We should all have a calling, right? A passion that drives us. “If you find your purpose, you will never work a day in your life”, and will be wonderfully successful, respected, admired, and make loads of money. At least, that’s what I’ve always heard, so it must be true.
What if I told you that having a “Life’s Purpose” is a myth.
We are taught by society, and modern culture that to be fulfilled, we have to find our one special calling, that career we love, and it will bring us prosperity and fortune all of our days.
Why is this philosophy problematic?
…Because we aren’t built to have only one purpose. We are each meant to fulfill many unique and diverse missions throughout our lives. We have dreams and goals for ourselves, but we are multidimensional beings and our greatest life passions and fulfillments may or may not be wrapped up in that job we desire.
Most of the time when we say, “What is God’s will for my life?” We are referring to our careers, right? But God allows purpose to thrive in so many aspects of our lives.
You can be a passionate artist, a wife, mother, doctor, friend, AND a passionate writer. You can find calling, drive, and fulfillment in multiple areas of your life.
The world hands us such an impossible task of figuring out our one and only sparkling, unicorn reason for existing, and it puts sooooo much pressure on all of us. Once we believe we’ve found our “life’s calling”, complete our degrees or training, we can finally pour our passion into the work… but some time later, there’s an itch that comes over us. We feel unsettled, maybe even claustrophobic. If you’ve felt this way before, it’s miserable. And it’s also a huge disappointment that the dream we wished for doesn’t feel like we hoped it would. You do everything you can to refresh that passion you once had in your work, however, more than likely, the feeling of displacement whittles away at your spirit.
A Life’s Purpose is not the same as a Life of Purpose.
We were not built to stay in one place. God has so many plans for each of us. Some of us are amazing multi-taskers, juggling projects and people all at once, and others of us pour everything we have into one job, person, or other undertaking, and then we are diverted to our next chapters. One season ends, and the next begins. Sometimes there are painful seasons in between for our growth, for pruning, and for us to prepare for whatever we are meant to do next. And for some of us, those painful seasons last, so we seek out purpose and meaning in the big and small moments.
Callings come in seasons. We all hear the stories again and again: Someone had a career they loved, then a crisis struck, but that sideroad somehow illuminated a new and exciting path. It happens all the time.
Like me, you might be asking, “What is God’s will for my life now?” You might feel a little bit lost in the fog, the upside-down, so to speak. Very rarely, we have these beautiful gifts of some extended time when we are just waiting to find out- what’s next? It can seem like forever, but rest assured, you are never forgotten by your Creator.
I’m not very good at being still and peaceful while I wait, because I am so impatient. It is such a comfort to know, we are always fulfilling our Life’s Purpose when our desire is to please God. When you’re seeking to do the next right thing, you can be at ease that you are living inside of your destiny.
Living with constant chronic pain or chronic illness is no party, but you may have been invited to a few this holiday season. Here are some ideas and tips to help you make it through the festivities as we approach the new year.
1. No Cocktails
I know, I know, at your next party, you may be thinking:
“Ughh, why did I come? How do I even get comfortable in this chair? At least I’m not squished on the couch. Did anyone notice that full body spasm? Oh great. And now my hands are shaking. Better put my drink down before I spill it. At least it isn’t red wine. Of course not, because wine is a trigger food and 8 of 10 of my medications don’t party well with alcohol.”
See, isn’t this fiesta turning out to be fun?! But don’t worry about the NO DRINKING POLICY. Your brain fog keeps you so fuzzy and clumsy on a regular basis that you’ll fit right in with your drunk buddies!
2. Polite Conversation
Look at all of those healthy attractive people around you playing ping pong with their witty dialogue. “Hmmm? What? Oh, no that’s not a fashion statement. That’s called a compression sock. Thank you so much for noticing. Yes, those are my favorite shoes…I guess. I know, I always wear them, don’t I? Ha, ha. You are so observant. You know, you should really go bird watching sometime- I hear that is a great hobby for people who enjoy staring.”
See, you can play this game of witt too. What a wonderful party!
