May 29, 2017

Things I’ve Learned from Chronic Illness (3)

In honor of Invisible Illness Week, I’m sharing some things I’ve learned along my journey with Wegener’s Granulomatosis. Read the last two posts here and here.

 

Lesson #3: realize that good health is not everything

Our bodies start decaying the moment we’re born. Things grow and regenerate for the first few decades – but even then, we’re still starting to degenerate.

And yet, we spend so much time and energy trying to relieve symptoms and increase energy and just plain feel better!  But is it really worth all that effort?

I have a hard time with this. Wegener’s is fatal if left untreated. And a flareup, or even a regular cold, could land me in the hospital (or worse). So it’s imperative that I:

  • continue to seek good medical care,
  • faithfully take the medicines I’m prescribed, and
  • stay aware of what my body is doing.

But besides the Wegner’s, I also have what I call “nuisance” problems. Things like allergies, sinus drainage, insomnia, palpitations, headaches… I’ve talked to my doctor about these problems. And none of them are indicative of anything serious. None of them are likely to land me in the hospital.

But how much time do we spend looking for relief for these things? How much energy do we put into trying to fix them? How preoccupied are we with making our bodies feel better?

{Side note: I am in no way advocating that you just ignore health problems. If something continues for more than a few days, please get it checked by a doctor! This post applies to what we do after ruling out serious causes.}

 

Example 1

I have primary* chronic insomnia. And I read books about getting better sleep. I spend my husband’s hard-earned money on supplements and prescriptions, trying to find one that helps. I spend hours researching causes and possible solutions for it. I spend my mental energy being consumed with how little sleep I’m getting, how tired I feel, and how much it’s affecting my daily life.

But a few months ago, I read a book that included this little nugget of wisdom: “You’re probably getting more sleep than you think.” And that hit me hard. It made me realize that I was making things worse by being so preoccupied with my lack of sleep.

Sure, I’m awake a lot at night. Sure, I’m pretty tired some days, and can’t always do what I think I need to get done. But it’s not the end of the world if I don’t feel 100% rested. {Who ever does, anyway?}

And anyway, God promises to provide everything we truly need. So if He allows me to stay awake half the night, then I guess those hours of sleep aren’t what I truly need. Consider what Paul says:

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay,
to show that the surpassing power
belongs to God and not to us.”

2 Corinthians 4:7

I am very much a jar of clay. An imperfect, somewhat broken vessel. But my tiredness, my lack of energy, allows God’s power to made known – more than if I always got enough sleep, or had perfect health.

Believing that enables me to be at peace about my insomnia, and helps me live more graciously with the problem. It lets me spend my time and energy focusing on things with more eternal value, than getting a few more hours of sleep each night.

*Primary just means that it’s not caused by any other problems.

 

Example 2

Last fall I got hit with debilitating fatigue, which only recently started improving. Along with that fatigue came heart palpitations and tachycardia. And let me tell you, it’s kind of scary feeling like your heart is racing or hiccuping!

I got so preoccupied with trying to analyze why it was happening, that I started making it worse. I was a mess emotionally. I won’t say exactly where my thoughts led, but I’ll admit that I was an expert worrier about those symptoms.

When I finally asked my doctor about it, she did some blood work and sent me for an echo-cardiogram. I was nervous. But everything came back clear – and there was no obvious reason for concern. It was just one those things that happens for no apparent reason, and with no apparent solution.

I finally realized I needed to stop being so occupied with it. The doctor said I was okay. Common sense (and my EMT husband) said there was nothing else going on. So what was the point in spending so much of myself trying to make it better?

And once I stopped being so preoccupied, my attitude and emotions drastically improved. Once I decided to stop worrying about fixing the problem, it stopped disrupting my life. I could learn to live with it.

{Another side note: if you are experiencing abnormal heart rhythms, please see a doctor! But also know that a lot of people get palpitations or tachycardia for a short period of time with no apparent cause. It doesn’t always mean anything serious.}

 

It’s foolish to overspend our resources seeking relief for every little thing that bothers us! Yes, our bodies hurt. They weaken. They don’t always work right. But practically speaking, we need to realize that not everything can be fixed! Medicine is not perfect. Doctors don’t know everything. And half of what we read online is laughable in its errancy – or not applicable to our specific situation.

Our bodies are already broken and messed up. We’re already dying. Good health is not our ultimate goal in this life.

Take some Advil for your headache. Exercise to improve your cardiovascular health. Ask you doctor about a remedy for your insomnia. But reserve your best mental energy, and your limited time, for the things that have eternal value. Stop worrying, and get busy working!

 

QUESTIONS for YOU: Do you ever find yourself being too preoccupied with seeking relief? Serious medical problems aside, is there a “nuisance” problem that you should probably just learn to live with? What’s stopping you from being at peace about it?

NoteWebsites like WebMD or LiveStrong are helpful to a point. So are friends who’ve spent time researching things. But nothing compares to seeing an actual doctor face to face. Everyone’s body is different. Everyone’s medical history is different. So stop spending the hours online scaring yourself, and spend that time doing something more profitable.

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, nor do I hold any sort of medical degree. These are purely my opinions as they’ve been shaped by Scripture and personal experience.

Also in this series: body/spirit connectionopportunities, not limitationscherish the time you have


Comments

  1. Thanks for your common sense on this. That (common sense) is far too often overlooked in society and, it seems to me, almost looked down on in some Christian circles.

  2. I love your balance on being careful and good advice from doctors, but also not being preoccupied with feeling perfect. I admire that.

  3. I started having pain in my right shoulder early in college. It was worsened when I spent time on the computer. I saw a doctor, he did an MRI, gave me cortisone shots, and talked of “eventual” surgery–that he wasn’t 100% would even fix the problem. I finally decided I would just live with it. When it starts hurting, I limit my computer time and take care not to do things that worsen it. And honestly, it has abated some. It’s not a daily pain anymore. Thanks for linking up! Good series.

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