I know it’s been a few weeks since I’ve put anything out. For that I apologize. I hope this post will give insight as to why. I pray this and the second part of this post will will encourage you and lift you up as well.
PSA-This post is a little raw and vulnerable. Not as polished as I usually like to produce. This is me. Unedited. Honest and out there. Many of the things I’m sharing today only a very select few know. But I feel as though it’s time to share.
I can wear a mask to perfection.
I can make people think I’m feeling one thing while inside there’s something else going on. Like this drawing, I can laugh and joke; seem full of happiness and joy. My eyes can be bright and excited. But inside…My heart is aching. I’m broken. Groping in the darkness. Lost. Confused. Unsure. Insecure. Full of fear.
I don’t do it to deceive. I do it to survive.
You know, the “Fake it ‘til you make it!” mentality? Yup, that’s me, 100%.
It’s a behavior I learned as a child and perfected in my teens. I learned when others ask you how you’re doing, they really don’t want to know. It’s a greeting. A nicety. They don’t want your honest, vulnerable truth. They don’t want to know about your hurts, brokenness, or struggles. Maybe it’s because they’re afraid they will reflect their own. Or maybe they don’t want the responsibility to offering to help. So now, wearing a mask is so ingrained in the fabric of who I am, I do it without even realizing it.
At least not until the truth catches up with me and I can’t deny it anymore.
I won’t deny fear motivates this behavior; that my subconscious whispers: No one needs to know what I’m thinking or feeling. If they look too close they may pickup on things they don’t want to know. Things they don’t want to learn. Or they might stumble on things I don’t want them to find out.
But I suspect the real truth is I might have to see things as they are; not how I want them to be. I might have to face the reality of my current situation and admit to weakness and imperfection.
I might have to admit I’m not just unhappy, I’m depressed.
Several weeks ago I shared my winter struggles with SAD. (read about that here)
I also alluded to other health issues I was wrestling with. Well, it’s time I fill you in on the story.
Like other forms of depression, SAD is a significant mental illness. It tenaciously forces you down with an unseen hand. You kick, flail, and fight, but in the end you wonder if you’re ever going to surface again. Little by little, though, it saps your energy and drains your determination.
By late December, SAD had me in its clutches, and I was holding my own against the beast.
At least until I started having other health issues. Fatigue, weariness, loss of appetite, and tenderness on the outside of my right breast came out of nowhere. The tenderness would often make me wince and pull back when giving/receiving hugs. However, it was when the tenderness morphed into an aching pain that migrated into my armpit and down my arm with periodic episodes of shooting pain that woke me up at night I knew something wasn’t right.
My mind began replaying my friend telling me how she discovered she had breast cancer—my symptoms were eerily similar. I could feel Fear wrap its sinewy hands around my heart even as I continued to proclaim God didn’t give me a Spirit of fear but of power, love, and self-control (2 Timothy 1:17).
And in the background, SAD raged on.
In late January I went in for a thermography test. The following week
- I learned I had clogged lymph nodes
- I was given practical ways to fix it
- I was told to retest in late April
I was relieved and did as I was told. Shocking, I know.
Then in March, after a run, I found a hard, immobile bebe-like lump in my armpit.
And then three more equally immobile but more fleshy lumps appeared.
I didn’t want to jump to conclusions or give in to fear. I kept telling myself the lymph nodes could have gotten more clogged, it could be hormone fluctuations, it could be many other things…it didn’t have to be cancer. But it was impossible. The fear was there. Ever present.
I called the doc to give an update and see what I should do, if anything. After seeing the doctor, I was encouraged to get an ultrasound and a 3-D mammogram to rule out cancer. His concern was the immobility of the lumps.
That same day, I bought a new journal and some pretty pens and immediately put them to use. As I waited to be scheduled, I journaled. I wrestled with the what-ifs. The fear. I prayed. I cried. I prayed some more.
The fear I felt wasn’t for me, it was for my kids and my husband. I didn’t want them to have to endure what was to come.
Finally I came to the point where…well, you can read it for yourself.
My scans were on April Fools Day. I figured that was either a really good or really bad omen.
I am thankful to report I got the results that same day and there was no sign of malignancy! NO CANCER. And no, this was not an April Fool’s Joke—I asked. The lumps appeared to be just clogged lymph nodes and was told to keep working on getting them cleared out so they don’t turn into cancer later.
I was elated! Beyond elated! And thankful.
A few days later…I was exhausted. The adrenaline and stress of the cancer scare carried me through the weeks of worry and fear. But once that fear was removed and the stress and adrenaline dissipated, SAD took back center stage like a toddler snatches back her favorite toy.
