I look just fine

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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.

I’m sure I’ll look just fine in the morning.

My son, pay attention to what I say;

    turn your ear to my words…

 …for they are life to those who find them

    and health to one’s whole body.

Proverbs 4:20 and 22

A word about paychecks…

This post, written in 2014 and polished up in March 2019 is one of the most frequently viewed of all my blog posts — maybe because so many of us confuse our worth with what we earn. 

I have always loved to work. I love to be doing; we’ve established that. I like the feeling that I am meeting a need. I like the satisfaction of a job well-done. And let’s be honest — getting a paycheck is pretty great.

I’ve been paid to babysit, to drop a fry basket into a vat of boiling oil, to stuff envelopes, to mystery shop, to write devotions, to teach, to proctor tests, and even to walk door-to-door asking ‘how many people live in the house, what is their ethnicity and employment status’. I’ve been paid everything from fifty cents an hour to a respectable salary with benefits for me and my family.

It’s an exchange, isn’t it? The worker does a task; the employer pays a wage. That wage provides the means for the worker to buy food, housing, clothing, and other necessities. It provides a means for the worker to save for the future. It allows the worker to bless others.

But somehow a paycheck has come to mean something more. Somewhere in the deep recesses of my brain, I tie my wages to my worth. If I am earning, then I have value. The more I earn, the more value I have. I am worth something when I am working and making a wage.

Uh-oh. What happens when I resign my position and decide to be still for a period of several months?  If I’m not working, I won’t be getting paid. This could present a little problem in the inner workings of my psyche.

Over the years, my husband and I have been in every state of employment — we have both worked, only he has worked, only I have worked. For a few months, neither of us was employed full-time. We have made very little and we have made substantial salaries. But one thing remains, we have always had just about exactly what we needed at the moment. We have always had appropriate housing, vehicles that work, food for our family, clothing that looks respectable, the ability to give gifts to others, and the means to take modest vacations.

Just before our first daughter was born, I was teaching full-time in a residential facility for emotionally impaired children. My husband was finishing his hours of supervision to get his license in counseling. I was definitely the primary wage-earner, yet we agreed that I would resign my position one week before her due date so that I could be a stay-at-home mom. We made this decision even though he had not yet secured a full-time position and even though we didn’t have much in savings. It was a step of faith. I don’t remember our families saying much about it, but they must have thought we had lost our minds! On the day our daughter was born, my husband came to visit us in the hospital. He had about five dollars in his pocket, not much in the checking account, and no idea how he was going to get groceries before I got home. After he visited,  he stopped by the counseling office where he was doing his supervision, checked his mailbox, and found a check for over $500 in pay that had been delayed due to insurance! In 1992 that was plenty to get groceries, pay some bills, put some money in savings, and buy his new daughter a bow to wear home from the hospital. During the following months before he had a full-time position, we were blessed over and over by the generosity of others and God’s provision that often came just in time.

It grew our faith and reminded us that all things are provided through Him — even a paycheck.

Yes. That money that someone gives me in exchange for a task I complete is not really a measure of my worth; it is God’s way of providing for me. He has given me gifts and skills, he has plugged me into positions, and he has provided for my needs.

He has declared my worth.

Jesus told the disciples in Matthew 10: 29 “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.  But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.”

Did you see that? I am of far more value than many sparrows.  I am worth more than my pay check. My value is found in Christ.

Yours, too.

And you can’t measure that with a paycheck.