the sad times…

I am feeling horribly fragile today, as I have been on most days these last months. Fibromyalgia pain, worsening back and neck pain from arthritis, migraines, foot pain, and depression, a nasty depression relapse that just goes on and on and on…Are my medications not effective any longer? Are changing hormone levels playing a role? Am I getting worse as I get older? Did breaking my foot so badly throw everything off? Or all of the above?

It’s hard to say. But none of my usual self-care strategies seem to be helping anymore. My gratitude journal, guided meditation, walking, losing myself in a good book…all of my long honored tried-and-true comforts are failing me. I’m also having a tough time reaching out to friends because I don’t know what to say.

And part of this, I know, is the ongoing pain of childlessness. The gaping, supperating wound that never heals. It’s always there, a dull ache that crescendos to a roar at times, like around Father’s Day, which is this coming Sunday.

I don’t quite know what to do with so much pain, both physical and emotional. My husband has been wonderfully, incredibly supportive, I have terrific doctors, but it’s as if my usual coping mechanisms have run dry. So all I can do for the moment is to hold on tight to the love I know heals me. From my family, my husband, my God. And force myself to get out of bed every day, to get dressed, to sit out in the backyard with the sun and the flowers and the dog, and hope that eventually healing grace will start to take hold.

Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, ‘I will try again tomorrow.’

Mary Ann Radmacher

goodbye may

Goodbye May…you’ve been simply lovely, despite the twin evils of fibromyalgia and depression. Tulips, crabapple blossoms, lilacs, lilies of the valley, and peonies galore. Of course Catholics celebrate May as Mary’s month, and for me, May has always been my mom’s month, bittersweet now that she’s gone, since her birthday and Mother’s Day fall so close together. So goodbye to May…and hello June! I’m looking forward to summer flowers (my salvias and lupines are blooming already) and hopefully a photography trip up to the North Shore (of Lake Superior, for all of you non-Minnesotans out there).

What was your favorite  part of May?

so what now? 

Almost a year ago today, I received my Master of Arts in Theology from St. Catherine University in St. Paul, Minnesota. Actually, to be precise, my degree is a Master of Arts in Theology with a Concentration in Spirituality and a Certificate in Pastoral Theology. It took me six years to get that darn degree, thanks to fibromyalgia, bouts of chronic migraine, neck surgery after a car accident, and a quite nasty depression relapse.

Several things sustained me during this time: My husband’s unfailing support; the help and support of the incredible staff and faculty at St. Kate’s; and my belief that I was called, called by God, to pastoral care as a chaplain. I’d worked as a chaplain at the V.A. one summer in 1997 and for part of the previous summer in Oncology and General Medical-Surgical at a hospital in St. Paul. I loved it, loved it, even on the toughest, most exhausting days.

My fibromyalgia kept getting worse in my twenties and forced me to drop out of graduate school and give up on my dream of becoming a chaplain. But by my late thirties, new medications were  definitely easing the fibromyalgia pain and I remember telling my mom, before she died, that I was planning to go back and get my M.A., and she was so pleased!

And so I did. But in the end my pain defeats me again..not just fibromyalgia, but myofascial pain syndrome, multiple problems in my cervical spine, chronic migraines (yes, my Botox shots help, but I still get about ten a month). I can’t even volunteer, because I don’t know whether or not I’ll be well enough on any given day to appear when I say I will.

I’m angry. And frustrated. I’m not sorry I got my degree, because I love theology, and the knowledge and skills I gained, nothing–not even fibromyalgia–can take away from me. But I want so badly to use my degree to make a difference in the world, to help others to feel God’s love and mercy. It is so painful to mourn the loss of a dream…and to attempt to discern what God has in mind to take its place.

tgi spring! 

Thank goodness, it’s finally stopped raining here in Minneapolis and although it’s still a wee bit chilly, the sky is blue, the sun is out, my perennials are coming up, and everywhere I look it’s green, green, green! I may be fighting a migraine and a fibro flare–but today spring wins the contest for my soul.

If people did not love one another, I really don’t see what use there would be in having any spring.

Victor Hugo, Les Miserables

fibro frustration

Really, frustration should be listed as one of the symptoms of fibromyalgia. I’m too tired and sore to feel rage, which is what this feeling would morph into if I felt better…although of course my not feeling well is the cause of the frustration, so there you go. Another example of the crazy spirals and cycles this disorder causes. Please excuse me, gentle readers, for giving into the temptation to vent. One of my goals for this blog was to be genuine, which I haven’t been, because I haven’t been honest about my physical or emotional state of health.

I didn’t even write about breaking my foot last October–a break that required two surgeries, thousands of dollars out of pocket, and is still causing me pain. I was stuck in bed for over two months after the break. And all I did was fall in the kitchen! Thanks to the fibro…I have dizzy spells and last summer I actually blacked out a few times. Unfortunately, I was rushing to let the dog in when I fainted this time, and twisted my foot as I fell, which caused a complicated break called a Lisfranc fracture. A fracture which almost always requires surgery. One thing I can say for certain though, is that I have a husband who truly loves me! And a dog who considers it her duty to take care of me whenever I’m sick. Fiona stuck to me like glue the entire eight weeks, while George waited on me hand and foot (excuse the pun).

