Tag Archive | Chronic Disease

Did I Make Myself Sick?!

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Did I make myself sick?
This is a question that has always haunted me. And most recently it has resurfaced.

If we have the power to heal ourselves than the inverse must also be true… we have the power to make our bodies unwell. Right?
A week back, a dear friend was doing some energy work (Reiki) on me. During this session, she received messages from my body. This is not uncommon, and I generally find these messages very helpful.

This message was deep and powerful. My friend told me , “The reason your body is filled with so much sh*t is because you have held on to too many secrets from your youth. And by holding all of this in, it has accumulated in your body, therefore developing disease. It is time for you to speak your truth. To no longer be afraid of how it may affect other people, only to share your story. I feel that by sharing your entire truth, you will be helping many others who are struggling, silently, with similar experiences. This is your path, not only to help others, but also for clearing out all the ‘crap’ and getting well.”

I’ll admit at first this was empowering. All I had to do was write and then share, without fear, my experiences. A clear path to wellness was laid out for me!

And I did start writing. It was, and is, a freeing experience.

But I also started to think about the root of the message: by keeping these “secrets” (which for me surround years of sexual abuse at young ages; a fact my friend was not aware of, making the message all the more powerful), I had made myself sick.
That’s what it came down to. And I started to feel uncomfortable about this.

I shared a summary of this message in my monthly spiritual group. The theme was Desire; and I had written a free-floating thought poem…

“Desire, what do I desire?
A morning song without the rain
A day long reprieve from the pain
A skip, a jump, a roll in the hay
Unencumbered freedom from a body untamed…”

By the end, my desire had become simply for a life of feeling connected, “to know and be known” and towards “internal peace and love of self. To acceptance of Me; and every day I’m Here…”

But, this is the kicker: there was just one line in there that my fellow group members picked up on: “I have been told that I fore-chose this life…”

And they became incensed, on my behalf. Telling me not to take on someone else’s dogma as my own. That that would mean that all Jews murdered in concentration camps fore-chose that path, as well as other startling examples.

So I took both opposing views and sat, to develop my own.
I began to think of a young girl I know, just finishing her first year of preschool, and her almost third year of constant chemo for a rare form of cancer. And I thought, “How could a 2 year old fill her self with enough secrets to make herself sick? How could her story possibly be long enough yet, to tell, ridding her mind and spirit of this ‘baggage’, making her body well?”

Yes, I believe we all have the capabilities to make better choices for our spirits and bodies, to live from a mindset of wellness that leads to true physical wellness.

But there is also a huge component of our diseases that are out of our control. And if we get stuck in thinking, “Why am I not doing enough or the right thing to make myself well?” Along with, “What did I do wrong in my past to make myself ill?” It will only lead to a place of despair.

I have received many messages that I have the power to make myself well. But I do not believe that means I am meant to “fix myself” on my own!

It means a myriad of things: making the right choices for my body, through eating well and exercising; strengthing my circle of support with old and new friends, and accepting their help, without conditions; choosing a team of well-respected doctors who can guide me; doing just enough research to be informed without too much to fill up my head (we all know what I mean!); meditating and doing activities that lower my stress and pain levels; keeping my physical space free of clutter and my sleep space a place of renewal; taking time to laugh as well as cry; and so much more…

I also take time at least once a day to visualize a little army of worker elves marching through my body and fighting off my disease; sending it into Mother Earth to be cleansed, recycled and renewed into something beautiful and useful.

These are tools I think are helpful for any person…well- or dis-abled.

And, yes, I will continue to write my story. Just by being away from the blogging community, I have gotten “clogged up.” There is power in speaking one’s own truth, sharing it with others, and hearing their truth spoken back. This can only aid in the progress of my healing.

But can this, or myself, alone, “make myself well?” That’s a tall order! And all it makes me think is that I somehow made myself sick. And that’s a very isolating thought.

I, alone, can’t fight any of this.

That goes against My Dogma: It takes a village…. To keep the flame alive and pass it on.

I don’t know why I live a life filled with unpronounceable, rare illnesses. But that’s not my job to know or figure out either.

