PERMISSION TO CRY: THE HEALING BEAUTY OF TEARS

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I was very emotional as a child. Crying came easy, as did sulking, wallowing and sighing heavily. I didn’t like that I cried. Although my parents welcomed my tears with open arms, I wished I could be a little less sensitive…and a little more in control. Crying was a weakness in my tear-stained eyes.

Carrying around so many emotions, and knowing the floodgates might open at an inopportune time was burdensome. Why couldn’t I watch the freaking Clydesdale commercial without tearing up? Why did the fictional Air Force pilot in my book have to suffer so much that I was wiping my eyes on the elliptical (yeah, I’m that girl who reads a book on an elliptical machine at the gym)?Why did I well up whenever my husband used an exasperated tone? But worst of all, why did I want to cry from the pain of my autoimmune life, the pain that struck me nearly every day?

Somewhere along the way the tears slowed and then stopped. I can’t pinpoint the exact day, but I recall reaching a point where I no longer cried. A couple of years ago I went to a movie with two girlfriends. It was an emotional, faith-driven movie that convicted a lot of people. On a scale of one to five tissues, it got the full five snotty tissues. Sandwiched between my friends, I was the dry-eyed tissue-bearer. They shook their heads in disbelief. It’s not that it wasn’t a touching movie – I knew in my mind it was something the former me would have cried about. But I couldn’t really feel it. In fact, I couldn’t feel much of anything.

As I explained recently to another friend, I was in a phase where I felt emotionally dead most of the time. My health was suffering and I was just trying to survive. I didn’t think I was depressed. I could feel anger and happiness. I just didn’t feel sad. If happiness was the key to life and depression exacerbated illness, then it stood to reason that by not feeling sad, I would become healthier.

Except it’s not that easy. Shutting off my feelings meant that I didn’t deal with them appropriately. Buried somewhere underneath the physical pain was a lot of emotional pain that only caused more pain and stress each time the feelings would try to resurface. I felt very tense inside, like a bottle of pop shaken so hard it was ready to explode, but I didn’t dare remove the lid.

Eventually, I began feeling pain and suffering for others as a way to cope. With this new perspective, I even cried. Not for me, but for them. I was proud of myself, like it was a sign of emotional and even spiritual maturity. I kept a list on my phone of these people, the ones who needed my thoughts, prayers, good vibes or what have you. But as I took on their burdens, I only felt myself getting more stressed. What was to become of the troubled child who lost his main care-taker, his nana, to cancer? What about the man who had such horrible neurological symptoms that he feared for his life? Or the complete stranger who asked me to pray for the infection she was battling while trying to care for a young child? I could hardly manage my own life, and I was called the strong one.

I’m not suggesting we stop caring for others and wishing them healing. However, we cannot assume the pain of others to minimize our own pain, and that’s exactly what I was doing. I never felt

that my pain was worthy. I never allowed myself to have my moments.

In talking with my friend, I realized just how many feelings I had forced away. And that’s not okay. Ignoring those feelings only allows them to plant themselves deeper within. The roots take hold and grow like viney weeds, twisting around one’s insides and stifling new life.

As I strive for physical healing, I am allowing myself to heal emotionally, too. It’s a detox of mind and body. Now, when I have those moments where the tears well up, I stop what I am doing and encourage the tears. It doesn’t come naturally for me. What a strange sensation, knowing as I am in the midst of crying that I can stop the tears at any moment. Losing control is an uncomfortable prospect, but my goal is to get to the point where I no longer need the encouragement to cry, where I can get so lost in the act that I don’t think about controlling my emotions but rather release them with unashamed abandon.

Last night, my husband and children stared at me, dumbfounded, as I began crying while trying to navigate the kitchen on a very sore foot. They tried to halt my tears in an attempt to “fix” me. But I didn’t need fixing. I needed healing. So I simply walked away and said, “Give me a few minutes to myself.” Although the timing felt inopportune, life was giving me a chance to have my moment, and I wanted to seize it. I walked into the bathroom, bent over at the waist and cried so hard my chest heaved. I looked in the mirror at the blotchy, scrunched up face of a girl in pain, and I cried some more. I cried ugly, loud tears, marveling at the paradoxical beauty I saw in my tortured face.

