Tag Archive | Support System

Lighting the Unknown Path

inspirational-quote-light-a-lamp-buddha

As I have said before, it is the “unknown” that is always more difficult than the knowing. The waiting. The wondering. The wandering… of the mind as it tries to grasp on to something concrete.

My last several months have been spent in this suspended state. First we found out that our home of 15 years was suddenly being sold and we had to, in weeks time, find a (hard sought after one story) home, apply for a mortgage (which had become a Big Scary Monster in our heads), sort and pack through years of our life and family “heirlooms,” find the means to buy (and fix up) said house, move and settle, the list goes on.

The only way I survived this process was JUST doing the next right thing.  Nothing more. My husband’s anxiety would reach new and alarming heights and I would have to remind us both, “okay, let’s take a breath. Now, forget ‘The List; ‘ what’s Just ONE Thing we can do in this moment?”

And you know what? One (baby!) step at a time, we walked our way right through the scary terrain of the unknown and into our brand new home.

These are the lessons and skills I so desperately need to remember to apply to my life now.

Because just when I thought I was leaving the path zig zagging through The Woods of Uncertainty, I fell into a Bog of Burdensome Worries! (Didn’t mean to go all Tolkien on you!).

I’ve known since fall that my body was heading into unknown territory again. It’s both a blessing and a curse that I am so in tune with my physical being after years of severe illness and trauma, that I can tell as soon as I start to go off-kilter.

This time, I knew somehing major was brewing.

So, instead of going to the doctors with these worries  (although I didn’t sugar coat my concerns at my appointments either), I turned to internal pep talks, such as: ” Hey, dear body of mine, I know you are giving me warning signs that you’re failing in new and different ways, but could you just please hold on until March? And then I promise I will attend to all of your needs with the upmost of care!”

That wasn’t too much to ask, was it? Guess it was!

Because my “gift” for Christmas Eve was to wake up without the use of both my legs. Totally and completely, from the hips down (yep, includes the bladder, too!). What fun!! For two days, I could  not walk and afterwards, I had complete numbness, like my legs had fallen asleep and could not be stomped, shakened or rubbed “awake.”

Yet, did I go to the hospital? Nah! I had a host of “good” excuses… “It’s the holiday; it’s a weekend” and the creme de la creme: ” I just don’t have time for this right now!”

So my body went from flashing yellow to a blaring red : STOP!!!!!

A little over a month ago, I was reading when half the page disappeared. No joke. I could only see half of every word. A very strange and scary experience. So I shook Dave awake with a, “Honey, I need to go to the ED.” Complete resignation. No questions anymore.

The details since don’t matter as much as the lessons I’ve learned. But in brief, I am in an even deeper state of limbo… not quite knowing the true cause of my weakness and Optic Neuritis (the partial blindness ) yet (MS? CIDP?) and therefore not able to receive the right treatment aside from high dose IV steroids to abate my symptoms.

So nothing left to do but Surrender. Wave the white flag of blind faith (literally this time!).

And to reach out for help. I already feel physically vulnerable, so why is it still so hard to completely crack open and be emotionally vulnerable, too?

If anything, this move was a great practice lesson. My husband is the first to open his door to others when they need a helping hand, but he latches every bolt when it comes to receiving help for his own needs. This time I didn’t let his fear of “not seeming like enough” dictate our choices and I threw open every door and window wide with a sign hung proudly, “HELP NEEDED WITHIN.”

And my friends and family showed up. They packed, they listened, they moved, they cleaned and scrubbed my new abode. All with a smile and an encouraging hug. No expectation of return payment.

This move would not have been possible without this team!

So why should my health be any different?! I need to throw out the old skipping records that get stuck on the refrains filled with shame. Shame over my diseases, over my needs and inability to “do it all” for myself; shame over what I used to be like vs what I am like now; shame over always needing more.

But, most of all: FEAR. Fear that I won’t be able to give back. But we all have our own gifts to offer to the world. And for a long while, mine were coming in the form of my words; of being completely vulnerable through my stories. Through sharing with others and having them, in turn, share with me.

But as soon as life became overly tangled, I stopped writing. Which essentially dammed up my River of Grace… the universal energy that flows into, through and out of me… on to you… connecting all of us on this divine journey of life. So that WE ARE NOT ALONE.