The only difference between me and that precious 4 year old girl is that I know I am sick where she does not (quite yet). Her attitude can teach me, and us all, a great lesson. She just lives each day as it comes. Feeling her feelings when they arrive, asking questions with out shame, playing when she feels like playing, resting when her body tells her it’s tired; and loving everything and everyone around her deeply, with natural childhood enthusiasm. Her disease is a part of her day, but it is not who she is.

She did not make herself sick, and the key to “making herself well” is already inside her: its by going forth one step at a time and not missing a beat when she has a chance to fully embrace and engage in the gifts of life that are in front of her!

It’s as simple as that. Not secrets, not truth telling, Just Living.

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Feeling Free to Say “I Am Less Than Able Today”

Image by Lori PortkaWhy do I still feel embarrassed to express to my “well-bodied” friends that I am less-than-able on many days? Partly, I struggle to find the right words; the delicate balance between clear explanation and what I fear may sound like whiney complaining.

And then there is the bigger problem: the fact that I look so well. Especially on the days that my friends do see me. Because it is the days that I feel well enough to wash my hair (perhaps!), put on some makeup, get out of my lounge clothes, smile, and be present, that I also am able to keep my plans with them. They’re not seeing me on the days when my arms feel like 20lb. weights, too heavy to lift and brush the bed-tangles out of my hair. Or when I am still wearing what I woke up in, which many times even means what I went to bed in, because I was too exhausted to do anything but take off my bra the night before!

And truth be told, the sound and timber and strength of my voice doesn’t often change that much when my physical body is feeling poorly. And for me, my larynx can be in spasm causing hoarseness when I do feel well. So since that’s such a poor barometer for “feeling well vs. feeling poorly,” why is it then that people seem to think that what they hear over the phone lines is some sort of truth serum?

How many of you have heard those dreaded words, “Oh, but, you sound so good today! I’m glad!”

Unfortunately, they are often spoken before I’ve even had a chance to say how I am truly doing. So, I hesitate. Because it gets tiring saying, “um, thanks. But, actually, I’m not doing so hot today.” And even with my most well-intentioned friends and loved ones, I sometimes hear skepticism creep into their response. Because it just doesn’t make sense: but they sound so good…?

I share this all because I think it is a helpful reminder for anyone: both those of us struggling with day-to-day- fluctuations in our physical (or mental) capabilities and for those who are friends to, family members of, or caregivers for (including professionals) those with these “Invisible Illnesses.”

A quick reminder: Invisible Illnesses encompass a wide range of conditions and diseases. Take the common condition of arthritis, even. Yes, a joint could be swollen or red, but many times it can ache with no outward physical manifestation. So now think of all the conditions that effect our “internal systems,” from brain chemistry, to GI disorders, blood, vein and heart conditions, nervous system pain and disruption, connective tissue deterioration… the list goes on and on. These are the “Invisible Illnesses” that hide behind an external mirage of wellness. Wouldn’t it be handy if when something was ailing or failing on the inside, a bright red “warning spot” would emerge on an external location?! I sure would find this handy! Not only for letting others visibly know something painful is going on, but also to help pin-point for both myself and my doctors, what system is causing the pain.

Since this warning system technology is yet to be invented, we have to trust what people say. To take them at their word. You don’t have to completely understand what someone is describing to give them love, support and empathy. And unconditional trust in their word.

Sometimes I worry (too much so) that the person I am sharing my ills of the day with will think I am only saying it to get out of seeing them. At least for me, this is never the case! In fact, I am one to mask my true feelings of pain and discomfort just to avoid hurting or disappointing another. I know I am not alone in this.

So what can we all do as a collective group who cares for one another, to combat this?

For the “well-bodied” loved one:

  1. Don’t Assume: Don’t assume just because we sound okay, or even because we look okay, that we feel okay. Don’t assume that because we were able to yesterday, we will be able to today. Or even, if we were able 15 minutes ago, that our bodies’ are still feeling as abled in This minute.
  2. Listen: Please ask us how we are really doing. And then give us the space to truthfully answer. Take our answers at face value; please don’t judge or question (or fill in the blank!).
  3. Don’t feel like you need to fix the situation. All we really need is acceptance and acknowledgement: “Wow that sounds hard/painful/frustrating. I am sorry you are feeling so lousy/cruddy/down today.”
  4. It’s okay to ask “Is there any way I can be of support to you/help you right now?” But also know that we may not have an answer for that. It’s not that we don’t want your help (and I always like hearing a sincere offer from a friend), it’s just that: 1. We may not truly know of any way that you can help right now and 2. Many times all we need is space and time to heal. Which leads me to…
  5. Give us space without expectations. We know (believe me!) how hard it is to accept that there is no clear pattern to our symptoms. We may feel better in 1 day, 3 days, maybe even 30 minutes and that can be frustrating. So we just ask for your patience as we navigate the unknown.
  6. Don’t stop asking. This is a big one! And I don’t mean “don’t stop asking how we are doing” (although that’s a good thing, too); I mean don’t stop asking us to do things. Because there still are many days when we are able. And spending time with you, helping you out and supporting you, still means a lot to us. This is what feeds our soul and keeps us striving to be and get well.

