Tag Archives: sick

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.

I’m Pretty Sure You Want This Book.

This (link at the bottom) is my book. Okay, technically, it’s Joe’s book too, because he did a lot of work on it. But since I’m the person with the chronic illness and this is a book about chronic illness- well, I’m a little emotionally attached. Just in case you’re thinking you don’t need this book or don’t especially want it, humor me while I make my case.

So, here are the “Crazy, Chronic Reasons Why You (might) Want to Read This Book.”

  1. It’s a beautiful love story. Okay, it’s not exactly a beautiful love story. As a matter of fact, I mention bodily functions that are neither beautiful nor lovely a couple times. However, Joe and I wrote this together. He literally saw my desire to write a book and not only encouraged it- he did a lot of the work. We talked through every chapter together before I wrote it. He physically typed a lot of the book, because my crazy, dislocating hands wouldn’t allow me. We have called ourselves #TeamEarly from the beginning, and this collaboration showcases exactly why. We work together. We laugh together- and, when necessary, we cry together. So, while a book instructing you with how to cope with very public and very projectile vomit isn’t exactly romantic, the love and cooperation that went into each page certainly is.
  2. It’s likely to boost your confidence. Do you want to know why it will boost your confidence? Because as you read through this book and experience our raw honesty, there will be times when you’ll think, “I would never be dumb enough to get myself in that situation.” See? You’ll feel smarter. Okay, seriously, this book talks about embarrassing symptoms that so many of us face- brain fog, incontinence, mobility struggles, etc. Let’s be honest- I’m about as graceful as an elephant changing underpants. I have a long history of blunders to share. I will give you tips to saving face as much as possible when your body decides to be a jerk in the least convenient of places. Personally, I always feel more confident when I have a contingency plan.
  3. People seem to actually like the book. You guys, I have reviews, and they’re not bad. They’re actually, well, great! Even more impressively, to the best of my knowledge I am not related (by blood nor marriage) to anyone who has reviewed my book. You never know when you write something if it will reach your audience in the way you hope. There’s a chance that Joe and I have been drafting and typing our little hearts out on a project that stinks. But . . . it’s beginning to look like it doesn’t. I actually believe we may have accurately portrayed this life in a way that others can relate.
  4. It will make you cool. Okay, there are many words that could describe me, and “cool” will never be one of them. I will never listen to the right music or understand pop culture references. However, illness has made me more sensitive to the needs of my chronically ill/ disabled friends. We have done our best to convey to significant others, caregivers, friends, congregations, and ‘that lady from WalMart’ how to be aware of the needs of others. And, seriously, what’s cooler than compassion? Am I right?
  5. I will appreciate your support forever. Everyone isn’t in a place where they can buy a book. I understand that completely. Please know that every word of encouragement, like, and share mean the world to me. My Crazy, Chronic Life blog audience was the driving force behind this book, and your love and encouragement help me keep my head above water on the hardest days.

Friends, each of you have encouraged Joe and I throughout this process, and we truly appreciate it. (I considered telling everyone that to show our gratitude Joe would be available to sing at the wedding of anyone who buys our book. Strangely, he didn’t consent to that.) So, one more time for the people in the back- my book link is below. Try an excerpt. See if it’s for you- or if it might help someone you know.

Peace, love, and health to each of you.

In Sickness and in Health- That means BOTH of us?

Breaking News: It’s not all about me. I’m serious here. I worry that you (and by ‘you’ I mean all of the incredibly fabulous people that have taken time to read my thoughts) might start to believe that my entire life revolves around “The Care and Keeping of a Tiffany.” And, some days, it feels that way. Some days, it requires every ounce of my brain to process how incredibly horrible I feel or just . . . so. much. pain. On those days, it is all about me to an extent. However, I’m treating my life and my marriage unfairly if I really start believing that even those horrible days excuse me from acting like a decent human.

You see, I got married because I was in love- meaning I loved someone else and thought more highly of that person (aka Joe) than I did myself. So, to excuse myself from treating him as though he still matters that much to me would be to completely redefine our relationship. I tell Joe sometimes that I pulled a “bait and switch” when he married me. When we dated I was this normal (sort of), healthy person, and then he married me, and I totally fell apart. That couldn’t be helped. We had absolutely no way of knowing that would happened before we married, but we both vowed to love each other regardless.

In other words, when you vow to love and support each other in sickness and in health, the vow goes both ways. The healthy person has to love on the sick, but the sick person has just as much obligation to care and support their well spouse. Yes, Joe has a responsibility to love me when I’m unlovable- when I’m too sick to shower, when I’m crying about how differently life turned out than I had expected, when I’m mad at the world and can’t even understand what I’m feeling. . . But, I have a responsibility to love Joe just as much. That means I love him when he’s tired, or grumpy, or even feeling frustrated about my never failing ability to get sick when we have plans. So, yeah, the sick person has to do his/her own share of loving their spouse.

For all of you saying, “well, duh,” I get why this may seem obvious. It is, but it’s hard to remember sometimes. For example, I obtained a headache and a certain level of nausea a couple years that just never went away. I think of them as my dark passengers (a little Dexter reference for those of you with similarly disgusting taste in television); they’re always there. At this point, if I say I have a headache, what I am really telling you is that my normal headache has stepped it up a few notches and invited all his headache-y friends to visit in my cranium. I don’t even mention the dark passengers any more, unless they are being especially boisterous. So . . . when Joe tells me he has a headache, I sometimes just look at him like he’s commenting on the weather. If he decides to lie down and rest because of this aforementioned headache, I’m completely stymied. I mean, doesn’t he know that headaches can be ignored? How could he possibly have the nerve to tell me that he has a headache?

Clearly, I struggle a bit with empathy. I don’t mean to act like I’m Tiffany, Queen of Suffering, but sometimes I mess up. But . . . if Joe has a headache, he is feeling a little of what I feel every day. And, if I need to take care of Joe (even if it’s just being quiet while he rests), then I’m feeling a little of what he feels since he ends up taking care of me a lot. It doesn’t matter who the “sick person” and who the “well person” is, we have responsibilities to each other.

The struggle of being a committed spouse goes beyond physical ailments, of course. Joe (and I say this only after getting his permission) struggles with anxiety and depression. And, no, I didn’t cause it (though I’m sure I add to his symptoms sometimes). I don’t mean that sometimes he has bad moods; I mean, true, diagnosed depression. He has a wonderful doctor and manages well through medication and lifestyle modifications, but it is still a very real issue. In this week following the suicide of Robin Williams, my role as Joe’s wife has been more important than ever. In a time when the self-proclaimed experts on social media have begun blaming mental illness on a total lack of spirituality, masculinity, and/or selflessness, my husband (who embodies all those traits being questioned) has needed a reminder that he is loved and understood exactly as he is. (Side note- Friends struggling with mental illness, seek a doctor or therapist who understands. Please ignore the pseudo-help that social media and non mental health professionals are giving so freely.) I’m sure every marriage or partnership has its issues. Maybe it isn’t mental illness, but maybe there’s a miserable job situation, or a hurtful family circumstance. Whatever it is, and it could be a multitude of things; remember, crazy, chronic friends, you have a role in your relationship.

Personally, I’m glad that I’m not totally useless. I like that there is this other human in the world that depends on me. Despite my inabilities, my ability to love and support hasn’t diminished, and I want to use every ounce of those gifts to hold up my end of our vows to each other.

Peace, love, and health, friends.