Fear and Loathing… in the World

Fear is like a lie. It might start out small, or insignificant. But once another lie or fear rests on top of the other, a cycle is formed. It’s like trying to fix a hole with scotch tape, you have to add more and more. But in the end, all you’re doing is making the problem worse. Those layers will eventually be stripped away and reveal the damage done.

The opposite of fear is not courage, it’s knowledge.

We’re facing so much fear in our world right now. Fear of what we don’t understand, fear of other cultures, fear of brutality and even death. What would happen if education and understanding took it’s place? What if people took a step back and said “I choose not to be afraid of the things I don’t know, or can’t see.”

I have seen it so many times! Bullies that push people around, just because they’re afraid of what other people will think if they didn’t. Abusive partners, fearful of being alone, lashing out and trying to force love. Disabled citizens that choose not to park in the handicapped spot (even with a placard), out of fear from threatening notes and harsh stares. People afraid of their sexuality, because they’ve seen how others were treated. Young men that fear police brutality, and honest police officers that fear retaliation (for the actions of others). Refugees without a home or food for their family, fearful of what the future holds. A world in fear of war, torn apart by the deeds of a select few.

“The enemy is fear, we think it is hate; but it is fear.” – Gandhi

I am in NO WAY condoning the actions of bullies or abusers! Fear is not a justification for misdeeds and actions. This is all about opening our mind to what the real problem is!

Some people might ask, what qualifies me to write about this? I write a blog for people with disabilities and invisible illness. What does this have to do with that? To those people, I would say this… I may not be a scholar or civil rights activist, I may not even have it “right”, but I certainly feel like the way were going is wrong. I live every day in pain, I work tirelessly to advocate for myself and others with chronic illness. I have seen how fear can grab a hold of a person and make them want to just give up. My own fear has brought me to the brink of death; and yet it was the fear of leaving my children without a mother that brought me back. I have loved ones in law enforcement that I fear for on a daily basis, and I see how much pain they go through every time there’s news of another shooting. I am not here to say one group is better than another, I am here to say that until the cycle of fear is broken, we will never heal!

“The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself.” – FDR

Education is key! I’m not just talking about kids in the classroom, I am talking about unbiased news reporting honest headlines. I’m talking about flooding the internet with true stories, from the voices of those going through it. Muslim and Christian leaders, coming together and having civil conversations. Accepting that yes, Black Lives MATTER, without (even once) thinking that that means other peoples lives do not. Taking a step back, realizing that any time you say “all of this one particular group is…” is not productive and feeds into fear! This includes police! Not all police are racist, or are out to hurt anyone. They’re afraid, just like everyone else, and (unfortunately) some of them can’t handle the fear. Knowing all this can be the best deterrent to violence available.

We CAN break the cycle of violence, and the fear that drives it forward! So, even if you haven’t taken my words to heart, at least listen to one of the wisest beings in the universe…

“Fear leads to anger… anger leads to hate… hate leads to suffering.” – Yoda

Is Giving In… Giving Up?

For months now, I have been on a steady decline and that is saying something, because I was already not in very good shape. I’m not saying this to elicit sympathy or prayers, it is simply a statement of truth.

I’m going to go on a little detour from my main post topic for one second to address my last sentence there, because as soon as I wrote it I realized this has to be said. Please let people talk about their health without feeling like you HAVE to comment on how sorry you feel for them or that you will keep them in your prayers. Now, I am a Christian (see my post called “Faith in the Midst of Pain“), but there are times I feel like I can’t vent about how I feel because I know it will just be taken as a solicitation for sympathy. It’s not! Pray for me, by all means. But when a friend with invisible illness is talking to you about their symptoms, it means they trust you… a lot. Don’t break that trust, don’t make them feel like what they’re saying should be pitied. Ok, back to what I came here to say.