Now, onto the “Invisible Illness” group:

  1. It’s Okay. You’re okay. You are whole and complete exactly as you are. That was hard for me to write, because I am not just saying it to you, I am saying it to myself. “I am whole exactly as I am.” You/I/WE do not have to be anything other than what we are capable of being. We did not create these illnesses nor are we using them as a crutch to “get out of things.” They inhibit what we can do on a daily business, but they are not the all of us.
  2. We are not defined by our illness. Our friends like and love us for who we are: the pure essence of us, our true spirit. Not for our physical abilities or dis-abilities. And if that is how someone defines “compatibility” in a relationship, they are not the kind of supportive friend you need, or deserve.
  3. Speak your truth. Don’t sugar-coat the situation. You don’t need to go into great length or detail (unless you need/want to). Just be clear and concise. Remember we are speaking a language only other people with chronic illnesses can understand. A friend of mine with varying daily abilities can say just one word to me, or give me that look, and I get it. It’s not going to be that way with all of our friends and caregivers, so…
  4. Be patient. You may need to explain your daily needs and limitations over and over again. This can feel frustrating or maybe even like the other person is questioning your authenticity. In most cases, this isn’t true. Remember: it’s a foreign language, and people don’t learn to comprehend a foreign tongue overnight! Most times, our loved ones keep asking questions, only because they want to understand.
  5. If someone asks how they can help, and you can think of a way, ASK IT. Don’t be stoic. Don’t hope that they’ll just guess at what you need. (How could they?!). And don’t ever feel embarrassed. This last one happens to me. Because I start to think “But, I should be able to do this.” Trust that if someone offers to help, their offer is sincere and that if what you ask for is too much for them, they will let you know. Think how helpful it would be to have someone cook you a meal, or run an errand/do a household chore, or even help you to color your hair.
  6. Remember that friendship is based on unconditional love. Our friends and lovers chose us for the person we bring out in them, just as we love them for the person they bring out in ourselves. We are all here to be our best selves, but that does not mean trying to be something other than you are. Or can be, physically. There is more to you, there is more to me, than our physicality.

It is up to all of us to spread the word on Invisible Illnesses. To take the stigma and mis-understanding out of them. Because millions and millions of us walk around looking “just like everyone else,” while on the inside of bodies are crumbling.

The first step to undoing all the misconceptions around these illnesses, is to start with a deeper understanding of each other, on a one to one basis. Which includes a deeper understanding of our own needs and abilities, followed by acceptance of same. It’s time to embrace all that we do bring to the world rather than all that we do not!

May I Decide For You?

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Why do we profess to know what’s best for others? Especially loved ones? Is it because we think we know them intimately more than they even know themselves? This is something that often happens with those battling chronic illness and daily limitations.

Our loved ones, out of fear of pushing us too far (IE: making us “sicker”), make decisions based on our well-being without ever consulting us. Many times, these decisions are made behind closed minds, during the pre-conversation/contemplation phase and we never even know different possibilities existed. And because they are never presented to us, we are never given the opportunity to make our own choices (and, yes, even mistakes).

The decision has already been made for us, under the guise of “loving-kindness.” I know that I have been on the receiving end of this kind of decision making multiple times, especially from my husband. My most recent example occurred in an interaction with a dear friend:

Over the last couple years, I have been mentoring this friend. I was, from the beginning, clear and honest about my physical time limitations but committed to communicating in alternative ways; and asked that if our relationship agreement ever stopped working because of these restrictive parameters, she not hesitate to approach me about her changing needs. We went into the partnership with what I thought was an equal agreement. Then, just a few days back, she abruptly let me know that our arrangement was no longer working and she had already found another mentor.

