This week and last, I have shared posts that tell the story of my journey with autoimmunity. I have said in my posts that I am thankful for this journey. This post gets at the heart of why. Written in August of 2017, it conveys a critical part in my healing — the time I have spent sitting and considering the previous chapter of my life. Everyone doesn’t benefit from illness, but my physical illness has made way for a much deeper healing.
I literally have to sit here with it.
I would rather run, but I don’t have that option any more. I have to sit with it.
In my soldiering years, I was continually in motion. Dawn ’til dark. I was picking up, dropping off, buying, cooking, cleaning, planning, teaching, grading, and when I could squeeze it in, I was literally…
Last week, I shared two posts: the first, here, described autoimmune disease as I experience it now. The second, here, described autoimmune disease as I experienced it in the beginning. This post, another re-visit, was written in March 2019. It describes how I’ve come to view my journey with autoimmune disease. While at first I was overwhelmed, angry, and defeated by my symptoms, I now can see how learning to manage them and writing about the experience has opened a path to a new way of life.**This is not a how-to manual for those who are suffering; it is merely a narration of life in this chapter.
Five years ago, I was getting ready to transition away from a job I loved and a beautiful home in a community that had forever re-shaped us. One of several reasons…
On Monday, I wrote about autoimmunity (full post here) and how I function daily in January 2020. Many of you wrote to thank me for sharing my journey. In light of that, I thought it might be useful for this week’s re-visit to be my very first post on autoimmune disease from way back in July 2014 — my second blog post ever. A lot has changed since then — my diagnosis, my symptoms, and my reality. Everyone’s struggle with illness is different, and many of those struggles we cannot see.Many more than I are invisibly ill.
In my first entry on this blog, I mentioned that my doctors had advised me to take some time off to rest. Some of you who know me might be thinking, “Well, shoot, you…
Friday afternoon, I sat at my desk grading some student work. I had untied the blanket scarf that I’d had wrapped around my neck and transitioned it from scarf to blanket so that I could wrap up as I worked. I was tired. And chilly.
Then, when my supervisor entered my office and shared some sadness with my coworker and I, I moved the blanket from my shoulders to up around my head, like a babuska. I huddled inside, rounded my shoulders, and audibly sighed.
Any stamina I had left after two forty-hour weeks was quickly dissipating. I didn’t have the bandwidth to take in sadness. I only had enough left to finish my tasks for the week so that I could stumble home.
Nevertheless, my coworkers and I paused for a minute and were sad together.
When the day was finally ended — most of the t’s crossed and most of the i’s dotted (I couldn’t be bothered to ensure all) — I tied the scarf around my neck, put on my coat, grabbed my backpack, and started the journey home.
I knew, as I walked out of the building, that I would spend most of the weekend in recovery, most of the next three days resting, hydrating, and giving my body time to heal.
I’m not sick. I am not injured. I have an autoimmune disease. And when your spoons are gone, they are gone, baby. After a couple long weeks — even a couple long hours — you can find yourself sitting at your desk wrapped up in a blanket, practically sucking your thumb.
I look just fine. You wouldn’t know that most of the past month I’ve been caring for a persistent case of iritis, which has involved — so far — two trips to the ophthalmologist and a course of steroid drops, OTC ibuprofen, and plenty of rest. You wouldn’t be able to see that for most of the week I’ve been trying to convince myself that I don’t have a urinary tract infection (sorry for the TMI) and that at this very moment, I’m contemplating a trip to the doctor to pee in a cup and find out if it is an infection or just inflammation.
I look just fine. In fact, I want to look just fine. I try very hard to look just fine.
Before I even walk out the door each morning, I do two HOURS of self care so that I can have the stamina to live my life — complete my job requirements, maintain my emotional health, and prevent myself from an autoimmune flare.
The alarm goes off at 5:30. I go to the bathroom and give the doggy the same opportunity. Then, I head to my home office, sit on the futon, read some Scripture, and write my three morning pages. Next I do yoga. (I am currently following a 30-day plan called “Home” by Yoga with Adriene.) By the time I’ve done all this, I am usually rushing to grab the clothes I’ve lain out the night before on my way to the shower. I wash with delicate soap and shampoo that won’t incite psoriasis, and I take time to apply carefully-selected moisturizers and cosmetics that do NOT annoy my skin. I dress in clothing that is comfortable and shoes that won’t irritate my feet. Finally, I make gluten-free oatmeal (yes, that’s a thing) and a cup of green tea, both of which I carry out the door with me so that I can make it to work by 8. I cherish this luxury of time to connect with God, connect with my mind, connect with my body, and prepare myself for the day.
