This has been a difficult year for me healthwise. So today, I want to talk about what it is like to have an 'invisible' illness.
This is not my first go-round with an invisible illness. About five years ago, I over-stressed myself, causing adrenal fatigue and a candida overgrowth. Strange words, I know. What they mean is this: my adrenal glands worked too hard for too long, and ended up not able to supply me with enough adrenaline and stress-adapting hormones anymore. I had too much candida yeast in my gut, which caused other problems. Overall, I had a list of symptoms as long as my arm, the most frustrating of which were crazy bad brain fog, migraines, dizzy spells, fatigue, difficulty falling asleep and waking up, trouble regulating my body temperature, and a weakened immune system.
At the time, I was a full-time (+) university student, and working forty to fifty hours a week. For a long while, I just thought that these symptoms were normal for any millenial. It eventually got bad enough that I went to see a doctor. With a very restricted diet, a boatload of supplements, and lifestyle changes to reduce my daily stress, I was thankfully able to recover.
Well, you'd think I had learned my lesson, but nope. About a year and a half ago, I spent six month running around like a chicken with my head cut off. Seriously - I ended up doing three people's jobs and also was given additional responsibilities at work, had to move three times, and basically, was extremely dumb about keeping myself healthy. I ended up stressing my body out to the point where I was laid out flat on my back for a week with a double lung infection, and then eventually got diagnosed with a thyroid condition that was brought on by the stress. I will now have that thyroid condition for the rest of my life, and will have to regularly go the to doctor to ensure that my medication is at the correct level to keep me going. Since the thyroid controls your metabolism and energy levels, many of the symptoms of my thyroid condition are the same as what I experienced five years ago.
It is surprisingly difficult for a Type A perfectionist, do-it-all, take-care-of-everything kind of person to say no to something - especially when you are in a place and situation where (a) you have the skills to help; (b) you see the needs around you are vast; (c) you are a missionary worker and feel that your time and energy should be used for God's kingdom; and (d) you are single and therefore technically have more time than people with spouses and children.
I have learned a lot since then, though. Really. I promise. Self-care is not a luxury - it is a necessity. Guarding my time to recharge and take care of my health, my relationship with God, my involvement with my church, my time with friends, and making allowances for my introverted self are super important to me being able to serve long term as a missionary. I have learned that not everything has to get done, and that if I can't pick up the slack, there are often others who can.
In a German-background family where output is valued almost as much as family, it has been difficult to explain my lack of energy, and to word it in ways that my go-getters understand, especially when I don't LOOK sick. Sometimes, what I perceived as judgement from others and my own high expectations made dealing with my illness even worse. A while back, I came across 'The Spoon Theory' by Christine Miserandino (click the link to read the original story), and found it helpful in explaining an 'invisible' illness to family and friends. Basically, each of us is given a handful of spoons that are our currency for what we need to accomplish in a day. A healthy person might have fifty, while I may only have ten, depending on the day. This means that every action and choice is preceded by a lot of thought - can I budget that into my energy for today? If not, when can I do that - is it even possible? Some days, I have a big energy budget and can behave like a "real boy", to quote Pinocchio. Other days, making dinner might be more important than having a shower, or replying to some emails. When your limbs feel like lead, and you can't keep thoughts straight in your head, molehills become insurmountable mountains. (I flooded our laundry room last year when I got the steps confused... just in case you needed proof that the brain fog was strong in me!)
I have had to reteach myself that my output is not where my value lies - as a creation of God, I have intrinsic value simply by being. And there has been a lot of good in rest and recuperation. I have had a wonderful year of relationship-building with family and friends (some new in both categories!). Thankfully, my supporters, church, mission, family, and friends have been so kind and understanding. This has been huge for me - I am so judgmental of myself, and came home feeling like an abject failure - why couldn't I see that I was overdoing it and save myself from it, why couldn't I just push through and keep going, was anyone going to be willing to back me as a missionary in the future? And every time I have voiced my concerns - be it to my counselor, family, friends, church leadership, or mission director, the same answer has come back...
"We believe in you and the call God has on your life - we want you to go back fully healthy and supported and we are backing you every step of the way."
I feel so very grateful and unworthy. And I think that this is progress, and the right place to be. When my heart is humbled, my spirit is chasing after Jesus, and my body, broken as it may be, continues to fight to move forward on the path the Holy Spirit is guiding me down, I am right in the middle of where God is working.
So, once again, I conclude my post with a big thank you. To all who have lifted me up in prayer, given me encouragement, continued to support me financially, helped me with fundraisers, cheered me on, and loved on me with the unrelenting, unconditional love of our Father, THANK YOU! From the bottom of my heart, thank you.
Welcome! My name is Katiana and I am a development professional pursuing my dream to live out Isaiah 1:17 to the best of my abilities. I am passionate about teaching and working with vulnerable families and children to improve their lives sustainably.
This blog is composed of my personal opinions, which do not necessarily reflect the opinion or views of institutions or organizations that I may be or have been affiliated with.