When it was all said and done, I felt better. The physical pain lingered, but I felt connected and refreshed. I felt a little more like me.

-Suzy

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SUZY

I’ve always enjoyed being in motion, whether it’s playing tennis, running a marathon, hiking the desert trails or mountain biking. Managing multiple autoimmune diseases has forced me reevaluate my definitions of healthy and active. It’s given me a new perspective on medicine, doctors and nutrition.

I am stubborn, though, and refuse to give in to disease. Determined to find the answers, I search each day and have been known to do some CRAZY stuff in the name of healing. And I won’t stop until I win or die trying.

In between those searches, I volunteer at my kids’ schools, read, write, get crafty, bake, organize my Pinterest boards, attack everything in the house with a label maker… What can I say, I get bored easily and need hobbies, lots and lots of them.

THEY SAY IT TAKES A VILLAGE, BUT WHO REALLY BELONGS IN YOURS?

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They say it takes a village. Never has that been truer than in the past four months as I’ve recovered from back-to-back reconstructive surgeries on my feet. The bones in my feet are literally being held together by four very long pins, a metal plate and two screws, and I am not allowed to walk. Or drive. Or really do much of anything. Talk about being totally dependent on someone else. Talk about taking me out of my comfort zone.

I spoke in a previous blog post about asking for help. I gained a lot from that experience, far more than just the acts of service I requested. I developed a deeper appreciation for generous hearts of many, a new perspective of what I value in my friendships, and a greater understanding of what it means to serve others in a community.

I found my village.

As I asked around, I realized there are always those will tell you a million times over that they want to help, but they really don’t. I think they like to say the words out loud as an affirmation that they are good, charitable people. I don’t doubt that they have good intentions. Maybe they aren’t ready to be a part of a village, or maybe they belong to a different village.

But for each of those people, there were ten more who astonished me with their generosity. Not all of them liked to help in the same way, nor did they always know what type of help I needed. It was up to me to ask, be specific and sometimes ask again. Some preferred playing chauffeur, while others couldn’t be near but offered emotional support and helped me work through the logistics of what I needed. Some gave gift cards while others wanted to bring the Martha Stewart meal in a gift basket with fancily-labeled dishes and homemade pie. Some watched my kids while I rested and iced my foot. One even wanted to clean my toilets. Not one of them served a more important job than any other. I needed them, every single one of them. Not only did they make my life easier, they all brought me joy and filled my heart with thanksgiving.

Yes, they do exist, these amazing people with the heart of a servant who will give graciously and ask nothing in return. They are clued into something I believe is so critical to human nature and yet is sadly dissipating from our busy, modern lives. When you give of yourself, when you become a part of someone’s village, you transform your life.

These are the people I want affecting me on a daily basis. I want to be inspired by their beautiful souls, feel invigorated by their sharp minds and safe in their loving presence. I want to grow with them. They are the food that nourishes my soul.

I’ve done some spring cleaning of my village and evaluated with whom I want to invest my time and emotional energy. It’s not to say I would turn down an opportunity to serve someone outside my village, whether an acquaintance or a complete stranger. I will always strive to have the heart of a servant. But as for cultivating relationships, I will save that opportunity for those who give my life sustenance. It is my hope that I can reciprocate.

I encourage all of you to do your own evaluation. Ask yourself who you want in your village.

Do you want the narcissist who sucks the life out of you? What about that stagnant friend from your past? The one-dimensional person who speaks of little more than dirt and air? Or, do you want someone who will help you, share with you, challenge you, lift you up and enrich your life?

-Suzy

Comment

SUZY

I’ve always enjoyed being in motion, whether it’s playing tennis, running a marathon, hiking the desert trails or mountain biking. Managing multiple autoimmune diseases has forced me reevaluate my definitions of healthy and active. It’s given me a new perspective on medicine, doctors and nutrition.

