Possibly, JoAnn LeMaistre's words explain how I feel best - "She had to come to realize that she need not stop growing as a person because of her illness. She knew that she had to coexist with pain and physical limitations, and not let it always dominate her life or self-definition."
Does or should being sick have the authority to make me feel like nothing? Absolutely, not! So why is it that I sometimes feel inadequate as a person? Why is it that I feel as if my role in society has diminished since being ill and having to focus on setting my health needs as a priority? (After family and God, of course!)
I am confident that I am doing all that I can, to manage my physical health needs, with the exception of expecting or pushing my limits too far at times. But, discovering meaning and purpose in my life, which is critical for my spiritual and emotional health, requires that I explore my inner self in more depth. Here is where it gets very tricky for me, as I have a tendency to be very critical toward myself, harshly judge myself, and unfairly set myself up for failure by trying to reach unreasonable expectations based on my pre-illness self. You would think that I would have learned by now, but I must agree that I can be rather hardheaded and stubborn.
I'm in no way saying that I shouldn't have expectations, dreams, or goals to achieve. Instead, I am saying that I want to view myself differently. I hope to learn how to develop more patience toward myself, more acceptance for myself, better able to forgive myself, and no longer blame myself for things, such as illness, that are outside of my control. In other words, I desire to to see myself through the eyes of God and Jesus. I long for personal grace and truth, based on God's image. According to Dr Henry Cloud, "Grace when it is combined with truth, invites the true self, the "me" as I really am, into relationship." In other words, I intend to discover emotional and spiritual maturity within myself, while coming to terms with my true sense of self.
According to Julien Seifter, "Most authentic growth depends not only on intention and effort but also on opening yourself to what has happened to you and letting experience change you."
See the thing is, I know people who consistently blame me for their problems, criticize my choices, and discount my feelings are toxic to my self-esteem and damage my self-image. I admit that I have not done well at eliminating toxic people from my life. I have also noticed that with chronic illness, as struggles have overwhelmed me at times, my thoughts have betrayed me by adding toxicity to my own perspective of me. I guess this is more apparent to me now, as pain and suffering seem to have a way of bringing my strengths and weaknesses to the surface. Hence, I want God to help me be different, for Him to work inside of me to help me see his vision for me. In Micah Tyler's lyrical words, "I don't want to be stuck in a pattern" anymore.
The truth of the matter is that my life is more difficult than I could have ever imagined, but it also has the capability to be far more richer than I could ever dream. At least that is what I'm counting on and hoping will happen as I strive to grow spiritually and emotionally, alongside my journey with physical illness.
The question is how do I achieve it? How do I use my experiences and knowledge to grow and shine to my greatest ability, in a way that will make God proud and help me feel fulfilled? I believe the first step is to determine who and what adds the most meaning to my life and invest my energy and time in those relationships.
What are those you may ask?
This, I actually can answer quite easily: God, family, self, and teaching/helping others.
I have been investing energy in my physical health with medical interventions and appointments, while also working diligently with my psychologist on better understanding and coping with the impacts of dealing with chronic illness (it's symptoms and impact on my quality of life) on a daily basis. In Julien Seifter's book, it is stated that "A doctor like a psychotherapist can promote a playful loosening of old ways of thinking and feeling and encourage a patient to open her mind to possibilities. A doctor can help a patient grow through time." I have found this to be true for me. My medical team and I continue to adjust medical treatments in an attempt to help my condition become more tolerable, since there is no cure to make it go away. My previous gastroenterologist and my psychologist, have both encouraged me and made me realize that I can still search and expect a higher quality of life, regardless of chronic illness. I just have to remember to be flexible and willing to explore the possibilities, while also being respectful of and listening to my personal health needs.
I am giving all I have to try and continue strengthening and deepening my connections with my family more and more, even though we are already close. This is not always as easy as it sounds, as my health limits the amount of time or type of activity that I can handle. However, it has allowed our time together to be more communication based and passive, which can me amazingly rewarding. The conversations with those I love, well, they have opened my eyes to see, witness, and reiterate just how blessed I am to have them in my life.
My Faith in God, His Comfort, His Love, His Grace, have gotten me through some extremely difficult circumstances and trials. I am praying that my connection to God will continue to strengthen and that He will use me and my trials as a way to help bring comfort to others through their struggles.
To get to that point, I know I need to find the courage and confidence to step up and press forward in search of His purpose for me. I have to be willing to overcome my fears and hesitations. I must look within, Trust God's plan, and rebuild my inner strength by utilizing the strength that He provides me with. I need to surround myself with people, online or in person, that will enrich my life and challenge me emotionally, mentally, and spiritually while also respecting the health challenges that I'm exposed to daily.
In order to accomplish these goals, I have chosen to read and complete the Changes That Heal book and workbook by Dr. Henry Cloud. I am hoping to be able to attend a few book study sessions to increase my understanding and healing, if my health cooperates, but I have also joined a related online group. Being a part of the online group will help hold me accountable, but even more importantly, will possibly develop an additional support system that can further improve my personal spiritual and emotional growth.
3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. 5 For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. 6 If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. 7 And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort. (2 Corinthians 1:3-7 NIV)
*Below are the links to the authors' books that were referenced above.*
Changes that Heal (Book & Workbook) by Dr. Henry Cloud
After the Diagnosis: from Crisis by JoAnn LeMaistre
After the Diagnosis: Transcending Chronic Illness by Julian Seifter and Betsy Seifter