When in doubt, smile.
Always keep them guessing. When your pain is on red alert and your brain is on complete shutdown, SMILE!
It tells people that they can relax and have a great time no matter how sick you are. You can always go to the ER later, tonight is for celebrating!
So flash those pearly whites and watch your friends dance, karaoke, tell work-related stories, and get jiggy. They’ll remember you being a sweet, saint-like creature, and little did they know you were just half-conscious from pain. Talk about a party trick!
Nope, parties just aren’t as fun as they used to be. And please don’t go around asking people what I USED to do at parties… (seriously, don’t). But it’s still great to get out and make memories whenever we are able. And when you are not able, know the party won’t be the same without you.
Merry Christmas, happy holidays!
This is one of my favorite pieces I published in 2014. A snarky spin on the old Emily Post / “Miss Manners” columns from the 1950’s.
Think of the nervous system like a boombox up on your shoulder, 80’s style, playing sweet jams at all times. When the body is healthy, balanced, and running smoothly, the music playing from your system’s radio station are your favorite hits at the perfect volume, and your drop-in harmonies are totally on point.
When the nervous system is out of sync, those beats flowing from your station are tragic- like the song you hate most, on the loudest setting, playing over and over again. You can’t change the station, no matter what lengths you go to!
When you have a chronic neurological condition like Parkinson’s, Multiple Sclerosis, Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, or Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome for example, it’s as though someone traded out your cool retro stereo system for an old broken down radio. You can play records on it sometimes, and it’s AMAZING to listen to any music again when you’re not in a flare or a relapse, but even then, all the records have scratches on them, so the music is constantly skipping and warped. The stereo’s wiring gets so bad over time that the record player doesn’t work anymore, and your radio only receives static.
A chronically malfunctioning nervous system is like listening to a broken radio stuck on static at full volume constantly.
When the “music” or the nervous system’s wiring is flowing properly from the brain throughout the body, pain receptors react to appropriate painful stimuli, telling us when there is a problem, and the pain subsides when the problem is resolved. When we have “faulty wiring” we may experience hypersensitivity to touch, sound, light or even smells so intense that it can cause a severely painful reaction. Think of raw wires on the end of electronics sparking and flaming just to the slightest touch.
The malfunctioning nervous system might react to normal stimulus with severe increased pain, increased stress may cause a seizure, or in others severe tremors and body spasms may occur. For some with POTS, (Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome), a loud noise or changing positions can cause the body to completely check out, going into fight or flight mode, and beginning to pass out, or passing out completely.
Going back to the stereo analogy, imagine being invited to a party where the DJ had a broken stereo system, playing static on blast or his stereo catching fire in front of everyone. That’s exactly what it’s like to live with a chronic neurological disease…well, sort of.
Meditation, spirituality, organized religion, trying to improve sleep, and other stress reducing efforts are ways we try to turn down the knob on the stereo. Medications, alternative therapies, eating well, surrounding ourselves with positive support are all ways we can continue turning the knob down little by little. The static kicks out on full blast each day, and we use our tools to adjust or manage the incoming noise levels. We may not have the ability to turn the station away from the blaring static and back to music, but we can attempt to turn the volume down so it isn’t blasting constantly every day.
Invasive and surgical approaches to treating neurological diseases are like kicking the side of your stereo to try to get it to work again. Jolting it hard enough may coax the system to finally play music once again, or you might kick it so hard that you completely break your stereo. For many, surgery and invasive treatments are worth a risk of causing additional problems for the possibility of returning to good health and functioning.
That’s my super-scientific explanation of the nervous system, and how it’s exactly like a boom box. So…. this analogy might not end up in a medical school text book, but if it helped anyone better understand an aspect of neurological disease, or put a smile on your face, then virtual high fives all around!
As chronic illness sufferers, we are so often reminded of something that I believe is of great detriment to our well being. When well people tell us that our health struggles, our personal challenges, the great storms of our lives will some day be of use. I’ve grown to loathe this idea. I realize that it is meant to be an encouragement, however, it causes myself and my brothers and sisters in pain deeper despair. “Some day?” It’s as though they are reminding us that we don’t have as much to give until we are restored to health. I completely reject anything of the sort!
