How I Learned to Love Myself as a Highly Sensitive Person

Sitting in the car in traffic with my husband is often excruciating. Suddenly the radio is just the slightest bit too loud and the air is blowing too hard. Oh wait, now it’s hot. I’m hot and I must get out of this inferno, stat. I’m simultaneously about to cuss and getting super nauseated, so I stick my head out of the window. While I’m shaking my head out the window like a mannerless dog, I remember the fight I encountered earlier in the day…And I feel so sad. I stop talking to my spouse and just think. Think, think, think about how sad it is that they were fighting and how I would have felt if I was them. And then my husband says something to me and I snap, like a teenager would verbally bitch-slap their mom after being asked for the thirtieth time, “When will you be home later, dear?”

And then I realize…oh, I am feeling really overstimulated. And I breathe. And occasionally alternately squeeze both of my arms like I’m giving myself tiny little repeated hugs, because my therapist told me it would help me calm down. And then I start feeling sane again and less like the mannerless dog and bitch-slapping teenager that abducted my heart for a moment.

Read the rest of this post here on Introvert, Dear!

This article was originally published on The Huffington Post

and was republished on Introvert, Dear on July 5, 2016.

To the Friends of those with Chronic Illnesses: You are a Gift

I’m convinced that authentic soul friendship is hard thing to do at any age and in any season. As a chronically ill young woman, it’s easy to think it’s an illness problem. But my hunch is that building and maintaining deep friendships is a task almost all humans struggle with on some level. We were created for connection but often don’t know how to accomplish what we seek. From their earliest weeks and months babies recognize the voice of their mother and mimic the facial expressions of the people around them. We are hard-wired for relationship.

But relationship eludes us. Connection is never quite what we long for. Our moments of deep connection are brilliant but fleeting, moments instead of constants in our lives. First Aid Kit describes the yearning for this type of beauty to stay constant in their title track “Stay Gold”:

But just as the moon it shines straight
So dawn goes down today
No gold can stay
No gold can stay

What if our hard work ends in despair?
What if the road won’t take me there?
Oh, I wish, for once, we could stay gold

What if to love and be loved’s not enough?
What if I fall and can’t bear to get up?
Oh, I wish, for once, we could stay gold
We could stay gold
— First Aid Kit, "Stay Gold"

In the past couple weeks I interviewed a few of my friends about what it’s like to be a friend to someone with a chronic illness. As I reflected on their words and friendship more generally, I realized that friendship is difficult for all of us humans. We’re like moths to a flame, drawn to the glow of intimacy. But we also know that fire burns. The small pains of friendship and the larger wounds of rejection and abandonment keep us from moving toward one another.

The presence of chronic illness in a friendship can make our frustrations, pains, and wounds more noticeable. So today, I write for the friends of those with chronic illness, the caregivers, the patient souls who feel simultaneously disappointed by our fickleness and drawn to us in love. The chronic illness community too often gives you a bad rap, focusing on your flaws instead of your love. Not today, my friends. Today, you are my teachers.

So what’s it like to be a friend to someone who is chronically ill?

On Acceptance:

Bess shared that the hardest thing about being a friend to someone who is chronically ill has been accepting she is not going to understand what I go through completely. Friends want to understand each other. But there is an element to chronic illness someone can never grasp unless they have been chronically ill. Even my husband will never fully understand what my experience is like. This fact can be incredibly isolating for both the sick individual and our friends. However, when both parties in a relationship accept our different experiences for what they are, our differences can become places of respect and cherishing rather than only frustration and pain. Friends, as a chronically ill woman I release you from the unfair expectation that you must understand my experience of being sick.

On Fixing and the Discomfort of Seeing Us Sick:

Bess also shared it’s been difficult to stop responding to me in fixing mode. She said, “Fixing is the opposite of intimacy. It’s harder to be in the pain with someone than to fix it.” Let’s be honest with each other, it’s wildly uncomfortable to see someone you love in pain. The urge to fix, to alleviate one’s pain, comes out of this place of discomfort. Friends, we have to become more comfortable with discomfort in order to keep knowing one another in the presence of chronic illness. 

