Sitting in church on Sunday, or waiting in your child’s school assembly bleachers, or milling about in line at the movie theater it sometimes seems obvious who is living with a serious illness and who is not.  You try to not to stare, but you do notice if a person is missing a leg, or is in a wheelchair, or is carrying an oxygen tank, or has an arm in a cast, or has a white cane etc…. A lot of people SAY they do not prejudge people or discriminate, but truth be told, most human beings make THOUSANDS of judgments in the first few moments of approaching someone- before ever having a conversation with them. And without knowing it, our brains file people in categories of “normal” and “disabled”. What I am learning more and more in my life is that ALL human beings are differently abled.  Some of our challenges and baggage are visible and some are not. We are ALL HUMAN.

Question: How many of the people we look at, talk to and interact with on a daily basis have been shoved into our “normal and just fine” category, but they are really struggling every single day with an illness that CANNOT be seen?? What if someone we talk to every day is secretly battling depression, a heart problem, lupus, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, or crippling back pain? So many mental and physical illnesses cannot be seen just by looking.

I’m thinking of a dear dear friend of mine who is very young and awaiting major heart surgery, since three of her heart valves are faulty. Another friend has lived with PCOS for over 15 years.  My own mother fights every single day to have a “normal” day and do the things we all take for granted due to crippling back pain, despite 7 major surgeries and many medications.

Most of my life, anyone who knew me would describe me as a “hyper-active bunny on steriods” due to my extremely high energy level and outgoing personality. Ever since I was a child, my parents described me as being in “hyperdrive”. I have been a full time staff pastor for 16 years, married for 15 years, and I have two young children Logan (11) and Eliana (9).  For most of my ministry career, I have worked 60+ hours a week, involved in 2 sports, highly involved in my kids school and doing a date night every other week.  I lived by a “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” type of thinking.  I kept pushing and pushing, thinking that my energy wouldn’t ever end. Then about two years ago, things began to change.

Slowly, I began to feel more and more tired.  I chalked it all up too working too much, and thought a good night of sleep would do the trick. It didn’t. I began to be more and more tired, week by week. Then my fingernails began to break off, and my skin got even more pale (if that were possible). I could hardly make it through the morning without a nap. Coffee, which had always had such a huge effect on me, no longer helped at all.  And I could barely make it through a workout. My normally very athletic body began to swell out- I even found myself yawning on the treadmill! So I did what would have worked for me in the past- I restricted my calories to 1500 per day and worked out 40 minutes a day and joined Weight Watchers.  I was frustrated at the interruption in my busy life, but I wasn’t worried.  I was so determined to get back to “normal”. You cannot imagine my shock and horror at the next weight watchers meeting, when everyone else lost 2-5 pounds, and I had GAINED 2 pounds. I just stood there staring. I don’t like to fail. So I thought- I must be bloated? I’ll just step it up.  So I cut down to 1200 calories a day, and went to hour long workouts every day, and no sugar.  And this time I gained one pound. I went into the weight watchers bathroom and cried.  I cried in the car all the way home.  I cried in my room.  The next morning I couldn’t find a pair of pants that fit- so I wore my husband’s pants to work.  And cried in my office. I found out later that the lack of food and constant exercising were making things worse for me (I didn’t know at the time what was wrong with me, and my iron and Vitamin D levels were very low). I know now that I was suffering from an autoimmune disorder called, “hypothyroidism”. My body is attacking it’s own thyroid gland, making my metabolism and energy shut down.  But I was still a long way from getting that diagnosis.

A good friend got me to go to my doctor.  The doctor did a blood test, and I remember going home hopeful. I thought, “They’ll just find out what’s wrong now; we’ll fix it, and move on to “normal” in no time!” I’ll never forget the sinking sick feeling in the pit of my stomach when the nurse cheerfully told me over the phone, “Oh you’re great hon. All your tests came out normal. You’re fine.” I stammered, “oh wait, so what now?” She seemed confused, “hon, I said you’re fine.”  When she hung up, I said out loud, “But I’m not fine. Not at all. What am I gonna do?”  Which poses a really good question: What do you do when a doctor says “You’re fine. Your tests are all normal,” but you know you are not fine.

Well, I went to another doctor, this time a “female issues” doctor.  I planned to tell her all about my symptoms, and how I suspected that this must be a hormone issue….but I didn’t get the chance.  Hand on the Bible, she walked into the room and before she shook my hand she said, “I’m really thinking you are going to need a hysterectomy and here’s why…..” I was in total shock. I told her I was not interested in that right now and asked her to test my hormones. She reluctantly ordered the blood tests, saying, “I still say a hysterectomy would solve what ails ya.” YIKES! Then I got a phone call a week later saying, “Great news, you’re fine.”  I felt so helpless.  How do you fight when you don’t even know what you are fighting? When your body, that had always worked well for you is now failing you? When you went to the doctor and they say you are “fine.”

The next year was a huge journey for me….a bumpy trip toward a diagnosis and treatment. But I’m really glad now that I didn’t give up….  To be continued………..