My journals and Facebook have been reminding me that around this time a few years ago I was finally coming out of an extended time of illness. It was a challenging time of weakness for me. God taught me many lessons but as time has brought distance from that period of life I feel some of things I have learned slipping away. Some of my old habits are returning. These notes have been sitting in my drafts folder for a while so it seemed a good time to dust them off, refresh my memory, and hit the publish button.
The weekend that we made the decision not to pursue adoption I was very sick. I couldn’t keep food down for 3 days. I was completely drained. I assumed that my physical symptoms were a result of the emotional distress I was feeling. A month later were were visiting my family in Philadelphia for Christmas. I spent the entire week of our visit sick with various symptoms – most of which involved being unable to eat and completely drained of energy. On our drive home I called my doctor and that started a cycle of sickness – doctor visits – a round of antibiotics – a brief respite – sickness again. Over the following two years I had various strange symptoms that didn’t fit any particular diagnosis.
For a period of about 18 month my “episodes” happened pretty frequently. They disturbed my sleep and left me drained for days. They were unpredictable. Some days my energy was so low that I could do only the bare minimum around the house, spending hours in bed sleeping. Interacting with people was draining.
It was a challenging time. I was often frustrated by my lack of energy and ability to “get things done.” I spent a lot of time at home alone while my husband took the kids to church, birthday parties, and family get togethers. I spent a lot of time sleeping. I spent a lot of time watching Netflix marathons.
Here are some things I learned:
1. I learned to say “no.”
This was so hard! I was used to doing and helping. I was used to being at every church or family gathering. I was used to being at every practice and ball game my kids had. But I just physically couldn’t do everything anymore. So…
2. I learned to evaluate my energy and personality in order to say “yes” to the things that really brought me joy.
I took a good look at my priorities and realized that it was good for me to focus on the main things that God was calling me to: being a wife and mother and homeschooling our boys. After those things I had a limited amount of time and energy.
I figured some things out about myself. Even though I enjoy being social and like conversing with people I am really an introvert who needs time to recharge my batteries in between social events. I need some space and quiet time in my schedule. These are not negative qualities that I should be ashamed of and power through in order to “serve more.” This is the way God made me, and he had a reason for making me this way.
3. I learned to let go of the guilt of feeling I “should” do things.
I can’t do everything. I can’t solve all the problems. As I learned to find joy and satisfaction in the things that I felt God was calling me to do I felt the guilt receding. I now see the word “should” as a sign for me to take a step back and evaluate if I am doing something out of love and joy or out of guilt and obligation.
4. I learned to let other people step up and do things.
I tend to just naturally take charge. I am learning to temper that a little. I learned to sit quietly and let other people speak up. I learned that things don’t always have to be done my way.
5. I learned to let myself rest.
Rest is hard. It feels self-indulgent. It feels lazy. But it is necessary. Regular bed times, naps if I needed them, a few minutes to sip tea and read a book, saying no to going somewhere in order to veg in front of the tv, making time to take a relaxing bath – these were all things that I started to allow myself to do.
6. I learned to ask for what I needed.
Oh man, this went against my nature! I learned to be honest with Aaron about how I was feeling and what I needed. Sometimes I woke him up in the middle of the night because I needed him to hold my hand. Sometimes I asked him to make dinner so that I could go lay down. I learned to ask friends to pray for me and to be honest with them about how I was feeling.
7. I learned to listen to and take care of my body.
Every day was a surprise. I never knew if I was going to wake up feeling good and full of energy or sick and dragging. I learned to pay attention to what my body was telling me, did I need more rest? nutritious food? a walk in the sun?
8. I learned how to nourish and care for myself.
This is very connected to learning to listen and take care of my body. I learned that without energy I cannot serve my family and friends and even the greater world very effectively. Good fuel for my body was important. I learned to pay attention to what I was eating and be more disciplined about choosing food that would provide good energy. Good rest was important. I made myself get enough sleep by setting a certain time of night that screens went off and having a night time routine that helped my body shut down. I realized that I function best on 8 hours of sleep and I need to be disciplined about getting that sleep.
9. I learned how important it is to have joy and patience no matter what my circumstance.
This is so hard! And believe me, I have so much more to learn in this area. This is not a lesson I can check off as completed. I know many people who have had longer and more intense chronic illnesses than what I had and their continued perseverance and joy are an inspiration to me. There were some mornings when the complicated process it took to get myself up and going just seemed depressing and overwhelming and I learned in those moments that I could choose what I looked at. I could focus on the depression and all the things I was not able to do, or I could focus on gifts and joys that God had for me that day. Believe me, this did not come easily for me, I am a complainer by nature. On the days that I remembered that God was sovereign over my situation and present with my I was able to have joy and patience, even if I barely made it out of bed.
10. I learned that God loved me.
In the early morning hours when my symptoms dragged me from sleep, I felt God’s love. On the days when I had no energy to give to my children, I felt God’s love. On the days when my house was a mess and I didn’t know what to make for dinner and I had to cancel plans and commitments I had made, I felt God’s love. I felt His love in the practical help of my husband and the caring calls of friends. I felt His love when I had nothing to give, nothing to accomplish, and no strength of my own. It was not easy for me to accept God’s love when I didn’t feel I was earning it. But, ultimately, that is exactly how God loves me whether I can acknowledge it or not.
I tend to fear discomfort or hardship. I prefer comfort and safety. Yet I have clearly felt God’s presence in my weakest times and in the times of hardship in the lives of my friends. I know that there will be more difficult times in my life and I hope that I will remember the lessons I learned. If I forget, feel free to remind me.