Just A Thought About Chronic Illness …

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Are You Searching For Peace?

No, this isn’t about Foreign relations or national policy. This is about you. Are you at peace emotionally? Unfortunately, many patients are not. So, for a moment, be honest with yourself. Has your diagnosis totally turned your life upside down? Is stress and anxiety eating away at you? Fear troubling you? If your answer is “yes”, to any or all of these questions, it’s time to talk about it. First, as I previously stated, you aren’t alone. It isn’t easy to adjust to life with a disease. It’s a sucker-punch. Anyone who has a Chronic illness understands how you are feeling. We have all rode that runaway train of emotions. The denial is real. The frustration and anger is, too. Think of it like the stages of grief that follow the death of a loved one. You are basically grieving the loss of the life you had. The one you enjoyed. It was your comfort zone, even on the bad days. But now … well, now, bad days have a whole new meaning.

 

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“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” — John 14:27 (NIV)

 

As crazy as it may sound, the key to this madness in part is learning how to be sick. It’s like a marathon of coping — 24/7. Why? Because your Chronic illness isn’t a sore throat, or the sniffles. It’s a life change. And sometimes it’s tough. Many of us naturally resist difficulties. We ignore them. But that technique won’t work, here. This is about embracing reality …

There are five stages of grief that patients struggle with, after they are diagnosed:

  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance

While it may feel like an overwhelming nightmare, it is a normal process. So, examine these stages and consider which one you are in. Only you truly know that answer. And let me add, no two patients go through them at the same pace. But progressing through them is your goal.

Now, let’s consider the ways to make life with Chronic illness a little easier:

  • Educate yourself. Learn everything you can about your illness. Soak it up, like a sponge.
  • Put together your Support System, i.e. family, close friends, etc. You might even want to join a local Support Group. Many health organizations offer these opportunities. And numerous places of worship do, too. They can be found online or your doctor can help you find one.
  • Surround yourself with positive people and things. Negativity and pessimism aren’t healthy. Optimism is healthy. That too is key to coping and disease management.
  • Find a hobby,  create a reading-list, etc. On tough days, it will give you something positive to focus on.
  • Many patients find that faith helps them. Bible Study, Prayer Groups, personal prayer, etc., can be very beneficial to the body and mind.

Inner peace isn’t as simple as going to the doctor, taking a session of physical therapy, or picking-up your meds. It’s a very personal journey. Sometimes, it can feel incredibly lonely. That too is normal. Hence, the need for a good Support System. If your mobility is limited, or pain has you feeling down, you can turn to the internet. Sites like this one are created to help you. 

Last, but not least, do not punish yourself for being sick. Chronic illness is caused by many things, i.e. lifestyle, genetics, environment, etc. Some we can change, i.e. smoking, alcohol consumption, weight loss, exercise. Others are beyond our control. As you search for peace, it helps to feel that you have some control over what is happening to your body and your life. So, by all means, eat healthier … exercise … make necessary lifestyle changes. These are all positive things. And it can be as simple as a walk around the block. Or you may prefer a class, i.e. Tai Chi, Pilates, Yoga, Swimming, etc. If you need a nap, then take one. You might even want to keep a journal and share it with your doctor. These changes will allow you to better manage your Chronic illness and no doubt feel better (physically and emotionally). 

We are on a journey. Millions of us. We didn’t plan on taking this trip, but we are going. Together, we can the most of it. We can support each other, learn and inspire. We can live to the fullest!

 

Reference Links:

https://www.rsnhope.org/health-library/finding-acceptance-psychological-stages-chronic-illness/

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/turning-straw-gold/201809/7-tips-making-peace-chronic-pain-and-illness

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-science-behind-behavior/201607/4-reasons-why-optimistic-outlook-is-good-your-health

https://www.webmd.com/balance/features/can-prayer-heal#1

https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/chronic-diseases/arthritis/arthritis-risk-factors.html

*Photo by Arif Riyanto on Unsplash

 

Self-Worth & Chronic Illness

Merriam Webster’s Online Dictionary defines self-worth as “a sense of one’s own value as a human being”. In other words, your self-esteem. When you have a Chronic illness, often times your self-worth takes a beating. Your body has changed. In many cases, your abilities have changed. It’s difficult to bear, acknowledge and know that others see it too. It hurts. And it can be embarrassing. But that doesn’t mean you are less of a person. Sometimes, your weaknesses, i.e. disease, limitations, etc., awaken other talents. They offer perspective that you never had before. Both are positive things. The question is: How do you see yourself? Do you feel that you are less of a person, because of your diagnosis? Less capable? Less valuable? Do you view your self-worth for what it really is, or do you literally allow a condition to play tricks on you? Do you degrade yourself? Only you know the answer. So, take a moment to reflect and be honest with yourself.

