Saturday, November 23, 2013

Conversations with God About My Health

I have been hesitant to share this story, but I feel now is the right time.  Please know that it's a very tender story for me.

In the late spring/early summer of 2001 I went to bed for a year and a half.  So tired.  Barely able to care for my children.  Very difficult time for me and our family.  Over time I slowly pulled out of that darkness.  But I have been very low energy and fatigued ever since.  It's like I'm constantly running on batteries with very little juice.

Then, in July 2005, I got a severe headache that wouldn't go away.  MRIs and all kind of tests and treatments found/did nothing.  I still have the headache.  It varies in intensity, but it's always there.

So I am always exhausted and always in pain.

Most days I just roll with it.  It's my life and I've grown accustomed. Other days I get very sad and frustrated about all the things I want to do but can't.  This story starts with one of those days.

I had a friend who had gone through some similar health issues.  He'd tried many treatments and made many changes in his life.  And he felt better.  He found his way back to good health and energy.

Shortly after hearing him speak of how he changed his life/health, I sent the following email to a friend documenting my experience/feelings:

Last week I went in for my physical.  As I talked with my doctor he decided he wanted to add some extra tests to my blood work.  Basically, there were something like 5-10 additional tests he wanted to run.  Looking for the cause of my ever-dwindling energy.  This has been my primary concern.  I would gladly keep the headache if I could just feel better, more energy, like I could function.

So today my test results came back.  And there was nothing unusual in them.  They didn't show any problems.  No new direction to try a new treatment.

To say the least, I was frustrated and disappointed.  I began to get depressed.

I found myself in my room crying.  I asked why I can't seem to feel better.  Not really in prayer, just a thought.  I was answered.  "You can't do the work I need you to do if you feel better."

I'll admit I responded with, "That's stupid."

I got past that.  I was told that I can choose not to help with this work and I would be healed.  I would get better very quickly if I decided that I didn't want to do what He needed me to do.

Of course, there was no way I could do that.  I will not put my own comfort before the work He has for me.  I just couldn't do that.

I can, and should, continue working on improving my basic health.  Try to improve my habits.  I will not be healed before my role in this work is complete -- maybe never.  He has a plan for my life and I need to trust that.

There is a great deal of peace in knowing this.  I have felt an outpouring of love from Him.  I know that my doctors and I are not missing something.  We could look forever and try everything and I would not be healed.  My struggle is not about biology. 

I have also been in a state of mourning most of the day.  While I accept this and it helps to know, it is difficult to let go of what I want.

I do not see it this as a punishment or God hurting me for His purposes; I see it as a blessing, an opportunity.  It will take some time to adjust my mindset, but it will happen.
 
I am sad right now.  But I am at peace.

That was two and a half years ago.  I still get frustrated, but that conversation continues to bring me strength.

Some time after that initial conversation I found myself in a terrible depression.  I'd been working hard to take care of myself physically and emotionally.  I'd worked so hard in therapy.  I'd been depression free for a long time.  Then I was slammed back into the darkness.

And as I sobbed on my bedroom floor, curled up in emotional pain, I found my heart asking the question again, "I thought I had this beat.  Why am I here again, in this dark place?"

And I heard, quietly and lovingly, "You said yes."

I was overwhelmed with God's love and support and gratitude.  He knew it was hard.  He knew I could do the work He needed.  He also knew it was worth it.

And that was enough.  It's still enough.  I still get frustrated and sad.  But I have never regretted saying yes.  So if you hear my story and ask how I can smile and be content with my life, now you know.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Surrounded by Rattlesnakes

When I was fourteen, our family spent a week on a houseboat on Lake Powell, a beautiful man-made reservoir in the desert of southern Utah.  My mom, not to be deterred from her traditional schedule, got up each morning and went walking/hiking through the rocks and sand and sagebrush.  She had to go early because it got very hot very quickly.

As she was walking one day, she heard a sound that stopped her in her tracks.  She heard the distinctive warning of a rattlesnake.  She knew the sound.  She knew what it meant.  She immediately froze to assess her situation.

One step in front of her was a rattlesnake, sunning itself on the warm rocks.  She pivoted to find a better direction to go and found another snake.  And another.  She was surrounded.  She has no idea how she got into that spot without being bitten.  But she knew she had to get out of it.

Very cautiously, she made her way back and out.  And straight back to the houseboat to share her story.  And the next day she changed her walking practice: telling others which way she was going, carrying a stick, walking a little more slowly and alertly.

I thought of this story as I was pondering the things that keep me frozen.  I have something I need to do or a decision to make.  I don't know how to handle it or if I am even capable of handling it.  But I feel like I have to do it before I can get on to other things because it's so important.  But I don't know what to do, so I freeze.  I do nothing.  Sometimes for a long time.