@@We have to be more comfortable w discomfort in the presence of chronic illness in friendship.@@

Being with a friend who is sick is difficult for both parties, especially when a friend has to accept practical help because of their illness. Michelle and I reminisced about when we were college roommates and I often needed help from her to cut my food, brush my hair, and drive across campus or town. She shared, “It’s humbling for both people. By no means is it a chore. But I’ve often thought, do they know this is hard for me too?” It was good for me to remember that it’s hard for my friends to see me as sick and to offer help that they know I would rather not receive because of my own stubborn pride. It’s easy for those in the chronic illness community to focus on how difficult our experience is. But, friends, hear that I know this is hard, humbling, and heartbreaking for you, too. 

On Unpredictability:

If you are reading this, you probably already know that being a friend with someone with a chronic illness means your friendship can be pretty unpredictable. Some weeks I can spend a lot of time with friends and other weeks I’m homebound. Canceled plans and grouchy moods can leave my friends feeling like they are relating to a ticking time-bomb. “It’s a push and pull of how I will be received…It takes self-confidence to not think I am being rejected or that I’m not meeting your needs,” Michelle shared. I’ve gathered it takes some thick skin to be a true friend to someone with a chronic illness. Friends have put up with a lot from me—bitchy words in frustration, unpredictable moods, pushing them away when I’m not doing well, and the general flux of my rapidly changing capacity to be together. Friends, sometimes your friend who is chronically ill feels so overshadowed by her physical pain that she can’t respond to you as 100% herself. Your friendship helps me keep being me. Your friendship enables me to see past the pain, to remember who Katie Jo is. Let’s keep giving each other grace, because, unfortunately, that damn unpredictability isn’t going anywhere. 

On the Gifts of Friendship in the Presence of Illness:

When you can’t always get out of your bed because of illness, you begin to soak up the joy of the present moments when you are able to be outside, work, or spend time with a friend. I think the posture of immediacy my disease has forced into my soul is a gift I bring my friends. Bess shared the thing she loves most about being a friend to someone with a chronic illness is the push to be present, to enjoy what’s right here right now. Appreciating the present moment helps us embrace our true selves. Bess paid me what might be the highest compliment of my life: “You push me to accept my true self. I think it’s because you are so often pushed out of your comfort zone because of your chronic illness, and then you push others to do the same. You motivate everyone around you to be more fully themselves.” That might be part of the rub with your friends who are chronically ill, too. It’s scary to have to face our true selves! The burgeoning and illuminating sense of presence we who are chronically ill bring to our lives can be a bit overwhelming. Our sickness makes us face things about ourselves we would rather not face. And we know it highlights similar facets of your lives as well. Friends, let’s soak up the joy together when we get to share coffee, sit in the sun, walk in a park, or simply sit together on a couch. Let’s share the joy of “being” together as we each more fully become who we are.

Ultimately, you are a gift to your friend who is chronically ill.

You are a gift not simply for the help you offer and the comfort you bring. You are gift because of who you are, because in you I see the meaning of love, of holiness, of truth lived out through the dark places of life. Your faithful friendship helps me know that God will faithfully raise me out of this body touched by sickness. Friends, in knowing you I better know the love of the God who created us, of the victory of Christ’s love that conquers sickness and death in resurrection. You teach me to hope, to love, and to just be. Friends, please know that you are a treasure and gift in my life.    

Isolation Sucks: Teach Your Friends to Support You in Autoimmune Disease

Today is World Autoimmune Arthritis Day--a chance to raise awareness for how autoimmune arthritis affects the lives of millions of patients worldwide, including their friendships. Have you lost friends since getting sick with your autoimmune disease? Do you find yourself lonely as you face daily pain, fatigue, and disability? Yeah, me too...