As much as I respect her needs, I was taken aback by the one-sided decision making. When pressed, she explained that she honors the physical place that I am in and would never want to put un-due pressure on me. So she found someone more “well-bodied” and flexible with their schedule. She thought she was coming from a place of loving-kindness.

But, in fact, she took equality right out of our equation. Out of concern for pressuring me, she took away my opportunity to know and express what is right for me. To check in with my own body and decide whether I could do more to meet her needs or not.

What was removed from our relationship was trust in the other person to know themselves, and respect for whatever decision they make. Regardless of our own opinion.

Let me highlight some ways we all do this in relationships:
– Our partner gets anxious in social situations, so we avoid telling them about upcoming engagements until the last minute, so they don’t unduly fret.
– Our parent worries when we travel, so we hide trips from them until we get home, as not to overly stress them.
– We have friends who have chosen to no longer drink, so we don’t invite them to events where there will be a lot of “celebrating,” so they won’t be tempted.
– A co-worker tends to react strongly when asked to do a project, so instead of giving them the chance to process and respond, we just do everything ourselves to avoid a possible conflict.

We tell ourselves “loving-kindness” stories: “I don’t want this (person I care for) to feel bad/sad/disappointed/stressed/worried…” We’ve already analyzed the situation in our heads, come to the conclusion of how the choice will negatively affect the other person, how they will respond, and what we will do to avoid this.

But, remember, when you make a choice for a loved one, you are no longer looking at them as an equal.

Those of us with chronic illness often struggle with feelings of being “less-than” (as many well-bodied folks do, too!). We already have to limit so many facets of our daily lives. But, we can still make conscious, thoughtful decisions for ourselves.

Doesn’t every adult want to be perceived as trustworthy of their own truth?

And the thing is. . .

We very well may make poor decisions! We may over-commit which over-taxes our bodies or minds.

BUT… that’s how we learn. How much is too much. And how much is just right.

If the right to make our own choices is removed, we are never able to find the balance on our own.

One of the worst things, is discovering after the fact that you could have been a participant in the decision making process, and that was taken away from you. It’s way worse to learn later that a group of friends went out dancing but didn’t invite you only because they didn’t want you to feel bad because your body is ill-equipped to dance right now. A much better scenario is to be given that choice and decide whether you want to sit and watch at the club or if it’s better to stay home, but it sure felt nice to be including in the invite!

So, next time you find yourself making a pre-emptive decision for another out of loving-kindness, try for a different approach:
– Tell that person about the choice and kindly express your concerns for their well-being.
– Let them know you trust them to make the right decision for themselves in that moment.
– Remind them that you’ll support whatever choice they make; and will give them the respect of keeping lines of communication and gentle observation open.

In all interactions, remember that a partnership means that each party is on equal ground.

Let Corage and Hope Take On a Life of Their Own

Hope and Courage quote mobama

Courage and hope have carried me through a multitude of challenges. So much so that they truly have taken on a life of their own. They are my manifesto – they are my legacy.

Recently, a dear friend challenged me to expand on this theory. She is currently struggling with a flare in her chronic illness. And as I listened to her process, I heard resistance. Resistance of what is and what this means to her life right now (cancelling plans, making accommodations). And all this resisting has served is to turn her down a road with only one clear direction: FEAR.

I get this. I’ve been there. I think we all have at one point.

But when she reached out to me and asked me how I can calmly “label and describe” my current medical situation without any attachment, I felt poorly equipped with the words to help her. Until I read the above quote…

I realized that as soon as I put on my Cowardly Lion’s Badge of Courage, I remember that I am resilient, that my symptoms come and go with the tides, and that this too shall pass.

And even more importantly is my Beacon of Hope. When I shine it out away from myself, even when I am steeped in darkness, it banishes the shadows from the corners of my mind. Fear lives and lurks in the shadows. But when I bathe myself in Hope, it takes on a life of its own. It becomes my lead warrior in the battle against Fear. It will not allow me to succumb to the darkness.

