Life's been giving me lemons lately. I've had a series of strange and frustrating health issues over the past four months--a pulmonary embolism (a blood clot in my lung), a bout with pleurisy (think stabbing, aching chest pain and trouble breathing), a long-lasting sinus infection (damn you, immunosuppressant drugs!), and now I'm having gastrointestinal issues...again. (Yeah, GI problems are where writing about health gets intensely personal and embarrassing. At least for me.) I've been pretty sick and my body can't seem to get out of a state of fatigue. And I hate even admitting this. I had gotten used to being a somewhat functional version of myself again. I was enjoying being a full-time graduate student with a wonderful part-time job. Leading a small group with my husband. Doing more than I've been able to at many points in my life S.S. (since sickness). I'm 2/3 of the way through my Master's in Counseling, and fiercely want to graduate in one year like I've been planning to. But my body's not cooperating, and once again I'm finding myself in a place of uncertainty.
Earlier this week I discovered Emily McDowell's empathy cards, a series the artist made after suffering with cancer. In an interview with NPR McDowell shared, "The most difficult thing about my illness was the fact that it was so lonely..." One of the reasons was "friends and family either disappearing because they didn't know what to say or well-intentioned people saying the wrong thing. So one of the most difficult things about being sick was feeling really alienated from everyone that I knew." In periods when my disease is more intense and active, it's pretty easy to feel alienated from friends and even family. Most of my energy ends up being used up by just being sick, leaving little left for pursuing friends or even letting them know I'm struggling. Unless you've experienced it, it's hard to comprehend how incredibly exhausting it is for your body to be attacking itself. But, no matter how difficult it may be, I'm convinced that isolation does not have to be the status quo for those who suffer with chronic illnesses. While relating to friends who are chronically ill might feel awkward (or even frustrating!), it's worth the effort. And, as a follower of Jesus, I think it's a calling and a duty for the body of Christ.
McDowell's cards give insight into what loving an ailing friend can look like. Even simple statements like, "I've haven't known what to say, but I want you to know I care," mean so much. The people who have supported me (and my husband) the most in my sickness have been the friends who just show up, who face the conscious and subconscious fears of awkwardness and decide to relate to me instead. And it's those friendships that have convinced me that alienation doesn't have to be my experience. It's the friends who have chosen to enter into my world--which sometimes literally means entering into a messy apartment and holding me while I cry--who have taught me how to hope and to live for more in my suffering. The truth is, I need friends. No matter how many years I've been suffering with AS, I'm not going to reach a spot where I've totally mastered taking the blows that it brings.
Anyway, talking about community was not exactly what I thought I needed to write about, but maybe it's what one of you needed to hear. As for my lemons, they really are sour and I'm not sure what to do with them. The coming weeks and months might hold some really unpleasant days, medical tests, and decisions, and I'm not sure I feel like going through this all over again. That's where I'm at. So I'm just letting my lemons be and trusting that God will hold me together while my health and plans feel uncertain.