So I think of Buddha’s quote, “if you light a lamp for someone else, it will brighten your own path.” And it helps me remember that whenever someone “allows” me to help them, it always feels like I am the one receiving the gift!

So while my path is now being illuminated by the inner light and energy from other’s  (as I write a dear friend is coordinating meal help for us; fulfilled by those who know me and others who are doing so purely as a random act of kindness); I am holding out my own candle in hopes of lighting just one other’s dark path of the unknown.

There is so much going on beneath the surface of each of our lives.  Let’s look just a little deeper inside.

I know I’m grateful someone stopped and did so for me. All while holding a candle to help light my way, as I take just one next step forward along the path. For as long as I’m moving forward, I’m heading in the right direction.

Namaste.

Healing Through Pain

We have all experienced post-traumatic stress (PTS) from intense life experiences. It can come from a variety of sources: a near-brush with death; the impact of battling intense and painful illness; losing a loved one; a difficult childhood; or breaking off a long term relationship; to name just a few.

The event itself doesn’t matter so much as how it influences us.

This PTS can manifest itself in a number of ways: fear of future life-altering events; free-floating anxiety; newly formed phobias, unrelenting grief; unbidden tears; loss of affect; isolation; and withdrawal from activities. Many times the symptoms are insidious and creep up on us. We don’t even recognize the impact this life event had on us; or we are in denial of it.

We don’t want to admit we are vulnerable.

And, let’s face it, there’s a stigma around the acronym “PTSD.” Oftentimes, we associate it with major catastrophes and/or assume it manifests itself in ways that prevent the sufferer from engaging in life at all.

But once we take away our generalized perceptions of PTSD, there is much that can be gained by recognizing it in our lives, and working through it instead of avoiding it.

Let me give an example…

A dear friend suddenly lost her pet dog last fall. Using the descriptor “pet” seems to diminish the importance of their relationship. She, too, battles with chronic illness and her beloved dog (“L”) had been by her side and been her main partner through some of the toughest years of her life… those days she didn’t think she would ever get out of bed again. But her dog provided love, licking away her tears, and motivation to move, even if just slightly, because eventually she had to be taken outside.

Pets can be important companions to many of us, but I think they hold a special place in the hearts of those with chronic illness. They are the one being in our lives that love us no matter what… unshowered, in pain, grumpy, disheveled, confused, and lonely. They’ve seen the all of us and love us unconditionally.

I witnessed my friend experience months of unrelenting grief. I felt lost and powerless at ways to help her. All I could do was hold the space with her as she traversed this process at her own pace, and in her own way.

Then, one day a couple weeks ago, she had a revelation.

She was walking at the local reservoir, a favorite spot that her and her dog would wander. And she suddenly no longer felt alone.

She reflected on all the times L greeted her with unabandoned adoration, even when she didn’t feel like she deserved it herself. She remembered feeling so down all she could do was lie prone on the couch, too fatigued and depressed to even lift a hand to pet L. But her pup didn’t care, she would climb right up on that sofa and comfort my friend instead. She chuckled as she recalled 10 hour days away from home, rushing in worried because she hadn’t even stopped in to let L out to pee. But, again, her pup didn’t care; she greeted her with enthusiastic excitement just because she was home. No judgement. No shame.

She realized that all these negative thoughts she was having about herself were in direct contrast to what her dog had felt for her. That the best way to honor L’s life was to treat herself with the same unconditional acceptance and love that her pet had.

And then she said the most remarkable thing: “If I could find meaning in her life, I can find meaning in her death, too.”

She went on to say she had fallen into the victim role, angry at her pet for not being here to help her through this grief. Knowing this is an irrational thought, but her heart aching because L had been the one to help her through every difficult emotion over the last decade+. And this was the most painful emotion she had ever faced.
But, another “a-ha moment” had come to her: before L died, she only had her there to help her when they were physically close. Now, she had her with her all the time, and could tap into that unconditional love and understanding whenever, and wherever she needed it.

“To live in the hearts of those we love is never to die.” (Thomas Campbell)

She concluded by realizing that by taking care of herself, she is better able to be there for others. She won’t reach out if she isn’t making life choices that are in her own highest good.

