Growing up in a Christian home, the person I have become has been heavily influenced by both my faith and my family. From the time I was a young child, I can always remember being told that I should always tell the truth…that Satan is the one who leads us to lie…and that one lie leads to another lie and eventually the lie gets so big that you get caught lying because you can’t remember all the lies you have previously told.
Due to my immune system not functioning well, I’ve not been able to attend church as much as I would like to due to illnesses. When you are home and sick in bed, you have a lot of time to think and I must admit I’ve done a lot of thinking about John chapter eight verse thirty-two and the truth.
First let me give a little background information to help put my story into perspective. A couple of weeks ago I was feeling okay-ish (if okay-ish is even a word), so I decided to go to church. With it being flu season and the flu outbreak reaching epidemic proportions I chose to decline all hand shakes and hugs. I must admit, it felt a little odd refusing to shake hands and hug people I have known all my life, but it was for my own good. I have been advised by medical personnel to not be out around groups of people unless absolutely necessary. After being home for a couple of weeks, it was absolutely necessary I break free from the walls of my house. Just being out with people was putting me at a higher risk of getting sick, I didn’t need to chance getting deathly ill because someone was sick and didn’t know it yet. So, I politely explained I have a weakened immune system and asked for no bodily contact. Thankfully everyone understood and cooperated with me. They all know how sick I have been the past few years and that my body isn’t fighting off illnesses right now. I hadn’t been to church in a few weeks, so although they couldn’t get hugs and handshakes, I think everyone in the building came by to say hello and find out how I was doing. It’s nice to know people care.
This is when things got a little interesting. Someone came by and asked how I was doing and I answered with a smile and my usual answer, “I’m okay.” Now I must admit this phrase coming out of my mouth could mean almost anything. Okay might mean that my pain is a two on the zero to ten pain scale and everything seems to be going good today or it might mean that I slept two hours last night in fifteen minute intervals, I’ve already vomited ten times this morning, my pain is an eight on the zero to ten scale, and it’s only eleven in the morning. Many of us with chronic health conditions have learned that sometimes it is easier to smile and say we are okay than to explain how we really feel. There’s a few people in my life that have realized this and they ask what “okay” means.
To be completely honest, I wasn’t really sure how I was doing physically that Sunday morning. I didn’t feel any worse than normal, but I had been staying really tired, most likely because my heart was beating a little too fast (which it is still doing). Although I had a gut feeling that my test results would be normal, I wouldn’t get the results from my echocardiogram and blood cultures for three more days. By the way, I was right. The test results were normal. We have no idea why my heart is beating fast part of the time.
So, I had just been asked how I was doing and answered that I was okay. This is when someone else spoke up and said, “You lied.” I must admit that comment caught me a little off guard at first. I don’t get called a liar very often. While I don’t really feel like I’m telling a lie by stating I’m okay even when my health says I’m not, it was time for the service to start so I quickly justified my answer by telling the other person I was sure he does the same thing. The other person also lives with chronic health issue, so I’m sure he understood my answer.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve thought a lot about truth verses lies. While I don’t think anyone involved in the previous conversation really thought I was lying, it made me stop and think about how many times we answer questions with what we consider to be an honest answer, but if the other person really knew how we felt they would call us a liar. Two people don’t always perceive things the same way.
For a long time, I did lie about how I felt. I bravely put on that fake smile and said I was “okay” even when deep inside I knew I wasn’t. Like others living with chronic illness, I felt like that was my only option. I somehow convinced myself that I was protecting others by keeping my struggles to myself. I thought I was keeping others from worrying about me. Only since starting this blog, have I really opened up and started telling people how I really feel. Some might see sharing your struggles as a sign of weakness, but I’ve realized it isn’t. Overall people seem pleased to find out how I am really doing. I have encountered a few people who didn’t really want the truth, but that’s their problem not mine. I’ve come to the conclusion that if you don’t really want to know something you shouldn’t ask.
You might be reading this and wondering where in the world I’m headed with this story. I’m getting there. I share this story to encourage others fighting health issues, whether it be physical or mental, to open up and share how you really feel.
Just today (okay I just realized it’s one in the morning so it was really yesterday) someone was asking me questions about my CRPS and whether I feel it’s better, worse, or about the same today as it was three years ago or twenty years ago. I told the person from my perspective it’s progressively getting worse. Then the person commented he couldn’t imagine what it’s like. I quickly stated, “Oh, you get used to it.” I immediately felt myself crawling back into my shell. The room went quiet and I heard a voice in my head screaming, “Liar!”
At this point, I had a choice to make, I could leave the conversation and let the physical therapist think CRPS and gastroparesis was something you just get used to, or I could stand up for myself and every other person living with chronic illnesses. The choice was mine. Was I going to be brave and share the truth, knowing that the only way to be honest was to share my struggles and reveal my weaknesses, or was I going to allow myself to continue to crawl back into my comfy shell where I felt safe?
Admitting my weaknesses isn’t easy. In a matter of milliseconds my thoughts went everywhere. I thought of everything I’ve been through with my health, the people I’ve met at doctors offices from around the world, and the pediatric pain warriors I met at camp. Deep inside I knew this was more than just a chance to stand up for myself, I was defending every person out there who feels like they have to hide their true feelings behind that fake smile to protect everyone else. At that point, there was no doubt in my mind. I knew what I had to do. After a short pause I said, “No, you don’t really get used to it. You just learn to adapt.” I then explained how it’s easier, twenty years later, as an adult, to deal with the pain and the unknown future than it was when I was fifteen. I explained how difficult it was a month before my sixteenth birthday to be diagnosed with a rare chronic pain disease for which I was told a cure wasn’t known. This is the first time I have discussed with anyone outside my immediate family how difficult it was to watch my classmates get excited about getting driver’s permits while I just wanted to walk. I had written it for others to read on my blog, but never said it aloud. Don’t let anyone convince you that typing something for someone to read in another room is no different from saying it for someone sitting in front of you to hear. Typing and saying something are two totally different things.
No, you never get used to the pain and everything else that goes along with CRPS and gastroparesis, but you can adapt and learn to live with it. Does accepting my current state of health mean I’ve given up? Absolutely NOT! Each new day brings something new. I’ve realized that tomorrow will be whatever it is. Whether day break brings healing or struggles, I know I’m ready for it.
Yes, my health conditions do cause me to experience pain, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, etc., and make life a little more challenging and unpredictable at times. I’ve realized it’s okay to admit I’m not okay. I’m the only one who knows how I really feel and I don’t have to protect everyone else by hiding it. However, I have also realized my attitude, not a medical diagnosis, determines how I am doing.
So am I okay? Yes and no. It depends on what you are actually asking and from whose perspective you are looking at it. Sometimes my brain says I’m fine, while my body is screaming help me.
There is one thing I’m sure of honesty is always the best policy. If can’t let down your guard and openly share how you feel for your own good, think about those who are following you. Let’s build bridges to make the way easier for those behind us. It’s amazing how good it feels to be able to honestly say, no my life isn’t perfect…no I won’t ever get used to living with chronic pain…no this isn’t the life I imagined I would be living…but I’m going to make host out of it anyway. Yes, the truth does set you free.
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