I believe that you and I are worthy and valuable just as we are. Yes, right now. You were no more “special” when your nervous system was working properly, but I can attest that the memory of wellness certainly has a shining halo around it.
We feel so small and insignificant after illness devours our lives, and those we love in its wake. There is no “after the tsunami lifts” with chronic illness, as we are always seeking out cover, our safe places are constantly being destroyed, and the physical and emotional turmoil can feel endless. My only peace is in God, a relationship which has grown inside of my own tsunami.
This is a message I try to frequent on this page because I struggle so deeply with the whispers that my life isn’t enough, I should be doing more, and I would be so much more valuable as a person if only my body worked again. This is my pride speaking!
In those moments when the whispers win, I have forgotten how many opportunities I’m supplied with to have an impact, even in the very midst of my personal battles. Maybe, and probably because of my personal struggles, I’ve been allowed these chances. What seemingly small opportunities and connections might you be taking for granted in your own life?
The next time someone reminds you that all the pain you are battling will be worth something some day, please remind them that pain doesn’t have to stay hidden, and that your time traveling the path of illness isn’t a waste.
I don’t believe we must wait until we are perfect for our lives to have value. If that’s true, then we will all be waiting forever! Are we meant to see the silver lining in every storm before God can give us purpose through it? Even in the very midst of the battle, your story, your experience, your willingness to relate to and comfort others is so rare and valuable that it stands out among the noise and busy crowded world we live in.
It’s so easy to withdraw when the going gets tough. In time, however, we feel so marginalized and isolated. You do have a voice. Your story, your purpose, your personal gifts matter- and you are needed in this world.
We undervalue the quiet connections, asking others how they are and listening in return, sending a note by mail to a struggling friend, or letting someone know they have been in your prayers. Society does not measure these acts as successes, but what if you redefine success? You may have very little energy to spare, but what you have to share is precious.
I believe God’s measure of success looks much different than our own. We become so focused on perfection, staying hidden until the right moment to present ourselves shiny and clean, having overcome our difficult and uncomfortable circumstances. This is what the rest of the world applauds. But don’t we each have unique and valuable lessons to share that come with the daily perseverance of ongoing disease?
It’s one thing to be crippled by a body that relentlessly fights against you, but please don’t believe the lie that you are less-than or it will cripple your spirit.
What is the difference between positive thinking and healthy coping?
“Keep thinking positively!”
“Keep your chin up!”
These are very common cliche responses we hear from society as individuals with ongoing health difficulties. They aren’t incorrect responses, but when those responding seem to believe this is truly how we handle the horrible pain/illness, terrifying future of further health concerns, and crushing regular losses which all come with long-term illness, then encouraging “positive thinking” alone can have quite a negative fallout.
For example, if one is in severe pain (meaning pain worse than a fracture or pain worse than childbirth, but constant, daily, and indefinite) after years, with treatments only failing, and close friends continue to say, “stay positive” as their only source of inspiration, will those words be uplifting over time? No, the attempt at encouragement over time will add to your feelings of isolation, making you feel increasingly deflated, rather than the intention of making you feel more positive, optimistic, and empowered.
Would you say, “suck it up” to a friend who is grieving over the loss of a parent? I certainly hope not. Essentially, this is the idea surrounding “positive thinking.” The concept that the more we “suck it up,” the better off we will be, and the stronger we are.
PS, Our bodies work exactly the opposite of this construct.
The more we avoid pain, the more we distract ourselves from our true emotions (not negative emotions, but real emotions), the more likely our bodies are to feel the stress fallout and rage against us. One with a chronic disease would do well to minimize stress; we know this from immense research (and I can tell you this from my own personal research on chronic pain and chronic illness!).
