Ah, the eternal question. What’s wrong with me? Maybe it’s not an eternal question but it seems eternal. Those that are closest to me know that I’ve been struggling with my health for a really long time, like 18 years long. I have friends that have literally never known me to be well. Two of my kids have never known anything other than their mom is sick all the time. And though in those 18 years I’ve had some bright spots and have thought, “Hey, I’ve beaten this!”, those moments never lasted all that long, maybe a matter of weeks.
So, what’s wrong with me? It’s a question I’ve been asking for at least 18 years and I can trace the beginning symptoms all the way back to college, in my early 20’s. But I was so busy and preoccupied with school, work and my oldest daughter that I didn’t pay a lot of attention to it. I was having trouble losing weight, even when I exercised a lot but I was also under a lot of stress so, while it bugged me, I shrugged it off and just starved myself for a bit. That had been my go-to diet since 5th grade. When I graduated from college and got my first job as a music pastor I was under even more stress and gained about 10 pounds seemingly overnight. Of course, my eating habits were pretty much the worst. I think the years of starving myself just caught up to me and I went a little nutty. But I’d always been able to reign things in before and that wasn’t helping this time. Then Travis and I got engaged and one day while we were out spending time with Amanda, there was some sprinting involved. I had always been a fast runner but when I was trying to run my whole body felt heavy, like I was being weighed down. And yes, I the extra ten pounds could have been part of it but it felt like more than that.
Fast forward a couple of years and Travis and I were married, he had adopted my oldest daughter, I was pregnant with our middle daughter, Chloe and we were living in the Nashville area. Since I was pregnant, of course I wasn’t going to feel well but I was having some weird symptoms that weren’t related to that. I’d feel like I had the flu- weakness, body aches, and fatigue but I’d be better by the next day. I had some real trauma at the end that Chloe and I could have died from but thankfully God spared us and we were able to bring home a healthy baby but my health, however, continued to decline. I was working, taking care of kids and sleeping and that’s pretty much it. Travis was having a hard time dealing with the fact that the vibrant, active woman he married suddenly couldn’t get well and the only answer we had was that I had a sinus infection. I’m 100% sure that wasn’t it. I was dizzy, weak, tired, depressed and no amount of exercise would fix it. I wasn’t even necessarily trying to lose weight, I was just trying to get better and it had been ingrained in me that exercise fixes everything. So I’d exercise and then I’d feel sick for days. So I tried a low carb diet and huzzah! It worked! I lost weight and I felt better, the closest to normal I’d felt in a while but it didn’t last.
Let’s fast forward some more because otherwise this will be too long to read so here’s the nutshell- time moved on and things got steadily getting worse. The problem is that Travis and I were also dealing with financial and marital problems at the time. Big ones. And while I’m not going to go into details because I’m not ready to do that I’ll say that it was killing me (it actually is an incredible story of redemption and God did so, so much but I’ll talk about it later). So, every time I went to a doctor, they’d ask if I was under stress and since I was they didn’t dig much further. It is amazing to me that I could tell a doctor my symptoms, one being that I was so weak that I couldn’t get off the couch for weeks and they’d say it was stress and send me on my way. To say that it was frustrating is an understatement.
I’m an athlete. I’ve always been an athlete. I love perusing workout videos to find the next great workout, I love being in the gym, the whir of machines and the smell of rubber mats gets my blood pumping (Other smells? Not so much). I’m also a doer. I conquer things. I love to take a challenge and make it mine and come out on the other side on top. And though I have tried to wrestle this thing to the ground over and over and over again it always wins.
So to become the woman that people couldn’t count on, the friend that had to constantly cancel plans, the one who would commit to something only to have to back out, the mom who was letting the TV raise her kids? It hurt deeply. I wondered where God was, I wondered what egregious offense had I committed to put me in this horrible spot? I had dreams of changing the world, of seeing Jesus change people’s lives and I was trapped in a body that when I tried to push through, it pushed back and knocked me to the ground and I couldn’t get up for weeks. And if anyone reading this is dealing with chronic illness you know that people can be unkind. I’ve seen eyes rolled, sighs of exasperation, one friend literally asked me, “So what do you think is wrong with you now”? Travis and the kids were frustrated and they let me know it, because they’re human. So I quit talking. I did my best to suck it up and keep moving. And the years passed.