 

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“We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.”      — Mother Teresa

 

Millions have heard of the tiny nun from Calcutta who was known simply as Mother Teresa. When she followed her religious call, she hit the ground running. She founded a school — small but effective. In 1946, she founded the Missionaries of Charity. Yet, Mother Teresa did not stop there. She kept on going. Her decades of compassionate work with the needy of the world earned her a 1979 Nobel Prize, in Humanitarianism. In 2016, less than a decade after her demise, she was canonized by the Roman Catholic Church as Saint Teresa. Even in death, her work lives on. In fact, there are 700 missions in 130 countries — all are the result of the actions of this one woman. They are providing soup kitchens for the hungry, family assistance centers, orphanages, schools and hospitals. And they are operating homes for people who suffer with Chronic diseases like leprosy, AIDS and tuberculosis. But what most people don’t know is that Mother Teresa herself suffered from a Chronic illness (Heart Disease).

Now, you probably aren’t aspiring to earn a Nobel Prize. And that’s okay. My personal feeling is that Mother Teresa wasn’t trying to get one, either. She was merely doing the work that she loved to do. The work, or service, that she felt compelled to do. No doubt, she had the grace of God with her. And she was doing great things. Still, she had to have bad days. With any Chronic illness, those are inevitable. But she didn’t let anything slow her down, for long … not even her condition. She persisted, long before the term was mainstreamed by the feminist movement. She made goals and she went after them. The woman truly lived. Which brings me back to your self-worth …

Despite your Chronic illness, you are significant. Precious. Important to others. Your vocation, whatever it may be, is important too. You have the ability to teach, inspire through words and example, lead, love, work, etc. Your resume, education, achievements, etc. haven’t changed. Your health has. Your life isn’t over, because of a diagnosis. You are just writing a new chapter!  And it just may be one of the most fascinating yet!

So when your disease gets you down, keep your perspective. Think of it as a rain-delay … not the end of the game. Stay optimistic. Be tenacious. Fight the good fight. Manage your Chronic illness. Do the things you enjoy doing — the things you want to do! Set a few goals. You may even want to jot them down. Put your list on the fridge. Then, work toward attaining them. Never underestimate yourself, or your worth. Value it, daily. And live your life to the very fullest!

May God Bless …

 

Reference Links:

https://www.biography.com/religious-figure/mother-teresa

https://www.upi.com/Archives/1991/12/30/Mother-Teresa-hospitalized-with-serious-illness/5258694069200/

https://academic.oup.com/eurheartjsupp/article/6/suppl_E/E2/455705

https://www.motherteresa.org/about.html

 

*Photo by Jimmy Chang on Unsplash 

Finding That Silver Lining …

Believe it or not, there are silver linings that come with having a Chronic illness. You may not readily spot them, upon onset of your disease. It may take a while. But, rest assured, they are there. For me, personally, it came through enduring five years and eight months of chemotherapy. Even now, just typing the sentence gives me pause. Five years and eight months? Yes, I freaking did that!

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The old me, or pre-chemo me, was a driven perfectionist. I had to be the best, at literally everything, i.e. writer, mother, wife, daughter, neighbor, etc. I had to do better. I pushed myself physically, emotionally and professionally. Each morning began at 4 a.m., even on vacation. I would cycle 5-10 miles. Next, I made breakfast & got the rest of the house going. With them out the door on time, I took a shower and sat down in my home office. There was research to do … rough drafts … final drafts … queries … phone calls, etc. And heaven forbid, if I suffered a little writer’s block. If that wasn’t demanding enough, I had to volunteer. I had to cook and bake like a master chef. I had to have the perfect garden bursting with blooms. Looking back, I wonder how my poor husband maintained his sanity. It had to, occasionally, drive him a little crazy. Yet, he never complained. He was as laid-back and relaxed as I was tightly wired. But change was coming.