I am stubborn, though, and refuse to give in to disease. Determined to find the answers, I search each day and have been known to do some CRAZY stuff in the name of healing. And I won’t stop until I win or die trying.

In between those searches, I volunteer at my kids’ schools, read, write, get crafty, bake, organize my Pinterest boards, attack everything in the house with a label maker… What can I say, I get bored easily and need hobbies, lots and lots of them.

I ASKED FOR HELP AND FOUND MY TRIBE.

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This is not an easy thing for me to say, but here goes: My name is Suzy, and I need…ugh…I need…gulp…okay here goes…I NEED HELP!

Wow, that was tough, and yet it’s true. I am recovering from back-to-back reconstructive foot surgeries, and guess what I learned? I can’t do it alone. I need help. But sometimes it feels easier to do it the hard way than ask for help. Me, relinquish control of every aspect of my routine? Me, admit that I can’t do it all? Me, watch someone else do it the wrong way?

When you live over a decade with an illness, you learn to adapt. You learn to modify your ways in order to preserve your independence…and your self-esteem. Every time you have to ask for help, like opening a bottle of pain reliever medication so that you can function a little better and not have to ask for so much assistance, it’s a reminder that you have limitations while others don’t.

I don’t think the hesitance to ask for help is solely tied to those with illness or injury, though. I think far too many of us fall victim to this mentality. In this day and age of the multi-tasking, overachieving, constantly-striving-for-self-growth way of life, to admit we can’t do it all feels like defeat. Think about your workplace. A leader is only as good as the people she leads. A great leader has great employees and knows how to delegate. She has help.

Except in real life, most of us don’t have personal assistants to help us manage our lives. We can’t tell someone to watch our kids while we go to the doctor or bring us soup when we are sick. We have to ask. We have to interrupt someone else’s busy routine, one that’s probably just as full as ours.

                  No wonder we are so exhausted.

                  No wonder we feel busy and overwhelmed.

                  No wonder our relationships struggle and we feel alone.

                  No wonder we don’t feel a sense of community. We don’t offer a sense of community.

What are we so afraid of? Rejection? Move on and ask another person. Disappointment? Again, move on and find someone else. Being an inconvenience? Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Would you feel inconvenienced? Hopefully your answer is no. Are you afraid of strengthening friendships? Having someone by your side to make life a little easier? Sharing in life’s troubles?

You see, we have so much to gain when we learn to ask for help and very little to lose (except for some maybe their pride, in which case I would suggest you need to be humbled now and then).

I’m not suggesting we make every problem someone else’s problem. There is strength and satisfaction to be found in perseverance. But when life seems to be throwing a dozen lemons at us (or in my case, a broken garbage disposal, broken dryer, backed up sewage pipes, broken garage door spring and a totally busted “Franken-foot”), and we only have two hands, why not ask for help catching the other lemons rather than trying to grow ten more hands (and maybe even an extra foot)?

So back to my foot surgeries: I not only accepted but I asked for help. I accepted offers for meals. I asked to borrow a knee scooter. I asked for healing prayers and emotional guidance. I asked for help getting kids to and from school. I asked for rides to doctor appointments and play dates. I asked for help when my daughter got herself stuck inside box spring mattress. Imagine making that phone call. I even asked one of my closest friends to scrub my toilet. (For the record, she is a neat freak whose love language I am pretty sure is cleaning toilets.)

And guess what? Not everyone helped, but a lot of them did, even with the toilets. They caught my lemons! It’s my hope that I can repay them with kindness and generosity. No, I take that back. I won’t repay them. These friends of mine, they don’t keep tabs. But maybe, hopefully, I can be there for them, and others, when the need for help arises.

-Suzy

Comment

SUZY

I’ve always enjoyed being in motion, whether it’s playing tennis, running a marathon, hiking the desert trails or mountain biking. Managing multiple autoimmune diseases has forced me reevaluate my definitions of healthy and active. It’s given me a new perspective on medicine, doctors and nutrition.