I kept trying diets and exercise, doctors and supplements until I just gave up on the doctor part. I’d see some improvement because nutrition is very important and exercise is very important but my body just couldn’t keep up. Until this past summer I broke down and literally couldn’t get back up. I had done a few workouts and pushed through even though I felt terrible and finally got to the point that I could barely walk. And even though I’d known the whole time that whatever I had wasn’t going to kill me, I actually thought that I might be dying. I begged my way into an appointment with an endocrinologist without a referral and the whole ‘I might be dying’ feeling was confirmed when my blood pressure registered 160/120. Travis had come with me to the appointment because I knew that he wouldn’t let my concerns be dismissed but it wasn’t really necessary at that point.
So, after having more bloodwork done than I’d ever known was possible, I finally had an answer- I have polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). It’s estimated that between 5 and 20 percent of women have it but it can go undiagnosed for years. It’s caused by heredity and insulin resistance but it also causes insulin resistance. There is no cure but there is treatment and it can be lifelong. So, I will always have PCOS and I will always be insulin resistant, there is no diet or exercise program or pill that will fix it but I’ve been on treatment for several months and, while I still struggle with debilitating fatigue and insomnia, I am having days or even a couple of weeks at a time that I’m able to sleep at night or have enough energy to go for a walk. There are some women with PCOS that are able to do a low carb or keto diet, and I used to be able to do that but my body won’t tolerate it now. I also struggle with adrenal fatigue so overdoing it emotionally- like the business of the holidays, or physically- working out as hard as I want to- puts me in a really bad spot. I also have the added bonus of weight gain, anxiety and depression so it’s really the gift that keeps on giving 😉 But I’ve learned that it doesn’t really matter how hard you fight if you’re fighting the wrong way. You’re still going lose.
So, where’s the good in this? I am so glad you asked. This trial has taken me to the very depths of my faith. I’ve seen the good, bad and ugly in myself. I’ve had strong, faith-filled days and the lowest moments of despair and self-pity. I have asked why me and cried myself to sleep…I’m kidding, when I’m crying I totally can’t sleep. But I have cried a lot.`
Being a Christian doesn’t make me immune to suffering. I was always going to have this illness because it was written into my DNA. And unfortunately, I’ve passed it onto at least one of my daughters. The difference in a believer suffering and someone that isn’t is that I have hope that this life isn’t all there is. The scripture verse that became my favorite during this time is Romans 8:18-
“Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later.”
I think that suffering through this seemingly endless season has given me an eternal perspective that I just couldn’t have gotten any other way. And for that I am truly grateful. Yes, I said that I’m grateful. I think that when going through something like this it can have two outcomes 1. You grow deeper in Christ and deeper as a human, or 2. You grow bitter. And if you are suffering through something like this my heart truly goes out to you but I am begging you to not drink from the cup of bitterness. Bitterness only takes, it gives nothing back. And it will keep taking from you until there is nothing left. I have sipped from that cup but thankfully Jesus didn’t leave me there.
So, as to the question of “why me”? I honestly think a better question is “why not me”? Why shouldn’t I suffer? I don’t ask that flippantly or to be insensitive, I also don’t have the “bring it on” attitude. I would love to stop suffering this very instant but that’s not likely to happen. Suffering is part of life. Jesus himself suffered- he didn’t come down from heaven and live a cushy life. He suffered right along with the people that surrounded him. He was ridiculed. He got tired. He was betrayed. He was tempted. But Hebrews 5:8 says,
“Even though Jesus was God’s Son, he learned obedience from the things he suffered”.
I have learned obedience, I have been humbled, I have been reduced to ashes but I’m going to tell you that there is beauty when Jesus rebuilds you. I may have gained a million pounds and some days I swear I don’t recognize the face looking back at me but thankfully my beauty doesn’t come from what’s outside, it’s in who Jesus has made me to be.
I still have far to go recovery wise, but my faith has grown, my trust has grown and even though many days it feels like I’m washed up, finished and the opportunity to do anything good in this world has passed me by I know it isn’t true. God’s plans for me look different than I ever thought they would but as long as I have breath left, with His help, I’m going to keep seeking Him and keep moving forward.
If you’ve made it to the end of these 2,000 words, bless you. Getting the words out is very difficult for me because being vulnerable is uncomfortable. But if my story helps someone else then my discomfort is worth it.