And I have witnessed this transformation… she is now providing support to others that are grieving, because she is authentically speaking from her own experiences.

And by sharing her experience, strength and hope with me, she affected me deeply. It demonstrated the importance of living through the PTS until you can see a purpose in a difficult situation.

I, too, am in the grieving process right now. I am not grieving a specific person or being, but then again, that’s not entirely true. I am grieving someone. I am grieving myself. The person I was pre-illness. And I realize I have been living with the silent stalker of PTS for years, because I haven’t allowed myself to fully open up to this process of grief yet. I thought I was “okay,” that I had moved past it, that I was accepting of my situation. And in many ways I am, but that doesn’t negate the need to grieve what was and what could have been.

I need to look at that “lost Tam” with unconditional love and then give my current self that same gift of love and acceptance.

What experiences in your life have left a residual stain on your soul? An echo of yesterday that you haven’t completely been able to let go of yet?

I realize PTS doesn’t just go away by wishing it so. The passage of time doesn’t necessarily allow it to fully fade into the sunset. And pushing it to the recesses of our minds, tucked away in the box marked “things I’d rather forget” doesn’t work either. The only way to move beyond the experience and the left-over PTS, is to move through it. To dust off that box, open it up, and feel every ugly, painful, sad, angry, resentful, shameful emotion until we are spent. Until there is nothing left except an empty box to start re-filling with healing thoughts of love.

And, remember, this process can be big and scary and overwhelming. But you don’t have to go it alone! In fact, it’s advisable to find people that have traveled this journey before you to light the way. My friend experienced all the stages of grief with the help of support groups, hotlines, and friends. And she is now paying this gift forward by helping others. And I’m reliving my past with the help of a mentor and my friends, no longer holding these feelings in secret.

May today mark the beginning of a new healing journey for us all!

Dear Life…

hug you well

Dear Life,

You have been unpredictable and you always keep me on my toes.

At times, I even dream of trading you in for a newer, shinier model.

I can develop “life envy” when comparing mine to others around me.

Sometimes I want to scream, “What the heck is the meaning of all this?
“What is the purpose of living a Life such as the one I’ve been given?!”

But, in the end, I always come back to the same answer…

THIS is My Life and I wouldn’t trade it.

I wouldn’t want it taken away from me.

I wouldn’t want to be robbed of the chance to live it.

And, then, Life, you’ll throw me another curve ball.
Like the one that was lobbed at me yesterday…

Time for another emergency surgery,” Life reminds me with the insistent alarm that keeps going off in my side. This time, the snooze button does nothing to delay this scheduled appointment with My Life.

And I am reminded, “Tam, just because this is the hand Life has dealt you, doesn’t mean you have to play it alone!

So I reach out to others.

Some surround me instantly with Love and Support.

Some even put their own Lives’ on hold for a bit, to help me navigate mine.

But I also discover that many, the ones I most need and crave right now, are so used to Tam’s Life, that this is just another regular ol’ occurrence for her.

No need to worry. Don’t be alarmed. We’ll just go on with our Lives and pretend that everything is just fine.

And they’re right, I am used to a different quality of Life than most.I have had to catch these fast balls many previous times.
And in the end, I’ve always come back swinging, “Watcha got next for me Life? Huh? Huh?!

But, what if this is The End, Life?

What if I’ve already played out my 9 Lives?

Just because I’ve gone through this before, doesn’t mean I, too, don’t battle the arch-nemeses of Life; Fear, Anger, Hurt, Insecurity, and Loneliness.

If anyone else in my circle of family and friends was facing a similar uncertain future, we would all drop everything to be by their sides, to Fight for their Lives.

Yesterday, when I was signing my release for surgery, the surgeon was going over the four long lines of possible (and many, probable) risk factors involved with this procedure. The last two were: “Heart Attack” and “Death.” And you know what he said, Life? “Well, you’ve already had both of those, so you know the risks involved with these complications.” Chuckle. Chuckle.

BOTH of those? Meaning “death,” too.
And, you know what, he’s right.
Because I have not only met my Life, I have also met my Death. Twice.

So, is this supposed to make me feel less scared?
Because it doesn’t.

Yet, when I inform my closest loved ones of this impending, very serious and complicated surgery, happening in just 2 days’ time, they respond, “Okay.”