I was battling it though and even making some headway. It helped that the sun was out more, the snow was melting, and the temps were rising. Spring was flirting with the Midwest, and we were swooning.
Then the following week I went for a run. April 8, 2019. I got on the treadmill ready to do an 8 mile run and only got 1.5 miles into it and had to stop. My right knee was screeching in pain. And as I sat on the edge of my treadmill, I watched my knee swell to twice it’s normal size. All I could think was, “Well, that’s not normal.”
I called the orthopedist and explained my situation. I filled them in on the surgery I had on that same knee in 1994 to clean up a tear which eliminated 40-45% of my meniscus. I saw the doc the next morning and then went in for an MRI the next afternoon. The assumption was I either tore my meniscus again or I had a stress fracture. Either would put me out of commission for the summer running season, but a stress fracture would be the best long term and seemed most likely.
When I went in for the followup, I was prepared for either verdict. Not thrilled with the prospect of either, but what am I going to do about it? Let it heal and get back out there.
Neither is what I heard.
After losing so much of my meniscus, the cartilage in my knee is the only barrier keeping the bones of my knee from rubbing against one another. But unlike a pillow-like meniscus, cartilage acts more like a dense foam that slowly erodes over time. And in two places it’s almost completely gone.
My running days are over.
Friend, that blow has had me reeling these last two weeks. It crushed me completely. I was hanging on by a tread to begin with. But that blow snapped it. My love. Passion. Escape. Is gone. The one place I turned to to release stress, get centered, feel empowered, clear my head and heart—is somewhere I’m no longer able to go. The pain of that truth is devastating.
When I climbed in my car to head home, tears exploded from the depth of my soul. I was stunned, stymied by the news. Even now my tears won’t stop.
I feel gutted. Lost. I hit bottom. SAD and the cancer scare were taxing enough. I felt like I’d just started to get back up from those and WHAM! my legs got swept out from underneath me. I couldn’t breathe.
Taken individually, these things are heavy. Taxing. But taken together, in rapid succession…I was drowning.
The kicker is, the way I deal with this kind of stress is to go for a long hard run. The kind that squeezes every toxin out of you, drenches you with sweat, and makes you feel refreshed all at the same time. And I couldn’t. Ever. Again.
I was numb. I couldn’t think or focus either. Every time I sat down to write, it came out crap. It felt forced. Fake. Not authentic. Not to mention the writing itself was awful. And I sank lower—feeling like a failure.
I couldn’t comprehend anything I was reading. And I sank lower—feeling like an idiot.
SAD became all out depression. I was literally afraid I was losing my mind.
I could endure the pain in my knee, but the knowledge of no longer run being able to run—is killing me. When I realized I would likely never be able to run that marathon I’ve been wanting to run, I crawled within myself.
Oh, I still did my errands, celebrated Easter, hosted a wonderful group of college students in my home (and loved every minute of it). But I wore my mask. Every step I took sent shock-waves of pain through my body, reminding me of what I lost.
With little else to do, I worked on a puzzle and prayed and journaled and prayed.
A few days ago I was thrown a life line.
I had the opportunity to talk with a friend who’s helped me navigate other health issues. She and I started brainstorming how to get the inflammation under control and managed so I’m not in constant pain anymore. She not only heard my frustrations and acknowledged them, but she also understood. Then she said, “yup, you many not be able to run again—but what CAN you do? Let’s explore those options.” And we started to investigate alternatives to running.
For the first time since January, I feel like sunshine is penetrating my heart. And it all started with a couple of simple but profound phrases.
What can you do? Let’s explore those options.
It made me think of Paul. While he was in prison for preaching the gospel, he didn’t focus on what he couldn’t do—the ministry he loved and had been doing for years. He focused on what he could do—preaching to his guards about the new life Jesus offers, teaching them about Jesus, and discipling them in their new faith. And he wrote letters. Letters which make up two-thirds of our New Testament. By focusing on what he could do, Paul wrote words that would bless, encourage, disciple, edify, discipline Christians for centuries to come! Words that we routinely go to when we are feeling depressed, lost, insecure, down, confused, etc. Words that would breathe life into a dying soul and help rekindle the fire within.
Friend, I’m not out of the dark yet. I’m still struggling and I would appreciate your prayers as I continue to battle my way out. Just finishing this post is a huge accomplishment for me. I’m determined to win this battle.
What about you? Are you in a similar place? If so, let me throw you a life line:
What can you do? Let’s explore those options.
I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:11-13)
This is something I lost sight of. In part 2 I will share 10, yes 10, mistakes I make this winter and what I’m doing about them or need to do about them and how God has met me in each and every one of them.
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