2015. My-oh-my what a year.
If you would have told me everything that would happen in 12 months back in January 2015 I probably would have laughed at you. And I definitely wouldn’t have believed you.
I wish I could tell you I handled the trials and adventures of 2015 in an exemplary way, with grace and gratitude and without tears and despair. But the truth is there was an ocean of tears.
There were also smiles. Laughs. Blessings. Sleepless nights. Periods of overwhelming pain. Confusion. Unexplainable joy. Loneliness. Doubt. Fear. Faith.
Between being diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos and moving to Des Moines in the last two months, I’m still processing everything that transpired in 2015. In all honesty I think it might take me all of 2016 to process. But I’m getting there. As many of you know the biggest thing I faced in 2015 (and will continue to face in 2016) was learning to live with chronic illness.
Let’s face it: Chronic pain and chronic illness — conditions that never go away and cause everyday suffering — is not an easy beast to tangle with. In fact I think it’s safe to say it might be one of the hardest things a person can ever face. Especially if it’s invisible like my illness is.
Pain can debilitate you. Pain can cloud your perspective. Pain can fatigue you. Pain can make you wish you were dead. Pain can make you do irrational things. Pain can change you. And pain can destroy you — if you let it. Some days I’m not going to lie — I let pain do these things to me. Instead of running straight to God and resting in His peace, I let pain call the shots on how I see and live life. It’s hard not to do this when the pain is all-consuming.
My biggest regret of 2015 is that I often allowed pain to dictate my outlook on life. That’s why this year, I’m changing my chronic pain treatment game plan.
No one likes to talk about the dark side of pain. “Just shut up and take painkillers,” or, “stop complaining,” is the usual response I receive if I’m talking about my battle with Ehlers-Danlos. But there is a dark side, and in my humble opinion painkillers are not the solution. Ask anyone who has been on painkillers for a chronic condition and they’ll tell you how unsustainable and risky it is. After awhile your body gets used to whatever dosage amount you’re on and you just have to keep up, up, upping the dosage until 1) it doesn’t work anymore and you have to switch drugs, or 2) you become addicted.
I’m working on finding more natural and safe treatments for myself, but at the end of the day you have to realize there is no magic pill for chronic, especially degenerative, illness. I think this is what makes Ehlers-Danlos and other chronic conditions so difficult to manage. When you can’t escape the pain and you know this is something you could be dealing with for the rest of your life …. what’s a person supposed to do?
In 2015 my M.O. was to try to temporarily distract myself from the pain, which hardly ever worked. Usually I just ended up crying and gave in to the fierce waves of hopelessness crashing into me. This year, I’m kissing goodbye to my old M.O. I refuse to give in to sorrow and despair. Yes. Starting this year, two months after my diagnosis, I WILL CHOOSE JOY.
I will change my thoughts of “why do I have to deal with this?” to “I get to deal with this.“
What do I mean by this? I can’t take credit for this shift in mindset — I owe it all to my best friend Devon. A few days ago, Devon and I were cooking Chicken Curry Soup together while catching up on life. I told her about the darkness and pain, about me feeling like the Psalmist in Psalm 88. And her response?
“Lauren, I can’t imagine what you’re going through and I’m sorry. But you have to find a way to look at life differently, in a more joyful and grateful way. Yeah, what you’re fighting is awful and scary, but you’re alive and you get to deal with it.”
At first, I didn’t understand what she was getting at. But the more I let her words sink in, the more the lightbulb turned from dim to bright.
I never wished this illness on myself. I never wanted or imagined my life would look the way it does now. But I’m alive and I’m here for a reason. This is a fact/opportunity/gift I cannot waste. I cannot sit back and allow my pain and illness to kill my spirit because there’s still a life to live — there’s still a world to inspire and positively impact. I have a husband. A puppy. Family. Friends. A job. A blog. A life. One life. And I’m blessed beyond measure.
So from this day forward, in addition to looking for natural treatment options, I am making a vow to myself to not let pain win. Maybe you don’t struggle with chronic pain, but you’re struggling with something else right now. I want to invite you to make this promise to yourself too, to not let _____ win.
Want to know how to take your life back in 2016? Make a promise to yourself to fight whatever you are facing with courage and never give up. There will be bad days where we feel like we can’t go on, but we will keep hope alive. Starting this year we will choose joy. Starting this year we will choose to focus on what is good. Amen?
One of the ways I plan to put this new mindset into practice is by writing down five things I’m thankful for each and every day (or five areas I saw God at work). This is a new practice for me and it’s going to take some time and dedication, but I’m committed to start seeing the good instead of only seeing the bad.
Let 2016 be the year we take our lives back. #ABrighter2016
I invite you to keep a gratitude journal along with me this year. Feel free to use the hashtag #ABrighter2016 every time you tweet, share or Instagram something you are thankful for this year. And share with me in the comments below what your hopes for this year are.
The gratitude journal starts today, so here goes my five things:
- I’m thankful I am still able to swim, even though some days it hurts.
- The smooth, delicious taste of peanut butter and honey toast for breakfast. So satisfying!
- Sunshine in the dead of winter.
- Kisses from my husband and our sweet puppy Reese.
- The chance to inspire others.