Monday, November 6, 2017

Maintaining Gratitude in the Most Challenging Moments

"I cried because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet."

- Helen Keller

This quote was literally pounding in between my ears this morning as I waddled about my home attempting to care for my child that is home sick from school. I was feeling sorry for myself...the constant barrage of negative self talk over the last couple of weeks had accumulated to such a degree that I was having a hard time releasing it with my usual laugh and attitude of gratitude.

I have had an unusually rough go over the last few months. It started with acute flank pain in August. Well no, that's not true. It started with Sudden Hearing Loss in the Summer of 2016. I spent the summer on prednisone, gained 40 pounds, and thought to myself - "This is the worst thing that has ever happened to me." Now, I knew that this wasn't true, but I am a woman that was orthorexic, anorexic and exercise bulimic. I spent my entire 20's at 115 pounds with minimal bodyfat. So when I stepped on the scale and it read 200 pounds, I was horrified. Yet somewhere in my mind, I thought to myself - "Heather, there are some people out there that would look at that number with joy. It's okay, it's just a number, and you have been on prednisone. Hang in there beautiful, you will find your new normal." But deep down, I couldn't wait to "get back" to a weight that I deemed acceptable.

But what was acceptable? Truthfully, I wasn't satisfied with any weight that I have ever been, no matter how fantastic my body looked in a string bikini.

Fast forward to the Winter of 2017. Sudden abdominal pain landed me in the Emergency Room. This wasn't the usual "run of the mill" abdominal pain - no, this was the kind of acute pain that left me writhing on the floor for several hours, nearly passing out every time I would attempt to stand up. After a colonoscopy, upper endoscopy and multiple endocrine tests, I had a diagnosis - adrenal insufficiency. Moreover, it appeared as if my pituitary was finally showing the effects of the traumatic brain injury from 6 years ago. Pituitary dysfunction had set in.

One by one I walked the precarious road to healing. Together with a brilliant Neuroendocrinologist, we brought multiple hormones online and gently nudged my body back to normal metabolic functioning. So when i stepped on the scale again, and it said 220 pounds, I tried my hardest not to freak out. But once again, I maintained my focus on the bigger picture and reassured myself that everything would come into balance if I bravely continued on this healing path.

Now I am going to get really honest. With an eating disorder history, I have to watch myself when it comes to weight and measurements. By the time June rolled around, I was weighing myself daily and measuring my body at least weekly. I was too big for the measuring tape, so I made my own and used a yard stick to track the circumference of my belly. I was looking for the thrill of progress! I had pulled myself out of the winter crisis, and I was doing hard manual labor in my yard. I was back to riding my big warhorse. Yet the numbers on the scale weren't budging, and I felt the sting of my own disapproval every time I passed by a mirror.

Then it hit me out of nowhere...acute flank pain - like a machete - in my left side. The pain was severe - level 10+. At first they thought I had a kidney stone. Then real concern set in, as my lactate was elevated. Maybe it was mesenteric ischemia? Some were worried I was dying. Others weren't worried at all and told me it was all in my head. All I knew is that I was in excruciating pain and there was no known cause and therefore no remedy in sight.

Since August, I have undergone more diagnostic testing than I ever thought possible. I even went to the Mayo Clinic for two weeks to attempt to get a diagnosis. While i was there, it was decided that I likely have an undiagnosed inflammatory condition that is causing me to crash over and over again. I was given a treatment that they use in MS cases - 1000 mg of Prednisone IV daily for three days. That isn't a typo - it was 200x the human replacement dose (5 mg) of Prednisone. This was on top of the already high dose of steroids I was taking to prevent adrenal crisis in the face of terrible pain.

The good news was that the pain in my body has since improved dramatically. I am finally able to discontinue the acute medications and begin the slow healing process. As much as I wanted to celebrate my progress, however, my body was swollen and unrecognizable. So...when I got home from the Mayo Clinic and stepped on the scale...I tried to find all of the compassion in my heart and lovingly tell myself that it's okay...that there are more important things than the size of my body and the curves of my distended stomach. I had reached 260 pounds.

As I stood there reflecting on a more than 100 pound weight gain, it hit me - Who am I trying to please? What am I so afraid of? I had reached a turning point. I became an observer of my own thinking. I noticed that I am afraid of being judged, afraid of being unacceptable, and most importantly, afraid of being abandoned. Every time I walk past the mirror, it was that cluster of fears looking back at me.

So this morning, when I looked in the mirror and saw how much my neck had swelled up and felt the distension of my belly, I observed the familiar negative thinking rise up from deep inside. It was then that I heard Helen Keller's voice reminding me that it could be so much worse. Immediately, I could see myself shifting toward a new focus, one rooted in gratitude for my beautiful life. There is much more to celebrate in this life of mine, even amidst the hardship.

Living with multiple chronic illnesses means that there will be an ebb and flow to my health for the rest of my life. In the wake of the "mild" traumatic brain injury that changed everything for me 6 years ago, I was told to fall in love with my "new brain" and release the notion that I would somehow "get back" to what I had been before the accident. I think I am in a similar transition point now, where I am being called to fall in love with a new normal, one rooted in a deep awareness that every moment is a gift. No matter what imperfections manifest in my body, whether its weight gain or fatigue or exacerbation of chronic illness, I can respond with a simple "thank you" for the abundant gifts that I still have even in the midst of the challenges.

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