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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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. 

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. ”

Just ‘Cause You’re Sick Doesn’t Mean You Can’t…..

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Yes you are in bed most of the time. Yes you feel like that possum that got hit by the truck. Yes you are kind of stuck and down in the dumps. You can’t do most of the things you want to do, so it is easy to get depressed, feel worthless and a burden on society. We’ve all been there, no matter what point in our illness we are in right now.

So since it is so easy to focus on the “can’ts” (which lead to feeling worthless), here are some “can’s” you can do right from your bed. And please don’t put these ideas down as cheesy, maybe some are but it’s the little things that sometimes make the day brighter.

 

Image1. Write Thank You Cards “just because”. Are there people in your life that you love and appreciate? How good would it feel to surprise them with a random thank you. Don’t be afraid to fill it full of detail about everything you love about them. And don’t be afraid of the digital Thank You! Are cards a little passe for you? Or maybe you can’t even get to the post office? Send a Facebook message or tribute post praising your friends and family for how fabulous they are.

 

Image2. Movies! Make it through the AFI top 100 Films list….or Best Musicals…or whatever list you choose. Okay I admit to growing up watching a lot of movies, but it is something I really enjoy and I appreciate the old ones as well as the new. Sick in bed might be the perfect time to be able to say  to someone “Why yes I have seen every film starring the great Cary Grant. Who of course was born as Archibald Leach in England and was a circus performer.” (yes, bedridden=time) There is no shame in being a film aficionado! (and may I add that binge watching television series is a lot of fun as well). Make a check list and tick it off as you go, at least you will feel accomplished 😉

 

Okay, these next 2 might be tough for those suffering cognitive issues (I went through years of struggling with reading)

Image3. Catch up on the Classics. Pride And Prejudice, Moby Dick, Tom Sawyer…….. there is a ton of classic literature out there that most of us haven’t read. Sick in bed is the perfect time! Now like I said I went through years of having trouble reading, When I tried I would re-read the same sentence or paragraph over and over and just not be able to take it in. Plus I had Lyme-induced dyslexia and Lyme-induced reduced visual acuity. So what I found (that I still love) are audio books. Especially now with smart phones this makes audio books very accessible. Audible (an Amazon company) has basically saved my life!

 

Image4. Discover art. Whether you are artistic or not everyone can enjoy sketching or drawing. Get some good art paper and some nice pencils, or even water colors or pastels. You might awaken the artist in you.

 

Image5. Scrapbook. Get colored paper, stickers, fancy scissors, glue sticks…. have fun.

 

Image6. Photography. Subject matter is of course limited in your bedroom, but if you are able to take short walks or sit in the back yard just play around taking photos. Try different angles and lighting…. lie on the ground and look up, walk a few steps and look down…you will be surprised at the hidden treasures all around. Play around with your photos editing on your phone or computer. The possibilities are endless.

 

Image7. Get some fish. Fish are easy no-brainer pets. If you don’t want to mess with filters and taking on too much work, get a Betta fish, just make sure the tank isn’t too small. Fishy likes space too after all. Fish are therapeutic to watch and it is nice having something to care for.

 

Image8. Learn. If your poor diseased brain is up to it find subjects of interest and learn about them online. The information out there is limitless.

 

All these ideas are just a starting point. I think just making a list that fits the parameters of where your health is that you can check off will give you a sense of accomplishment. Whatever you decide to do take the step and do it, you deserve it.

Learning To Live Again

I spent some time reading your posts tonight. I must admit I avoid reading the the blogs of fellow Lyme sufferers most nights of the week because I have to be in the right mental state to do so. The reason is that you break my heart. A lot of times I cannot help but respond when moved; to encourage you, let you know I am praying for you and of course when appropriate, do my best to advise and share with you.

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I have walked this path and (although I find myself mostly better) I do continue to walk it with you. I have noticed that as my complaints and symptoms slowly ebb away I feel less and less compelled to post and share. However I been thinking over the last couple weeks that this may be a mistake. Does the story simply end when the physical pain is mostly gone? Is there nothing more to say when fatigue doesn’t knock you flat?

I think there is more to say at this stage in the illness journey than ever because I am no longer bound by the limitations of how I am physically feeling and the mental and emotional devastation that come from that place. First, before I go on I am thinking my experience is a bit different than a lot of the stories I read because there are so many very young and lovely ladies on here that are suffering greatly who are still very young. You are in high school or your very early twenties, and your life has come to a halt because of your illness. You may not be able to finish school or enjoy all the activities that your friends enjoy, but have hope! You are young and you have been diagnosed and (God wiling) are getting proper treatment and will have an amazing life ahead of you. I also read the stories of some equally lovely ladies that are older, are married and have children (many who have adult children), and you are having a very different experience where you also suffer the difficulty of feeling that you are not there for your families.

    Pardon me I am meandering a bit, but I guess what I am trying to say is that I relate to all of you in different ways, but I am not quite in the same place either. I am now 35 and single. I find myself to be in this strange in between place where I am no longer young and yet my life has certainly not followed the logical chronological order that should have transpired at this point. So I am kind of being “kicked out” of the chronically ill club and well, where do I go from here? This may be a strange analogy but I feel like Eliza Doolittle at the end of My Fair Lady when she sobs “What’s to become of me? what’s to become of me?”. You see Eliza has her whole life in front of her and her future has changed for the better but everything she was and made her “her” is gone. No more flower girl, no more peers who work in the same circle as herself, just a complete paradigm shift.

It sounds dumb I know but there is some fear in moving forward. Why? Because I am no longer in “survival mode” where life was all about just getting through the day…just making it through work…. just doing the bare minimum. Living in this mode is how I have spent most of the last decade of my life and now in a way has to be unlearned. I am having a shift back into life which I must say is wonderful! There are a thousand things I have always wanted to do that I can now (God willing) start doing. I am unexpectedly running into….dun dun dun dun….fear. But what if I still can’t? What if the reason things don’t happen for me in life can no longer be blamed on a disease but instead cannot be realized for other reasons? Hmmm… This is where faith comes in. This entire journey has been one long test of faith. The interesting thing is that you think of faith as being a simple thing, and in fact it is. But it is also something that we continually learn and grow in throughout our lives. The faith that got me through my hardest days physically and emotionally…through my toughest days, is at it’s base the very same that I need now, trust God. Pretty simple. That said I think it is more my reaction to that belief and the choices I make in regards to that belief that are different. God calls us to different courses of action throughout our lives and according to our circumstances. His gentle words to trust remain constant, but now I feel Him telling me that the time of apathy is over, now is the time to walk and leap instead of crawl.

     Now I must share with you that I am an all or nothing thinker. So I tend to put the pressure on myself that my entire future depends on every little step or decision, my entire life depends on what I do right now! As I am writing this I am finding peace in knowing that faith comes in the steps just as much as in the giant leaps. God is calling me to “trust” and “obey” (His go to words to me over the last several years). The responsibility on my part is to spend time with Him and rest in the fact that every step forward while walking in obedience is a step towards the future He has planned for me.

Deep sigh. Whatever happens it is all good. 🙂