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10 Things I Need My Friends and Family to Know About Life With Multiple Illnesses

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On June 30, 2013, my life changed. I woke up with an excruciating pain in my abdomen. I ran to my parents’ bedroom gasping, “I need to go to the hospital!” Before this happened, I had little whispers for a few years prior that indicated maybe something was up with my insides, but those whispers turned into a scream when my ovary twisted two times to alert me that I had a 14-centimeter cystic mass taking up most of my pelvic area.

After spending a day in the hospital trying to figure out what was going on, a well-humored gynecologist told me I would need to have emergency surgery, but not to worry as this procedure is very common and straightforward. So after my initial panic faded, I had an optimistic outlook: Maybe I would even feel better after this surgery! Maybe I wouldn’t always have to undo my fly after meals because of weird discomfort. Things would be OK.

I never fully recovered from that surgery, and I still don’t know why. The gynecologist that did my surgery told me I had endometriosis, but if I started the birth control pill right away, everything would be fine. But everything was not fine. And almost immediately after surgery I started having digestive problems. This eventually evolved into chronic discomfort all over my body, painful periods and ovulation, bouts of anxiety, depression and paranoia, migraines, and what felt like a million other unrelated symptoms at that time.

Fast forward almost three years, 11 conventional healthcare practitioners, 10 complementary practitioners, thousands of dollars and hours, and here I am with a hypersensitive nervous system, chronic hypoglycemia, a hurting reproductive and digestive system, a very confused immune system and a body that can only tolerate applesauce, pureed squash, avocados, bananas, and a hypoallergenic meal replacement.

I am not sharing my story because I want people to feel bad for me. I really don’t. In fact, my life is really great outside of my struggling body. I live an extraordinarily privileged life and I don’t want to take that for granted. I am sharing my story for a few reasons: 1. Yes, sh*t happens, but that sh*t can be redeemed. 2. There are a lot of people who suffer from invisible illnesses (people you probably see every day), and I want to bring awareness to that fact. 3. I think being honest about my struggle in this way may bring some healing to me. 4. Maybe, just maybe, someone who reads this will relate to my experience and feel a little less alone. 5. So that I can look back at this and remember what is important to me when I am having a hard time. 6. Everyone has a story and I think they should all be shared. 7. I have a few things I want my friends and family to know about my life with chronic illness.

*My thoughts about things change from time to time, so maybe one day in the future these won’t be the things I want you to know about my life with chronic illness, but until then..

1. I am trying.

Sometimes I get this feeling that people assume that because I am not actually getting better, I must not be trying. I have never stopped trying. I have put more time and money into taking care of my body than I ever thought imaginable. But. Sometimes my body needs a break from trying things. Sometimes my spirit needs a break from trying things. But I trust that these breaks are doing me more good than if I kept pushing when my body is telling me no.

2. Doctors don’t always know everything.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if doctors weren’t human and actually did know everything? But they don’t. I always have people asking me, “What do the doctors say?” And when I say that they don’t say much, or that they haven’t been able to find anything wrong, people might say things like, “Oh, well why don’t you just start eating normally then?” or “Well, if they can’t find anything wrong it must be all in your head.” I think there are more loving ways to support someone who hasn’t been able to eat real food for almost a year.

3. I would eat that pizza if I could.

So trust me when I say I can’t and don’t push it.

4. I might not ever get better.

I feel that most people in my life expect me to always be getting better, especially if they don’t know me very well. I may have seen them a month ago and they ask me if I am feeling any better and my answer is always, “Not really.” Every time I say it, I feel like I am letting someone down or as if I need to apologize for still being sick. The usual response to me saying “Not really” is “Well, you look really good!” I appreciate that you think I look mighty fine, but the fact that my illness is invisible to you somehow doesn’t make me feel any better. I do realize, however, that these comments come from either a place of really caring for me or just not being sure what to say, so I get over it really quick. The truth is, I wish people would be OK with me not getting better, because then I wouldn’t feel the pressure to be better. Help me be OK with where I am at.

5. My life isn’t what I thought it would be and I am OK with that. Really.

For the first 21 years of my life I had dreams of becoming a teacher and having lots of kids. I thought that was what would bring me fulfillment in life. I am currently in a place where I don’t know if I’ll ever be well enough to finish my education degree. I also don’t know if I will ever be able to have children. Everything is pretty up in the air. But I am happy with what I am doing with my life. I have the most loving husband to share my life with. I have amazing family and friends. I enjoy my work as a substitute educational assistant, and I have a God who loves me. Music exists. You don’t have to feel sad that I might not ever be a teacher. Or that I may not ever have kids. Yeah, these aren’t ideal situations. But I don’t need them to feel like my life has value.

6. I can have joy every day in my life with my illness.

My life isn’t my illness. It’s far more than that. And to be honest, I do have joy every day in my life. Even when I am having a hard day, the hardness of that day isn’t everlasting. I laugh constantly. I cry tears of happiness sometimes. I look forward to things. My life isn’t over.

7. I am not the fragile person you might think I am.

I am strong. Stronger than I ever was.

8. I wouldn’t want to go back to who I was before I got sick.

This used to be so tempting to me. I would daydream about how awesome things were before I got sick. But truthfully, things are a lot better now. Sure, I can’t eat pizza or pie, but I am a much better person now. I am much more satisfied with my life. I know what is important and what isn’t. Life is simpler. I feel more capable of loving other people. Ultimately, my life has much more meaning than it did before.

9. I believe God has not abandoned me.

I have felt closer to God these past three years than I ever have. When I have days, or weeks, or months where things just seem to be getting worse no matter how hard I am trying to give my body a break and feed it the things it needs to get better, there comes a point when I realize this is all in God’s hands. When I am alone and in pain and feel like giving up, the most healing thing for me in that moment is imagining myself through God’s eyes and feeling how much he loves me. If it weren’t for my confidence in God’s plan for me, I don’t know where I would be today.

10. All I want you to do for me is pray and hang out.

I think most people like to fix things that are broken. But I do not want you to fix me. I just want to have you in my life. If you still want to fix me, pray for me. Nothing could brighten my day more than if you say you are praying for me. Pray that I have strength, faith and healing. Also pray that one day I will be able to eat pie. Because that would be awesome.

Follow this journey on Life in Between.

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Originally published: May 25, 2016
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