In addition to my daily work, I also have other regular maintenance routines that I follow. I go to regular physical and dental check-ups like anyone else, but I do much more. Weekly, I see at least one member of my team — my chiropractor, my physical therapist, or my functional medicine practitioner. Once a month, I see a therapist, and twice a year I get an injection from a pain management specialist.
I love this routine. And, I have noticed, after having developed it over the past few years, that it makes me feel and look just fine — most of the time.
Even all this preventative practice can’t consistently keep autoimmune flares at bay.
It does a pretty good job, I must say. When I first started struggling with autoimmunity, I felt (and, quite frankly, looked) lousy most days. My eyes hurt, my skin was inflamed, my joints were stiff and sore, and I had zero stamina. I could barely keep my eyes open on my drive home after a typical day. I was convinced I’d landed in a new reality. I would never be able to hold a full-time job again. I would always be in pain. I would always feel (and look) miserable.
That was seven years ago this month.
Fortunately, the past seven years have led me to this place — a place that is full of hope. I have found a different way to have a career — where forty hour weeks are the exception not the rule, where I can occasionally sit at my desk wrapped in a blanket on a Friday afternoon, and where I can spend my weekend recovering instead of worrying about 75 AP essays that need to be scored and returned.
It would probably be a healthier rhythm even without autoimmune disease, but my dream was to teach in a high school or college where current systems don’t typically allow teachers to have a reasonable amount of work. High school and college English teachers work much more than 40 hours a week and have very little, if any, time for self-care or recovery — especially not teachers who have high expectations of themselves and their students and who are soldiering through their own personal crises.
Ironically, I was living my dream of speaking into the writing of people who were finding their way, when I realized I had lost my own way.
Autoimmunity has given me back my life — a better life than I could have imagined, even considering the frequent eye issues and other systemic flares. Because of the routines I have had to employ in order to function, I am much more aware of who I am and what my priorities are.
Because of autoimmunity, I look — and actually am — just fine.
I have spent most of the weekend recovering. I’ve stayed mostly in pajamas, wrapped in an afghan, eating foods that don’t contribute to inflammation, and using all the practices that restore me — Scripture, writing, yoga, crocheting, college basketball, and movies. I’m feeling a bit better. I may head to the doctor yet, but for right now, I’m going to crawl over to the couch, turn on a good flick, and continue to rest.
On Monday, I wrote about finding “Common Ground” in these polarizing political times. In the summer of 2019, I wrote this piece, which challenges the premise of dichotomy – that all issues can be sorted into two sides.
The other day, a news reporter said that people on both sides of the immigration debate were upset by a recent decision. Senators from both sides of the aisle are contemplating impeachment, and both sides of the abortion debate are reeling from recent legislation. This language might lead us to the conclusion that many of our issues are binary — pro or con, Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative, black or white.
But isn’t most of life more complicated than that?
Is it even possible to break the US population, which today is 328,983,273 strong, into “both sides”? Can we…
On Monday, I posted a piece about wearing a face mask during this pandemic. Who could have predicted at the start of this year that such a topic would be polarizing? A simple piece of fabric across the face has come to represent a political position rather than an attempt to stop the spread of disease. We could’ve seen it coming. The piece that follows was written in January of this year, long after many of us had taken our political positions, formed teams, sunk in our heels, and declared war on one another. How long will we allow this go on? How long before we are willing to find some common ground?
January 2020 is the start of a new year and a new decade. It is also a leap year, and, in case you hadn’t noticed, an election year.
It’s been pretty hard not to notice, what with the numerous debates, countless political ads, and the twenty-four hour news cycle.
And, for me, talk of the election and all things political has seeped into daily discourse, family gatherings (much to my mother’s dismay), and, most notably, my social media feeds.
I am happy to say that I have a pretty diverse online community; I’m quite sure it includes representatives from the far right, the moderate right, the moderate left, the far left, and people who claim to not care about politics at all. I don’t block people, even when their posts piss me off, because I want to hear divergent views. I don’t want to live in an echo chamber, so I sometimes see, as I scroll, posts that encourage me, posts that confuse me, posts that irritate me, and posts that make me want to reply in a way that I would likely regret later.
Recently, I saw a post from a friend who said it was all the [insert specific political party]’s fault that [fill in current political issue] was happening. I saw that another friend of mine had replied, so I scrolled on. That friend said that, no, it was actually the [insert opposing party]’s fault because “look at all this evidence”. And so it ensued — a virtual exchange between representatives of two different parties. Now, I will say, that these two individuals, both intelligent and well-read, were able to isolate some key issues and continue their exchange beyond the typical name calling and finger-pointing, but neither granted any space to the other; no allowances were made. Both stood firm in their convictions, unwilling to budge.