I freeze as surely as my mom did when she was surrounded by rattlesnakes.  My fear of making a decision can be just as powerful as her fear was in that moment.  She had a very real fear for her life; programmed by nature for her safety.  What am I afraid of?  Where did that programming come from?  Does it protect me?

Wouldn't it be great if I could answer all those questions right now?  Well, I can't.  I'm still working on it.  But I think that by asking the questions, I can make progress.

One thing I've found that helps when I am stuck like that is to make a different decision or tackle a different problem, one I feel capable of confronting.  That allows for movement.  It keeps me from being frozen.  And the tiny high I get from having done something -- anything -- can be enough to keep me moving sometimes.

But first I have to realize I am stuck.  And I have to force myself to trust that the thing I don't know how to do isn't a rattlesnake and I'm not surrounded.  I have to look for another path out instead of staring at the scary thing hoping it doesn't kill me.

I workin' on it.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Rerun: Taking Pleasure in Another's Pain

This is actually a rerun from one of my other blogs, The Difficult Things.  I don't write there anymore.  As I've healed, I've gotten to the point that I feel I can share all the parts of me here.

That blog was for the dark things in my life.  There are still dark things, but I don't hide them from others anymore.

The Difficult Things was very important as I worked to shine light into those shadowy parts.  As I did so, I gained wisdom.  It still helps me to go back and read what I learned then.

I offer this to you, hoping it might shine a light into a shadowy area you or a loved one are avoiding due to fear or misunderstanding.

Taking Pleasure in Another's Pain

I was recently accused of gaining pleasure from hurting another person.  Initially it stung.  I got defensive. 

Then I realized that this person was striking out from a place of pain.  I was sad that she either didn't know me very well or couldn't see things as they really are because of her pain.

Other people's pain.  I've spent a great deal of my life concerned about other people's pain, especially pain I caused.  I have given up so much of what I wanted and sacrificed who I am to make sure I don't hurt others.  This is not healthy.

When I first started therapy I was asked what my boundaries were.  I was very confused.  I had no idea what he meant.  I had no idea that I had a right to set boundaries.  The more I learned the more I understood that I had very few boundaries.  I had some legal and religious boundaries, but that was about it.  Other people could push me, manipulate me, into doing what they wanted time and time again.  And the tool they used to do this was their pain. 

By making me feel responsible for their pain they could make me change my behavior.  Even if I knew my behavior was wholesome and healthy, they made me question that and sacrifice that because I didn't want to hurt them.  One of the main motivations in my life is to not cause others harm.  This has been used against me.

I remember sitting in a therapy session sobbing.  I was learning so much.  I was making healthy changes in my life, changes that were so good for me, but they were hurting others.  I remember asking my therapist how these could be good things if they were hurting others.  He told me something that has changed my life.

I felt like I was personally hurting other people.  I was not.  They were hurting themselves.

I had finally set boundaries.  He told me to imagine these boundaries as a brick wall.  They are there to protect me.  I can set these boundaries but others choose what to do about it.  The people who were hurt by my new boundaries were choosing to continually push against that brick wall.  They were choosing to run head-first into that brick wall and then blaming me for hurting them because I built the wall.

I've seen it happen over and over.  Pain is a difficult thing to endure.  We want to blame someone else.  It's easy to see how another person's behavior makes us unhappy.  It's tough to admit that our response to that person's behavior is what determines our happiness.  It's difficult to admit that our own behavior may be causing us pain.

On the other side of it, I've been hurt by others.  By the boundaries that they've set.  Not because these boundaries were unhealthy but because I was unhappy with them and kept banging my head against them.

Seeing another person hurt because of something I did is horrible.  I hate it.  But I must stay true to the boundaries that I need in order to feel safe.  It is my job to take care of myself; this includes setting and maintaining boundaries.  I am not responsible for the pain another person feels when he or she disapproves of my boundaries and keeps running into them head first.  And it's not my job to fix their pain.  Even if they think it is.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Today There is Sunshine!

Actually, right this very minute there is sunshine.  It's 12:30am and completely dark outside, but there is sunshine in my heart.  There are colors in my soul.  I look around and see so much that makes me happy.

Yesterday, on Halloween of all days, my depression finally broke.  I made my bed for the first time in over a month.  And I was happy.

Oh, it's been a long spell.  While it hasn't been my most gut-wrenching or life threatening depression, it sure was an ugly one.  Month after month of darkness.  It had me pinned by the throat; I felt like it would never let go.

Nothing I tried helped.  Nothing anyone tried helped.  My friends and family worried.  I even worried a bit, as much as a person can when depressed.

Nothing brought me happiness.  Everything was heavy.  Everything was a chore.  I barely existed.

And just like that it went away.  It was like I woke up from a bad dream.  A bad, black-and-white dream.  And there are colors again.  Kind of like landing in OZ.

There is so much going on.  I have lots more to write.  But that will have to wait.

I just want to focus on this moment and this feeling.  I am happy.  And it's magical!