Tag Archives: Kentucky

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Blooming Where I’m Planted

tiffatvandyDo you see that girl? That’s me- four years ago. (Do you see my awesome collection of stuffed animals? Yeah, my husband specializes in fluffy gift giving.) Four years ago, I participated in an inpatient research study at Vanderbilt University Medical Center (Clinical Research Center) during the 4th of July. I knew that I would never be well enough to participate in cook outs or fireworks, so I spent 11 days in the hospital doing experimental treatment for autonomic disorders. I was new to my POTS (Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome) diagnosis and not yet diagnosed with EDS (Ehlers Danlos Syndrome). I was confused and angry. I had left my career as a middle/ high school Spanish teacher nine months prior to this picture. I had no clue who I was or where I was going. In my mind, I had lost my worth as a professional, wife, and friend. But, during the same hospital stay when this picture was taken, there was a faint bit of inspiration that flickered amidst my desperation. I have no idea where I got this phrase- but I’m not especially creative, so I probably read it or heard it on television. But, the phrase that echoed in my mind and heart was, “You have to bloom where you are planted.”

I, like so many others, did not choose to be planted in current circumstances. I did not study to become a sick person. I didn’t marry my husband with hopes of being his disabled wife. However, if we’re all being honest, there are few of us who have written our own way. Life has planted us in some less than ideal places, and we have to decide what to do with the situation. Don’t misinterpret what I’m saying. I’m not going to tell you that all you need to do is smile or have a good attitude. Not at all. There are days when life isn’t a greeting card. There are days when I cry and complain and whine and eat all the junk food. However, in spite of a difficult situation, I choose to bloom.

Yesterday marked four years since the first picture was taken. I can still remember the emotions and pain of that day. I can remember trying to force a smile for a picture- but feeling like the gifts I was posing with were little more than a sympathy offering- little more than flowers at a funeral. Yesterday, I took a new picture- at my first ever book signing. My symptoms hadn’t changed (Has anyone else blacked out when they heard a fire truck’s siren? That was new for me.), but my perspective had.

I’m not handling all this perfectly. I won’t ever be the great inspirational story of the person who overcomes adversity. However, I live my adversity; I accept it, but I also choose to laugh and smile and advocate in spite of it. I’m blooming exactly where I’m planted- even when I wish I could uproot and move to higher ground.

So, how did I get here? I didn’t wake up one day and decide I like chronic illness. I didn’t adopt my “Bloom where I’m planted” mantra and immediately become a blogger. Heck, I didn’t even start giving unforced smiles at that point. But, I started laughing. I started looking for the hilarity of my newfound life circumstances. I slowly changed my thinking from, “I can’t believe this is happening to me” to “You won’t believe what’s happening now!” Regaining my sense of humor and finding my voice, allowed me to bloom.

The past four years have been the most transformational of any I’ve experienced. I have hurt and endured more than I would have believed. However, I’ve become more understanding. I have increased my capacity to love. Ultimately, I’ve become a person I wanted to be- but that girl four years ago could have never believed possible.

I will never be grateful for illness. If I had the ability, I would heal us all in a heartbeat. However, I am grateful that my broken heartedness has healed. I am blooming. It’s not always pretty. (Heck, I’m probably more of a weed or a wildflower than a beautiful, manicured rose.) I am proud of the growth of the past four years, and I look forward to continuing to bloom with all of you.

Peace, love, and health, friends.

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Developing Selective Hearing (and other priceless chronic illness skills)

Words can hurt- maybe not quite as much as chronic illness, but they can definitely hurt. I was in a situation recently where a well- meaning person said something completely hurtful about how I manage my illness . . . and they were just making conversation. This person did not mean to hurtful or judgmental; they truly felt that their comments were helpful. They weren’t . . . at all. I realized there were a few ways I could handle the situation; I could get my feelings hurt (and maybe say something equally hurtful in retaliation) or I could trust that the person was not trying to be hurtful and gently educate about the nature of chronic illness. Obviously, the latter was the better choice, but it isn’t always easy to treat others with grace and kindness . . . especially if you feel misunderstood.

In the past few weeks alone, I’ve had people comment on me not working (when I look “completely fine”). I’ve had people tease my husband about not standing at an event when he was sitting with me because I couldn’t stand long enough to participate (Don’t worry. It wasn’t the national anthem or anything that was worth the health sacrifice.). Over and over, I have felt like I had to bite my tongue to keep from lashing out at people who truly don’t understand. I don’t want to be so hyper-sensitive to what everyone says that I cannot be around non- chronic illness people without feeling hurt or judged. I realize that not everyone can understand what I deal with, because they haven’t had the same set of circumstances. I’m glad they don’t understand; if they did, that would mean they’re stuck on this journey too. So, in an effort to remain a social being in the world of well people, I have decided to develop selective hearing. I don’t mean the type of selective hearing developed by husbands (“What? You wanted me to put my dishes in the dishwasher? You never told me.”), but rather, a type of selective hearing that will allow us to hear what people mean instead of the crazy (or hurtful) things people say.

What people say: You don’t look sick.

What I hear: You must not be sick. You look fine.

What I will choose to hear: Holy cow! You look incredible! I don’t know how you continue to look so fabulous when you feel so terrible!

(Yes, I realize I’m stretching the meaning a little. But, if I’m going to alter what others are saying, why can’t I give myself a little confidence boost in the process?)

What people say: Have you tried . . . . (insert diet, supplement, miracle pill, Billy Bob’s Magic Elixir, etc.)?

What I hear: If you really wanted to feel better, you would try whatever goods I’m peddling or method I’m supporting.

What I will choose to hear: I truly want you to feel better, and I’m suggesting thing in hopes that something would help you.

What people say: Have your doctors still not figured out what is wrong with you?

What I hear: If your doctors really knew what was wrong with you, you would be getting better. Doctors fix sick people. You should get better doctors.

What I will choose to hear: I regret that this is a chronic condition with no quick fix.

What people say: Wow, you live like a little old woman.

What I hear: Wow, you live like a little old woman.

What I will choose to hear: Wow! You look incredible (and not at all old!) while battling a chronic illness that has reduced your ability to live like the rest of us.

(Again, probably a stretch, but this is all taking place in my head. I can embellish!)

To my chronic illness friends, there are some people that are just jerks. Avoid them. People who say things with the intention to hurt you aren’t worth your time. Don’t invest what precious little energy you have on those people. The people in your life who truly mean well but say insensitive things, try to give them some grace. They can’t understand, and we don’t want them to ever experience this in order to empathize. It’s okay to gently educate. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve had to say, “My illness is chronic, so I deal with it every day. Some days are better than others, though. Thanks for checking on me.” It’s okay to gently correct- “It isn’t my doctors’ fault that I am not better. I have an illness that does not have a cure, so all my doctors can do is manage my symptoms.” It’s also okay to just change the subject. “You know, I get tired of talking about being sick. Let’s talk about something that really matters- ‘Is that dress black and blue or is it really gold and white?’” (If you missed “the dress” internet phenomenon, I don’t advise looking for it.) Most of all, don’t burn bridges with the people that mean well. If a person cares enough to bring up your illness, they might be worth keeping around- even if they are a little clueless.

To my non-chronic illness friends, I’m sorry that I’m sensitive. I’m sorry that I misconstrue thing you say into something hurtful. Please keep talking to me anyway. I would rather you say a hundred accidentally offensive things to me than give up on our friendship. Thanks for trying.

Now for the fun part, chronic illness friends, what question or comment do you hear that drives you crazy? If so, share it in the comments.

Peace, love ,and health friends.