Okay? Isn’t that what you say when you let someone know you have to reschedule lunch because you’re having a tooth filled?

But, that just highlights how insanely crazy You are, Life. So insane, that insanity begins to appear as normalcy.

And, yet, I still wouldn’t trade you in.

I want to keep living you, Life.

I still have uncharted parts of myself and the world that I want to explore.

I still have so much love, light and energy to give to others.

And I still have a great big capacity to receive that love back.

As I write you this letter, I sit outside in the waxing and waning sun. Watching as it plays hide-n-seek with the clouds. I listen to the one of a kind bird song symphony, never to be repeated at any other time nor in any other place. A unique crescendo of my backyard birds, a concert for one.

I listen to the traffic coming and going on the expressway behind my house. And I dream of where they are headed. I dream of where I next want to go.

I can feel the soothing, loving presence of my husband as he gets ready inside. The one person who has born witness to the all of you, My Life. And never takes for granted the extreme pressure I am under…

I am constantly pushing you up hill. But, I am up for the battle.

I do not planning on meeting your shadow self, Death, again for a long time to come.

But, I also know it is not solely up to me.

So I’ll make a deal with you, Life…
Don’t give up on me and I won’t give up on you.

Love,
Tamara
aka: HopeSpirit

Little “Seeds” of Hope

friendship-quotes-picturesIn the darkest of hours, a small beam of light will appear at the end of a long tunnel of pain, suffering, and sadness. Two choices lie before you: 1 – face this light, walk towards it, and let it grow into a beacon of hope and faith. Or 2 – turn your back on the light, shrouding yourself in darkness, the known place of suffering seeming safer than the unknown possibility of hope… of taking a leap of faith.

I experienced this very cross roads just last Saturday. I woke once again in deep, unrelenting pain, with a throbbing sadness in my heart for all that transpired over the previous 10 days.  I felt defeated. I felt lost. I wanted to move forward, but I didn’t know how. And, let’s face it, there was that part of me, as well, that wanted to stay stuck right where I was. I felt tired of “fighting,” of constantly pushing through the pain and misery. I witnessed others embracing this place and dwelling in it. And I actually saw benefits to this option.  The biggest of which would be that people would finally recognize, that just because I can see the beacon of light in the darkest of times, doesn’t mean that I don’t also experience pain, and disappointment, and suffering. They are not exclusive.

I had just settled into my comfy chair when the doorbell rang. Upon answering, I discovered an unexpected visitor on my porch.  A supportive friend and champion, she intuitively knew to take a moment out of her day to bring lightness into mine. She hadn’t intended to bother me, only wishing to leave a small package and note in my mailbox. But my mailman had foiled her plans, ringing the bell just before her arrival.

Exactly as it was meant to be.

Inside this “Delicate! Do not squish” package lay three, half-dollar size, whelk-egg-cases-and-teeny-contentsoval seed pods. Transparent, with a little seed inside. Shake. Shake. My friend takes one and gently begins to coax this “seed” out. And lo and behold, it is not a seed after all!  It is this miraculous gift from the sea, the teeniest, tiniest conch shell I have ever laid eyes on (a mere 2-3 mm long!).

I gasp in surprise as my heart swells with wonder and awe.

She explains that upon discovering these years ago on the beach, she researched their origin, learning that conch shells are born by the thousands in connected translucent “cocoons” (often called a “Mermaid’s Necklace”). After a dozen years, they mature into the large conch shells we all covet finding on southern beaches.

conch shell symbolismLater, I researched them further and found that conch is also one of the Eight Auspicious Symbols of Buddhism and “represents the beautiful, deep, melodious, interpenetrating and pervasive sound of the Buddhadharma [“natural law”], which awakens disciples from the deep slumber of ignorance and urges them to accomplish their own welfare and the welfare of others.” (Wikipedia)

And that’s how I felt; as if I was awakening from a deep slumber of depression. And for the welfare of myself and others, I needed to face that beacon of light.

I was reminded of Helen Keller’s wise words: “Keep your face to the sun and you will never see the shadows.”

