These are the lyrics to one of my favorite songs that basically sums up my life on a daily basis living with chronic illness. In the fall of 2012 I started not feeling well. I began to lose my appetite, having bouts of moderate to severe nausea, lethargy. I went to the doctor and he ran some tests, put me on some medicines and told me to come back in a month.
A month later, I returned to my doctor and not only was I not any better I had lost about 20 pounds. At this point, he was concerned and began running more tests. It took about two and a half months to determine that my gall bladder needed to come out. Since I wasn't experiencing typical symptoms of gall bladder disease such as stones and excruciating pain, it took some time to determine this needed to be looked into.
By Thanksgiving that year, it was determined that my gall bladder had died and basically quit working. At this point I had lost another 10 pounds and my health was deteriorating rapidly as I was constantly nauseated and unable to eat much. I was scheduled to meet with a surgeon to have my gall bladder removed on Dec. 3rd and I was assured by my surgeon that after my gall bladder was removed I would be "good as new". However, that was NOT the case.
On December 10, 2012 I had the surgery and things only got worse. I expected a 30 day recovery period and knew that it would take my body some time to adjust to living without my gall bladder. But instead of getting better, my health continued to decline. The nausea was worse than ever only now it was accompanied by endless trips to the bathroom. I could barely eat any thing, I couldn't sleep good at night and at this point was experiencing severe anxiety over my declining health that was beginning to take it's toll on my not just my body but my mental health as well.
60 days after my surgery I had lost another ten pounds. One day, I had been feeling particularly ill, very ill. All of medications the doctor had given me to manage my symptoms weren't working, but I keep trying to push through them, determined to try to live a normal life.
On this particular day, my husband and I had some errands to run. I had been very sick for several days, but I went anyway. We were standing in the check-out line at Wal-Mart and I started feeling very sick and like I was going to pass out. I must have turned white because, my husband looked at me and asked me if I was okay as I was eyeing the bathroom and the exit door to determine which on was closer.
We made it out of the store and I burst into tears. I was hysterically crying uncontrollably. I couldn't take it anymore. After nearly six months of living in misery I was DONE. I couldn't live like this and I knew something had to change NOW. My husband got me into our truck and said that we were going straight to our doctor who was 15 miles away, groceries and all, and that we wouldn't leave until I saw the doctor.
Once we arrived, I was still crying uncontrollably. It's amazing how fast your doctor will get you into a room when you walk in having a nervous break down. After he got me to calm down, he examined me and talked with me about my symptoms. I was diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome, anxiety disorder (go figure, I wonder why!) and a fancy word that I can't pronounce that basically means Post Gall Bladder Removal Syndrome (Google it. YES it's a real thing).
I was given more medication to alleviate my symptoms and THEY WORKED. For the first time in months, the next day I not only felt normal I was HUNGRY. I began to improve. Over the next few months I gained about 20 of the 40 pounds that I had lost. I was getting better.
However by the fall of 2013 things started going down hill again. I began having horrible stomach pain like a burning fire that felt like I was being stabbed in the pit of my stomach with a hot poker and NOTHING would put the fire out. The nausea returned much worse than before and again I couldn't eat or sleep and weight started falling off, 45 pounds to be exact. I returned to the doctor in pure agony.
He sent me for an upper GI scope and it was determined that I had a severe ulcer and that my entire stomach was badly inflamed. I started on medication to heal the ulcer. Four months later, I was getting better again. However, by this point my weight-loss had become a real concern. I was dangerously close to being underweight with a total weight-loss at this point of 85 pounds. As a person who was over weight my whole life, this was something that I was finding hard to deal with.
Fast forward almost four years and while I am not as sick as I was I still battle with stomach issues. I never did regain the ability to digest foods properly, especially fat. I am suddenly gluten and dairy intolerant. I still have IBS flare ups that usually lead to an ulcer soon after. While I have gained about 20 pound in the last year and maintained that weight, I still struggle with chronic illness.
I have had to do a lot of soul-searching and talking with God. He has allowed me to have these issues for a reason. He has given me a story to tell and hopefully I can help other who are struggling in their lives. There are some things that I have learned and had to accept in order to live my life as normal as possible.
1. "Accept The Things I Can Not Change"
The beginning of the serenity prayer says, "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I can not change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference." We all have struggles in our lives. Some are physical, some are mental, some are circumstances, but in order to function as human beings we have to ACCEPT that there are some things that we can do nothing about. No matter how much we want them to change, it is out of our hands. We have to learn to let go and let God handle these things and trust in him that he is working all things for our good.
2. "The courage to change the things I can."
In my life I needed to make some changes. I had to stop eating certain foods, including gluten, dairy and maintain a low-fat diet. Just learning how to cook gluten free was a challenge. Forget everything you ever learned about baking. If you don't have an anxiety problem before trying to learn how to make gluten-free bread, you will have one soon after trust me LOL! I had to reduce my stress level that causes stomach inflammation, ulcers and exacerbates IBS symptoms. I had to leave my job and trust God and my husband to provide for me. I was scared. I have prayed more in the last four years than I probably have in my whole life, but I have learned one thing, God is FAITHFUL. When we come to him with broken bodies, broken dreams, broken hearts and seek him, he will be there.
3. "The wisdom to know the difference"
Off and on during my illness I have not only struggled with anxiety, but also depression. My life is not the same as it was just a few years ago. Some days I am fine one minutes and an hour later I feel like I am dying. I never know from one day to the next how I am going to feel. It makes it difficult to make plans do to anything. Just the simple task of going to eat in a restaurant or eating in a social setting in general gives me anxiety, to the point that we rarely eat out because I am so limited on what I can eat.
It would be easy to curl up in a ball and not feel sorry for myself, which I have done on many occasions, wallowing in the fact that the deck of cards I have been dealt just plain STINK sometimes. But, wallowing in my own self-pity doesn't do me any good. I had to make a decision a long time ago that I was going to live as normal a life as possible NO MATTER WHAT.
I love the song my the Rory and the late Joey Feek "That's Important To Me". What's important to me is being a good wife, taking care of my husband, being a good mother, being able to take care of my home, going to church, working from home and so many other things. Joey not only had courage, she had wisdom to know the difference and she accepted her challenge that God had given her and fought her battle with cancer with such grace and dignity right up until her last breath, she LIVED.
My hope is to live my life with that kind of faith, that kind of courage, that kind of determination and not let my circumstances define me or confine me. I want to be the vessel that God chosen for me to live this life in and use my story to change the lives of others, to the the light in your darkness and to make a difference. If you are struggling, no matter what your circumstances are, YOU ARE NOT ALONE. I am making it one day at a time and so can you.
Phillipians 4:13 "I can do ALL things through Christ who gives me strength."
Love life and be well,