individually effected, where the diseases have most effected us, our life paradigms, backgrounds… and SO much more differ radically! I cannot say this with enough emphasis. 
So first I want to praise you for your outlook and that you are “not your disease” (none of us truly are) and that you have the ability and will to live and thrive by fighting through. Not everyone is you. 
May I offer up to you for consideration that most of us want that very same thing. Who “chooses” to be a victim? Far fewer than you obviously think.

Maybe (just for the sake of argument) a very small minority that already have psychological issues or have an abusive background or “—–” might in fact use illness to further that inner victim mentally and to feed that need to get attention.

BUT! Most of those I have come across (by a landslide majority) who are suffering from chronic illness that has re-shaped their lives and the very essence of who they are… are desperate to be normal, to simply live and not be encumbered and isolated and in pain, fatigued beyond functionality….and missing out on life. 
I also want to let you know that having been chronically ill now for decades, and having experienced all the facets and manifestations (highs, lows and everything in between) I KNOW what it is like to be so physically and mentally (by this I don’t just mean mindset, but literal bacteria that has crossed the blood brain barrier affecting my mind in ways I had ZERO control of) sick that I was incapable of just “being me” or even having access to parts of my own mind or personality. 

I do understand that if you have not experienced this kind of illness you will have no comprehension, and I am honestly glad that you haven’t.

Consider yourself lucky, blessed, fortunate… there are many who are not.
I also want to add that no, in fact for the most part in my personal life I do not go around talking about my illness all the time. It is not the first thing I mention when I meet new people, it is almost never talked about among my coworkers, even with my closest friends we focus on other things, because I wouldn’t want to hear it all the time, why would they?

Again I also want to add that like I mentioned before my health goes up and down, I have about 2/3 of the year accumulatively that I am really struggling, and it’s in those times that I tend to write more about said struggle. But, I have good months where I feel much better and… guess what? I use it to my full advantage snd be as active as I can and as social as I can and LIVE and be me. I jump at the opportunity when my brain and body allow. And I am not alone. In fact it is pretty common for chronically ill people to overdue and set themselves back when they are feeling better because this is what they do desperately want. Because they know they are “not their disease”. 
So instead of judging others harshly, accusing, condemning, bad-mouthing and making great big assumptions that EVERYONE is exactly like you and your experience with a chronic illness, (because after all according to you everyone has a clear head, full access to their faculties, and an iron will to overcome anything and can’t possibly be so sick that they can’t just get out there and live) and should just pick up their bootstraps and “not be their illness”. 

Maybe do some reading and research, especially on neurological effects of Lyme and other illnesses that can cross the blood-brain barrier and/or mess with your hormones and other functionalities that make you “you” so that you can have a small piece of empathy for those that are less fortunate than you and desperately want to thrive instead of just exist.
*also I might add that I blog not to whine or “be my illness” but because I have deep empathy for the suffering and wish to give a voice and some comfort to those that have none. ”

Some Honest Thoughts On A Sunday Afternoon… When Life Reshapes Hope

I have no answers today, no deep wisdom (I don’t think), only a seeking mind on how to perceive life as it stands and on expectations for the future.

I was thinking that our hopes and dreams are built on a foundation of what we feel is possible. 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 rob you of the possibilities that are still reachable for a “normal” person, how do you dream? What does Hope look like now?

Of course the first dream for anyone that has been sick for a long time is for health, and of course health is the gateway to everything else we want in life: relationships, activities, happiness, success, travel,  family…LIFE. 

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 (5?) 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 am wondering how to rebuild hopes that are now built on a different foundation of what is possible.

I had an emotional reshaping of my hopes with this last downturn in health (Relinquishing hope), and a lot that I had been holding onto for many years got torn down. I have been living in that place of rubble for several months now and I guess I am questioning whether rebuilding the hope tower is worth it. Of course it 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? Honestly I’m at a loss. 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.

So here I sit on a Sunday afternoon in an empty house with a silky terrier puppy for company (who is under my care for the weekend), feeling quite lonely for some reason and pondering all of the above and maybe letting myself cry just a little. I am looking at turning 38 the last day of this year, and the years don’t slow down. 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 for exhaustion. 

So friends, as I have said goodbye to children, to love, to independence, to fulfillment, to financial stability, to success, to travel, to normalcy, and all the perks that come with those things…. how and with what do I rebuild my hope tower? We shall see.