And the gift didn’t stop there; she nudged me to read her note …

“When I’ve been through tough times, I have trouble seeing anything besides my pain.  These [shells] can’t heal your suffering, of course, but I hope they remind you that the universe is full of joy and beauty and awe inspiring creations at the same time.  I hope you find moments where you can access that joy.  Please know that, even in your toughest times, you yourself are a source of joy, inspiration and an example of how beautiful God’s creations are to me and to countless others.”

I felt shaken awake. Flashes of beauty and moments of grace began to pass through my mind and heart. Just in the past week, during the period of my deepest pain, I was gifted access to that Universal Joy; I had not fully shut down. There was a crack in my soul just waiting to be re-opened. And, here was an unexpected angel, pushing her way through!

Her words brought welcomed tears and memories of past experiences where life and death, beauty and sadness coexisted in my life. I shared with her another time of deep sadness, when my mother in law collapsed suddenly from invading cancer and passed away 10 days later. My husband and I rushed back from Boston and never left her side. During this time, we would find ourselves sitting outside at the hospital staff picnic table, all hours of the day, situated right outside the birthing center. As my beloved second mother was lying 7 floors above in hospice, we were witnessing couples and families rushing in to bring new life into the world just below her.

And we couldn’t help but feel peace in the light of God’s grace, the universal cycle of life and energy.

There is no pleasure without pain.

There are two sides to every coin.

I made a choice on Saturday to walk towards the light.  This does not mean that my pain, or frustration, or anger, or sadness are gone.  It just means I no longer give them permission to consume my life.

I am actively seeking out moments of grace, of joy, of hope, and of healing. These are the foundation blocks to my continued survival.

I did not arrive at this conclusion alone. Because my “God” wears skin; meaning I see the God in you as I see the God in myself. And when that spirit knocks on my door, I am choosing to answer it.

I am choosing to let the light in.

Toeing The Elusive Line of Life

tight_rope_walker_530w

I am always trying to pin down that elusive line between doing too much and not engaging enough.  Dancing just over the edge into the land of “I am going to enjoy this adventure today even though I will ‘pay’ for it later” and standing at safe distance back, “forgoing opportunities for the sake of protecting my body from the ‘over-do’.”

To me this line is LIFE.

And I am not ready to give up on life yet; to fade into the background, observing others from behind my own personal protective observation glass.

Yes, this option ensures a more stable physical state of being. But it doesn’t guarantee it. I am just as likely to experience an unexpected (I was going to say “unplanned for,” but aren’t they all?!) flare of my physical symptoms after days resting “safely” on my couch.

And there is always one thing that suffers from my hesitancy to participate… my emotional well-being.

So it all comes down to another elusive concept: BALANCE.

I don’t think this is a plight just of the chronically ill.  We may suffer more serious consequences for misjudging our abilities to participate, but I know just as many well-bodied friends who also struggle with this.  Their “price” may just look different: stress, fatigue, or loss of time.

As I tiptoe around my Line of Life, I am getting better acquainted with my limits. For me, I know I will pay a steep price, so I weigh my options and choose the ones that are the most appealing and unique. 

I now pause before I make any commitment (I used to “over-commit” to everything for fear of saying no, only to have to constantly cancel at the last minute, frustrating everyone).

I check in with myself- mind, body and spirit.  I take my own set of vitals, so to speak.

And, no matter what my decision is, I try to clearly communicate with the invitee. I think the guidelines I have set up for myself can be applied to a wide range of situations and people.

It usually comes down to three categories:

  1. “I’m sorry, I have to decline this time. But please don’t let this keep you from asking me in the future [big fear=being “forgotten”].  My physical well- or unwell-being is constantly fluctuating.” (insert your limits: time; commitments; family obligations; job stress; etc.).
  2. “If it’s okay, I am going to have to wait and decide nearer to or on the day of.  I’m just not sure how I’ll be feeling from day to day right now and I don’t want to over-commit.”
  3. OR: “I would love to accept! I am planning on being able to participate but if my body takes a down-turn, I may have to change plans at the last minute.  Are you okay with that?”

I have discovered that the honest approach best serves myself and others. Most of us want to “people please” and in doing so can create an environment of always saying “yes,” leading to feelings of stress and resentment later or a constant cycle of saying yes and then having to change our minds/plans.

By giving people an open look into your life, you are showing trust in the relationship.  As well, I try to always give people the option of letting me know if last-minute changes are uncomfortable for them.  Of course I wish everyone could be supremely flexible to my needs. But some cannot. And this is all part of accepting both my and others’ limitations.