So… I actually began writing this a month ago. At the time, it was in reference to a conversation we were having about my current flare in unrelenting, untreatable migraines. I was joking about my body’s reactions to the shift of the barometric pressure: more accurate than NASA! And my illnesses’ inane need to re-announce itself this time of year. Usually with a never-ending, looping parade of crashing cymbals and blaring trombones… all going off within the confines of my body.

In response to this “update,” she expressed bafflement at my ability to be so calm and accepting in the face of the unknown. “How can you let go? How can you not worry that these current symptoms will turn into a 6 week or even longer episode?”

And this is the crazy thing… it has turned into a 6 week + episode. The reason this entry never got posted is my body decided to go haywire over the last month; old symptoms popping up alongside new and disturbing ones, followed by a string of specialists and tests, including hospital stays, with no definitive answer yet.

But, this is the thing, the miracle of it all: the point I was at over a month ago has become completely irrelevant in the face of my current “predicament” (to put it mildly!). I have become sicker. But I have also continued to put one foot in front of the other. There is no formula that I can apply to figure the duration or depth of this current flare. So why would I waste the precious energy I have on trying to come up with one?

And, yet, I used to think I could.

I realized the true question my friend was asking was, “How can you not live in a constant state of fear?” Fear, most of all, that what is so painful now (whether physical, emotional, or mental), will forever be? That neither of us will ever return to a state of wellness… nor balance.

I can’t say I live without fear. It’s what I do with the fear that makes the difference. I don’t let it set up camp inside my mind and heart. I don’t let it put down roots.

The truth is, I don’t know when or if this (seemingly) never-ending flare will go away. But when I start to tell myself a “story” about my current scenario, I push the pause button. I tried to write my own story in the past, a “Choose Your Own Adventure” style. If A happens, I will do B, C, or D.  Or, if I do LMNOP in the exact right order, then X will not happen. And you know what? It did not work!!!!

All it served was to remind me of my current painful situation, over, and over, and over again. And each time I was confident I had it all worked out, life would throw me a curve ball. And I would have to figure it out on the fly anyway.

So instead I remind myself of my history: the places where Courage and Hope won out. All the times I did get better; all the periods there was a reprieve from a painful symptom, however short or long. I remind myself that I have a team around me to help, made up of friends, family and professionals. And that if (only if, not when) my current bout turns into something more severe, I’ll know what to do. That in the past, I did find treatment. I was able to “ride it out.” I did get better, even if only marginally, it was better.

Then I shift my focus onto the positive aspects of the now. All the ways I am engaging in my life, in spite of. That for every five events I have to cancel, there is one that I am able to participate in that lifts me up.

I ask myself: “Whose side am I on? Which side am I going to feed?”
The side of Fear & Despair…
Or the side of Courage and Hope?

No matter what fearful demons are lurking in the shadows, get out your flashlights and banish fear from the cobwebs of your mind. Just like spring cleaning, it takes a while. It also takes constant upkeep. Imagine what your house looks like if you only clean it once a year, now apply that to your mind…

Fear can build up if you let it, and then Despair sets up house.

OR… your can clear your mind and heart with daily prayer and meditation, with deep belly breathing. By keeping your feet firmly planted in this moment, asking “what can I do for myself right now?” By taking all the headspace dedicated to predicting, preparing, and preventing, and switching focus to the present… building support systems and nurturing yourself (a bath, a book, a nap, a good pet snuggle, …).

Before you know it, your soul will be flooded with light, fear banished.
And COURAGE & HOPE will start to take on a life of their own!

Chasing The Elusive “WHY ME?”


Inevitably, at some point in time, after receiving the news that one is facing a long-term or chronic illness/disease, comes the elusive question of ,”WHY?!” For some, this may be a fleeting call to arms, for others, it becomes a constant refrain of, “Why?” or “Why me?” or even “Why, God, why?

During my last hospital stay, the progressive pastor of my family’s church came to visit me. After the necessary check-ins were taken care of, he turned toward me, and simply asked, “Do you ever find yourself questioning ‘why?’.” I have wondered since what direction he was taking the conversation in, if he had any expectation of what my answer would be. But this has been fleeting, because in all truth, I think he was just curious.

In that instant, though, there was no hesitation; I didn’t even pause before responding: “Yes. I am sure I have asked, ‘why?’ at some point in this long journey. But I have quickly discovered that this is a fruitless pursuit; a question without an answer; a path that only leads me to remaining stuck in the miserable moment.”