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Nurse Fiona caring for the patient

I finally got back on my feet–both of them–in January, but I had some extremely painful nerve damage in my second toe. Thankfully, that has gone away, perhaps because my anticonvulsant (gabapentin) that I take to control my seizure disorder also helps with neuralgia (a side benefit to seizures I never considered, but actually the same medication helped when I had ongoing pain from the shingles too). The second surgery, which was March 18, was simple, just to take out one of the metal plates from the first surgery, but that too turned out to be unexpectedly painful and to make life even more interesting, I developed a nasty, painful, blistering rash on my upper foot and ankle, on Good Friday no less. Time for antibiotics.

Well, it’s all over but the pain. The pills took care of the rash, my post-op X-rays looked great, my stitches are out. And I should mention that my surgeon was terrific, skilled and kind, as were all of the nurses, anesthesiologists, etc., involved in my care. My surgeon thinks the residual pain in my foot may be due to fibro; I can tell it’s not bone pain, and he did have to move a lot of tissues and nerves around during the surgery to get the plate removed. So fibro makes sense as a cause.
Damned fibro.

I’m also having a nasty, cruel depression relapse (probably partly tied to the fibro and vice versa…don’t you love it) and trouble with anxiety over finances. Major anxiety. I’m looking at filing for relief from my student loans on the basis of total and permanent disability, which makes me cry every time I think about it. And every time I think about the blood and sweat and tears that went into that master’s degree.

Too tired to write anymore. I’ll finish this tomorrow.

 

One Little Word to Guide My New Year

Instead of making a list of New Year’s resolutions, why not try choosing one word that represents what you’d like to focus on in 2016?

I’ve decided my word is going to NOURISH. I’m consciously choosing to nourish my spirituality, my health (physical and emotional), my marriage, and my friendships. To hold myself accountable, I’ll journal every week about how I have nourished the above mentioned.

What word will you choose?

Chris' Journaling Journey

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If you could discover one little word to focus on for the next year, what would it be?  Think about it carefully, for the word you choose will create large changes in your life, if you allow it.

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Graduation Dinner Reflection

At our graduation dinner last night the other four Master’s in Theology graduates and I were asked to submit short reflection related to our time as students and now graduates of the Theology Master’s Program at St, Catherine University. I wound up writing mine straight from the heart, so I’m afraid it was less about my favorite class or my most uplifting experience, but at least it had the virtue of being honest.

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I must admit that last week’s graduation was bittersweet. I was thrilled to be graduating, oh my goodness, yes, especially with my family there, and with my friend Sherri (who was absolutely glowing and stunningly beautiful); but at the same time I was fighting a migraine and on some fairly heavy-duty painkillers (!) and my fibromyalgia had me so sore that we went straight home afterwards instead of going out—where I sat around in my brand-new academic robes and hood and gorged myself on takeout pizza and watched bad WWII movies on Netflix with my husband George. Okay, so that part was fun, actually, and I wish we had thought to take photos of me stuffing mushroom pizza in my face wearing my graduation regalia!
The bittersweet part is that people keep asking me what is next, and I stumble around, trying to come up with something funny to say, and I’m at a loss. The dream that has kept me going, through the myriad of chronic pain conditions that has required me to drop classes and seek numerous extensions and medical leaves of absence (thanks Bill! (our super-understanding theology department head)) has been pastoral ministry, especially the idea of chaplaincy. That’s the whole reason I entered this program. And now these chronic pain conditions are making it impossible for me to hold down even a part-time job. Or be a reliable volunteer, much less work full-time as a hospice chaplain. So there is triumph in the degree, but grief and uncertainty when i contemplate my immediate future.
Still, there are several treasures  I will take away from this outstanding program to help guide me in my coming journey. I have met so many amazing, compassionate, loving people here at St. Kate’s, both faculty and students, who I am honored to count as role models, mentors, and friends. I know that your prayers go with me, just as mine go with you, and that our journeys together do not end here, but in many ways have only just begun. I am excited to continue growing as both a scholar of theology and as a pastoral minister. My studies here have opened so many doors! I feel I have only dunked my toe in the water. And, too, I will take all of your stories with me. I have had a rough time, yes. But I am not the only one. So many of you have done battle with your own pain, and done it with immense grace and courage, and I cannot tell you how much I admire you and will continue to do so for the rest of my life. Finally, I take with me the knowledge that I need to trust in the process, as Deb (my mentor and pastoral ministry prof.) told me recently. This is very difficult for me, (trust is not my strong point) but I know she is right—I need to learn to take better care of myself, and learn to trust that the Holy Spirit will lead me in the right direction, even if I don’t know where in the heck I am going now, beyond more physical therapy. After all, Someone helped me through comps!