I am stubborn, though, and refuse to give in to disease. Determined to find the answers, I search each day and have been known to do some CRAZY stuff in the name of healing. And I won’t stop until I win or die trying.

In between those searches, I volunteer at my kids’ schools, read, write, get crafty, bake, organize my Pinterest boards, attack everything in the house with a label maker… What can I say, I get bored easily and need hobbies, lots and lots of them.

THE UNEXPECTED GIFTS THAT AUTOIMMUNE DISEASE BROUGHT TO ME.

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The other day I cried while loading the dishwasher.

You are probably thinking, I cry when I have to clean the toilets. It’s called housework, and we all have to do it, so get over your little pitty party and put on your big girl underpants.

Fair enough. But there was a reason I was crying, and it had nothing to do with the actual task at hand and everything to do with what my life had become at that moment. Bent over on a knee scooter, recovering from a second reconstructive foot surgery in four months, unable to walk and losing strength in my arms and hands, I was stuck. The wheel of the scooter was jammed between the dirty tile floor and the open door to the dishwasher, while the bottom rack held a heavy ceramic crock pot which made the rack impossible to slide back into the dishwasher. I couldn’t even close the damn dishwasher without my eight-year-old’s help.

At thirty-nine years old, I felt totally helpless and old and…guilty.

My family didn’t ask for this.

My husband didn’t ask to be the sole provider while driving kids to school, giving them baths, cleaning the house and picking up groceries. He’s like a single parent except he has to pay my medical bills, which we all know aren’t cheap. He didn’t ask to give up vacations because I can’t hike in Oregon and can’t wear flip flops in Carlsbad. He didn’t ask to forego fancy anniversary dinners because I have severe food sensitivities and can only wear sneakers, anyway. No, he didn’t ask for this life, and he couldn’t have imagined it fifteen years ago when he said his vows.

My kids don’t deserve a mom who can’t kick a soccer ball or camp out on the living room floor. They shouldn’t have to hear all the reasons why I can’t take them to the museum or the trampoline park. They deserve better than a mom who screams in agony and frustration when they accidentally hit her elbow with a book. Yeah, a book.

So what does one do when faced with this guilt? I’ve found a few things that help.

1.     Remember it’s not your fault. I repeat, it’s not your fault. You didn’t intentionally make yourself sick. In fact I’d bet a million bucks (or maybe a year’s worth of medical bills) that there isn’t much you wouldn’t do to make yourself well again.

2.     Know that you are deserving of love regardless of your physical condition. Do you love your parents or grandparents any less when they need help opening a jar of sugar-free jam, get cataracts or need a hip replacement? (Note that you are allowed to dislike the sugar-free jam. Artificial sweeteners are crap.)

3.     Put yourself in their shoes. I’ll be honest, I struggle with this one. The kids are easy. I grew up with a mother afflicted by RA. I never resented her or felt slighted. But my husband…well, I never thought of him as having a caretaker’s mentality, and that’s what he has become. Most men are physical by nature, and my man is no exception. They are drawn to the physicality of their mate, and some days my physicality looks like I just walked off the set of The Walking Dead. All I can do is try to fulfill his needs as much as possible and show my appreciation for his loyalty and care of our family.

4.     Think of everything your loved ones have gained. Say what??!! Sounds crazy but it’s true, there are things to be gained. I believe my children are learning empathy and compassion. When my son has to refill my glass of water and my daughter has to retrieve ice packs, they learn to put others’ needs before theirs. Anyone with small children can agree that is not instinctual for most kids.

5.     Embrace the times when you must slow down. My limitations have forced the family to slow down at times. Maybe we didn’t travel the way we had planned this past summer, but we rented a cabin a couple of hours away and were able to unwind. The kids got to play in the creek and get muddy. We went fishing and listened to Pearl Jam. (Typical fishing music, right?) We read books and swung on wooden swings. I’m pretty sure we made a few good memories along the way.

It’s not an easy journey for any of us, but with the right perspective, we can live enjoyable and fulfilling lives with our loved ones.