Minimizing stress is not equal to avoiding difficult emotions or distracting from pain. We have to face our pain and emotions, recognize them, meet them, and accompany them through our lives. They won’t allow us to abandon them, and we know that trying to do so only causes added difficulty down the road.
In Positive Thinking, saying “sure, I’m doing fine” may make others more comfortable temporarily, but it is not necessarily “healthy” for you or for the relationship. Positive Thinking encourages us to become more closed off, in turn others also allow more distance to grow until the relationship diminishes. They realize everything is far from “fine” but both take part in a ritual of pretending everything is wonderful because it’s far more comfortable than confronting the reality.
“Healthy coping… differs from the popular notion of “positive thinking.” It implies the capacity to tolerate and express concerns and emotions not just the ability to put anxieties aside. Being able to discuss the anxieties, uncertainties and fears, losses and sadness that usually accompany severe illness is generally helpful, despite the pressure commonly exerted by family and friends for the patient to always “keep a positive out-look.”25 “Positive thinking” may represent an attempt to avoid confronting the distress of chronic illness, and doctors who care for these patients and their families are not immune to such patterns of coping.” Quote from a study in -Emotional Demensions of Chronic Disease
So often during the course of chronic disease, we have to make choices between the temporary comfort of others, and protecting our own welfare. Regularly, our bodies make that decision for us and force us to miss out. Especially then, healthy coping is paramount! It helps us re-gain some footing again. The openness in healthy coping encourages sharing, allowing others around you to understand where you are, what happened in the situation, how they might play a role in being there for you, and how you can be there for them. It lets others know you aren’t too fragile to listen to them and what they are going through, either. Most likely, those around you are feeling helpless, and would like to be there for you, but don’t know how- or how to ask. Being specific in our needs can help us find our own voice, and being more open also can help others who care about us join in on our “support team.”
Fair warning, most will not know how to respond appropriately, but you may be surprised who is game to see how they can be there for you in big or small ways. In being more open, you may also find that your example sets off a chain reaction in others to become more open with you in how they are doing as well. Healthy coping is so much more contagious than positive thinking, because it encourages support, connection, and community!
Isn’t positive thinking the same as optimism? No. Optimism has more to do with responsibility, letting go of guilt, and looking to the past, present and future without seeing yourself as a burden. I recommend reading the book, Learned Optimism by Martin Seligman.
Healthy Coping differs from Positive Thinking in that healthy coping requires us to lean into our feelings- both physically and mentally. Checking in with ourselves periodically, and then making minor adjustments to our lives to course correct for better balance. This may mean you need more rest, more exercise, more time with friends, another visit to a doctor, see a psychologist, open up to a good friend, eat differently, spend more time focused on your spiritual life, take better care of yourself, etc. Chronic illness requires us to make these adjustments frequently instead of thinking everything is going to work itself out until the ignored symptoms or stress build up. Healthy Coping may be the more deliberate, mindful path, but it is the path of self care instead of conveying a false smile.
To start making these adjustments, we can ask, “How are you?” instead of “Are you ok?” A yes or no question forces us to choose only negative or positive, however, healthy coping encourages others to share and touch base with one another and ourselves- this is how support and compassion are built. We don’t have to choose sides in healthy coping. Try not to think of your days as being good or bad, black or white, suffering or overcoming, but instead- working to find balance every day, always learning from your body and those around you, and doing the best you can now, in this moment.
Dear State Representative,
Myself and my family are very excited about all of the things you are doing to support those with disabilities. My father heard you speak on the issues of pain medication and addiction, and trying to find common ground so both pain diseases and addiction disease can be treated simultaneously. That is a stance we in the chronic pain community are very excited to hear and support you in that!
In case you did not know about this newly proposed opioid tax, I wanted to give you a little information.
It is proposed that opioid pain medication will be taxed one cent per milligram to fund treatments for addiction.
As you can imagine, those with chronic pain diseases like Lupus, Multiple Sclerosis, CRPS/RSD, Fibromyalgia, or post-cancer pain would be paying for addiction treatments while those with addiction will just buy their drugs illegally instead of paying a raised price from the pharmacy.
