Waiting For Your Garden

Gardens have a way of teaching patience. It doesn’t matter where they are located, their size, or what you are growing. They are still a lesson in that virtue. My granny was a very gifted gardener. I’ve seen her grow lush plants, bushes and trees from frail cuttings. Even now, when I reflect upon her gardening skills, I am amazed. She made it look so easy. Our lives are gardens, too; remember? Chronic illness, in any form, has the same uncanny ability to teach patience. It’s a lesson that is often learned the hard way. And the waiting, for lack of a better description, can feel hellish. 

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        “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” — Romans 12:12 NIV

If you have a Chronic illness, or you know someone who does, then you recognize this garden’s path all too well. You have followed it, with scared and sometimes reluctant steps. The waiting seems to never end. From the initial diagnosis, through the necessary tests, the difficult symptoms and devilish setbacks … you are constantly waiting … for results … for less pain … for more energy … waiting for doctors … for medications … for more mobility … for a good day … maybe, a good week … and waiting … and waiting. Living with a Chronic illness demands tenacity and optimism. But, above all, it requires an abundance of patience — with your body, your illness and the world around you. It isn’t easy. I know. But it is feasible.

For the most part, many people misunderstand patience. When you exercise patience, you aren’t giving up. Nor does it imply that you don’t care. We’re talking about your health, or that of a loved one. Of course, you care. Patience is a quiet power that nourishes the mind, body and soul. It has the ability to make you stronger — healthier. Now, for a moment, consider the alternative.

When you try to juggle life and a Chronic illness without patience, you become frustrated. Angry. This hurts you and those around you. It hampers your abilities. As life begins to spiral out of control, you are overwhelmed. Then, anxiety joins the mix. In some cases, depression follows. You don’t need more health problems. Yet, that’s what you have. Your health, physically and emotionally, has become even more fragile than it was before.

By using patience, you have an advantage. Patience allows you to manage stress more effectively.  You are happier — more at peace with yourself and your life. It provides better mental health. It strengthens and nourishes your relationships, too. And your support system is a very priceless thing. Patience allows you to achieve your goals, no matter how long it may take. It enables you to overcome the inevitable setbacks. You are living — even thriving — under difficult circumstances. How? Because patience has increased your coping skills. And that is an important part of managing any Chronic disease.

Granted, not all of us are patient by nature. But there are things that you can do to cultivate patience:

  1. When life isn’t going as planned, i.e. a flare in your disease, don’t blame yourself or others. Don’t allow negative emotions to take root. Stay calm. Keep your perspective, i.e. setbacks happen even when you do everything your doctor has advised. Chronic diseases often evolve and change happens.
  2. To reduce your pain, do not allow your thoughts to magnify the situation. Does it hurt? Yes. But remind yourself that uncomfortable pain doesn’t equate to unbearable pain. Acknowledge the difference. You can and will get through this. 
  3. Listen to your body. Don’t allow pain, swelling, or whatever symptom, to prevail. Don’t ignore the obvious. You know what is the norm with your body and your disease. When things are worsening, call your doctor and address it.
  4. Never underestimate a self pep-talk. This is no pity-party. Think about what you are dealing with, your options, your feelings, etc. Acknowledge your victories — even the small ones. Embrace what you can do. You might even bounce a few ideas, off of someone in your support system. You will feel better. Then, catch your breath. Focus on your goal. 

Every garden has its trials and triumphs. Yet, despite the obstacles, life blooms. It may take a little longer than we expected. The waiting is inconvenient, at the least. But it’s part of the journey. Life continues — yours and mine. Each day, even the difficult ones, are a blessing. So, thank God for them. Cherish their beauty. Grow in your wisdom. And sow more patience.

 

Reference Links:

http://www.clevelandclinicmeded.com/medicalpubs/diseasemanagement/psychiatry-psychology/coping-with-chronic-medical-illness/

https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/four_reasons_to_cultivate_patience

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/emotional-freedom/201209/the-power-patience

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/your-zesty-self/201109/four-steps-developing-patience

Photo by Finn Hackshaw for Unsplash

 

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We Are Our Brother’s Keeper

Mental Health America is a non-profit that is dedicated to the needs of those with Mental illness and their families. While you may have not heard of them, the organization was founded in 1909. For over 65 years, they have turned the month of May into a time of awareness. With over 200 affiliates in 41 states, MHA is a hardworking national as well as grassroots advocacy. And the need is real.