When autoimmune disease often keeps you stuck in bed, on the couch, or unable to do much after you spend all your energy at work, it’s easy to feel like building and maintaining friendships are impossible tasks. I know my friends get sick of how often I cancel our plans. It’s been happening for seven years… And chronic illness is so taboo in our culture. Everyone lives as though people should just get well like you recover from a cold or the Flu. But with diseases like ours (Ankylosing Spondylitis, Lupus, Rheumatoid Arthritis, and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, to name a few!), we often don’t get well. We keep struggling with daily pain and our bodies often keep degenerating in their slow, excruciating march toward death. Frankly, you and I are visual reminders to the people in our lives that they too are not in control of their health or future. The fact that we are sick makes both us and others uncomfortable! 

In the seven years I’ve dealt with autoimmune arthritis I have seen countless others decide to relegate their disease to a dark corner of their life. It’s a place only they themselves and maybe one other person can visit.

And I get it.

Let’s be honest, it is often embarrassing to be sick and let others see us this way. It’s uncomfortable for me to allow others to see me hunched over, shuffling across my school campus like a 90 year old (I’m 27); or doubled over in pain from chronic diarrhea. Or running to the bathroom every hour from persistent nausea. Or just mentally fried from being in so much damn pain. The invisible reality we carry often keeps us from engaging with others who are well. 

But what if it didn’t have to? What if we could still have friends? What if you could take your illness out of a dark corner and let a friend tenderly bear your pain with you? 

Friends, I believe friendship in the presence of chronic illness is possible and that our joy in life depends on it. You were never meant to carry this burden alone.

@@You were never meant to carry this burden alone. Friendship w chronic illness is possible.@@

I’ll be the first to tell you that letting others into my pain is scary. Letting someone see me bawling over not being able to walk across the room or how I hate what steroids have done to my body is pretty much the definition of vulnerable. Finding friends who are safe to invite into our vulnerable spaces is hard and courageous work. But it’s also been the most meaningful work of my life with the highest pay-off in peace and joy.

How can you move away from isolation and toward community when you have a chronic illness?

  1. Accept the fact that no one else can fully understand what it’s like to be uniquely you with your distinctive experience of illness. We each have our own story, and even others who are chronically ill might not totally “get” your experience. Owning that your experience and life are yours alone can free you from expecting others to understand something they simply can’t and won’t.
  2. Refute the lie that no one else can meet your needs for intimacy or friendship in your sickness. It’s so easy to think that since no one can fully understand what you experience, then others won’t be able to support you in that experience. In order to choose friendship, you have to actively discredit the lie that others won’t be able to support you like you really need. It’s often not that others can’t support us, it’s that they don’t know how!
  3. Begin (and keep!) teaching your friends how to support you in your illness. Others typically won’t know how to support you without your help. I know, it feels like others should just know how to be there for you. They don’t. They feel confused about how to be our friends. They feel helpless and frustrated not knowing how to interact with us in our sickness. 

So how do you teach your friends to support you? Some ideas:

  • Talk about your disease with your friends (or potential friends). Share with them what it is, how it affects your body, and how you are afraid it might impact your ability to be a friend and have friends. Let them know it’s ok if they ask you questions about your disease.
  • Be honest when your illness prevents you from keeping plans. Start letting friends know when you’re actually too fatigued to go out for drinks instead of just saying you can’t or that your plans changed. Let your friends know if you want to be part of their plans but fear that the get-together is going to be too difficult on your joints. Talk about how you can update the plans so you can be included. Be up-front about understanding that you won’t always be able to be included and that you’re ok with it.
  • Remind your friends that you really do want to spend time with them. When you hole up in your apartment during a flare-up: to you it feels like survival; to your friends it can feel like being ignored. Tell your friends that you value spending time with them and are sad when you can’t.
  • Tell your friends when you are super sick. It’s so simple it sounds dumb, but we get so used to being sick that we forget to tell others when things are rough. Try to tell your friends when you are extra sick or have a difficult medical treatment, test, or appointment coming up. Actually start letting them know when you have an infection or a super bad flare, so they can know what you are going through and that you might be a little AWOL that week.
  • Let your friends see you sometimes when you are really sick. Sometimes we’re just too sick to be with others, and that’s ok. But a lot of other times we just don’t let people come over because we are too embarrassed by our messy dishes, gross symptoms, and lack of energy. A real friend is going to learn how to come over to your place when you are that sick and be ok with your messy place and annoying, un-exercised dogs. But they can’t do it if you don’t first invite them in.

