Objects in mirror are closer than they appear.
Two weeks into my very first teaching job, I decided to tackle my lesson planning for the following week at Madcap Coffee. It was the last day of Whole 30. I was feeling accomplished for actually sticking to the strict diet plan, and a bit overwhelmed by my new job. A coconut milk miel felt much deserved.
As soon as I finished my coffee, I knew that it was a mistake. The intense pain in my stomach wasn’t unfamiliar but rather than subsiding after a few hours, the pain grew worse. The next morning around 3 am, Jacob drove us to the emergency room at Blodgett Hospital.
Within a few hours, I was scheduled for an emergency appendectomy and hyped up on pain meds. Jacob and I watched Inside Out to distract ourselves while I waited for surgery. Later that night, I left the hospital with one less appendix.
Healing from an appendectomy sucks. Honestly terrible. My husband took great care of me though and so did the friends that graciously brought meals and checked in when I couldn’t get off of the couch. The whole time that I was healing, I found relief in knowing that I would never have to endure such an ordeal again. My appendix was gone. Just some crazy, random fluke.
But I was wrong. Oh, was I wrong.
The truth is that I never even had appendicitis. When I went back to my surgeon for a follow-up appointment, she casually mentioned that I actually have endometriosis. The endo had caused my pain and my appendix had been removed unnecessarily.*
A million questions crowded into my already anxious brain and yet I somehow made it to the car, drove to Reeds Lake and laid on a park bench before I unleashed my tears. I sobbed and wondered about the future and imagined what would happen from here. I cried out to the Lord in anger and fear. Endometriosis is a chronic illness. At that point, I didn’t know much, but I did know that there was no cure. This would be a lifelong sentence.
Since that first doctor’s appointment, my diagnosis has felt like both a dreadful prison sentence and a life jacket amidst 10-foot crashing waves. It was a relief to name the pain and know that there are millions of other women also living this pain. Having a diagnosis gave me a starting point to begin the process of healing. And yet it also clarified that healing would now be a continual process, a lifelong pursuit rather than a destination to arrive at.
Chronic illness has been the ball and chain clamped around my ankle just as much as the invitation to a new way of living and a deeper intimacy with Jesus.
My journey of learning to manage my endometriosis has included hundreds of hours of Internet research, long lists of dietary restrictions, OBGYN appointments, higher doses of birth control, yoga, quitting birth control, naturopath appointments, essential oils, counseling, natural supplements, lots of prayer, tears, and indescribable amounts of pain.
And this journey is only one year young.
Sometime I forget that it has only been one year. Chronic illness is exhausting and it’s difficult to remember a time when constant pain wasn’t part of my reality. I chastise myself for my lack of progress or my failure to thrive. I should know how to manage my endometriosis by now OR my dietary restrictions shouldn’t still be such a struggle. When people ask for updates on my health, it is SO much easier to say that things have gotten better than to give a disappointing truth. Even if it’s been months and nothing has changed, I wish that I was further along on the road to healing and so I politely exaggerate.** The truth is that this is a long-game, not a one-time sporting event. It’s a marathon, not a 5k.
My endo diagnosis may be in my mirror, but it is still a lot closer than I let myself remember.
So here I am, choosing to reflect on how far I’ve come rather than wishing I was further along by now. Healing is a journey that takes time. It cannot be rushed or hurried along.
September 2016. I was crying out to the Lord in despair and loneliness because I had not yet found my best friends in Grand Rapids. At the time, I had only lived in GR for two months! Friendship and community, like healing, are also journeys that take time. I wanted it to be instant and easy. It wasn’t. Two years of life here in Grand Rapids and we are still in process. We have found friends here who are sweet, quirky, talented, smart, driven, and push us to love Jesus more deeply. I am grateful to share life with these people, but truthfully the process of building community was neither fast nor easy.
We want our lives to move forward at 80 mph, but sometimes God wants us to drive 30 mph down the backroads.
Most days it seems like everyone else is taking the highway and I got lost on the backroads. Truthfully, I think I like the scenery here better. Or maybe I’m just going slow enough to be forced to take notice. I want to be honest about where I am. I want to accept that it is enough to keep going, no matter how small the steps. I am learning to give myself grace just for continuing on the journey and I hope you can give yourself that grace too.
Grace to continue the discipline of healing when it feels like I should know what to eat or have more energy by now.
Grace to continue building community when it feels like I’ve already lived in this city for too long.
Grace to continue seeking direction when it feels like I should already know the destination by now.
And grace to recognize that the long journeys are worth it even when you can see in your mirror that you’re still just at the beginning.
*Even though I never had appendicitis, I AM glad that they removed my appendix! Now I know that I’ll never have to worry about appendicitis in the future. It was still a bit jarring to find out though.
**Family/friends! If you do want honest updates on my health, ask and I’ll try my best. Sometimes I am making progress and doing well, but sometimes I’m not. Don’t feel like you always need to ask about it though. My health is a big part of my life, but I’ve got lots of other cool things going on too! 🙂