The "Chronic" I Want to Be

We had a big weekend, and Sunday afternoon I collapsed into rest mode. I thought I'd be okay if I got off my joints for several hours, but Monday I was even worse. My knees were on fire, my hip was in such pain I was nauseated, and I had no energy. Some with lupus and other autoimmune diseases call themselves "spoonies," in reference to the Spoon Theory written by lupus sufferer Christine Miserandino. In the theory, she attempts to explain to a friend how energy works when you have chronic fatigue caused by the battle of chronic inflammation and pain in a body like ours. She explains that at the beginning of every day you are given a handful of spoons and each task takes one or more spoons. Some days, she elaborates, you wake with only one or two spoons. It's those days that are killers, because you have to make deliberate choices about what's most important. Do you want to exchange your one "spoon" of energy for a shower? Or would you rather use it for running a load of laundry so your family has clean clothes to wear? 

Let's just say that Monday and Tuesday I was running on zero spoons. I rested as much as I could, around taking care of my daughters, and tried to fight the mama-guilt and the worry that comes with flares. I coached myself that a flare does not necessarily mean "new normal." Last winter, for example, I was in a long flare. I began having new symptoms like nerve pain down my leg. I got a cane and used it off and on. I spent a lot of time in my bed. I developed a new level of appreciation for things like electric blankets, wedge pillows to prop myself up, pajamas and pretty-smelling lotion. I worried a lot that my disease, Ankylosing Spondylitis, was progressing and that this would be my "new normal."

But finally, eventually, the flare eased, and I was back to my "old normal" -- battling pain, stiffness, low-grade fevers, and fatigue regularly, never feeling "good," but walking without the cane, rarely having the nerve pain, and not in bed nearly as much.

This week I worried. I worried that I, in this condition, am not Good Enough. I worried that my fatigue might overpower my will power, and wondered what life would be like with never ending Zero Spoon days. I worried that I would not be a good enough mama, a good enough (homeschool) teacher, a good enough anything.

Wednesday I was still exhausted and hurting and limping on that hip and those knees, but I had more spoons in my bouquet and I was able to run a bit of laundry and vacuum and tidy up the house. We had dinner with friends, although I didn't have spoons left to apply makeup or do anything with my hair or change out of comfy lounge clothes.

Today I made it out of the house for almost three hours. I took my girls to the park to enjoy the warm sunny day.

We did a couple of errands including picking up food for our kitten Mitzy, and checking out armloads of books and DVDs from the children's section of the library.

We came home and I finally made good on something I've been wanting to do with my girls for a couple of weeks: bake cookies.

Natalie helped me unwrap sticks of butter. Both girls helped me roll dough in sugar. We baked till barely golden brown and enjoyed a couple with squaty glasses of milk.

We waited till they all cooled and filled up our new-to-us adorable Goodwill cookie jar adorned with a kitty, bunny, bear and mouse.

By the time the oven was turned off, my spine was screaming in pain. I was almost cross-eyed from fatigue, but so happy to have mastered a day the Old Me did regularly. So happy to make memories of park fun and cookie baking with my girls.

I don't know what tomorrow holds. I don't know if at some point, the New Normal I fear will catch up with me. But I know that today we lived and loved and did what we could. I also know that without resting for a few days this week, I wouldn't have been able to do today. So this isn't a post to say, "Go ahead and use the energy you don't have because the memories will make up for it." No. We must become wise. We must know our bodies, know our diseases, know our triggers, and know when the pay off is worth it and when it's not.

Today I'm thankful for the energy to bake cookies with two little girls who call me Mama. And if I don't have any energy tomorrow, I will try to remember not to worry. I will do what I must and rest when I can and be thankful for two little girls who cuddle with me when I'm "down" for the day.

I will keep working on releasing expectations, and separating my sense of worth from what I am able to accomplish. Spoons or no spoons, I will be aware of what I am grateful for. Because I fully believe that what we are grateful for becomes enough, and gratitude creates the joy and peace we crave.

When all is said and done, I want people who knew me to say that more than chronically ill, more than chronically in pain, I was chronically grateful.

That's the kind of "chronic" I want to be.


Traversing the {Chronic} Trail

“The marvelous richness of human experience would lose something of rewarding joy if there were no limitations to overcome. The hilltop hour would not be half so wonderful if there were no dark valleys to traverse.” {Helen Keller}

I read other blogs that chronicle personal lives of chronic illness, and they are soothing. I am not alone. I find myself inspired by reading how others manage their conditions, especially when they do so with great intention, deep thought, and positivity. 

So why am I afraid to write too much about my own condition? As human beings, aren't we longing for connection, for stories and accounts of what it's like for someone else?

I am afraid because I do not want to come across as dramatic or negative. I want to write the truth of what is, and quilt it together with inspiration and insights into hardship and suffering, comfort and prevailing joy. I want to show you my reality just as fact, not for attention or as an outlet for whining.

I have been struggling lately with this desire to express my experience. How do I do it in a way that is real and true and still inspirational?

How can I show you my world, through my eyes, so that you see (as I so often do) that hardships serve a tremendous purpose of bringing into focus what is important, and of amplifying the simple into a peace and joy that is enough?

I want to write to show those just becoming ill, just going through the diagnosis process, that there is beauty in a "chronic" life. I want to leave a map. And not just a map, but a sturdy pair of hiking boots that don't blister, and a bottle of cold water, and some hearty trail mix. I want to cheer you on up those hills so that you can see the beautiful view just over the top.

I'd love your input into how best to accomplish those goals.
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