Most importantly, today I hope you hear that pursuing friendship while chronically ill is worth the effort. Doing the things I outlined above is going to feel scary and vulnerable. It’s going to feel uncomfortable for both you and your friends. It’s something you will get better at over time and that you will have to, like me, re-learn in seasons when sickness kicks your ass all over again in new ways. But, always, always, it will be worth your energy. I cannot promise that every person you pursue will respond to you and your illness well. But I can promise you that someone will respond well eventually, that there are people out there who will let you teach them how to support you and be there for you in more beautiful ways than you can imagine today. I can promise you that the courageous work of choosing friendship over isolation in your sickness will pay for itself in more joy than you can imagine. 

So, today, choose friendship. You’ll be happy you did. 

Want to talk more about this subject? Join me today for a live-chat at 5pm EST at the World Autoimmune Arthritis Day Headquarters online.

Are you the friend of someone who is chronically ill? Join me next week as I interview my friends on what it’s like to be a friend to someone with a chronic illness and what they’ve learned in the process.

3 Tips for Surviving a Flare--Guest Post for Chronically Whole

Flare-ups are a regular and unfortunate part of living with an autoimmune disease. They LOVE to come right when we are busiest, invading our days with pain and dizziness where there was no room for such miseries. I’m experiencing one currently, as often happens when I am due for my next chemotherapy infusion (Remicade every four weeks, totally worth it!).

@@Flare-ups are a great occasion to practice self-care. via @chronicallyw@@

Actually, flare-ups pretty much force us into caring for ourselves, and if we don't we usually end up feeling worse. When we choose self-care from the beginning, we can reduce the amount of emotional distress that so often comes along with our flares. Here are three of my go-to tips for surviving a flare:

I'm guest blogging over at Chronically Whole today. Read the rest of this post there!

(Recycled from August 2015)

Sometimes chronic illness just stinks.

I'm sitting at the doctor's office, the place I'm more familiar with than anyone should be. All week I've been fighting an infection, and I kept telling myself that this was normal. Just a normal part of my life on two forms of chemotherapy.

But on the way here it hit me that this just really stinks. And, no, it's not normal.

When your dog has an accident all over your floor, and you're almost too exhausted and dizzy to clean it up. But you do it anyway. When you can't make it through yoga without leaving because you're joints are just too immobile that day. When you spend all your energy on work and then are unable to sleep from all the coughing. These things are inconveniences, but they are also losses.

There is a slow current of loss in my life. My soul feels stronger than ever--alive, bright, and luminous. But my body--it's a whole different matter. Yesterday after a fantastic consulting meeting with my pastor I asked my husband what he thought I'd be doing now if I had never gotten sick. Now that's a dangerous question...

The truth is that without sickness I honestly would have achieved so much more by now. It's either sad or amusing that I'm a high-capacity woman in a low-capacity body; so I choose to be amused most the time. But you know what's even more true? While sickness has made the quantity of my achievements lower, it has made the quality of my voice stronger. 

The current of loss in my life leads me to places I would have never gone without getting sick. My life has immeasurable impact in the little things and bearing the losses of convenience, opportunity, and physical freedom drive that impact.

Today, when life is hard, frustrating, and literally messy, when everyone else is at work and I'm in bed, I tell myself that the ugliness of today is creating a strength and beauty that won't come from any other stream. Dear friends, who with me are so desperately sick of being sick, take heart--our stinky, infection-ridden days are making us women and men of unconquerable courage. The chronic illness life is a life of holding the tension between acknowledging pain and finding meaning. Some days we can hold that rope better than others. And if you can't hold the tension today, then know that the author of all good things can hold it for you. In him, the disappointing weight of being sick and extremely capable in mind and heart finds a resting place. Today, when being sick just stinks, I can remember that I am loved for who I am at my core, not for what I can do, and living in that love lies my greatest accomplishment and biggest impact. 