Two days after my 50th birthday, I was smacked with reality. Or should I say my diagnosis? While still sitting in the exam room, trying to grasp the situation, my doctor began to talk about immediately starting chemo. It was surreal — like a bad dream. Yet, it was happening. My life, health, everything was turned upside down, in that moment. For those who have experienced it, you know what I mean.

Chemotherapy, no matter what you are being treated for, is a brutal journey. The drugs used can do harm as well as good. And the side-effects — OMG! For me, the nausea and vomiting was intense. At times, it took my husband and son to hold me up. Then, the fatigue would hit — days of it. By the time this subsided, it was time for another treatment. I lived in my pajamas and rarely left the house. My hair became thin and half of my eyebrows fell out. My body became sensitive to hot weather and cold. I began sleeping with a heating-pad, even in the summer. I couldn’t do research, or write. I didn’t even have the strength to sit at my desk, let alone be productive. Every ounce of me was fighting something bigger and stronger. And survival became my sole focus. I lived one day at a time. There were no lofty ambitions, no grand dreams, or fanciful plans. 

Yet, in that painful and mundane existence, I found my silver lining … a new perspective. One that is kinder and gentler. Dare I say it? More reasonable. One that makes living more worthwhile.

The new, or post-chemo, me is motivated by joy. I don’t sweat the small stuff, anymore. It’s a waste of time and energy. The new me is content to simply do her best, whether it’s perfect or not. I now realize what is most important is my happiness. I have become even more trusting of my faith. I am more compassionate and more understanding. I’m a blogger and speaker, because it allows me to write about and support issues that truly interest me. Those that can be helpful to others. The kind that stir passion. Perhaps, inspire? I even returned to the business-sector where I work part-time, for an international company. A change in scenery and/or pace never hurts. It can be pretty interesting … even exciting … without a corner-office. The ability to work is gratifying in itself. I don’t need to climb the ladder of success to be content. I end most days, with the zen of Tai Chi. I volunteer, if and when I can. If I can’t, I don’t beat myself up about it. Believe it or not, saying, “No” can be very therapeutic. The result is a more fulfilling life with less demands and less stress. More family time. More me-time. More smiles and laughter. I love myself and who I am.

In our deepest adversities, we actually grow — mentally and emotionally. It doesn’t take a PhD to realize this. Eventually, it dawns on you. We discover things about ourselves that we never knew. We conquer problems that we never imagined possible. We manage our illnesses and we live. And, in the midst of it all, we find a silver lining. I know that I have.

God Bless …

 

Reference Links:

https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/chemotherapy/about/pac-20385033

*Photo by Jason Kocheran on Unsplash

Where Is Freedom?

Or, perhaps, I should ask what is it? Often times, we associate freedom with politics. But, for a moment, let’s consider another form. Many Chronic illnesses infringe upon the patient’s freedom or mobility. They feel chained to oxygen, wheel-chairs, catheters, insulin, etc. They feel a loss of freedom. I understand how they feel and their frustration. I have been there. Occasionally, I allow myself to ponder the subject even now. But it’s nothing like the torment that it once was. Today, it’s more of a reflection. Cathartic. Dare I say it? A celebration of my ability and perseverance. How? My faith. The Spirit of the Lord is truly freedom. Nothing accentuates that fact like doing battle with Chronic illness.

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“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”  — 2 Corinthians 3:17 (NIV)

There are skeptics, I’m sure. To them, I can only add that spirituality or faith has shown medical results. Consider those findings. I’m certainly not here to debate His divine existence with you. Faith is a freedom in itself — a personal journey. I know my experience. I’m more than happy to share it. But I can’t make such decisions for someone else.

If you or a loved one are struggling with a Chronic illness (and millions are), take a moment to reflect upon your battle. Consider turning to your faith, for strength and solace. Or, perhaps, finding it? Take a breath. And embrace the fact that God doesn’t create junk. He creates beauty, intelligence, strength, etc. He created you and I — just as we are — for a reason. There are no perfect human beings.