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Unlike other Chronic illnesses, Mental illness is more difficult to diagnose. There is no simple blood-test, or x-ray. But strides have been made in the process, with the help of modern neuroimaging and genetics. Scientists today are working to uncover the biological keys of mental disorders. And the more that we learn … the more we can help patients to lead better lives. Healthier ones.

If you or a loved one has a Chronic illness, this should be something to applaud and pray for. No matter the initial diagnosis, i.e. Diabetes, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Heart Disease, Cancer, etc., many chronically ill patients [at one time or another] will also be diagnosed with Depression and/or Anxiety. Setbacks can take a toll — physically, emotionally & mentally. Such forms of Mental illness can often be like that uninvited house-guest and much more troubling. Overcoming one becomes a separate struggle in itself — a difficult complication. Often times, an overwhelming one. 

Chronically Mentally Ill is a medical (and legal) term for a patient who has been diagnosed with a major mental disorder by a licensed physician, i.e. Schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder, PTSD, etc. Their illness has led to at least one hospitalization. It impairs their ability to work, their relationships, their thinking and their mood. 

The prevalence of Mental illness in American society isn’t a myth. It isn’t an issue that we can afford to avoid. From the Christian perspective, we are our brother’s keeper (Genesis 4:9, NIV). God challenges us to think of others and not just ourselves. For those less devout, consider the numbers involved. Approximately, 1 in 5 adults struggle with a form of Mental illness. That’s over 48M people. And 1 in 25 adults, roughly 9M, live with a serious Mental illness. Over 20% of our youth experience a severe Mental disorder, at some point in their lives. 

From the social standpoint, 26% of America’s homeless are living on the streets with a serious Mental illness. About 46% live with a severe Mental illness or substance use disorder. If they are lucky, they are able to find refuge in a shelter. If that shelter has an on-site clinic, they can get the medical attention that they need. But, often times, these individuals receive little help — becoming recipients of sporadic, revolving-door healthcare. Just over 50% of America’s children, ages 8-15, received mental health services last year. Did you know that half of all Chronic Mental illness presents itself by the age of 14? Three-fourths will show symptoms, by age 24. And, unfortunately, long delays can exist in treatment. This isn’t uncommon, no matter the socioeconomic factors involved. Years, sometimes decades, can pass from the time symptoms first appear until medical treatment is actually received.

As a result, Mental illness costs America over $190B in lost earnings each year. Approximately 37% of students with a Mental health condition, who are being served by Special Education will drop-out (ages 14-21). Suicide is now the 10th leading cause of death. More than 90% of children who die from suicide suffer from a form of Mental illness. It’s also estimated that we are losing 18-22 military veterans every day to suicide. Most mentally ill patients are not violent. That noted, 3-5% of all violence — including those where firearms are used — can be attributed to serious mental illness. These facts cannot be ignored. The loss … the pain … endured by patients and families is really immeasurable. The loss to our society goes without saying. These patients/families need our  support. We are facing a crisis that, left unattended, will surely worsen. 

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. It isn’t the time to look the other way, or pretend that the facts do not exist. It isn’t the time to try and convince yourself that this “problem” doesn’t concern you. We are all in this journey called life, together. Now is the time to embrace the statistics … look in the mirror … and ask, “How can I make a difference?”

 

Reference Links:

http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/about-us

http://www.apa.org/monitor/2012/06/roots.aspx

https://definitions.uslegal.com/c/chronically-mentally-ill/

https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/neuroscience/chronic-mental-illnesses

https://www.nami.org/NAMI/media/NAMI-Media/Images/FactSheets/Bipolar-Disorder-FS.pdf

http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/conditions/post-traumatic-stress-disorder

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK218235/

https://www.nami.org/learn-more/mental-health-by-the-numbers

http://www.amhca.org/blogs/joel-miller/2017/10/03/gun-violence-and-mental-illnessmyths-and-evidence-based-facts

* Photo by Francisco Moreno on Unsplash

 

 

A Quiet Place …

Before Christ fed the 5,000 — a miracle detailed in all four of the Gospels — he sought rest for himself and his disciples. He did so without reservation. He didn’t scold anyone. Nor was he embarrassed. Christ embraced the idea of resting.