You’ll also begin to discover the friends who truly do understand and are willing to adjust the typical “friendship guidelines” to maintain a relationship with you and those that are just “good time friends.” And that’s okay.

The week-end before last was one of those “seize the moment” opportunities for me.  A friend spontaneously invited me on Thursday to accompany her to Pittsburgh, PA for a one-of-a-kind puppet play by Heather Henson (Jim’s daughter- yes, The Muppets’ Jim!). Now, this was a huge risk for me. It was for just one night and would require a minimum drive of 6 hours both ways. Two “no-no’s” in my typical Boundary Box. But sometimes boundaries are meant to be broken, and this was one of those times.

Not only was it an amazing adventure and bonding experience with a dear girlfriend, it provided me a chance to be honest about my chronic illness in a way I have not before.  Traveling that close with some requires intimacy and vulnerability. And I was proud of myself for not hiding behind the mask of, “I’m okay.”

She knew I had to make many rest and stretch stops.  She saw my feet and ankles swell to the size of Nerf balls. She observed my nightly ritual of 20+ medications. She listened to me when I explained the complexity and history of my disease. She witnessed the “sudden coming” of a severe migraine. She saw me grow breathless because of my pericarditis (fluid around the heart) and the necessity of many “sit and rest” periods as we trekked around the city.

She saw the all of me. And she embraced and accepted me as I am.

Yes, I’m paying the steep price of admission still now 7 days post, but I wouldn’t have changed a thing about this experience. Can I always make this choice? No. But I am also not going to let my fears get in the way of considering similar spontaneous opportunities in the future. I used to always live my life this way… seizing crazy last-minute excursions left and right. And I forgot how much I love that.

I forgot what it is like to not only dip my toe over the edge into the Waters of Life, but to plunge head first into the icy chill of the thrill only to come up breathless by embracing the All of Life.

Where are you making choices in your life that serve not only your physical and mental needs, but also your spiritual and emotional needs? Perhaps you aren’t shying away from “frivolous experiences” because of the limitations of an illness, but because you are overwhelmed and stressed by the sheer complexity of living and balancing life, work and family.

Where and when can you throw caution to the wind, even for just an hour, and do something just for the sake of doing it?

Go on… life’s waiting for you!

Open Letter to “Normals:” Please Read

understanding quote

I came across this letter posted on another blog.  It was originally written to help understand what people with Fibromyalgia live with.  But it is pertinent to all the patients who are and family member of the chronically, “invisibly” ill. So I tweaked it a little. And would be forever grateful if you took a moment to read it (and share it)!

Open Letter To Normals,

These are the things that I would like you to understand about me before you judge me…

Please understand that being sick doesn’t mean I’m not still a human being.  I may have to spend most of my day flat on my back in bed or on the couch in jammies, and I might not seem like great company, but I’m still me stuck inside this body.  I still worry about school and work and my family and friends, and most of the time I’d still like to hear you talk about yours too.

Please understand the difference between “happy” and “healthy.”

When you’ve got the flu you probably feel miserable with it, but I’ve been sick for years. I can’t be miserable all the time, in fact I work hard at not being miserable. So if you’re talking to me and I sound happy, it means…  I’m happy. That’s all. I may be tired. I may be in pain. I may be sicker than ever.  Please, don’t say, “Oh, you’re sounding better!”  I am not sounding better, I am sounding happy. If you want to comment on that, you’re welcome. Happy ≠Healthy.

The same goes for “looking good.”  If I have the energy to, I like to put on a little make-up and a favorite sweater, maybe even curl my hair.  But looking good does not always equate to feeling good.  That’s why they are called Invisible Illnesses.  Looks can be very deceiving!

It is okay to say, “You sound happy today.”  Or, “I know you may not feel well, but you sure look pretty today!”

Please understand that being able to stand up for five minutes, doesn’t necessarily mean that I can stand up for ten minutes, or an hour. It’s quite likely that doing those five minutes has exhausted my resources and I’ll need to recover – imagine an athlete after a race. They couldn’t repeat that feat right away either. With a lot of diseases you’re either paralyzed or you can move. With this one it gets more confusing.