When I saw this conversation, I wanted so badly to step in and ally myself with one of the speakers. I placed my cursor over the “write a comment” space, started to type, then, in a moment of sudden good judgment, hit the backspace button and closed the lid on my laptop. (I would like to here record this adult-like behavior since I don’t always make such sound-minded choices.)
I considered those two friends over the next few days. They have known each other for decades. They have fond memories together, but they, at least in this post, had positioned themselves against each other and were unable to find common ground.
I wonder what would’ve happened if they had had the same conversation across the table from one another, over a sandwich and a coffee, looking into one another’s eyes. Would they would have been able to cede some of their firmly-held ground or been willing to step across the line into one another’s territory if only to look around?
It’s hard to know.
Another friend posted about a family gathering at Christmas where a [insert family member here] had come in spouting rhetoric from [insert political figure here], inciting an argument. Both parties continued to engage, firmly arguing their own positions, until one asked the other to leave. They couldn’t be in the same house together — on Christmas — because of their differing political views.
I don’t think these are isolated incidents. Scenes like these are becoming common. It seems that we have allowed ourselves to be drawn into these opposing factions that position us one against the other, heels dug in, fingers pointing. And where do we picture it will end? Do any of us believe — truly believe — that we can shout “the other side” into submission, that we can prove our “rightness” and their “wrong-ness”? Do we think that one side will ever “win”?
Because guys, I’m not seeing anyone winning right now. I’m seeing a lot of anger and posturing, name-calling and accusing, and all kinds of refusal to find a place where we can come together.
And isn’t that what we want? Don’t we want to come together in the United States of America? Don’t we want to live in a “more perfect union”? Don’t we want to embody e pluribus unum, ‘out of many, one’?
Can we accomplish that through finger-pointing, name-calling, and accusation? Not in my experience. I imagine that the longer we glare across the line, attaching blame to those on the other side, the further we get entrenched in our positions, the less willing we are to change.
And change doesn’t have to mean surrender — for anyone! If we could find, in the space between us, just enough room to set up a table, if we could invite one another to sit down, we just might have a beginning.
Of course, we’d have to shift our approach. Instead of trying to cram our own beliefs and opinions down the throats of the others, we’d have to agree to ask one another questions and listen to the responses.
For example, when one side says, “We need to do more to fight climate change,” we could respond by saying, “Oh? Tell me more about that. What kinds of ideas do you have?”
When someone says, “I don’t want anyone to take away my right to own a gun,” we could ask, “Really? Tell me why?”
If someone says, “Women have the right to do what they want with their bodies,” we can say, “I can see you are passionate about this. What’s your story?”
When another says, “We have to do what’s best for this country,” we can say, “What do you picture that looking like?”
What might happen? What kinds of conversations could we have if we just opened up some space and agreed to step inside of it, leaving our need to be right and our firmly held convictions behind?
Might we be able to see that we are indeed united on many issues — caring for our parents, providing for our children, reaching out to those in need? Could we be surprised to find that everyone on that other side doesn’t meet all our preconceived notions? Is it possible that in the space we find ourselves standing, we might see new possibilities that we’d never before imagined?
I’m just saying, it might be worth a try. Of course, we might decide that it feels safer to stay in our own yards, fists clenched, jaws set, unwilling to compromise the beliefs we hold so dear.
What were they again — those beliefs you hold so dear? What were the causes you were willing to fight with an old friend about? What issues kept you away from the Christmas gathering? What might you gain by clinging so tightly to them?
It could be a really long year if we stay in our trenches flinging grenades at one another.
Can’t we find enough common ground to stand together on? Can’t we reconcile with one another? Don’t we have enough grace for that?
If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”
I wrote this post in January of 2016, and since I’ve been on the topic of New Year’s resolutions, I thought I’d revisit it here.It serves as a reminder that while New Year’s resolutions are great, if we find ourselves on a wrong path, we can turn at any time.
When I was younger, I participated in the whole New Year’s resolution hoopla. Each January I would determine to exercise more, be more diligent in my Bible study, write more, save more money, etc. Like many, I started off strong, then missed a day, fell off the wagon, or went back to my old ways feeling defeated and guilty.
At some point over the years, my pendulum swung to the other extreme, and I determined that I was fine, thank you very much; I didn’t need to resolve to…
My husband and I have a long-running joke between us that he could paint the house purple and it would take me a few months to notice.
I don’t see everything.
Once, one of our children got multiple piercings on body parts that were not covered by clothing, and I didn’t realize it for a couple of weeks.
I miss details.
It’s not that my vision is poor. I mean it is (-7.75 for those who know what that means), but my glasses correct me to 20/20.
My vision is fine; I just don’t see stuff.