-Suzy

Comment

SUZY

I’ve always enjoyed being in motion, whether it’s playing tennis, running a marathon, hiking the desert trails or mountain biking. Managing multiple autoimmune diseases has forced me reevaluate my definitions of healthy and active. It’s given me a new perspective on medicine, doctors and nutrition.

I am stubborn, though, and refuse to give in to disease. Determined to find the answers, I search each day and have been known to do some CRAZY stuff in the name of healing. And I won’t stop until I win or die trying.

In between those searches, I volunteer at my kids’ schools, read, write, get crafty, bake, organize my Pinterest boards, attack everything in the house with a label maker… What can I say, I get bored easily and need hobbies, lots and lots of them.

AUTOIMMUNITY AND THE MAGIC BEANS.

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Autoimmunity. It’s the (often) invisible disease that will turn your life upside down and is sure to spark more debate at a dinner party than any presidential election or bathroom segregation. Everyone seems to have an opinion these days.

Chronic fatigue syndrome? Poor diet. Adrenal fatigue? You need to exercise more. No, don’t exercise. Sleep with a grounding pillow. Fibromyalgia? Try yoga. Acupuncture. Arthritis? Cut out gluten and dairy. Go Paleo. Go alkaline. Try some CBD oil. Hypothyroid? You need more iodine. Less iodine. No, you need to remove that root canal. Did I mention I have some magic beans to sell you?

Surely there must be a reason why we’ve seen such a spike in autoimmunity. It’s all caused by leaky gut. No, it’s parasites. Epstein Barr Virus. Vaccines. Heavy metals. Nope, it’s just mental.

Feel free to roll your eyes now if you haven’t already. Ugh, I’ve heard it all. And I’ve said it all at some point in my sixteen years since I was first diagnosed with an autoimmune disease.

I’m not here to tell you why we suffer. I don’t know the root cause, and I don’t know the cure, although I’m working to find mine.

I do know what it feels like to suffer, though. At the age of 23 I was diagnosed with RA. I have since been diagnosed with hypothyroid and adrenal insufficiency. I’ve had high uric acid (no, I don’t drink beer or alcohol of any sort, thanks for asking). I’ve suffered through fibromyalgia pain and all sorts of other weird symptoms that would probably have an autoimmune diagnosis if I felt like going to a doctor. And it sucks.

But I’m not looking for sympathy.

You see, before I was diagnosed with RA, I never thought I would get it, despite the family history on my mother’s side. I was my father’s daughter in so many ways: athletic, always on the go, a busy body. RA just didn’t fit in with my lifestyle.

And then I was diagnosed and figured there must be a reason. Everything happens for a reason, right? Right?

Days when the air outside is damp, the bags under my eyes are more pronounced courtesy of a 2:00am wakeup call from my daughter, my knees hurt too much for a bath but my feet are too sore for a shower, and the dog is eating the sofa …it’s not always easy to appreciate my suffering. But maybe tomorrow I’ll feel better and find someone who is living my yesterday. And I’ll be able to empathize, lend an ear or a helping, albeit slightly swollen and tender, hand. Because you never know who else is suffering silently.

And that is what it is all about: making the best of this journey, bringing awareness, picking up friends- and strangers- along the way. I hope you’ll join me as I share my not-so-invisible autoimmune life.

-Suzy

Comment

SUZY

I’ve always enjoyed being in motion, whether it’s playing tennis, running a marathon, hiking the desert trails or mountain biking. Managing multiple autoimmune diseases has forced me reevaluate my definitions of healthy and active. It’s given me a new perspective on medicine, doctors and nutrition.

I am stubborn, though, and refuse to give in to disease. Determined to find the answers, I search each day and have been known to do some CRAZY stuff in the name of healing. And I won’t stop until I win or die trying.

In between those searches, I volunteer at my kids’ schools, read, write, get crafty, bake, organize my Pinterest boards, attack everything in the house with a label maker… What can I say, I get bored easily and need hobbies, lots and lots of them.