How I Found Peace When My Lungs Couldn't Be Fixed
It was an unexpectedly warm February day when blood vessels in my lungs burst while my family and I were at a park. What started as an afternoon of relaxing fun, ended with me in an ICU and my children at the home of a friend. Doctors couldn’t figure out why my lungs were bleeding so coming up with a treatment plan was a bit like building a plane while it was in the air. Three hospitals and one month later, I returned home, thank God, but it took the removal of part of my lungs and several more surgeries to make it safe for me to leave the hospital.
Today, my bleeding problem is still undiagnosed. I am blessed with a team of doctors who take excellent care of me. They have found a way to treat the problem when a vessel breaks, yet they cannot make my body stop growing weak blood vessels. There’s nothing we can do about that. I am Exhibit A on the list of, “Things That Can’t be Fixed.”
My body doesn’t give me any notice before a blood vessel breaks so a bleed can happen at any time. I am constantly aware of how close the nearest hospital is and I take notice of every cough. Early on, my mind spun out in worry spirals. I wanted peace. I wanted to be able to focus more on my family and friends and less on my lungs. I struggled to come to terms with an unknowable future.
In time, with the help of my family, my friends, and my faith, I found practical ways to get out of the worry spiral and find real peace. It began with accepting a new truth: I can live in the tension of being undiagnosed and also move forward into a hope-filled future. It wasn’t an either/or choice. I could live in the space where both are true.
When anxiety spikes with a new cough or a rattle in my lungs, there are three specific steps I take to find peace again.
STEPS TO FIND PEACE
1. Admit that you can’t fix it.
Admitting our limitations, our humanness, can be a starting place for moving forward through a really tough situation. Personally, this is the hardest step for me. It means I have to admit I’m weak and that I need help. It also means some things can’t be fixed by hard work, research, growth, elbow grease, or any other human effort. I can’t make my lungs stop growing broken blood vessels. Period.
2. Remember that God knows.
God is sovereign over everything. There’s nothing he doesn’t already know. Nothing he can’t change. If he could raise a dead body back to life, he can heal an unknown disease. On top of that, God is ever-present. God sees you and is with you. You are never alone.
3. Find one thing good.
It may seem that no good thing can come out of a medical crisis that cost me my lungs, but that’s just not true. Great and priceless lessons can be learned through extreme suffering. Look hard. Can you see perseverance growing in you or your children? Can you find new compassion for a friend? Can you sense God’s presence more clearly? There is something good to be found. Find it. And then praise God for it. If you aren’t a person of faith, then take note and be grateful for it.
NEUROSCIENCE AND PEACE
One summer vacation ended suddenly, several days early because my lungs were acting very oddly and I felt horrible. My husband put me in a car with our young teen driver and said, “Take her to the hospital.” While we were driving an hour away from our beloved Lake Tahoe cabin, my husband and our friends furiously packed up bedding, food, and paddle boards. Hours later, I was in an ER and my children were crying. Not only was their mom back in the hospital, which was scary for our then 7 and 10 year old children, but they were forced to leave vacation while the sun was shining and their friends were still jumping off the dock into crystal blue water. We didn’t get to finish the trip with our tradition of hiding a note in the cabin to find the next year. We were all sad, every last one of us.
Telling our kids, “It’s OK, we’ll be back next year,” didn’t help. Those words may have been true and logical, but in that stressful moment filled with frustration and deep sadness, our brains couldn’t think logically. We needed help to process the stress and find peace again.
When we are stressed, a neurochemical floods the brain, physically changing our ability to access the PFC or logic center. So, stress = lack of access to logical thinking.
What we needed was a different neurochemical to counteract the stress neurochemical. It’s not difficult to get the “good” neurochemical to flood the brain, usually some physical exertion or regulated breathing will do the job. Once the “good” neurochemcial floods the brain, it brings the PFC back online and we can talk out our stress using our logic center. The problem is that when we are stressed, we often don’t want to do the thing that will help. We resist it. Who wants to do 10 jumping jacks or six deep breaths when what we really feel like doing is yelling and crying and punching a hole in the wall? We’re disappointed or frustrated by our illness and the loss it causes and we need other people to see that things will never get fixed!
We need to learn to do the thing that will help even when we don’t feel like it. This is the peace-inducing magic behind gratitude and praising God. We may feel like ranting at God but that won’t help us calm down and remember that he loves us, that he’s for us, and that he’s in control. We need to praise him! Sure, praise him when things are going great and you feel like singing in a meadow like Maria in The Sound of Music. But don’t forget to also praise him when you don’t feel like it, then watch to see what happens. In God’s perfect design, praise floods our minds with “good” neurochemicals so we can logically recall his character. The result is a heart filled with peace.
Praising God is the key to finding peace when things can’t be fixed.
EXPECT PEACE IS POSSIBLE
There will be broken pieces of your life that you can’t fix. That’s the reality of living with rare and undiagnosed illnesses. It’s what you do to to find peace in the muck that matters. Admit the truth. Remember you aren’t alone in it. Find ways to praise God in your circumstances and let him change your heart in the process. Expect him to give you his promised peace. Then do what you can in full dependence on him.
A version of this story originally appeared on nicoleomeara.com.
Photo submitted by contributor.