Saturday, September 12, 2015

Working through Betrayal from your own Body

This may not make a lot of sense to readers who are generally healthy, but for those of you who have been dealing with the emotions and discouragement that accompanies chronic disease for any length of time you will know exactly what I'm talking about.  I'm going talk about those times when we feel betrayed by our own bodies...

You might be reading this thinking--what?  That sounds kind of like an odd thing to say, but let me explain.  Typically a normal person spends the majority of their lifetime being healthy, punctuated with occasional bouts of disease.  In that sense, they depend on their body to have a normal amount of energy for them.  They expect to wake up feeling refreshed after a solid night of sleep, and barring a temporary condition, they can go throughout the majority of their lives without having to think too deeply about whether or not they have enough energy to make it through another day.  Like I said, this is our normal person.  Then you switch to someone whose health is not so normal for whatever reason.

This person spends the majority of their lifetime fighting to get their body to cooperate in order to accomplish the things they need to get done, whether for their job or their family.  They are constantly feeling stressed when people around them expect them to go at a normal productivity rate, and they can't.  Or they feel the social pressure to make plans to go out with friends or family only to have to cancel at the last minute due to feeling like they wish they were dead.  In these cases just described, they wanted to trust that their bodies wouldn't let them down (and by extension those counting on them), but many times that's not how it turned out.  They tried depending on their bodies, and they were disappointed.  Then they were disappointed again and again and again.  

Finally, they just stopped depending on their body to function normally.  They expected it to fail them, because it had done so many times in the past.  They just had to find a way to get things done regardless of their physical pain and fatigue, but that didn't lighten the emotional weariness of having fought for so long only to eventually acknowledge that their body couldn't be trusted.

It might seem like a small part of the fight, but for those of us fighting it, it's not.  The psychological effect of distrusting and eventually expecting your body to give out on you makes it hard to have the confidence to make any plans.  It makes it nearly impossible to hold down a job, and that social life becomes Netflix on the couch with your blanket and pillow (they never get upset with you for cancelling).  

It's hard to explain the relationship between our emotional dependence on our physical health and the damage that is done when we feel betrayed by the body's constant failure.  In a sense, it's like a small child whose parent has repeatedly promised to come watch their sports game only to miss every game of the season for 6 seasons straight.  Eventually the child stops looking for the parent in the stands, and in some cases the child may even lose interest in playing at all.  It becomes more a reminder of the disappointment than a fun diversion.  

That's an imperfect example by far, but certain aspects in it ring true to our situation.  The symbiotic relationship between your mind and body affects a lot of your outlook on life, and if you get to the point where you feel like your body is just waiting for you to make plans so it can fall apart on you, it will make things that much harder to push through.  I can relate to this, because I have struggled with getting very discouraged when things seem to be improving, I make plans, and then I crash--hard.  It feels like my body is actually punishing me for trying to be normal and productive.  I hate it intensely.  But I have found something that can help when I am starting to plummet into hopelessness about feeling like my body and the weather have conspired against me.

I have to remember the truth about this, which is:

1. My body is frail and weak, because of the Fall.  When sin brought the curse on all humanity, my body was affected too.  I try not to think about it a lot, because sometimes it can be frustrating, but in reality this is true for everyone.  Everyone's body is falling apart to some degree or another because of the curse.  No one's body is as God originally designed it.  I am not the only one "falling apart."

2. Even if my body is "conspiring against me" God is more powerful than my body's weakness.  This was an odd way to word it, I know, but I couldn't come up with a better way to say this.  Even assuming that my worst conspiracy theories are true, and my body is getting together with the weather to plan out the worst possible day for me, nothing that happens in my physical health is outside of God's control.  Even if all the forces of nature are aimed against me by the gates of hell (and I realize this is sounding very apocalyptic, but some days, that's how it feels) they are not outside of God's plan for my day.  My body may conspire against me, but God is conspiring for me.  That is a comforting thought in the middle of craziness.