Today, when it just stinks, remember, you really are loved.

This piece has been republished over at The Huffington Post.

Developing and managing a second disease requires bravery.

This past Fall I felt sicker than I have ever been in my life. Fatigue covered my days like heavy fog. Nausea haunted me, and I found myself vomiting a couple days a week for no good reason. I forced myself to go to class and see my therapy clients, but otherwise spent the rest of my waking hours in bed.

It was such a confusing season, largely because fatigue is a big part of my autoimmune disease (Ankylosing Spondylitis). I'm used to debilitating fatigue, but this was worse. Oddly, my joints weren't hurting, and usually my fatigue corresponds with intense joint pain. When I start to feel sick, my first thought is that I am in a flare-up of my disease. It's usually that simple. When something new hurts--like my eye--I figure, AS can affect that too. (Don't worry, I see a doctor when odd pains crop up!) When that's not the cause, I start thinking I've caught an infection or a virus, because being on multiple immunosuppressant drug therapies definitely makes me very susceptible to infections. But it wasn't that.

Days of nausea and fatigue turned to weeks. And then weeks turned to months. And after every doctor visit and each new medical test, I had no answers. In those months I began to feel sad. Really sad. A heaviness veiled my normally happy disposition. As a counselor, I knew I was experiencing symptoms of depression. But being sick with no answers is inherently depressing, so I figured that was why.

My rheumatologist faithfully searched out the cause of my mystery illness, determined to see me well. Both her instincts and mine told us this was not AS, and likely not rheumatologic. And when blood tests, CT scans, and biopsies came back normal, she tested one more thing. "It's a far-off chance that it's this, and I've never seen it in my entire career, but let's check it anyway," she said.

The day she called with my test results, I was fully expecting to hear the results were, again, normal. The undiagnosed but very sick know that normal test results are often the worst news to receive. Abnormal or positive test results mean answers, mean help, mean life can get better than the hell you are living. Almost no one understands why getting bad test results is such good news except the determined and courageous patients who have not given up on fighting for answers to the cause of their illnesses. But that day, I got the beginning of an answer.

My doctor informed me that during my cosyntropin stimulation test, my adrenal glands produced virtually no cortisol, which meant that I had Adrenal Insufficiency. In the onslaught of google research that commenced after that I learned that all the things I had been experiencing, including depression, were symptoms. I needed to start steroid therapy to replace the cortisol my body wasn't able to make. Hydocortisone made my life immensely better in the span of about two weeks. But managing my new condition has not entirely stabilized, and we still are determining the cause of my Secondary Adrenal Insufficiency.

Developing an additional condition has meant seeing more doctors, specifically an Endocrinologist, having even more regular blood work, and sucking up the fact that I'm dependent on steroids daily to function. (Really, to live. Without steroids, Adrenal Insufficiency patients can go into life-threatening adrenal crisis.) 

 Me on the right, with my extra round steroid-face and a genuine smile. With Bess, who also writes for  Anchor for the Soul .

Me on the right, with my extra round steroid-face and a genuine smile. With Bess, who also writes for Anchor for the Soul.

Developing and managing a second disease requires bravery. About 25 percent of autoimmune patients have a tendency to develop additional autoimmune diseases. (Via Maedica) And that's not counting co-morbid medical conditions outside of autoimmune disease that can occur, like mine. The reality is, many of us have or will develop a second diagnosis. And that diagnosis will bring new challenges and opportunities to process, grieve, and hope for the better life we all want. Six months after learning about my new condition, this is what I have learned:

1. Listen to Your Body. When we are attuned to our bodies, we often can know when something is off physically. Trusting your internal sense that something is off can enable you to be persistent to get the care you need.

2. Value Your Health. The fear of not getting answers and being judged as a complainer or drug-seeker can keep us from pursuing medical care. If you experiencing new, unexplainable and frustrating symptoms, value yourself enough to do the frustrating and scary work of seeing your doctor(s). 