Please repeat the above paragraph substituting,
“sitting up”,
“walking”,
“thinking”,
“being sociable”
and so on  …. it applies to everything.

That’s what a fatigue-based illness does to you.

Please understand that chronic illnesses are variable. It’s quite possible (for me, it’s common) that one day I am able to walk to the park and back, while the next day I’ll have trouble getting to the bathroom.  Please don’t attack me when I’m ill by saying, But you did it before! There is no formula to follow with my disease.  If I have the energy on one day, I will seize the opportunity and engage in the next present activity.  Just as likely (or even more so), I will get up with the intention of following-through on a plan, only to discover I am utterly exhausted after just getting dressed and will have to lie down.

If you want me to do something, ask if I can and I’ll tell you. In a similar vein, I may need to cancel an invitation at the last minute. If this happens please don’t take it personally (I’m just as sad and upset about it as you!).  I still like to be asked, even if I have to bow out.  It’s hard to have a chronic illness and to be excluded from events because you don’t want to make me “feel bad.”

Please understand that “getting out and doing things” does not make me feel better, and can often make me seriously worse.  Chronic Illnesses like Fibromyalgia, Lupus, Arthritis, M.S., Polychondritis (me!) and Abdominal Conditions, may cause secondary depression (wouldn’t you get depressed if you were stuck in bed for years on end!?) but it is not caused by depression. Telling me that I need some fresh air and exercise is not helpful and truthfully, incorrect – if I could do it, I would. And please understand that if I say I have to sit down / lie down / take these pills now, that I do have to do it right now – it can’t be put off or forgotten just because I’m doing something.

Chronic, Invisible Illnesses do not forgive.

Please recognize that I can’t spend all of my energy trying to get well. With a short-term illness like the flu, you can afford to put life on hold for a week or two while you get well. But part of having a chronic illness is coming to the realization that you have to spend some energy on having a life now. This doesn’t mean I’m not trying to get better. It doesn’t mean I’ve given up. It’s just how life is when you’re dealing with a chronic illness.

If you want to suggest a cure to me, please don’t. It’s not because I don’t appreciate the thought, and it’s not because I don’t want to get well. It’s because I have had almost every single one of my friends or family members (or friends of friends, for that matter!)  make a suggest at one point or another. At first, I tried them all.  But then I realized I was using up so much energy trying a myriad of treatments and “cures” that I was making myself sicker, not better. If there was something that cured, or even helped, people with Fibro, CFS and all the other “invisible illnesses,” we’d know about it.  This is not a drug-company conspiracy. There is a worldwide network (both on and off the internet) between people with chronic, invisible illnesses, and whenever there is a new, valid treatment option available, we already know about it (mind you, they are far and few between).

We’ve had to find acceptance in the frustrating fact that medicine has not caught up with the growing cases of autoimmune illnesses. The best support you can give us is to accept this fact yourself.  To accept us as we are, not as you would want us to be.

If after reading this, you still want to suggest a cure, then do it, but preferably in writing.  Please don’t expect me to  rush out and try it. If I haven’t had it suggested before, I’ll take what you said and discuss it with my doctor. Please understand that getting better from an illness like this can be painstakingly slow. (pun intended!)

People with Autoimmune Illnesses have so many systems in their bodies out of equilibrium, and functioning wrongly, that it may take a long time to sort everything out. Our bodies are literally attacking themselves and there is no pattern that doctors or patients follow.  Each of our cases is unique and varied.

Don’t misunderstand me, I depend on you – people who are not sick – for many things.  But most importantly, I need you to understand me.

Thank you for your compassion,

The Invisibly Ill

Finding New Avenues of Joy: What’s Your Machu Picchu?

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Finding new avenues of joy… several months ago I randomly (perhaps not so “random” after all!) had the T.V. on during a Good Morning America segment on the NFL player, Steve Gleason.  He’s a New Orleans Saints’ hero whose life has changed, all because of the devastating disease, ALS (Lou Gherig’s).  Yet, he does not view his life as a devastation… when told he needed to “prepare himself to die,” his first and only thought was, “I am going to prepare to live!”

Although it has been 6 months since I first viewed this stunning story, it has never strayed far from my thoughts.  I’ve wanted to share it with others, but until today, have not been able to “find” it on the internet.  For a while, I thought perhaps it had been one vivid, prophetic dream!

