When we have nothing left but God, we discover that God is enough.
There’s been a strange turn of events around here that has brought me to a sad place. And it took a few weeks to put my finger on it. Over time, somehow, I’ve taken to feeling hopeless about a number of things. And losing hope is the first step on a long path of being depressed, making mistakes, and generally ruining everything good in your life.
Sickness Can Damage Hope More Than the Body
Even though I need to work my way out of this mindset, I am sick. Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis is a fancy word for an autoimmune condition that urges your immune system to attack your thyroid. In lighter cases (which 14 million other people get to deal with) it just makes you feel out of it, gain weight, and generally wonder why your quality of life is so crappy. Left unchecked, it can lead to memory loss, infertility, depression, and chronic pain.
I’ve been struggling with inactive Hashimoto’s (just bad blood work) since 2004 and active Hashimoto’s (weight gain, memory loss, inflammation, stress, depression) since my stressful teaching experience triggered chronic symptoms in 2009. I discovered natural Armour thyroid around 2012, Paleo in 2013, and Paleo AIP in 2014. It’s been a progressive journey with some wins along the way (like 60 lbs weight loss and saying goodbye for now to depression).
Hope Fades Over Time
Through most of this I had hope: I was grateful to have a diagnosis after so much suffering. I was grateful to have a natural medication that would work better than the chemicals they were giving me. I was grateful to have a more restrictive food plan that would make me feel better. But in the last few weeks… it just doesn’t seem like enough.
I’ve made incremental progress with my mental clarity, physical symptoms, and energy. But I found out yesterday my blood still sucks. I still have active thyroid antigens, which means my body is still freaking out. Furthermore, this work could indicate an interplay between my thyroid and my pituitary, where I have a small growth, and it’s time to look at more blood work, possible another MRI, and the results would point to what to do next.
“When pain is to be born, a little courage helps more than much knowledge, a little human sympathy more than much courage, and the least tincture of the love of God more than all.”
This kind of news after I’ve worked so hard… planned so much… paid so much… it just sucks. Either we don’t find anything related to the pituitary and I’m still here not knowing what to do. Or we find something and I’m looking at extraction surgery through my nose. And I start to feel like I’m all alone in this, that no one can take care of me and soon I won’t be able to take care of me. And I start to wonder how God could do this to someone He loves. And I start to wonder if maybe I’m not loved.
Love Isn’t Always Comfortable
In light and clarity of the morning, of course, that’s hogwash. As JHubbs faithfully reminded me, Jesus was abused and crucified and could have been saved from that pain at any moment. And of the very first followers and founders of the church — the apostles– all but one was martyred, too.
And as Father Wayne writes to remind me, unconditional love does not equate to a life without boundaries (or, in this case, pain). The pursuit of nonstop pleasure and comfort is a secular one. And every minute of suffering makes me revel in the moments (sometimes days or even weeks) when the absence of suffering makes me feel every detail of feeling amazing.
“Even if there were pains in Heaven, all who understand would desire them.”
And the purpose of suffering, pain, inconvenience, and discomfort — to make me the person and entity I am supposed to be — is at work on me even now.
Thinking about it this way helps me see that this suffering has a purpose. That suffering always has been and always will be a part of the puzzle. And the challenge is to face them, appreciate them, and allow them to mold me into the sort of person I am meant to be, letting my pride and desire for worldly health, wealth, and pleasure fall by the wayside.
“I have seen great beauty of spirit in some who were great sufferers. I have seen men, for the most part, grow better not worse with advancing years, and I have seen the last illness produce treasures of fortitude and meekness from most unpromising subjects.”
However Sick I Am, My Blessings Are Endless
And through this suffering — whether I choose to acknowledge these blessings or not — God is showing me how loved (and obscenely lucky) I actually am. So, in the face of my illness and impending further testing, here are my blessings:
- A husband like JHubbs. Who suffers to see me suffer, has an endless quantity of jokes to share. Has no capacity for guilt, pressure, or disappointment for the marriage vows “In sickness and in health.” Who always wants to do whatever I need at whatever cost. Who will always get up to microwave the rice heating pad. Who with very little prodding joined me on the Paleo journey and even the Paleo AIP journey to see what it was like, despite his love of pizza and all things Standard American Diet.
- The American healthcare system. For all the ways in which it sucks and has failed me for quality of life, the actual healthcare methods for procedures, life-saving measures, and surgeries is a gift.
- Healthcare coverage. Through all of this, I have had generous healthcare coverage that still costs us a lot ($500+ per month in premiums and we still have to pay 20% of procedures) but is not on track to bankrupt us.
- Income to pay for healthcare. Even after being laid off, we’ve had the income to pay for my healthcare needs over time, to include expensive homeopathic visits, supplements, and out-of-pocket testing.
- Income to pay for food. Eating Paleo AIP and buying high-quality meats and oils has been expensive, and we’ve always had the income to be able to prioritize these things.
- Ability to work for myself. Working from home and working for myself, God has blessed my business every month since I was laid off to allow me to keep doing this: to sleep in the days I need to, to take off the days I need to, and to have the energy to work when it was important for me to do so.
- Supportive friends and family. From the beginning, my family and friends were surprised by my diet and thought I was a bit crazy, but every single person I interact with has shown nothing but kindness and sympathy for what I was doing and support whenever possible. Our closest friends just assume we’re always packing food for ourselves and they go out of their way to make us feel comfortable (and not rude) for doing so. Recently my in-laws even picked up a Paleo/Gluten Free cookbook “just because,” and it stunned me with the sudden awareness of how lucky I am (especially compared to the stories I’ve heard about unsupportive spouses and family members).
- Mental clarity to find hope again. As a writer, my brain is everything. And since Hashimoto’s jumps right to memory, focus, and the ability to concentrate, I’m always afraid I’ll lose it. God has given me an incredible gift to maintain my mental clarity most of the time, allowing me not just to continue to work and bring in an income but to — after I grieve, of course — almost always find my way back to being hopeful, grateful, and patient with the process.
It turns out that no matter how much I suffer or feel abandoned sometimes, I am truly loved and blessed on my journey to be the person I’m meant to be. Hashimoto’s (and whatever happens with my food intolerances and my pituitary) is simply the way I’m meant to work out my salvation, and that’s how pain and suffering fulfill their purpose:
“We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world….No doubt pain as God’s megaphone is a terrible instrument; it may lead to final and unrepented rebellion. But it gives the only opportunity the bad man can have for amendment. It removes the veil; it plants the flag of truth within the fortress of the rebel soul.”