Is giving up, giving in? The short answer is no, but (as we all know) there is no such thing as a short answer (well maybe 2+2). My point is that, there is almost always more to the situation than just saying “Don’t give up, no matter what!”. Here’s an example…

When I got married just over 15 years ago, my husband and I were living in San Antonio, TX. We loved it there, and only moved because of job opportunities and family. If it were just for location alone, we would still be in Texas. Anyway, we honeymooned in the Hill Country and it was beautiful! Not far from where we were staying there is this huge rock, the size of a giant hill (but a rock). It’s a big thing to climb this rock, there were hundreds of people there (like all the time) walking, crawling, and climbing up this thing. Well, up until this point I still didn’t know I was sick. All I knew was that I had back problems, headaches, and that I most likely had carpel tunnel (the only explanation my doctor could give me for my wrist pain). I also knew I had asthmatic problems, but had never been diagnosed and was therefore never given an inhaler. So climbing this giant rock was NOT high on my list of things I wanted to do on my honeymoon. But my new husband really wanted to do it, and he thought it would be a romantic thing to do together. It. Was. Not. Less than half way up I started hurting. He decided to try different motivational techniques, like cheering me on and even negative reinforcement (I put a stop to that one right away). Eventually I made it to the top, but it took several hours. I was in so much pain by that time I had learned something about myself… it doesn’t matter how much someone is trying to motivate me, I can only do what I can physically do. Period. I should have given up. I should have stopped and gone back down as soon as I felt the pain searing through my body. But I didn’t, I allowed myself to be pushed and because of that I had to be (practically) carried down the rock and back to the hotel. I spent the rest of the honeymoon miserable. I don’t blame my husband! He was only doing what he thought was the right thing to do, neither of us knew about my chronic conditions. If we did, we would never have even attempted to make the climb.

So now I’m faced with another rock to climb… mobility. My legs are losing the battle and even though I can walk, if I have to walk for long periods of time, I’m laid out for at least a day (often more). I know that I will have to have a serious conversation about this with my doctor at my next appointment, but I have other people pushing back. I get everything from “You’re too young for a wheelchair!” to “I’m just going to believe that you’re going to get better!”. These are not helpful. Of course I want to “get better”, but reality dictates I look at facts. The fact is that things are going to continue to get worse. I am not just giving up! I will take my vitamins, I will do my physical therapy, I will be an advocate for my disability rights. Getting into a wheelchair is not giving up on myself. It may be giving in, but not giving up.

Faith in the Midst of Pain

Websters Dictionary definition of “Faith” (noun) \ˈfāth\

: strong belief or trust in someone or something

: belief in the existence of God

: strong religious feelings or beliefs : a system of religious beliefs

For those of us with invisible illness, which pretty much always includes chronic/widespread pain, faith can be very difficult. Not only in a deity, but in others around us. This post is going to break down the definition of faith and how we can use it to our benefit, not allow it to break us down.

I grew up in the church… literally. Before I was born, my parents were not “church goers”. But just about a year before I arrived in this world, they found God and started attending church on a regular basis. So, when I was born we spent a LOT of time in church. We were the family that was there every Sunday (two services in the morning and one at night), Wednesday nights, church camp during the summer, and anything else we could possibly be a part of… we were there. But truth be told, I didn’t mind! I loved my church, all my friends were there and it was the one stable part of my life. We moved around a lot and eventually my father became an associate pastor, so it really became a second home. Throughout all of it though, my own spiritual journey was a roller coaster.

Even from a very young age, I dealt with crippling depression. I internalized it, of course. Everyone knew me as the perky kid, the pastor’s daughter that “could do no wrong”, but I was haunted all the time. Every time they called people up to receive prayer, I was the first in line. I knew something was wrong with me, I just didn’t know what. I thought I had to be saved, over and over again. Finally a camp counselor noticed what was I doing and pulled me aside. I explained my feelings and she told me about her own struggles with depression. It hit me that this wasn’t something I had to be “saved” from, I already was. God was going to take care of me, and things started looking up. Until my body started falling apart.