3. Let Yourself Grieve. Giving yourself the space to grieve your illnesses is not a pity-party. Even though you are used to being sick, it's a blow to find out that one more thing is wrong with your body. Let yourself cry about it. Talk to a friend. Go back to see your counselor. (That's what I did.) 

Bravely giving ourselves the space to listen to our bodies, value our health and existence, and grieve the assaults to that existence empowers us to find joy in pain, energy in fatigue, and stability in sickness. Whether you have one diagnosis, or two, or five, I hope you'll be brave and value yourself today.

An open letter to the first doctor who invalidated my pain

I met you when I was 20 years old. Scared, worried, and in the worst pain I had ever experienced, I held the tiny seed of hope that doctors would be able to help my pain become past tense. You were just a first year resident on your rheumatology rotation at the University of Michigan hospital, responsible for doing my initial examination before the real rheumatologist came in. I don't know anything about your life, your own experiences with physical pain, or the training you received before you treated me. All I have to judge you by is that visit and how you treated me. 

When you came into the exam room you quickly told me that all of my bloodwork had come back normal with no signs of inflammation. My experience since meeting you has taught me that when medical tests do not readily reveal the source of pain, doctors can be apt to judge one's pain as psychosomatic. But I didn't know that then. I just thought doctors were supposed to help.

You didn't listen when I shared how much pain I was in and what exactly hurt. You just pressed on various points on my body asking if they were tender and shared that you felt I probably had Fibromyalgia. You didn't hear that I was not in muscle pain and that none of the "tender points" felt tender. I can't say what you saw when you looked at me, but it certainly felt like you didn't see me. I don't think you saw the otherwise extremely healthy 20 year old college junior who up until a few weeks beforehand had spent most of her free time rock climbing, running, and playing soccer. I can't say I know what you were thinking about me, but your curtness made me feel like nothing more than an inconvenience. 

But I'm a fighter with a researcher's heart and mind. I had already read countless articles in the weeks I had been sick, searching for answers to my joint pain. I knew Fibromyalgia wasn't it. And I knew you weren't really listening to me. 

But now, 7 years later I want to thank you. Yes, thank you. Your invalidation of my pain helped me begin validating myself. To get help I had to trust my intuition. I had to trust my inner knowledge that something was profoundly wrong in my body, even when you didn't fully believe me. Your trivialization of my pain set me on a trajectory of learning how to honor my body and all of the emotions that surround being sick. Your invalidation taught me that minimizing my pain is not ok. And for that, I am forever grateful. 


Katie Jo Ramsey

P.S. You were wrong. I have Ankylosing Spondylitis, a disease which often shows up as normal on blood tests. Arthritis Research UK estimates that only 30–40% of people with ankylosing spondylitis have inflammation that can be picked up in a blood test, making it all the more important for patients like me to trust their symptoms and fight to be heard.

 Getting my Remicade infusion last year (Due for another tomorrow, thank God! Flaring while I wait for it...)

Getting my Remicade infusion last year (Due for another tomorrow, thank God! Flaring while I wait for it...)

This blog was also published at The Mighty, a community of storytellers facing disease, disability, and mental illness together. See it here!

I am Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

I am fearfully and wonderfully made. This has been my mantra this week, a truth I have both relished in and at times been frustrated to believe. I'm just over a month into my diet overhaul, a process that has been hard and somewhat helpful. After several months of feeling very crappy, it was time to refocus on getting healthy. It's still a sobering thought that I needed to stop taking classes in order to get healthier, that I'm sick enough that I really need the diet and lifestyle changes I'm making. There have been a few days during the past month that this reality has been absolutely frustrating. Why can't I just do and eat whatever I want? Knowing I'm fearfully and wonderfully made and also knowing that my body is often full of inflammation is sometimes a confusing tension for my heart to hold.

A few weeks ago I started going back to yoga classes at a studio a few blocks away from our apartment (Kindness Yoga). It has been [overall!] a life-giving experience to be back on the mat. I have done yoga on and off for about 4 years, and every time I start practicing again after a long "time off" I know that there will frustrations and challenges as my joints readjust to the movement and flow of yoga. Part of it is plain and simple being out of shape. But the most challenging part is the pain and stiffness in my spine, wrists, shoulders, and feet as I push to hold the various poses. Going to classes not knowing what your body will be able to handle and pressing into discomfort is not for the faint of heart. Several times during the past few weeks I've thought to myself that going back to yoga is an exercise in courage.