Then I awoke this morning thinking of “bucket lists,” and once again, the empowering tale of this man came to mind.  I began my futile searching again, but this time I must have strung together the right combination of words, because it appeared at the very top of my search results.  I have faith that there is a reason today was the day I finally re-discovered this tale of strength, perseverance, and above all, JOY.

The idea of creating an annual “Bucket List” has been tumbling around my daily thoughts.  Not sure if I wanted to jump on this trendy bandwagon, I have resisted this idea.  Yet, there is something so appealing about following others yearly journeys as they check things off their bucket list.  As I read others, I am surprised and, admittedly, intimidated by the audacity of their goals.  My mind immediately goes to all the reasons why this will not work for me… all my limitations: not enough money, not enough time, not enough physical well-being, on and on and on!

I think, why set myself up for failure?  But then there is that little intuitive voice that never steers me wrong saying, “why not set yourself up for success?  Each bucket list is a personal endeavor; it can be shaped to fit my unique set of circumstances, needs, and dreams.  By setting goals, I will be more apt to make a game-plan to make them happen.  By writing down my annual hopes and dreams, I will be setting my intention with the Universe.

And so I’ve begun to toy with what my 2014 Bucket List will look like.  For example, I have a deep desire to dance once again.  It would be unrealistic for me to set a goal of dancing the Suite of the Sugar Plum Fairy en pointe, like I did when I was 18, healthy and fit!  But, I am graced with living in a community that encourages creativity in people of all ages and abilities.  Dance studios and open-classes have exploded over the last few years, now including an abundance of opportunities for the community to engage in a wide variety of dance styles, at all levels.  I’ve begun by getting out and experiencing these offerings as a patron.  And I have been proud to support and celebrate these burgeoning endeavors.

But now it’s time for me to get off my audience seat and onto the stage.  But, what does this mean for me?  I am not blind to my limitations, but I am not going to let those stop me either!  As Steve Gleason so eloquently puts it in this interview…

“I now search for new avenues of joy.  With each loss, [I] have worked to find a beautiful replacement.”

And my dance replacement looks something this… finding a way to move my body in a fluid and free-form motion.  I am drawn to Carribean danceCaribbean styles, where the dancers of all ages, sizes, shapes and abilities are smiling from ear to ear as they engage the music fully.  There is a freedom and openness to this style that is very appealing to me. And, Volia!… I have the first item on my bucket list!

This is the beauty of creating this list annually.  Now that I have set this goal (my intention), I am already developing a plan of action in my head. First step?: researching studios and open-dance nights.  And that’s all I have to worry about for now… just taking that first step.  Taking the risk to say, “I am worth it.”

I will not allow my physical limitations to limit my ability to experience joy!  My Bucket List may look a helluva lot different than the ones floating around the web.  But, I choose to use those as inspiration… not as a point of comparison and feeling “less than.”

machu picchu steve gleasonIf anything, the most intimidating “list” I’ve seen is Steve’s.  Once his diagnosis was delivered, he made the conscious choice to always have something to look forward to.  His most recent goal and accomplishment?.. climbing to the top of Machu Picchu!!  How on earth does someone without the use of their physical body climb Machu Picchu, you ask?  He does not do it alone!!!  And, to me, that is one of the best legacies he can pass on to others.  Not only that he “chooses to focus on the beauty of now,” but that he relies on the love and support of others to achieve his goals.

My Bucket List is not going to be a singular endeavor.  The goals and dreams will come from my inner soul, but the steps to achieving them will be paved by the love of my friends and family.

I would like to offer the same gift back to you: to be your support and cheerleader in any way needed as you create and then implement your 2014 Bucket List!  In the coming weeks, I will slowly unveil my own list as it evolves.  And I hope you will take the journey with me as I check off the items in the coming year.

Please share your bucket wishes, too.  For inspiration comes from without.  And without all of you, I would be lost.

I encourage you to take just 5 minutes of your time to watch the GMA interview with Steve Gleason.  I dare you not cry. I dare you not to smile. I dare you not to come away inspired!

http://gma.yahoo.com/blogs/abc-blogs/steve-gleason-embraces-challenges-lou-gehrigs-disease-battle-121402622.html