I had always been a little sick, “growing pains” or so I was told. But as I got older (late teens, early 20’s), my whole body fell into chaos. One real test of my faith came when I found out I had a rare form of cystic growth pattern on my ovaries (sorry if this is TMI, but it is very key to my story, and I’ll do a whole blog post just on this in the future). Now, I was from a fairly large family and had always wanted several children, so when my doctor told me that it would be extremely difficult to conceive when I was 17… it shattered my world! I was already dealing with chronic depression and every day pain. My cramps were so intense I couldn’t move when they started, which is what had sent me to the doctor in the first place. They were unable to do anything about the cysts, they would explode in time anyway (which just means more pain). So, to a 17 year old it was basically the end, or so I saw it. Then… something even worse happened that brought it all into perspective. A friend (that I knew, but unfortunately never really got the chance to know well), that went to my church and was in my class at school, committed suicide. It hit me like a ton of bricks. How many times had I considered doing the same thing!? His mother asked me to sing at his showing, and it was one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life. I couldn’t make it through the whole song, I was crying too hard. I’m crying just thinking about it now! (Ok… pulling myself together, back to the story.) Some people seemed to think what he did was selfish, but I knew it wasn’t. I knew how he felt. I knew the pain, the loneliness, the longing for the other side. I yearned for it! (There are days I still do, but we’ll get to that later.) It was then that I knew my faith was totally real, because I knew it was God that quieted my soul. Not my own will, and not my own intentions, but that outside force saying “I’m here for you… however you need Me to be.” That day changed me, forever!

Since then, I’ve lived in several different cities/states, and I’ve even been on a mission trip to the Dominican Republic. I’ve worked in different churches as a youth leader, camp counselor, and nursery assistant. I’ve done my “fair share” of “church stuff”, but does that make me a better person than anyone else? NO! I don’t consider myself religious. I consider myself faithful. Let me explain that better. Let’s look back to the description of faith at the top of the post.

Websters Dictionary definition of “Faith” (noun) \ˈfāth\

: strong belief or trust in someone or something

: belief in the existence of God

: strong religious feelings or beliefs : a system of religious beliefs

So, when I say I’m a “faithful” person, I’m not just saying I’m faithful to God, I’m faithful to everyone (including myself).

How about this one?

I have faith in the existence of God and I have strong “religious” feelings. But I am not defined by my religion. Is this making sense yet?

Ok, I’m a big fan of this one. My faith gets me through the tough times. Which for me is all the time… so my faith is what gets me through. I trust that God will see me through all the s**t I deal with every day (yes, we Christians can have dirty mouths too, but this is a family friendly blog so I censored myself). I know that He’s there for me, because of all those times I’ve wanted to drive straight into a wall, He steadies my heart and brings my life back into focus. When the panic attacks take hold, it’s that feeling of His peace that calms me. He even helped me out on the day I had planned out my suicide.

It seems like an awful thing to say but even as a mother of two and wife I was going to end my life. I had it all planned out even. I won’t go into specifics, but in the end I didn’t go through with it (obviously). I went to my husband and told him about my plans, he acted quickly and took me to the Stress Center (after making sure that’s what I wanted, which I did). After several weeks of counseling (with a much more competent counselor, things calmed down. Do I still have suicidal thoughts? Of course, but I don’t plan on acting on them!

I know a vast majority of people think I’m insane for even contemplating that God even exists, but that’s okay. We all have faith in something! By definition, faith is not just one thing. It isn’t JUST faith in God, or belief in religion. It is often belief in others, or trust in something. Do you trust that something/someone will take care of you? A doctor, or hospital? A friend or family member? Then you have faith! Even if it’s not in God, I challenge everyone to explore the possibility that faith is about more than religion. Let’s look inside ourselves and find the thing we believe in, that we trust the most. For me, it’s God and my family. They get me through those times in my life when all I feel is the pain. They make me realize that I am more than my illness. God didn’t give me the pain, He isn’t cruel! That’s a topic for another post for another time though.

Trust me when I say this… I will not get super religious on my blog. I know a lot of people that deal with their faith, and I wanted to let everyone know where I stood. I’m the opposite of judgmental! I’m not republican OR democrat, I don’t care who you vote for. I am a heterosexual woman that is an ally for the LGBTQ community, I fully support gay marriage and think its criminal how they are treated! I have tattoos and brightly colored hair. I love science-fiction movies and even cosplay at my local comic-con. So, why did I tell you all that? Because, it doesn’t matter who you are! God doesn’t care! God doesn’t love me any less because I have tattoos. My faith isn’t challenged because I liked a picture of my friend’s gay wedding. Why? Nothing you do can change the trust in that which gets you through your own personal pain.