One of the things I love the most about yoga is that it is a mental and physical workout. Lately, yoga truly has been helping me hold the truth that I am fearfully and wonderfully made. As I stretch and move I am simultaneously appreciating what my body can do and facing its limits. Facing physical limits is difficult. Yesterday I felt like a total badass in my yoga class, as I was able to hold every pose with strength and today I battled frustration as my spine and shoulders screamed at the effort of the endless backbends and heart openers the teacher kept leading us in. One day last week I had to leave class halfway through because my joints were hurting so much I was in tears from the sheer pain. Every day my levels of stiffness and ability are different, and I have to be open to what my body needs in each day.

Doing the hard work of caring for my body is a spiritual endeavor. For me, going to yoga is choosing to honor God and the body he gave me. For me, yoga is prayer. It's a humbling expression of my heart's desire for healing and a conversation with both myself and God about the tension of a broken body. My yoga practice is a space where I have to face my heartbreak, frustration, and pride, and where I get to exult in the joy of being human. As I bow in Namaste to my teacher at the end of the class I am honoring the light of God in her, myself, and the others in my class--humans, made in the image of a mysterious, enthralling God. 

Friend, if you are dealing with a disease like me or maybe mental health issues that feel like they are holding you back or overshadowing your purpose, listen: You really are fearfully and wonderfully made. The effort it takes for you to take care of you is worth the pain. You will feel the truth of your purpose and inner beauty again, even if you can't right now.

In the meantime, join me in the courageous work of self-care. It could mean yoga class, starting to see a counselor, or simply meeting a friend for coffee to share how you really are. Whatever it is, as you do it, smile at the fact that you are courageous...because you are fearfully and wonderfully made.


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I have a history of being hard on myself. I am a recovering perfectionist, sometimes still unable to feel the freedom to make mistakes. Throughout my life, I have pushed myself beyond my limits and/or denied them in order to be “perfect”. I don’t like admitting I have limits, and for most of my life have tried to ignore them.

It was freeing the first time someone told me that I could set boundaries and it was okay to have limits. It took being in a room with a counselor for me to be okay with not being perfect. I began to view my limits as gifts. Gifts from God that illustrate to me who I am and that I am made perfect through Him NOT my own actions.

After realizing God gave me limits, for His good, I have tried to learn how to apply them. In relationships with others it was very difficult for me to set limits and boundaries, but even more difficult is learning how to respect my limits within myself. Even trickier has been accepting that it is okay that I have limits in my day-to-day life, and these limits do not make me unacceptable to God or anyone else.

Today was a big step in this direction for me. I dropped a class. At first many of you might think, “What is the big deal with that?” or your reaction might be like my internal one: “YOU DROPPED A CLASS?!?” I am guessing most of you are thinking the first option.

I am in grad school for the second time in my life. I have my MAT (masters of arts in teaching) and now I am adding a MA in Clinical Counseling. This is the first time in my undergraduate and graduate career that I have dropped a class.  I have always pushed myself. In these situations, my negative self talk says: “Get over it, life is suppose to be this difficult”. I am always comparing myself to what I believe is perfect. Perfect is not what I need.  Dropping this class is not going to make my life a breeze, but it is going to give me room to breath.

The truth is, I need time to breath this semester. I need time to make room for things like focusing on my clients, spending time with my husband, being involved with Church, and doing things I enjoy. I need to have a life outside of school and work, and today I took a step in that direction. For this reason, today marked a sign of growth in my life. I gave myself room to breath and didn’t push past my limits.

Do you ever give your self room to breath and to enjoy life? Have you forgotten the things you once enjoyed? What can you do in your day-to-day routine to make room for yourself? Has God been pushing you to change your schedule in ways that might not be how you planned, but makes more room for him?