But that conversation has left me with equal curiosity. What is the point in asking, “Why me?” in the face of any number of events (I’ve heard this turn of phrase applied to everything from an unexpected car repair bill to a diagnosis of cancer), when one could just as equally be asking, “Why not me?”

The relentless lamenting over the “why” produces an on-going cycle of strife and depression. How could it not? There are no (satisfactory) answers to this perennial question. But there are concrete, solution-oriented, answers to the question of “What next?” We don’t know the why, yet we do know the how. It’s what we do with the how in the now that defines us.

I know I am sick. I know that there is currently no cure for my autoimmune condition(s). I know that my disease will continue to progress, causing a ripple effect that may require future surgeries and invasive procedures. I know that the mountain of daily meds I take to treat my diseases and conditions also create an equal amount of unpleasant side-effects; and that it is difficult to separate the two apart.

But I also know that I am a fighter. I am creative in the face of challenges. I discover new pathways when faced with a seemingly impassable road block. I am a giver of light, love and energy. My mantra is “Hope.” I know that I do not have to face this life alone, unless I choose to isolate. Which I do not.

This is where I can put in action the “What next?!”

Each surgery may chip away at the person I used to be. But that’s the key, used to be. Not the person I am now. Life is not stagnant and neither am I. In the course of my conversation with the pastor, I shared my views on the River of Grace that flows through me, receiving energy from beyond, recharging my own Soul Beacon, before continuing to flow out into other souls around me.

He smiled and said, that sounds like what Jesus speaks of in the bible, “Our Well-Spring,” that source of God that flows through each and every one of us, just waiting to be tapped into.

I have heard many people refer to this well-spring in their own words. I have heard it be called: Universal Energy, Chi (Qi), Kundalini, Indomitable Spirit, God’s Grace, Life Force, Eternal Flame, and many other monikers.

For me, it is my River of Grace. Because a river is an ever-flowing body of water, that both draws from many sources (is not a singular entity) and pours itself into (nourishing) many other bodies of water. Rivers are not stagnant, they are an ever-changing and evolving path through life. And water is our life’s breath; we cannot survive without it and 2/3rds of our bodies are made of it.

My River is a well that never runs dry. Yet, it is my responsibility to drink from it, to pull from it to renew my spirit when it is lagging.

Which brings me to the Grace part. I think of grace as a gift. As the ability to look for the light in a sea of darkness. To see beauty and gratitude, no matter what the situation. To ask “what’s my next step” instead of getting stuck on the repetitive refrain of “why?!?”

And then I decide to look up the official definition: Grace: “unmerited divine assistance given humans for their regeneration” (Meriam-Webster). To merit something, is to earn it. You don’t need to do anything to earn, or to deserve, grace. It’s there for all of us. A gift from beyond ourselves, to regenerate the mind, body and spirit.

We have all experienced unexplained loss, devastating, mind-numbing losses. We have all had to endure unnecessary pain, physical, emotional and/or metal. Or had to witness, powerless, as a loved one is faced these. We have all encountered enumerable challenges, obstacles and sudden change.

These experiences are what define us. It is what has defined me.

But I have also chosen not to have them be the all of me. They are one part of my story. They are U-turns on the path of my life. And instead of sitting down in the middle of the road and stopping, staring befuddled behind, below, and around me. I’ve decided to look straight ahead. To tap into my River of Grace and chart a new course.

This attitude has carried me and allowed me to see my life as full of opportunities. To say, “What next.” Instead allowing myself to feel victimized, always the punchline, left lamenting the “why?”

Think of one area in your life where you can flip your knee-jerk response of “why?” on its head. Start small. See how this one shift in attitude affects your whole day. Your whole week. Your attitude and out-look on the things that come next.

And if you already embrace an attitude of “what next,” please share your experiences so that they may inspire and encourage others!

On Behalf of All the Un-Mothers…

no-children

Today is the day we celebrate motherhood. And rightfully so, for none of us would be walking this planet without first being safely ensconced in a mother’s womb (and for many, loved and guided for many years post). But for us “un-mothers,” it is also a glaring day-long reminder of our own inadequacies to “do as nature intended,” of hopes dashed, and wishes left unfulfilled… of pure emptiness.

