Tag Archives: healing

Be Your Own Superhero (The Afterword to My Story)

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“You’ve renamed yourself as the hero of your story instead of the victim,” she said.

I sat in my counselors office a couple of weeks ago and she immediately could sense there was something different about me. “You feel lighter,” she said. And she wasn’t talking about my appearance.

Not until I sat back and thought about the two and a half weeks of life that had happened since I’d last saw her did I realize what a profound impact writing out my story had on me.

You see, when you live with the reality of a chronic disease, it can be really easy to let it control your life. Before you know it, you’ve surrendered all power to it because it just seems easier that way. But in sharing my story, I was reminded that I am actually stronger than my disease. I have a choice. I have the ability to improve the symptoms.

That doesn’t mean every day will be a good day or that I’ll be magically healed or that I will be able to eat what I want without a second thought. But it does mean I have a say in the whole thing.

It was almost a year ago when a dear friend and mentor asked me to think about what I’d given power to in my life. It’s taken me almost 12 months, but I finally have an answer. For the last nine years I’ve given power to my disease. And that was just the beginning.

There is immense freedom in looking back and realizing all that you’ve survived, in being reminded of your strength and resilience. You no longer have to be waiting in fear for the other shoe to drop, because, well, if it does, you will survive that too. And you will survive because you are the hero of your story, not the victim of it.

But you know my favorite part? We are heroes not in spite of our stories, but because of them. Because of the whole of them – the highest highs, the lowest lows, the ugly cries, the bad mistakes, the incredible accomplishments – all of it. After all, we all know a hero doesn’t become a hero without fighting a few battles and defeating a few stubborn enemies.

How it All Started (The Story Part 1)

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On the left – with my college roommate May 2007

I’ve always felt a bit silly talking about my health struggles. In the grand scheme of comparison there are people fighting much worse, much deadlier health battles. My health experiences may not have killed me physically, but they ushered in death of another kind. In sharing teeny tiny pieces of my healing story on social media recently,  I’ve been reminded I owe the story I’ve been given a voice. For while it has become common everyday life for me, it may impact others in a far greater way than I imagine.

If you’ve seen any photos of my from say five…six…seven years ago, and then today, you may be tempted to think this is a weight-loss story. But it’s not. It’s not a weigh-loss story or new diet story or get-skinny-so-I-love-my-body story. No, it’s a health story. A story of becoming a whole healthy person. So with that disclaimer, I begin.

IN THE BEGINNING
It hit me the day I realized that turning on and off the faucet had become a challenge. It was August of 2005 and I was preparing for my Sophomore year of college. I made an appointment with my doctor and it took him no more than a few minutes to refer me to a rheumatologist. A few weeks later, after much testing and countless questions, I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis at the age of 20.

I started some medications and began adjusting to living with chronic pain. It wasn’t ideal, but it didn’t seem unbearable. If nothing else, I suddenly could relate in a whole different way to my aging grandmother’s who both suffer with various forms of arthritis and lupus.

Then came January. I’d returned to school in Milwaukee after visiting my family in Minnesota to spend the last two weeks of my Christmas vacation getting ready for another semester and put in overtime with my volunteer work. By the time classes started two weeks later I could hardly walk. I think back to those days and honestly I can’t recall what I felt. My memory of those days exists much more in isolated vivid moments than a whole picture.

I can remember sitting on the couch thinking to myself “I’m going to lift my foot off the ground” and not being able to do it. I can remember getting in my car and having to lift my feet in one at a time. I remember my roommate returning and not really understanding what I had tried explaining to her on the phone until she saw me literally have to crawl up the stairs, pulling myself hand-over-hand on the railing. I can remember telling my parents about it and them being equally confused until I went to Minnesota a few weeks later and couldn’t get into my dad’s truck. 

One of my first phone calls was to my rheumatologist who tried to convince me I’d injured my back and pinched a nerve. I knew that wasn’t it. He fit me into his schedule immediately. And upon seeing me, immediately referred me to a specialist at the Medical College of Wisconsin. His blood tests had told him a lot of what I didn’t have, but not what I did have. The specialist was to do some more sophisticated testing including slicing a piece of muscle out of my thigh for testing. There was also a full-body CT scan and a mammogram to make sure I didn’t have cancer somewhere in my body. Yes, I had my first mammogram at the age of 20. The auto-immune arthritis I had been diagnosed with a few months earlier made me more susceptible to virtually anything else that could go wrong in one’s body so they were being thorough.

An already underway process to get a second opinion on my arthritis diagnosis at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN was expedited, and a few weeks later I was on a plane to Minnesota in search of answers and relief. 

The eventual diagnosis was given a different label by each of my doctors. One called it dermatomyositis. Another rheumatoid arthritis. And another a positive Jo-1 antibody inflammatory myopathy. All I knew was that I was in severe pain every day, had severe fatigue, and extreme weakness in my legs and upper arms.

Play Hurt

What are we trying to heal, anyway? The athlete knows the day will never come when he wakes up pain-free. He has to play hurt. (Steven Pressfield, The War of Art, pg. 48)

Play hurt. As long as you are living, you will be broken. Some part of you will be weak. You can’t eliminate the pain, but you can participate in the process of it being redeemed. 

That’s a daily choice for me – choosing to play hurt. But I think the opposite of it inevitably leads me to bitterness or apathy. So playing hurt may not be the easy choice. Or the comfortable choice. But, I’d rather limp along in pain than sit idle in bitterness.  