Because this tax proposed is “per milligram,” those suffering with the most severe, most debilitating cases of degenerative neurological pain will likely have the most un-affordable pharmaceutical pain management care, as our doses are typically higher, as you might imagine.
As I am a newly single woman, more recently on disability, I know that the government works hard to keep drug prices low for those with disabilities. A tax will only make pain medication more un-affordable for those who are spending all of their funds on medical care as is. If this tax is passed on pain medication, it will begin a precedent to tax other RX drugs. It’s one cent now, but it won’t stop there.
Since the CDC’s federal guidelines on opioid control, chronic pain patients are struggling to find pain management care with good pain doctors who are not afraid to treat us. Deaths and overdoses continue to rise. Deaths of people in pain, who are without treatment, and deaths from those who are addicts, continuing to overdose. The guidelines do not work! The tax will not work either.
Again, pain patients are being forced to pay for a disease (addiction) which is not our own. The tax would exclude hospice patients, but what about pain patients who are bedbound like myself? What about those of us who have tried every treatment available and medication therapy is the only option that doesn’t worsen our conditions? What about those trying to maintain a somewhat functional life through chronic pain, and to keep off of permanent disability, taking medications is the only way to continue working and participating in family life?
Medical treatments should never be a punishment. Is this a “sin” tax? Am I sinning? Why should I be ashamed of having an illness I didn’t choose? I am alive in part because of my medications, and so are many, many people! That is nothing to be ashamed of.
Will diabetic medications be taxed to help treat cancer? Maybe Methadone, Suboxone, and Narcan (addiction medications) could be taxed to pay for chronic pain treatment facilities! We are certainly in need of those.
Thank you for using your platform to speak for people like myself.
Please do write your representative today, so a ludicrous tax like this would never get passed. No time to waste!
To be thankful while you are suffering is one thing, but to be thankful for suffering….
Once in a while in the support group I administrate, there is someone who makes a statement that is so powerful, it catches me off guard and it sets my soul on fire. In truth, this isn’t a rare occurrence. I guess you could say that those suffering so deeply every single moment of the day have some profound insights to share. One thing that inspires me the most is when people say they are thankful for their illness. That is a bold statement that I believe one would never come to lightly- and no one would EVER openly say something so provocative in a support group setting among a band of individuals with severe chronic diseases, unless they truly meant it. That’s why it always gives me pause whenever I hear such powerful expressions.
It’s not unusual for those who go through a near death experience or a serious short term illness to find deeper meaning and purpose. It’s no less real, but it is more common when the storms have an end, and suffering can be left behind. While it’s not rare for those with ongoing illness to eventually find new ways to appreciate life again, to say they are grateful for their illness, it is so much more rare in cases of chronic disease. Why? Because an illness that is daily, constant, and does not see an end- is far easier to hate than to get excited about. A condition which may be degenerative, becoming more painful and physically or mentally compromising over time, isn’t easily beloved…as you can imagine. To me, it’s almost a miracle hearing that anyone would be happy or thankful that they became so sick. Others with chronic illness can find statements like these offensive, even. These ideas of “illness gratitude” certainly border on the extreme, but make one wonder where their personal journeys have lead them to truly embrace their infirmities.
I’ve heard people claim to be thankful they are in pain and chronically ill because it transformed their lives. It made them see the world in a different light. Their conditions allowed them to shake off the clutter and stress of a life that they realized didn’t have substance, and focus on a life of greater meaning and value. They once believed losing their career meant losing their purpose, but I’ve spoken to those who say that they are so thankful they became ill because now they found their true calling. Some have said that their new life of chronic illness has enabled them to be there for people in ways they never could have in their “healthy” life, so they are forever thankful for their new sick bodies, and how useful they can be to others through deeper compassion and connection. Sometimes people are grateful they are in pain because it has brought them closer to their faith, and they cherish a higher spiritual connection they never could have had without constantly being pushed to the edge of what they can endure. They are forced to cling to God instead of their own strength, and in that comfort, they find gratitude for suffering that brought them more enrichment spiritually.