Social decorum keeps my hand hovering above the keypad, afraid to strike these thoughts into permanent notes, and then, the gall, to actually share them out loud. But I also know that I am not alone. And for far too long, I have kept this secret locked away in the closet of my broken-heart.

For many of us with chronic illness, the “simple” act of creating a child is not an option. And for me, it goes beyond even the possibility of infertility treatments to the extreme notion that I have been directed not to ever, ever, ever get pregnant… if I do, I will most likely die.

And yet, I still yearn. The pull to have a child is so strong that I have actually considered blatantly risking my own life to do so. And, yes, I know all the other options: adoption, surrogacy, fostering. I am not opposed to a single one, and actually openly embrace these alternative paths to motherhood. But although anyone can conceive a child (and I mean anyone), to raise a child of someone else’s conception requires large amounts of money and assurances of physical and mental stability for life.

I don’t know anyone who can truthfully assure that, when the future is always unknown. But when you start with the big stamp of “high risk” at the top of your application, you are already climbing up a steep, long and windy hill.

So here I am with a biological clock ticking so loudly it keeps me up at night. And an ache deep in my abdomen that will never be filled.

No one will ever wake me this day with breakfast in bed or flowers and a card.

I will not receive homemade gifts from child care and school… lopsided clay pen holders, tiny plaster handprints frozen in time to hang and admire, Fimo critters that only a child could confidently declare their species, scrambled eggs made with love and drops of crunchy shell, colored t-shirts declaring my child’s never-ending love for me, “MOM is” poems… all the treasure stored more carefully than the priciest of valuables.

I won’t receive spontaneous “Mom you’re the best” and “never leave me, okay?” knee-wrapped hugs.

I will get teary at the month long pull at your heart strings Hallmark commercials not because I am anticipating an equally endearing card from my own child, but because I will never have a chance to experience that intimate moment.

There will be no teenage eye-rolls at my nerdy antics that eventually becoming endearing inside jokes as my child becomes an adult and my best friend.

There will be no one there to take care of me when I am old and frail. To tell me deepest secrets to. Instead of being an elder blessing I will be a burden to some second in line relative.


 

Friends and family comfort me with the fact that I have a nephew that loves me, that children gravitate towards me, that I spent years working with and providing stable beginnings for hundreds of young children. All true.

I used to joke when asked in my twenties as a director of an Early Childhood Center, “do you have any children? You’re so good with kids!”… “Why, yes, I have 135 of them!” It was comical then, because I was so sure that I would have my own soon and until then, the 135 smiling faces each day fulfilled my motherly instincts.

I always knew I would be a mother. My friends would question this calling and often put finding the perfect man, having a McMansion or a high paying job above having a child. Not me. And then, lucky me (truly), I found my soul mate at 19 and he shared in my passionate dream of having children.

We’ve had the names picked out since we were 25. There was never a question in my mind that this was a part of our American Dream. We could not imagine any different outcome. We even knew that if we couldn’t have a child biologically, we’d adopt. It was just that simple.

But that’s the funny thing about life. It doesn’t always work out the way you’ve planned. And in the last 10 years, this has been more often the case than the “everything works out in the end” scenario.
Not having children is one area I haven’t been able to positively flip on its head, discovering the true purpose behind the tragedy. If anything, I can find gratitude in the fact that I did not have a child just before I became seriously ill. For that child would have grown up with a sick, unavailable mother for the first 10 years. But, I also know, I would have always had an endless supply of love.

A friend told me that if I had a child, I wouldn’t be able to be there as the loving support for all the other people in my life, as I am now. That perhaps my future is in helping and nurturing my peers (all the grown “lost-children”) instead of having a child of my own. Perhaps.

All I know is this ache isn’t going away. Sometimes I think it’s even growing stronger. I still dream of the magical stork from above bringing a child in need into my life, into my loving arms.

My arms will always be open for that far-out possibility.

Until then, I honor and celebrate all the un-mothers out there. You are not alone! Perhaps it’s time for us to petition for a Hallmark holiday of our own?! Until then, wrap yourself in loving comfort today… and don’t feel a bit of guilt for carving out some time just for yourself.

 

 

Hope for the Hopeless

hold-on-to-hope-header

I have been far too absent from the blogging community and I have felt the significant loss of this supportive limb. Each of my days over the last few months have been deeply entrenched in “survival mode.” Not only has my disease been in a deep, unrelenting (and deeply unforgiving) flare, so has my husband’s chronic mental illness.