For example, we can drive down the same street every Saturday for five years in a row and one day I will ask my husband, “Is that a new gas station?” He’ll say, “No, it’s always been there.” Or, he’ll say, “Doesn’t the road feel great now that they’ve resurfaced it?” and I’ll say, “They resurfaced it?”
Now, I might be able to blame a little of this on the cell phone. I mean, my husband often drives, and I’m often checking texts, getting navigation, or responding to messages, so I might miss some things because I’ve got my face in the screen, but guys, the piercing incident happened way before iPhones. I barely even knew where my phone was back then.
The fact that I miss so much probably has more to do with my laser focus on the mission — a last vestige of the soldiering life.
[If you are new to my blog and don’t know what I mean by ‘soldiering’, you can get a quick snapshot by clicking here. Or you can type ‘soldiering’ into the search bar at the top of the page.]
One important skill of soldiering is to be able to tune out distractions so that you can focus on the mission. The brain can’t attend to every stimulus it is exposed to all at once, so a soldier learns to zoom in. She can see an enemy approaching at a great distance while filtering out a whining dog at her feet. She can detect an approaching storm that will necessitate a tactical shift, while overlooking the construction crew working on the highway she’s driving on. Her mission is survival, so she prioritizes necessity and imminent threat.
For much of a decade, during my soldiering season, I was laser-focused on survival. I saw what was necessary for that mission — feeding my family, putting clothes on their backs, and getting them to doctors, therapists, sporting events, and concerts. I also attended to my students– planning their lessons, grading their papers, and writing their college recommendations. If my child or my student brought an issue to me — put it right in front of me — I saw it as part of the mission. I would work to solve, soothe, or fix whatever was broken and then get back to whatever I was working on.
I saw little in my periphery, little that wasn’t pointed out, little that lay hidden beneath the surface.
Now, I’m obviously not a trained soldier; I was just pretending to know what I was doing as I marched through some very difficult years. In the face of uncertainty and possible harm, I strapped on my backpack and started kicking butts and taking names. I turned my eyes to problems and crises in an attempt to control my surroundings, but I missed so much — some of the greatest threats to our family and their well-being. An untrained soldier might manage to survive, but she’s likely to mess up all kinds of missions along the way.
In these last five years, during my recovery from soldiering, I have dropped my weapons, taken off my backpack, and slowed my pace, but I’m still trying to adjust my vision. I still tend to scan for danger or obstacles rather than giving a more realistic assessment to a situation.
Just last week, I met a new student with some significant learning challenges. Even after decades of working with students with all kinds of learning profiles, I was intimidated. He’s got some real barriers to learning and all I could see were the obstacles we would have to overcome so that we could complete the learning tasks in front of us. I was looking at those challenges, and my anxiety started to rise. How would I be able to work with this student during the last hour of my day when I was already fatigued and facing challenges of my own?
My focus on potential problems was for nothing. Not long into our session this teenager and I were laughing, learning, and listening to one another! What I had seen as potential disaster ended up being a very successful hour of instruction.
In my attempts to survive by hyper-focusing on potential dangers, I’ve missed a lot, but shift is happening. I’m beginning to see more clearly. I’m beginning to understand that the period of uncertainty and crisis is over — my strategy of scanning for danger is no longer necessary.
In 2020, I’m praying for new sight. I’m praying that I’ll see what’s important, that I’ll notice what’s essential, and that I’ll comprehend what has meaning. I’m praying that I won’t focus so hard on potential danger but that I’ll keep my eyes wide open to possibility.
I’m praying for sight, but I’m also asking for vision. I’m longing to see what’s right in front of me while also being able to dream ahead. I long to see clearly enough where we’re going so that I follow the path that will get us there.
And in 2020, I want to understand that there is really just a more connected here. It’s a here where I see the pain of the person in front of me, even when she is doing her best to hide it, where I hear insecurity when I’m presented with bravado, and where I acknowledge the actual fragility of the bravest of soldiers.
May 2020 be the year that we clearly see one another and acknowledge that we’re all trying real hard to do the best that we can.
Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he opened his eyes, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.”
I wrote this on January 1, 2017…and here I sit on January 1, 2020, resolving to return once again. This year, I have a little support — our faith community has committed to reading the Bible through chronologically, following The Bible Recapreading plan and podcast. Maybe you’d like to join me.
My daughter and I spent yesterday morning together at a “Breathe out 2016, Breathe in 2017” yoga class and afterward talked briefly about resolutions — the positive thrust toward change and the set-up for unrealistic expectations and imminent failure. The yoga instructor, intentionally or not, seemed to suggest that we could will good things to come to us by just opening our arms and our spirits to them.
Oh, that it were so.
Last night, at a New Year’s Eve worship service where my husband was filling in for local pastors awayfor the holidays, we sang the words, “Christ has…