Again, these are extreme statements, but thought provoking and inspiring nonetheless!
Most often, people I encounter long for a cure or pray to be healed. That’s normal, and that’s not at all unhealthy. Research in psychology equates the loss of health or a limb to losing a family member or spouse passing away. It’s earth-shattering. The losses just keep coming. With chronic illness, the grief starts over again and again. It’s cavernous, and there’s no end to the emotional roller coaster or the physical fight. Hoping for a cure, for healing, or for remission is what we all are desperate for, and that focus can at times become crucial for survival. But for some of us, restoration of health becomes a worship in itself, and begins to supersede everything else. Seeking a cure or healing can become such a focus that illness becomes nothing but a betrayal of God, of government, of doctors, and family. Nothing feels real except wellness and full restoration.
Obviously these are 2 opposite sides of the spectrum, and balance is always the goal.
When I was diagnosed at 22, I spent the first years asking God WHY? Staying up every night in excruciating pain, my leg felt as though it was breaking, nerves like being electrocuted and burning pain like nothing I could have ever imagined before. Full body spasms, tremors, the room spinning, my heart racing and palpitating, wondering how I had planned and worked so hard for everything that had lead me here, just to lose it to this “incurable degenerative” condition that no one seemed to be taking very seriously to help me try recover from. It didn’t make any sense. As much as I tried to analyze it, I couldn’t crack the code. It only made sense for me to get better, so I searched for my panacea, and prayed (demanding) that God must heal me. At the time, I wasn’t a big prayer person, but illness has a way of connecting you to your higher power. In the Bible, yes, there is healing, but there is also so much pain. The importance of learning through pain, finding ways to share strength or comfort inside of infirmities, these are scriptures that have been so encouraging to me.
I eventually felt lead to make a decision. I believed God would heal me, and I still do believe that is true. But, I decided that if I was going to spend any period of time living a “sick life” I was going to explore it. As much as I was desperate to go back in time, moving forward is all I could do, it’s all any of us can do- Even if it’s slowly, frightened, and with tears in our eyes.
I cannot go as far as saying that I am thankful I am chronically ill. I can say that at almost 12 years, I’m so grateful I made that decision to press forward and try to find myself inside of this life. If I had stayed so distracted by my past, or so focused on what I might be losing in the future, I would have missed every bit of the beauty, the miracles, the blessings, the generosity of others, the opportunities to be of use, and purpose found inside of this pain.
More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. Romans 5:3-5
I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:10
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. Romans 8:18
When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul. Psalm 94:19
It’s “Wordless Wednesday” again, and here I am cheating (how can I resist you, words?).
If you’re confused about the spoon reference, those of us with chronic illness measure our energy with “spoons” ( See more here on: 10,000 Spoons, If Only: Why the chronically ill love Spoons). If life were the Soup Nazi from Seinfeld, this month, he would be yelling out his classic line at me, chronic illness style: “No Spoon for you!”
Not even one??
I hope you’ll have better luck.
Today, May 12th is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/SEID) and Fibromyalgia World Awareness Day. This blogger @ Tips for ME discusses the mysteries of ME/CFS. Particularly interesting to me is the “Canary” or sensitivities aspect, which after 5 years, my doctors still haven’t been able to understand why I can hardly tolerate my own voice, sounds, lights, or smells. Chemical sensitivities alone can be such a confining aspect of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/ME for so many CFS/ME sufferers.
Thank you for checking out a few of these enlightening ME/CFS facts, life wisdom, and helping raise awareness today!
This ’10 insights’ #May12BlogBomb post is a perspective from the awareness of having ME, looking outwards at the world through the lens of ME. I believe that people with ME (pwme) have useful observations to contribute to society, perhaps a little akin to Old Testament minor prophets. This can be compared to the voices of other marginalised people groups, such as the queer community, the Equal Rights Movement and feminism. Each marginalised group gains different insights on life, related to their specific barriers to inclusion.
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