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If you feel down and useless today: Chronic Illness and Chronic Pain

If you’ve been glued to your couch or imprisoned in your bed because of chronic disease or intractable pain…then you may feel trapped, hopeless, even useless. Are you getting tired of staring at the same 4 walls and know that you’ve been made for more?

Whatever you’re feeling right now, your feelings are completely valid given everything you’re going through. Whether you’re feeling depressed or hopeless, frustrated at doctors, even angry at God, all of those feelings are understandable and very difficult emotions to process.

You’ve lost so much in the battle with your health. It’s okay to grieve over your life, and grieve the loss of your health. You built a good life, and the threat of physical invasion is more mentally overwhelming than anyone around you could possibly realize. You didn’t choose this battle, but you’re in it nonetheless.

It’s important to give yourself permission to mourn the things you’re losing. That’s what people mean when they say “be kind to yourself” or “give yourself a break.” Self compassion isn’t the same as self pity. In fact, self loathing begins to dissipate when self compassion enters the picture. If you would show love and tenderness to your daughter or grandmother in your situation, then do the same for yourself. You’re worthy of that care. Dig deep and find understanding and patience for yourself (even if other people around you haven’t).

When we say chronic illness is a “battle,” that’s part of it. Being a warrior is choosing to treat your body with patience instead of anger- even though you may not feel your body deserves your understanding for how it has betrayed you. Being a warrior is giving yourself dignity simply because you’re human, and worthy of it no matter your health or ability status. Being a warrior is staying in this game of life, even when leaving feels like your only option. Of course, battling chronic illness refers to the rigors of healthcare and living through the “hell” in health, but it also refers to giving understanding to the people who don’t understand us in return.

Then, consider finding something constructive to do from exactly where you are. Whether that’s offering to moderate in your favorite online support group, or taking a free web course for something enjoyable (see Domestika.org), getting involved in a weekly Bible study online with a friend (see YouVersion app plans), an online book club over zoom, or getting into a new hobby that you can do laying down.

I know your brain is pushing back with all the reasons you can’t do it, and may already be making you feel that it’s a pointless cause, etc. That’s the same part of your brain that likes to tell you that you’re lazy, and says that no one actually cares about you– it’s just not true, my friend. You’re not lazy, you’re ill. People do care, but they may not know exactly what you need right now. That ugly little gremlin in our brains is a straight up liar.

Just find one new thing, and try it out temporarily. You don’t know where it will lead, who it will impact, and how one small change will help you in the long run.

Your job never defined you in the first place. You are still you and you are still on your journey ❤

You are loved. You are not alone. Please take good care of yourself,

Mary

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Join us at the disabled art share group Chronically Inspired on Facebook where we share our adapted projects, and encourage each other to get back into doing the things we once loved.

Chronic Illness and Surrender

Oh friends, life is such a journey…. faith is such a journey. And I must admit that I get very weary. Like ground down to a fine powder kind of weary.

It is easy to say that God is in control. I know some who revert to that message like it is their refrain between sentences. We continue to push and plan and overcome, and then get angry at Him when WE fail.

When I was diagnosed with chronic pain in 2004, I felt like my adult life was just getting rolling. I had big dreams, and I was determined to keep moving forward with my own plans. 

My body was deteriorating quickly, however. I was taking so many medications, doing bizarre and worsening treatments as an attempt to keep up with family, home, work, college, church, small group, and any of my spare time I spent in a zombified pain daze on the couch. 

No matter what walking aids I needed, no matter the sickening treatment, no matter what the doctors said about “progression,” I WOULD NOT be diverted from achieving my original goals. 

I was in control

Though my body lashed back at me, I fought and squirmed and raged against it- to keep going on my path


Surrender is a difficult topic or act for most of us to comprehend.

I have always struggled to relinquish control, so everything about the idea of surrender goes against my nature. I wonder if anyone else reading this can relate to the word perfectionist as much as I could?

Years ago, when I was having ketamine infusions to try to tame my RSD/CRPS pain, I would interfere with the nurse’s vitals setup. In my mind I was helping, but to them I was only getting in the way, of course. 

“Do you want to do this yourself?” a nurse once snapped at me. 

Oops, I thought. But then…I knew my answer would have been, “yes.”

Why? Why do I think I’m the one who will always be most effective at doing for myself, even when others have my very best interest in mind? 

Then 6 years ago, after an experimental treatment they tried on me failed, I suddenly developed several comorbidities which have changed my life dramatically. My pain condition progressed far faster and worse than I ever imagined possible.