3. Dependence on my body will always end in disappointment. I don't know where in the Old Testament it is, but somewhere there is a verse that discusses some people trusting in the strength of mankind and some trust in the strength of horses, but I will trust in the LORD.  I realize that is probably taken majorly out of context, so don't quote me, but my point is that while it feels good to depend on my body (most people don't even realize they are) my true dependence should be on God not on feeling healthy enough to go through my day the way I want to.  When I'm stuck on feeling "betrayed" I have to remember that I was trusting the wrong thing in the first place.

4. Be sensitive to those around you.  This is more of a side note for those who are living around people who are still processing the sense of hurt and betrayal that their bodies don't work the way they think they should.  Sometimes people assume that chronic pain is only physical, but it goes so much deeper.  Emotions, thoughts, and relationships are all heavily affected by these types of conditions, and a lot of times careless well-meant words can be misplaced and do more harm than good.  All I am asking is that you be sensitive when the sick person in your life tries to share where they are at in their journey.  It may be they have just begun to process this profound sense of intimate betrayal, and they don't have all the words for it yet.  Or they may have been soldiering on through it stoically for years and finally need to acknowledge how much it hurts and how disappointing it has been.  Whatever the case, remember to be kind, gentle and try to listen with a heart that wants to comfort.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Weathering the Relapses

It's not a topic we like to talk about, but it's going to happen.  Sooner or later we're going to have a relapse.  Knowing this, it feels like something we should discuss.

So, you're going along, making progress, and you almost start to think that you're not really as sick as you thought you were.  Maybe the doctor was wrong.  Maybe things will get back to normal soon.  Then it hits.  You wake up one day and you can't get your legs out of bed.  Your head is pounding.  Crud, you've relapsed.  You drag yourself around and start thinking angry thoughts about the doctor and the medications and feel frustrated that the hope you just felt is pulled out of reach again. 

It's hard to finally feel a little bit of hope that things might eventually get better, and then almost feel punished by your body for feeling hopeful.  You might go through this cycle a few times and start to wonder if you should just avoid feeling that hope to avoid the disappointment that follows it.  But we can't just give up on hope.  It's not wrong to let yourself hope that things are going to get better, but I understand that it's hard to go through these cycles.  So we know we don't want to give up on hope, but we also know that relapses are going to happen.  Here are a few thoughts on how to handle the relapses we know are going to come.

  1. Keep your head in the moment.  While it's easy to let hope get you daydreaming about the future, don't get bogged down in where you might be a few years from now.  You are going to have ups and downs, but focusing on them from a long way off won't help you get through them.  Focus on where you are right now, and let the future be what it's going to be.
  2. Keep the goal in mind. Though you don't want to let your heart sink in the bog of future possibilities, it is important to keep in mind the ultimate purpose in dealing with your daily pain and fatigue.  You aren't here in life to just make the best of a bad deal.  God's put you in the middle of these struggles to show His glory in your life and to make you more like Jesus.  
  3. Discuss it with someone.  When you're alone with this cycle of destructive and depressing thoughts, it's easy to start making bad decisions and doubt what you know is true.  It's important to discuss it with someone you know will remind you of the truth rather than listening to the lies that your pain tells you. 
  4. Take it easy on yourself.  When you're in a relapse, it can make you feel like a failure.  Try to take it easier when you're struggling physically.  You're already in pain, it will only make it worse if you beat yourself up for all the things you can't get done because you're sick.
  5. The relapse won't last forever.  Don't give up.  The struggle with pain and fatigue might be a lifelong fight, but the intense struggle you're facing right now isn't the level it will stay at forever.  You will level out again.  There will be more ups with the downs.
These are only a few thoughts on how to deal with relapses as they come.   There is no easy quick fix for the slumps.  Sometimes the only thing you can do is hold on to what you know and wait out the storm.  The storm may get rough through the night, but the morning will come.  The morning will come.