Last winter I was ill with back-to-back “normal people sick.” This was on top of my transplant recovery and side effects from immunosuppressant meds. How did I score on the gratitude scale? Not so good. I decided to blame God and that didn’t work out very well.
It was my first winter taking my immense cocktail of immunosuppressants to keep my body from rejecting my new kidney. One problem I’ve had with my meds is that my body metabolizes these drugs so fast, to keep the blood level where the doctors want, I had to take the same amount as a 200 pound man. My poor immune system was almost nonexistent.
When my transplant nurse increased my med dosage yet again, my body couldn’t cope and I went from a stomach ulcer to GERD to a sore throat to a cough to bronchitis to pneumonia. All of these ailments led to chronic fatigue and my body just couldn’t heal. I was sick from early November to March with a smorgasbord of illnesses that my diminished immune system could not handle.
My transplant doctor, who is awesome, decided to reduced my immunosuppressant meds to give my immune system a fighting chance. She prescribed antibiotics for pneumonia but it still took months for me to recover. I was coughing my lungs out and was constantly out of breath. Sometimes I ran out of breath just talking to people, let alone trying to get dressed, wash my hair, or walk up the stairs. My exhaustion was more severe than with kidney failure or dialysis, which was so disheartening.
How did I handle it? Did I take my own advice and concentrate on gratitude?
Did I shut down the negative tapes that continuously played in my head, “poor you, nobody cares, and you’re never going to get well either?”
I did none of my tried and true negativity busters. Instead I decided to fall apart, envy everyone else’s fabulous life, and went to live in a very dark cave of my own making.
Years ago, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I worked with a medical team and tried various treatments, both conventional and unconventional. The medical staff finally advised to go the pharmaceutical route because, well, my condition was dangerous. luckily, I was able to respond to pharmaceuticals that have stabilized my condition. I do hope one day I won’t need them, but I know now is not the time.
During my recovery from depression I began to integrate some of the nonconventional methods of wellness. Meditating led me to gratitude as a way of life, which led me to converse with “out there,” which led to a relationship with God, Source, Jesus, Buddha, Higher Power, Universe, or however you want to phrase it. I felt like a tiny part of God lived inside me that I could always turn to, talk to, and ask for guidance. This little spark kept me positive when I was diagnosed with kidney failure, put on dialysis, and waited for a donor. It got me through my surgery and the initial avalanche of side effects.
It was taking so long to get better I began to lose the hope that had sustained me through every health crisis. I began to listen to that small cruel voice that likes to creep in unannounced. This inner voice told me that this was it, I was never going to get better, I was a lazy slacker, and I couldn’t possibly be a good mom, wife, or human being in the physical state I was in.
And I listened.
My greatest fear, my depression, had returned. Intermittent fits of anger and tears became a daily occurence, which I hadn’t had in the many years since my remission from depression. I was angry. Angry with God, Universe, Higher Source, Jesus, the Virgin Mary, Christmas trees, Mother Earth, Moses, winter, Mary Magdalene, the Man in the Moon, and the Easter bunny. I was angry as hell and blamed any higher power I could think of for deserting me.
As I shuffled from car to house, driving my son to school in my pajamas, I could be heard muttering, “Is this it? Is this my life now? Thanks a lot God. How am I supposed to function? How am I supposed to live? How am I supposed to be a good mom?” And that escalated to, “ I thought you loved me,” and “I feel like a FOOL for believing all that crap about how you’re always there for me. Thanks for your help God, and by the way, I don’t need any more help from YOU.”
I shut the door in God’s face, buried my inner spark in a deep dark hole, and then felt like a hollow log floating down the river to nowhere. I was on a very unpleasant ride and had no idea how to get off .
Three long months were spent in a state of blame and anger I directed toward God. The miserable feelings of being sick and useless were overwhelming, but something else was wrong. I now had a spiritual void that I could physically feel in my chest.
One fine day I noticed my heart had actually started to hurt. It felt like someone was squeezing it.
“Oh, this is perfect,” I thought, “now I have a mycobacterial heart infection. Thanks a lot God.” (Maybe I was also become a hypochondriac.)
I went to my room and started sobbing. And sobbing and sobbing and sobbing. There was a huge lump in my throat that wouldn’t go away. As I lay there I realized that I missed that inner spark inside that I turned my back on. I missed it so much.
Much of my life as a sick person has been spent nurturing my new found spirituality. When I prayed or meditated, I began conversing, asking advice, and sometimes even getting answers that came as sudden epiphanies. I had developed an ongoing conversation with God and I was miserable without that connection. As I cried, I realized that I didn’t care what happened anymore. Even if this was it, even if this was as healthy as I was going to be, I never wanted to be separated from my spirituality again.
I asked God for forgiveness, but I learned that, of course, there was nothing to forgive. God, my Inner Guide, was there all along; it was I who had chosen to turn away.
At that moment of awareness, my heart filled with hope once again, and for that I am forever grateful. I learned that no matter what happens, my relationship with God is my greatest gift and resource. For me, being spiritually depleted is way worse than being physically ill.
Eventually I recovered from pneumonia, although I still have some hearing loss in my right ear from the ordeal. Now I have the comfort of knowing that even if things don’t turn out the way I envision, I will still be ok. What I was most afraid of, the return of my depression, did not happen. This alone is reason for gratitude.
This was definitely a big rough patch I had to get through. But now I realize how much I need my spirituality to help me deal with chronic illness on a day-to-day basis.
I’ll leave you with my favorite quote that inspires me during the rough times:
My new mantra is, “I now choose to see everything as a miracle just because it’s makes me happy.” I’ve learned my spirituality and living a life of gratitude helps me navigate the ups and downs of chronic illness. My hope for you is that you have someone, something, or somewhere to turn when things get rough.
Wishing you the best,