Why then do patients with Chronic illnesses hate to rest? Their reasons are as varied as the individuals themselves. But often times they include feelings of guilt, shame, embarrassment, stubbornness, etc. Society still has its stigmas. We live with them, daily. If you or a loved one has a Chronic illness, you may be all too aware of these stigmas. You may even fear being negatively labeled as a result of one. Yet, modern medicine tells us that rest is vital to managing Chronic diseases. Forgive my bluntness but … you can rest now, or you can regret it later. The choice is yours.

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  “… Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”                                         –Mark 6:31 (NIV)

Work and fatigue are not a good mix. We all know that. Yet, most jobs seem to demand more of us every year. Longer hours. Greater stress. Deadlines. Responsibilities. It adds up. And it can take its toll.

The decision to disclose a Chronic illness to your employer, or co-workers, is a very personal one. Some may be comfortable with doing so. Others may not. Whichever path you choose is up to you. But you do need to educate yourself on the fine points of The Family Leave Act. It may come in handy, one day.

If your employer has 50+ employees, and you have been working there for at least 12 months, this law applies to you. Although it isn’t paid leave, it provides the opportunity to rest and recuperate. If you have vacation time, sick time, or personal time, etc., saved up with your employer, you can use it along with your FMLA. In the imperfect world of Chronic disease, this provides a chance to take a much needed pause in the daily grind. It gives a caregiver the time that he or she needs with a loved one. Oftentimes, a small boost is all that is required to regain control of your illness.

Severe pain is also a way of life, for many chronically ill patients. When the pain worsens at night, sleep becomes disrupted. A few of the medications used to treat these diseases are also known to cause sleep problems. If that isn’t overwhelming enough, some patients may struggle with Anxiety or Depression as well. This too makes sleep/rest difficult. If you are having any of these issues, please talk to your doctor. Usually, if the pain can be controlled, you will be able to achieve adequate rest. Consider trying these tips:

  • Limit your daily consumption of caffeine & alcohol
  • Sleep in a dark room
  • Keep noise down
  • Maintain a comfortable room temperature
  • Try a p.m. snack of foods known to induce sleep, i.e. walnuts, almonds, cheese & crackers, chamomile tea, passionfruit tea, or cherry juice

If you are still having sleep difficulties, your doctor may prescribe a medication that can help. When a medication is used, it is best to do so for a limited amount of time (2 weeks or less) to avoid dependency. 

Rest isn’t too much to ask. It’s a necessity for our bodies. So, be kind to yourself. Realize your limitations. Accept that you aren’t invincible. It’s okay. A nap isn’t a sign of weakness. It’s a chance to power-up. What may look like an indulgence to some is really a way to maintain control of your Chronic illness. So, use it wisely. Rest plays a vital role in making the most of every day. Denial does not. 

Your work schedule and/or workload may have to be examined, at some point. A leave may become necessary. This isn’t unusual, either. Setbacks happen. Approximately 133M Americans live with a form of Chronic illness. Millions are juggling more than one. Most remain within the workforce. You are not alone. Remember that.

No one is expecting any of us to perform a miracle. But we are still expecting a lot. Let’s be honest, we have goals — you, me and everyone like us. We have plans … dreams … bucket lists, etc. We want to be productive. Successful. Involved. Yes, we have a Chronic illness/es. And we manage it. We want to make the most out of living. Perhaps, the best way to achieve these things is by following Christ’s example? Rest. And it starts with a quiet place …

 

Reference Links:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/turning-straw-gold/201704/when-our-chronically-ill-bodies-say-rest-why-dont-we

https://www.dol.gov/whd/fmla/employeeguide.pdf

https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/about_sleep/chronic_disease.html

https://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/guide/sleep-chronic-illness

https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/servicesandsupport/managing-long-term-illness-and-chronic-conditions

https://health.usnews.com/health-care/for-better/articles/2016-11-21/coping-with-the-regret-that-surrounds-a-chronic-illness

* Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

It Is Well With My Soul

If you have a Chronic illness, then you have experienced that Twilight Zone moment when your diagnosis was first given. A part of you is hearing what the doctor is saying. The other part is almost in shock — engulfed with disbelief. This is the start of an emotional, physical and often times spiritual rollercoaster. One that none of us asked to ride on. One that seems hopelessly out of our control. Or is it? I have heard the diagnosis of a Chronic illness, more than once. Multiples are not unusual. Millions of patients can attest to that. And I have asked, “Why me?” But I have also asked, “Why not me?” One of the most important things that any patient of a Chronic illness can do is embrace it. Those words are easier said than done. I know. Still, they beg the question: Have you accepted your diagnosis?