They say, don’t let chronic illness take over your life. But when your life becomes about: Breathing. Eating. Drinking. There is no “let” only “become.” 

Illness can become your life if survival becomes your new goal

There are some conditions you can’t fight through. You endure them. They change your body, and you are forced to adapt. You hit your “wall” every time you open your eyes. 

Surrender is the choice that my body made for me. It tells me I don’t have another option but to bow to its wishes.

I lay here still and unspeaking, careful not to sway the already offset balance. But the moment I move or eat or swallow or make a sound, my flesh laughs at me. My already swirling, screaming, breath-begging body will burst into flames and melt into nothingness. 

The world tells me to push, to fight, to Just. Keep. Going.

But I learn quickly that there is no push  in this game. Only tricks, and cheats, and strategy. 

It’s a chess match on a board I’ve never seen before, and my opponent is the only one with the rulebook.

Illness owns my body. 

There is no free will flesh. There is no- push for one more minute.  There is no- if I just take this pill.

This body has been exchanged, kidnapped, swapped for a rag doll.

Once, asking for help seemed an impossible exception only made in the most dire of circumstances. 

Now, all of my physical and earthly necessities selflessly come from the hands of those I most admire. The eyes I have always looked up to- now see me at my worst. My body gives me no choice but to surrender to their gentle hands, but my heart is humbled and grateful to receive the gifts of their bottomless compassion. What better picture of mercy than this? 

What better picture of grace?

Control freak. Feeling like a freak of nature. My natural systems are out of control. And nothing can be done, but wait. But pray. 

Miss “plan for tomorrow.” Plan for your dreams. Dream big. Don’t give up. Your body gives up.

My body forces surrender on its own schedule- though my Creator waits patiently. While my body may act as a prison, forcing the white flag of my systems- my spirit goes of its own fruition. The more I relinquish control, the more grace is endowed.

God is in control, they say. They say it like an empty cliche. 

Control is something I have owned. And something that has owned me. And God doesn’t control my will. I surrender it to Him. Child to Father. Tired, weak soul to loving, strength-lending Savior. 

In this broken body, I see freedom.

(Re-posted from 2015)

Sliding Doors: An exercise in “What If”

“Pieces” self portrait

Sometimes I feel as though I’ve slipped into an alternate dimension. Like there’s another version of me living simultaneously while I live my own life. She’s the same age. Her appearance is relatively the same. But somewhere along my lifeline, she and I took different paths. I am living out this fate, and she is living out another. 

I’ve always tried to steer clear of asking what if. It never seems to serve any purpose other than cause unneeded longing and regret. But, after the last few years, and all of the sudden changes, my mind is sputtering to catch up. I’m left with the feeling of… displacement. This what if exercise is definitely risk to me emotionally. If played out fully, I hope it will help me sweep the shattered bits back over into my dustpan. 

This past year, I can’t help but feel as though I’m in the wrong life. I can’t shake it. 

imagine what another version of life might be now. I dive into the best and worst of my soul twin, and play out her footsteps. 

I sort through the details of her life. There is hurt, longing, and regret of unfulfilled dreams that come along with playing out these fantasies. I’m afraid of going through the looking glass. How deeply will this cut me? But in the end, I hope the exercise will help in some way. 

It’s like the movie Sliding Doors; I imagine myself making one different choice and living out my life in a parallel universe. 

In one reality, I’m still married. I never fell down those stairs in 2004, we had 2 amazing children, and I have the career in psychology I once hoped for. In this reality, I’m just as outgoing, adventurous and fun-loving as I was at 20. This version of me loves her work, she loves helping people in new and experimental ways, and if she ever finds time, she hopes to write a book about her work some day. I imagine her life busily driving her children to baseball and soccer, standing back stage smiling at ballet recitals, and taking pictures at music festivals with her beautiful family. She loves her children and husband unconditionally, they have a house filled with laughter, and they show her love and affection in return. Every couple months she sells handmade jewelry at an art fair- this is when she feels most like herself. Even though she counsels others effectively, she never had time to resolve the issues from her own childhood, and it shows now in her behavior with her/my parents. She empathizes well with her patients, but she doesn’t understand their suffering, and is frustrated when she can’t fix their problems. Her family stopped going to church and volunteering together- she deeply regrets that for her kids. 