Your illness is only as enslaving as you allow it to be. That may sound too good to be true, but our mental health effects our overall well-being. Things like stress, anxiety and depression only complicate things. They don’t help. But a strengthened mind can lead to a strengthened body. When you think beyond your condition, you can break the chains that are holding you back. You can find ways to regain that precious freedom. You can discover new talents, hobbies, even careers. And you can live … fully … happily. You can even thrive! 

May God Bless!

 

 

Reference Links:

https://www.cdc.gov/workplacehealthpromotion/tools-resources/pdfs/issue-brief-no-2-mental-health-and-chronic-disease.pdf

https://www.mayoclinicproceedings.org/article/S0025-6196(11)62799-7/fulltext#cesec230

https://spiritualityandhealth.duke.edu/index.php/the-link-between-religion-and-health

Sharing Mayo Clinic: Eight Lessons on “Compassion in Health Care”

*Photo by Ryan Moreno on Unsplash

When All Else Fails, Pray …

Often times, we wait until our situation is in dire straits before we pray. Why is that? Scripture doesn’t teach us to reserve prayer for such times. It encourages us to do just the opposite — continual prayer. So, why our hesitation? No doubt, the reasons are varied. Yet, prayer has proven time and again to be the answer. It’s even caught the eye of those in the medical community. In fact, research on the subject has nearly doubled in the last decade. And their results may surprise you!

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“Pray without ceasing.”      — 1 Thessalonians 5:17 (KJ21)

When a person engages in prayer, the body and mind change gears. Consider, for a moment, meditation (the Buddhist form of prayer). During meditation, the patient is in deep concentration. This triggers activity in the brain’s parietal lobe circuits — ones that control a person’s orientation of self and world. A relaxation envelopes the person. The limbic system is activated. This controls relaxation, the nervous system, heart rate and blood pressure. As a result, the person’s brain registers everything as emotionally significant. They are more relaxed. Strengthened. They feel better — inspired even. Prayer, no matter the religion, has similar effects on the body. Perhaps, it is our God-given ability to heal? And perhaps, it’s why Scripture encourages us to pray often?

Research tells us that traditional religious beliefs play a positive role in our health. Over 1,200 studies conducted on the effects of prayer, reveal that religious individuals lead healthier lives. These people are less likely to abuse alcohol, to smoke, etc. Other interesting study statistics include: 

  • The non-religious have an average hospital-stay that is three times longer than those who worship regularly.
  • Non-religious heart patients were 14 times more likely to die after surgery.
  • In Israel, the religious had a 40% lower death rate from cardiovascular disease and cancer.
  • People who are religious are less likely to suffer from depression. And when they do become depressed, they recover more quickly.

Today, some in the medical community consider prayer a part of CAM (Contemporary and Alternative Medicine). This is a combination of natural products, mind and body practices, etc. In easier terms, think dietary supplements, herbal remedies, prayer, meditation, relaxation and art therapies, chiropractic, massage, etc. But many remain skeptics. Research is still in its infancy, on the subject of prayer and healing. We have a lot to learn.

In my life, I have prayed for my own health as well as the health of others. I’ve witnessed amazing results and those that seemed slow to come. And I have never been disappointed. I’ve asked, “Why?” Who hasn’t? Sometimes, the unknown is the most frustrating aspect to deal with. Still, I know the Lord has been very good to me. Along the way, prayer has taught me many things. I’ve embraced humility. I’ve learned patience and experienced a deeper relationship with the Almighty. All positive. All helpful. Once, following a critical health situation, I actually had a doctor tell me to “Thank the man upstairs”. Little did he know, I already had. And I continue to do so.

Prayer may not sound like the answer. But, in our most desperate times, do we really know what is? Or do we simply want to be heard? Healed? Relieved? To a few, it may sound downright silly. To believers, it makes perfect sense. When we struggle with our worst fears, I think we are like a lost lamb … scared … crying out … in need. And, thankfully, the Good Shepherd can hear us. He answers our call.

 

 

Reference Links:

https://www.webmd.com/balance/features/can-prayer-heal#1

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/consumer-health/in-depth/alternative-medicine/art-20045267

https://www.mja.com.au/journal/2007/186/10/prayer-medicine-how-much-have-we-learned

https://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/5/6/e007345

https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2015/05/07/power-of-prayer/70943182/

*Photo by Ben White on Unsplash