Five Things…

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Five things I wish I could go back and tell myself when I was newly diagnosed with sarcoidosis:

  1. Nothing is ever going to be “normal” again. You will lose your career and this will be devastating for awhile. Your life is going to change in ways you never imagined and this will be sad and scary. You will grieve. It will also be exciting and challenging and rewarding because you will learn that you never give up. You will figure out how to make the best of it. You will learn to develop your artistic side. You will write a blog, learn to draw and paint. Nature photography will become a newly found passion and you will be good at it. Despite this disease, life is still a worthwhile experience and, in some ways, it becomes more rewarding now because you are sick. You will learn to cherish what matters most and let go of what doesn’t. You will learn to live with dignity despite the fact that this disease continues to attack your physical wellbeing.
  2. Learn all that you can about sarcoidosis and do not be afraid to know more than your doctors because you will know more than most of them. Question them if they say something that doesn’t make sense to you. Be a strong advocate for yourself. You deserve good care and the only way to get it is to be an informed patient. Take an active role in your healthcare and look at your relationship with your doctors as a partnership instead of a doctor/patient relationship. Make informed decisions about your treatment and include those closest to you in those decisions.
  3. Finding an inner strength will be the key, not only to surviving life with sarcoidosis, it will be how you learn to thrive. It is in you. Strength is found in many forms. It is a positive attitude. It is being okay with being afraid while still doing what must be done. It can be found in tears. You will need to dig deeper inside your soul than you ever have before and with brutal honesty, you will need to accept that you are changed both physically and mentally. This is how you are going to move on with your life. It will be a process that is painful but rewarding. You will come to know yourself profoundly better than you did before you got sick and you will learn to trust yourself completely. This trust will help you improve your relationships with others. It will also help you let go of those who refuse to acknowledge your journey.
  4. Take exceptionally good care of yourself physically and emotionally because doing this is better for you than any prescribed treatment. No one else is going to put your needs first. You have to learn to do this for yourself and you have learn that you are worth it. Learn to set boundaries about where to put your energy and do not feel the least bit guilty about it. Eat a healthy diet, get enough sleep, reduce stress and get regular exercise. Don’t make excuses not to because, in the long run, it will these things that keep you as healthy as you can be. Practice the art of daily gratitude because you will come to understand your own attitude plays a major role in the quality of your life. Life in a body ravaged by sarcoidosis is not easy but you will find peace and you will be happy again.
  5. Life with a chronic health issue like sarcoidosis is a marathon. It is important to pace yourself. You won’t have the energy you used to have. Your mind won’t work the way it used to and no matter how well you take care of yourself, you will be physically weaker than you think you should be. You will be in some level of pain constantly. You will need to learn to prioritize your responsibilities, your relationships and your time because your energy will be limited and your pain unpredictable. Sleep doesn’t fix your fatigue and it will be necessary to say “no” to some activities. You will feel guilty but you shouldn’t. You will be alone more and you will have to learn to appreciate the company you keep with yourself. Every day will be different so when you have a bad day, know that the next will likely be better. When you have a good day…rejoice! You are not going to get better. Sarcoidosis has changed your reality forever. It’s up to you to figure out how to make the most of this new strange world and you will. You will learn and grow in ways that are profoundly important to living a truly good life.
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A Touchy Subject…

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I’m going to put a new twist on a touchy subject for those of us who have sarcoidosis and other invisible illnesses because, over the years that I have now had sarcoidosis, it’s something I have come to see very differently since I was first diagnosed.

One of the things I often hear people with sarcoidosis say, is how much they hate it when people tell them how good they look. I get it. I used to hate it too. It can feel like our experience, like the veiled war our body is waging against us, is being discounted. We already experience enough ignorance from the medical community we are forced to deal with, that any additional belittling of what we go through, simply feels like a deeper injustice. Depending on the tone, sometimes when people tell us that we don’t look sick, there is a hint of judgement and we are made to feel like liars. We are NOT liars!

All of that being said, I have come to view this comment and ones like it in a new light now that I’ve had this disease for quite some time. I have learned to not only accept the confusion “the well” feel toward me, I have come to better understand the part I play in that confusion. I really don’t look sick. I don’t look sick, in part, because I choose not to look sick. I work hard at it too. I take care of myself…physically and emotionally. Doing this means that I am not going to “look” however it is a sick person is supposed to “look”. In the face of unyielding physical discomfort from a disease that robs me of air and leaves me feeling like a wrung out dish rag, it really would be easier to let myself “look” sick, to not make the effort to get up and get dressed. I can’t deny that there are days when my bed does call my name and the thought of staying un-showered and in my PJs all day is tempting. Part of surviving this disease, at least for me, is to resist that call as much as I can!

I regularly exercise too. I appear to be in good shape and, I am in good shape for someone with this disease! I get dressed in clean and stylish clothes almost every day even though I sometimes have nowhere in particular to go. I wear make up. I get my hair done. I smile a lot and I try to find some joy in every day, despite how much physical pain I might be in. I don’t spend a lot of time talking about my symptoms. I try not to dwell on how badly I ache. I quietly live with my sarcoidosis because it is simply part of me now. I don’t try to hide my disease on purpose…exactly. I want to look good for myself. I want to live my life as normally as I can, despite whatever this disease is doing to my insides. Part of doing that is looking as good as I can. It’s what I would do sick or not. It’s about self respect for me, about still trying to like myself even though sarcoidosis tries to trick me into thinking I am worthless.

So, when I am putting all this effort into looking like what others would call “normal”, how can I actually be mad at them when that’s what they see? I can’t. It’s also a waste of energy. I find being frustrated by the understandable ignorance of those who have not suffered with the troubles, pains and fears of living with in invisible illness, is a useless endeavor. Now when someone tells me that I don’t look sick, I take it as a complement. It means the effort I am putting into trying to live normally might actually be working! I thank them and I mean it. But, I also take it as an opportunity to educate. I politely explain that looks can be deceiving. I find that when I do this, without anger or bitterness, people are interested and because they are interested, I leave them educated instead of annoyed with me for getting defensive and, maybe…just maybe…they will think twice before judging someone’s insides based on what they see on the outside.

I like that I get told that I don’t look sick. I like that I am able to carve out some normalcy in my life. This is just one way that I do that. In full disclosure and in all honestly, I must admit that before I was diagnosed with sarcoidosis and, before my insides decided to take a stab at me, I too had no idea what those with invisible illness go through. I was ignorant and I no doubt, said things, without intending to cause harm, that probably did hurt people engaged this very private struggle. So, before I get angry with people who tell me that I don’t look sick, it has helped me to remember my own ignorance and the innocence in it. I meant no harm…I just didn’t know any better. It also helps me be honest about the fact that I play a role in the confusion others might feel about my being sick. I really don’t look the part because I don’t want to look the part. I don’t want to be sick…so…I’m glad I don’t look on the outside, the way I feel on the inside. How ugly I would be! For me, this is one small battle I feel I’ve won! For me, being told that I don’t look sick is now cause for celebration instead of anger.

A Sarcoidosis Prayer

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Bring safety to the vulnerable

Bring courage to the fearful

Bring strength to the weak

Bring serenity to the troubled

Bring clarity to the confused

Bring peace to the anxious 

Bring joy to the unfortunate 

Bring energy to the fatigued 

Bring comfort to the pained 

Bring education to the healers