Honestly, I’m not so sure that YOU can heal you anyway. I think we’ve got to keep walking and, in doing so, participate in a process that will find us on the road to healing 6 months, 18 months, 2 years from now.

Don’t wait to be whole before walking alongside a friend who is also broken. Don’t wait to be perfect to write that book you’ve been waiting on, paint your next piece, take your next photo, write your next song. Believe that your creativity comes from a place in you deeper than your pain. And that your pain makes your creativity richer as it flows out through that place.

Reconditioning

I don’t know about you, but from little on I’ve been conditioned to avoid pain…of all sorts. Don’t jump off that rock, you’ll hurt yourself. Don’t run, you’ll fall. Don’t tell someone how you feel about them, they’ll reject you. Don’t make that risky career move, you’ll fail & be poor. Do anything you can to avoid pain. 

But the rule of life is we can’t completely avoid pain…at least not forever. The nature of the muscle disease I’ve been blessed with is chronic physical pain. Some days the pain is significantly more intense than others, but it’s almost always there. The past several weeks have been an intensely painful season. And while there’s not much I can do about it, one thing I can do is go to the gym. I know that if I hop on the treadmill for even 30 minutes I will feel better the next day because the pain needs to be forced out by movement.

But, the current pain, which makes me cringe just walking up to the counter at Starbucks, keeps me from actually going to the gym. Because I know that the actual workout itself will hurt, it will be significantly more painful than sitting still. It doesn’t matter that tomorrow I’ll feel better, I know the pain is going to get worse before it gets better and so I choose to stick with the hardly bearable, yet bearable, pain of sitting still. 

As I was complaining to God about this situation the other day, it hit me how often I do that very same thing with the pain of life. I think that’s true for many of us. We’ll tell you we’re unhappy, miserable, etc. And we know that if we’d do the hard work to get through the pain we’d be happier on the other side. But we also now it will hurt more before it hurts less & we’re not sure our hearts & souls can take it. So, we settle for the hardly bearable, yet bearable, pain of sitting still.

I wonder how our lives might look different if we could recondition ourselves to run headfirst into pain rather than avoid it. If we actually made decisions that put us in the line of pain’s fire knowing we’d get hit but that at some point we’d find ourselves sweetly exhausted on the road to recovery.

How would your life look different if you put yourself through a little reconditioning?

Throwback Sundays…Scabs or Scars?

Do you ever have a conversation with a friend & walk away feeling like a year of your life has just flashed before your eyes? First in rewind & then in fast forward?

Those moments leave me trying to wrap my mind around all of it, but more than that they leave my heart completely overwhelmed with gratitude. Because most of the time, God uses those conversations to help me clearly see what He has been up to in my life. He uses a friend’s encouragement to make me fully aware of the healing & growth He has been orchestrating in my life; to help me realize that He has turned scabs into scars.

I’ve had several conversations like that over the past couple of weeks, and it’s got me reflecting on this post from last July. I wanted healing, not just relief, & I think I’ve found it.

When January 16th Causes You To Reflect

It was January 16, 2006. It was a Monday – like today…January 16, 2012. It was the first day of classes for the 2nd semester of my Junior year of college. But I wasn’t in class. I was on a Midwest flight from Milwaukee home to Minneapolis for my grandfather’s funeral. 

As I walked through the airport that day I wasn’t sure I was going to make it all the way. I can remember praying in my head, “Lord, just don’t let me fall. If I fall I won’t be able to get back up.” 

I landed in Minneapolis late that afternoon & can vividly remember my dad saying “I guess there really is something wrong” as he had to help me climb up into his large pick up truck.

The previous week I had gone back & forth on phone calls with my doctors explaining to them that I had suddenly grown very weak. I could barely walk on a flat surface. Hills were extremely difficult. Stairs were nearly impossible. Even standing up from a chair was quite the tricky process. I convinced them I wasn’t paralyzed & they talked of CT scans, mammograms, & muscle biopsies to be sure there was nothing cancerous going on & to take a look at my muscle tissue.

Six years later I’m on a flight from my home in Nashville to Minneapolis. This time for a visit to my doctor at the Mayo Clinic. A visit where I have no doubt I’ll get a good report. Because while I still have some symptoms & still live with pain on a daily basis, six years later I’ve been to China & back. I’ve climbed the Great Wall. I have been able to go camping again. I walk on a regular basis, up & down hills…I even throw in a little jogging here & there. I climb two flights of stairs without any hesitation to get to my room these days. I don’t think twice about going out with friends.  All that to say, God has worked some incredible healing. 

And perhaps the best part is the heart healing He worked through the physical brokenness before He worked physical healing. God has no doubt used the journey of the last 6 years to shape me & mold me into the person I am today.

I watched a TED talk the other day about the difference between our experiencing-selfs & our remembering-selfs. An experience may be incredibly painful for our experiencing-self but because of a happy ending or worthwhile lesson our remembering-selfs don’t see it that way. And while my experiencing self in no way wishes to go back & relive the journey of the last 6 years, my remembering self reflects on them almost fondly & with deep gratitude. Because 6 years later I see that not only is there physical healing but the journey to physical healing was directly related to the journey to heart healing. 

Father, thank you for loving me enough to break me so that You could make me whole.

What brokenness has God used in your life to make you whole?