Furthermore, are you living day-to-day filled with anxiety and/or depression? I challenge you to go to counseling. Counseling will help you with those things, of course, but it will also help you to learn who you are and what your needs are. Counseling will result in some freedom from these conditions. My hope is that counseling will lead you to becoming more of your whole self, as it has for me.

Today as I reflected, I was challenged to make more room in my life for myself, others and for God. To live more according to what Calvin states in his book Institutes of the Christian Religion:

“Nearly all the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.”

We cannot make time for knowing God or ourselves unless we have room to breathe in our schedule.

How does this quote challenge you?

What does it look like for you to have room to breathe?


When Pain Makes You Feel Joy--capturing the small opportunities.

This morning has been rough for me physically. Every day I experience "morning stiffness" upon waking up, and some days the stiffness just doesn't go away. Today I had an 8am class, so it was pretty painful to make it to school and sit in a non-padded chair through the three hour lecture. I never know when my morning stiffness is going to last all day, so I often push past the pain and try not to dwell on it, thinking it will likely subside soon. But sometimes it lingers, and the pain can be so intense that it brings small tears to my eyes. Not necessarily because I'm overwhelmingly sad, but because it really hurts. 

Being in intense pain while listening to a lecture is hard work. And I realized this morning that when I recognize the truth that I am sacrificing my personal comfort for the sake of learning to better help others feel the comfort and hope of God's coming Kingdom, great joy enters into my present experience of pain. Though it's sometimes healthier for me to stay home, there are times when I can push through pain. But in either way that I cope, it is imperative that I stay mindful of my experience. When I am mindful in the moment of the fact that it is truly difficult to be a student with chronic pain, I am presented with an opportunity to respect myself and revel in the calling God has put on my life. It's a godward moment, a space in my heart to submit my experience of pain to God knowing that he wants to use it for the good of others. Small moments like these when I'm wincing in pain are sometimes sacred spaces where sadness over my authentically hard experience mingles with the joy of knowing God is working to redeem pain in all its forms--and that I get to help others know this coming redemption. It is by no means an invalidation of my sadness but rather an active and mindful experience of it in the presence of a God who cares about it intimately.

So as I sit here typing and feeling rather woozy, I am smiling inside even as I wince and close my eyes at the world that's beginning to spin around me because of the pain. But I write even now because I so want you to know that joy can enter into our sadness when we let ourselves experience it. It doesn't always. It won't always come. And we don't have to dutifully force ourselves to feel it. But it can come. And It will. I truly believe that a gift of suffering with chronic pain is that through it God often enlarges our capacity to feel joy. You might feel like that is the farthest thing from the truth right now, and I respect you for feeling that. I've felt that way too. But I also long for you to know and experience the truth that God deeply cares about your pain, so much so that he sent his  Son to live in a broken human body, experiencing the worst physical pain imaginable in addition to the existential weight of your and my angst, so that he could redeem it and banish it from the world forever. Jesus knows my pain and your pain and he conquered it. When he comes again, our pain will end forever. And in the meantime, the very Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead can live in our hearts, tenderly helping us face our pain and find joy in and despite it

And that's part of the beauty of these sacred, pain-filled moments--they exist because the Spirit of God lives in me. My pain-filled moments can be invaded by joy because they are an opportunity to commune with the Living God. This is somewhat heady, existential stuff, but it's also the stuff that faith is made of. So, if you have the mental energy, wrestle with it, wrestle with me and with God by reflecting on the following verses:

Jesus...”made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself by becoming obedient even to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
— Philippians 2:7-8
“...I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him...that I may know him and THE POWER OF HIS RESURRECTION, and may share in his sufferings...[that] I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”
— Philippians 3:8-9a, 10a, 11b
Therefore, my beloved brothers (and sisters), be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that
— 1 Corinthians 15: 58

In the Lord our laboring in these small, pain-filled moments is not in vain. Sometimes pain can make us feel joy, because in it we can know the suffering love of Jesus and the real power of his resurrection. And, friends, there is no greater joy than beholding the love of God in Christ.