Maybe I chose differently after high school graduation, and followed my dream of aid and mission work. Another Mary has been living in a far-off village building wells and working with abused young women for several years. She has collected a different language for every country she has lived in, and always looks forward to her next project. She never married, and rarely regrets the decision to stay single and forgo becoming a mother. She is strong and healthy, but tired, and isn’t quite sure where home is anymore. She wishes she could fly back to the states each time a friend or family member asks her to come to their wedding, birthday…or hospital bedside. She lives a life most can’t understand, but she wouldn’t trade her life of service for anyone else’s. 

There’s yet another version of me who never moved away from New York City. She stayed on the path to pursue an art career. This version of me has short, messy bleach blonde hair, and wears an old motorcycle jacket she stole from an ex boyfriend. She works at her friend’s bakery so she can pay her bills. This Mary struggles with depression, but the angst feeds her art so she doesn’t get help. The mental illness ruins her romantic relationships, so she’s lonely in a big city. She has a modest art following online, and has a large network of colorful friends who keep her very busy. She sings in an indie band for fun, writes art reviews for a small magazine, and volunteers teaching sewing classes to inner city youth on the weekends. In her heart, she hoped she would have found more success by now, but tries to remind herself, art isn’t about accolades. 

I imagined my existence if I had been born into one of the many communities of the world where healthcare is nearly non-existent. Like most of the world, I wouldn’t have been born into priveledge, with affordable doctors nearby. I wouldn’t have had wholesome food to eat daily, and may have been exposed to the elements, civil war, and sexual acts of violence against girls. If I had developed the very same condition at 22, I wouldn’t be alive at 35. That version of me wouldn’t exist. I would have died a slow, painful death, like so many others with the same diseases that we in the US call “chronic,” and manage day to day, other parts of the world calls them “terminal”. 


The door slides again. I step back through the wormhole. 
I’m here in my life. In my own body. In my own bed. In my own reality. There is no other fate than mine. There is no other Mary.

This was a challenging, yet powerful exercise- but it did hurt. There were others I didn’t write about here. In the end, it was a success, I did shake off that alternate dimension feeling. 

This is the life that was set aside for me. In all of the realities I could imagine, this is the only one where I’ve been molded, strengthened, and shaped to conquer my specific challenges. I am the person whose eyes are prepared to see unique beauty only I might see. I’ll leave only one set of footprints behind when I’m gone. 

There is no wormhole I’ll ever slip into. No sliding door waiting for me to step through and merge into my rightful life. 

I’m not entitled to any other existence. 

This is my one and only life, with all of its shortcomings, pains, privileges, hopes, and unknown future. 

It’s not over yet.

Second Annual Disability Pride Parade in NYC!

Today was the second annual Disability Pride parade in NYC! 

Here in this video you’ll see disabled individuals dancing together to commence the opening of the parade. This dance speaks to the nature of disability- the diverse disabilities we can see with our eyes, and those which are invisible.

As you watch the video, and think about some of the reasons for a parade like this…

Many who have declining health feel ashamed of their bodies, and in time, may also feel ashamed of themselves. Friends stop reaching out as health issues just sound like “drama” to most people who have never faced a health crisis. So many have been forced to leave behind a career, or dreams they once held dear. Although it sounds harsh, it’s not uncommon at all for family members to tease or bully as individuals change physically and/or mentally, leaving them extremely self conscious. People can be very judgmental of body shapes, walking aids, and challenges that are unfamiliar. Others are quick to call out what they see as “inconsistencies.” Even strangers in public call those in wheel chairs “liars at times when they don’t understand that paralysis isn’t the only reason one might need the aid of wheels, or that a handicapped parking spot might be needed by someone who can walk normally.

It’s no wonder that people start to lose their self worth, and isolate themselves as a disability changes them.

You know what? FORGET EVERYONE!

So, this isn’t a news flash, but people don’t get it, and they don’t get you. You, my dear, have so much to be proud of, and SO MUCH to share with the world! 

You are an over-comer, a warrior, a never-giving-up, wheel rolling, cane sporting, walker toting, re-inventing, hope finding, doing it anyway, sometimes invisible illness (but never invisible)- always working to conquer your challenges: BRAVE fighter! Heck yes you should be proud!!!

You don’t have to prove how much pain you’re in every day, how badly cancer changed your body, you don’t have to show your prosthetic, or tell anyone what your mental illness is… unless you want to. You are living proof of pure strength. You don’t have to work to be an inspiration to anyone, but hey- you already are, kiddo. You’re pretty spectacular just the way you are, in the body you have right now.

Please don’t keep your amazing self on lock down. You’re the only you this world will ever have! Heart (((hugs))) going out

What do you think of the Disability Pride Parade? How are you #DisabilityProud in your own life? 

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