“Life will break you.
Nobody can protect you from that,
and living alone won’t either,
for solitude will also break you with its yearning.
You have to love.
You have to feel.
It is the reason you are here on earth.
You are here to risk your heart.
You are here to be swallowed up.
And when it happens that you are broken,
or betrayed, or left, or hurt,
or death brushes near,
let yourself sit by an apple tree
and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps,
wasting their sweetness.
Tell yourself you tasted as many as you could.”
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.
I got a new working phone yesterday for my birthday! Woot woot!
I’m still playing around with it, but I have to say that it’s kind of stingy on the emoticons.
You don’t realize how far down the emoticon rabbit hole you’ve gone until all of those little faces are suddenly ripped from your life like a big yellow blur. (Insert sad face here)
Goodbye winky face: you helped me keep my foot out of my mouth so, so, so many times. (insert yikes face here) Now, I’ll have to rely on the ‘LOL’ to save me from myself.
Farewell Tear face: How will anyone know I’m sad? Words just don’t do what one little tear face can.
Mr. Smiley Face, I will miss you the most. Your good old classic “I’m smiling” demeanor may be overused, may at times be the inappropriate emoticon for people to utilize and get on my nerves (rolling eyes face), but you never get old. Keep on smiling, Mr. Smiley!
(Insert 2 laughing faces, winky, and blowing kiss face)
Yep, I would have nailed those emoticons (thumbs up symbol to myself).
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?
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.
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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