Many times the caregiver’s needs are forgotten; they stand in the shadows making sure everything functions yet are barely seen, and almost never acknowledged. This fact combined with chronic depressive disorder, is a ticking time bomb for disaster.

And over the last month, that bomb has exploded not once, not twice, but over and over again, as my husband has reached his internal boiling point and has no longer been able to contain nor handle his volatile emotions.

During several of these “boil overs” he has expressed his frustration with the way our life has turned out. “It wasn’t supposed to be this way!” And I have no opposing argument, in fact, I agree. But at the same time, I am not sure what other way it is supposed to be. All he wants, I know, is some reprieve… from the doctors, from our illnesses, from our poverty, stress, worry and fear. It is overwhelming and unrelenting. And when you feel physically “down” at the same time, it’s even that much more difficult to handle the onslaught of continuous stressors.

A couple times, he’s taken it a step further. Vehemently stating that he doesn’t see in any way that this is a life worth continuing to live, if this is the way we are going to live it. He went on to argue that perhaps we are not meant to live long lives. That we might as well give in to our disease processes and let our minds and body fade away like they would have before the “wonders of modern medicine.” He challenged me to “show him” in what way our lives are worth continuing.

Now there is no denying that this cut me to my core and made me question my purpose on this planet. But, there is also something undefinable in me that still keeps fighting. I was armed with arguments of the ways our life does shine (friendships, experiences, each other, etc.), but also knew he is not currently in a place to hear any of these points. So I took another tactic, agreeing with his stance, arguing that perhaps we shouldn’t strive to live past 60, but if that’s the case, then let’s squeeze the all out of life for the next 20 years and go out with a bang! In some ways, I kind of liked (and still do like) this idea.

During this current period of strife and struggle, I keep finding myself humming the Glen Campbell song lyric, “Everybody’s got a hold on hope, it’s the last thing that’s holding me.”

And in reflecting on how we can both have two dramatically different outlooks on the same circumstances, I’ve been reminded of a Cherokee fable. Just recently my mom asked me to refresh her memory about this inspiring story, one I shared with her when she was asked, as a lay Presbyterian, to give a sermon on Hope for her church.

The story goes like this…

Each one of us is born with two opposing wolves inside.

One wolf is “FEAR.” And out of the mouth of this wolf comes a constant internal barrage of anger, greed, jealously, sorrow, regret, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, competition and comparison, feelings of superiority and inferiority, and ego.

Many of us can identify this wolf… we may call it by a different name: our judges or critics, the voice of our short-comings, our shadow selves, or our sub-conscious monsters. But this wolf by any other name, is still the wolf of Fear.

But, there is a second wolf, the “Good Twin” so to speak, who goes by the name of “HOPE”. This wolf speaks softly and gently of love, joy, possibilities, happiness, dreams, miracles, sharing, serenity, kindness, peace, friendship, compassion, truth, love and faith.

As we grow, only one wolf can survive.

“Which one survives?” you ask…

THE ONE YOU FEED.

Think of that for a moment. Which wolf are you feeding today? Are you filling the belly full of the one named Fear? Letting it grow and expand until her voice blots out all other? Or are you ingesting a conscious diet of Hope? Doing things to nurture her growth and development, so that her voice grows stronger and louder until all you hear are internal messages of Love and Faith? So that when you open your mouth, these same sentiments steeped in Hope come pouring forth to everyone around you?
Because the more you share your hope, the more of it comes back to you.

I am so grateful that while at lunch with my mom, she unearthed this memory of years back. Giving me the opportunity to remember not only how I can feed the wolf of Hope for myself, but that the person she came to for inspiration and thoughts on hope, was me. That when many are struggling, they reach out to me. That I have faced innumerable challenges, and have survived. That through my personal struggles, I have been given the gift of passing this Hope on to others.

And that even though my life is far from “ideal,” it’s mine. And it’s all that I’ve got.

It’s up to me what I am going to do with it.

Just for today, I choose to feed the Wolf of Hope. This wolf has soft white fur, and kind blue eyes. She is my protector and my guardian, and she leads me down the path of possibilities.

What is one thing you can do today to feed your Wolf of Hope?