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A Chronic illness is not the same as being terminally ill. Yet, there are five stages of grief involved: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. The life you had is gone. This is your new normal. Many of the things that you once did are lost to an affliction that you didn’t ask for. And, if you are like most patients, you don’t feel that you deserve. It’s a lot to take in. It doesn’t seem fair. Why is this happening? You lament about what you could have done differently. Some seem to have done everything right and still they are diagnosed with a Chronic illness. It’s confusing, irritating and overwhelming. While you are trying to cope with medications, treatment, side-effects, lifestyle changes, symptoms and emotions … you may also be wrestling with your spiritual beliefs.

Faith is easy to have, when life is good. It becomes a different ballgame, in difficult times. Some people question their faith, when life gets hard. They may even become angry with God — confused by the turmoil that has engulfed their comfort zone. Often times, adults drift away from church and faith. There isn’t a specific reason. It just happens. The diagnosis of a Chronic illness can bring them back. They now need the assurance, hope and peace that faith provided. Those things they shrugged aside — took for granted. For others, who have never had a religious belief system, difficulty can actually lead them to faith. It’s a very personal walk, down an often lonely path. If you are struggling with your faith, you may be asking, “Why did God let this happen to me?” And that’s a good question. We don’t always understand why, at the moment we are going through an ordeal. It may take months — even years — to know. But one day, we will understand (1 Corinthians 13:12).

Personally, I believe that God has a plan for each of us. To get us where He needs us, God uses every tool. He doesn’t create our suffering, but he allows good to flourish from it. He knows that in these difficult moments, we are gaining insight … serving as examples … literally inspiring others. Good emerges. In Romans 8:28, we are told, “… God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.”

If you take a few moments to look through the Holy Bible, you’ll note that affliction and suffering are ever present. In fact, there are at least 14 words in Hebrew and Greek that translate to “affliction”. Think about that. Suffering is part of this earthly world. It always has been. None of us are immune. Chronic illnesses, i.e. Alcoholism, Mental illness, Atrophy, Leprosy, Epilepsy, Obesity, Glaucoma/Blindness, etc., were present in biblical times. What you are experiencing isn’t new. Such afflictions have been around for centuries.

Today, thanks to modern medicine, we have options that make living with Chronic illness much easier. Even modern society has changed — becoming more accepting of those who suffer from these diseases. Yes, there are still problems to be addressed. Awareness continues to be a need. The more people understand, the better off that we become as a society. Healthier living. Preventative measures. Learning has its rewards. We cannot control human nature. There will, unfortunately, always be individuals who are bigoted, who discriminate, who bully, who judge, etc. But we can pray for them. The Lord works in mysterious ways.

If you have a Chronic illness, work towards accepting it. Stay optimistic. Take the necessary steps — changes —  to manage your health. It will provide much needed stability to your life. Learn to live each and every day to the fullest. Appreciate what you can do. Maintain a clear perspective — set a few goals. Avoid additional stress. Count your blessings. Your life has changed before. Think about it. Perhaps, it was when you went off to college? Or when you entered military service? Or marriage? This isn’t the end of the world. This is a new journey. So embrace it, as I have. It isn’t the path that I would have chosen. And you probably feel the same. But it is well with my soul.

Have a Blessed Easter.

 

Reference Links:

http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/chronic-illness.aspx

http://www.christianitytoday.com/pastors/2012/july-online-only/doesgodallowtragedy.html

http://www.jennifermartinpsych.com/yourcolorlooksgoodblog/2013/09/the-five-stages-of-grief-for-chronic.html

https://www.gotquestions.org/Bible-affliction.html

https://www.biblicaltraining.org/library/diseases-bible

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1070773/

*Photo by Caleb Frith on Unsplash