sick (part ii)

When I woke up this morning, I couldn’t get out of bed.  My limbs felt like they were made of the iron that I lacked, and every time I moved I was crushed with a wave of dizziness and nausea.  I feel a little better after eating, sure.  But I’m leaving the country on Friday, so I’m a little nervous.  This isn’t a surprise, though, due to the fact that I ate too little yesterday and my iron levels, which are supposed to be 13-150, are less than 5.

I’ve been tinkering with the idea of writing this post for a long time now, and it’s ironic that this has given me the space I need to write it.  I talk to very few people about it, so this should be part confession and part discussion.

I can’t ever remember being truly healthy.  We’ve been trying to solve my health issues – stomach problems, low immune system, occasional anemia – for a lifetime.  Sometimes, it was fine.  Until last year, really, it was under control, and I didn’t really think about it.  But there would be days when I would wake up in the middle of the night so ill that I could not sleep.  I felt so frustrated, as though I was trying to calm my body like a crying child.  I would take the shaking and the pain and throw medicines and food at it.  I would throw up my dinner involuntarily at five in the morning, not understanding, and weep into my hands in anger as I watched the pale, blank sky and listened to the premature chirping of the birds outside my window.

I realized just recently the effect that my body’s had on my understanding of the relationship between the body and the soul.  I’ve always put such a heavy emphasis on the soul over the body, regarding the latter as broken.  This past year, I’ve getting pretty tired of my physicality.  It’s only in the past year or two that I’ve realized that there will be a resurrection of the body as well – John Donne’s helped me broaden my understanding immensely.  I’m trying to bypass the hatred and betrayal that I’ve felt to my corporeal form for so long.

This summer, I was finally diagnosed with celiac disease.

There was a week in between the autoimmune test’s positivity and the diagnosis where I thought a lot about what it would mean to know, and what it would mean to actually start getting better.  I thought I would have a sort of identity crisis.  Not in a basic theological way, of course, but in the details.  Celiac is genetic; I’ve had it for my entire life.  I broke out in eczema, one of its symptoms, when I was three days old.  Before I had a name, I had been identified by this disorder.  Did I sleep so much because it was part of my personality, or because of the fatigue? How much of me has been shaped by this? And who would I be without it?

I shouldn’t have worried so much.  Not much has changed.  In part, I’ve realized that celiac’s diagnosis makes a lot of sense.  All of the symptoms I’d been experiencing over the years stemmed from this one disorder.  Here’s how it works: people with celiac can’t digest any sort of gluten, which is a key part of foods like wheat, rye, and barley.  Because we can’t digest it, it slowly wears away at the digestive tract, causing inflammation, pain, and malabsorption.  This malabsorption leads to fatigue and deficiency in things like B-12 and iron.

When I was diagnosed, I was upset.  Having celiac means devoting constant attention to what you eat, because even a little bit of gluten sneaking in can wreak havoc on my whole system.  Gluten comes from the Latin word for glue, and so sometimes, it feels a little bit like I’m coming apart without it, but I’m learning to navigate it.  I may put up a page on this blog with a few tips for the newly diagnosed, or make a separate post on celiac advice.  The strangest part was this: the worse I got, the more wheat I ate.  I thought it was making me better – I saw it as the one thing that was ‘safe’.

For twenty years, I poisoned myself, thinking it was the cure.  If that doesn’t have theological implications, I’m not sure what does.  As humans, we crave the thing that kills us, and we turn for comfort to the very thing that will ultimately destroy us.  Even sin can be beautiful to us, drawing us into a comfortable dependence and our ultimate demise.  The things that are good for us are painful at first.  However, the more I eat the foods I can, the more disgusting the others seem.  The more we live with God, the more repulsive sin will become to us, and the healthier we will become.

So here’s to figuring out painful things, and moving in the direction of getting well.

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p.s. I’m fine, guys.  Haha.  This was a little dramatic. Do not worry.

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rest

Spring Break is finally here, and I know that it’s going to run through my fingers like water, but before that happens, I’m going to try to be nourished a little bit.  It’s good to be home, especially after the craziness of the first half of the semester.  This was the most needed break I’ve ever encountered.  I was sick for exam week last week (as I always seem to be), and after the staying up too lates and the studying for exams but not maybe enoughs and general exhaustion… I was immensely ready for Spring Break to start.  Coming from the ice to the sun was startling.

Much of the time, I use this as an excuse.  “I’m tired” is my knee-jerk response to anyone’s “Are you okay?”, even if it isn’t entirely true.  And often I justify my own laziness by telling myself that I really need the rest.

And here’s where it gets so confusing for me, because I can never quite draw that line between merited and lazy excuse.  I always have something to do.  Even if I ignore it with outward laziness and the procrastination of watching too much TV, my insides are twisted and fighting with each other.  Even if I don’t have something to do, I’ve got something to do.  School projects are queued in my head in a different line than personal ones, and there’s always a story I should be working on, a goal I shouldn’t have missed, things I should have done.

It’s a hard mental balance for me, but I’m trying to learn, and I’m trying to slide that scale somewhere in between apathetic procrastination and frustrated perfectionism; between extroversion and the life of a hermit.  What often happens is that I end up staying up much later than my body can deal with because procrastinate homework, try to keep up with my own writing (in this and in stories), and eventually do that same work.  I’m trying to limn.

We need rest.

We need to take breaks to refresh ourselves physically, mentally, spiritually.  I should have learned this long ago.  Physically speaking, I am prone to sickness, and I need more actual rest and sleep than many people.  I keep trying to push myself past that, but I need to stop and take care of myself.

Spiritually speaking, I need it even more.  The Holy Spirit will never deny you peace if you ask Him for it, but I must remember to ask.  The most common excuse for not praying or reading my Bible is “I’m too busy”.  But even Jesus went off by himself in order to pray and be renewed (Luke 5:16).

And here’s the thing.  It may take up more of your time than you think you can spare.  But there comes a moment when rest becomes the priority, because you are no good to anyone killing yourself over your work, whatever it is.  The “wasted time” that periodic rest takes up is small in comparison to what will happen if you burn yourself out.

It happens all the time, especially with artists of any sort.  The manic sort of focus on your work can be good, to a degree.  Constant desire to create is comforting and wonderful, but you have to balance it with the rest of your life.  God himself rested! And then put the Sabbath into place – not for us to follow the rules, but for us to have a set time of not working.  Sure, maybe I use my exhaustion as an excuse to be lazy sometimes.  But I think it’s better to give yourself room to breathe.  

So, no.  I probably won’t finish that play I’ve been working on this week.  And that’s okay.

On my way home, I encountered a group of guys on their way to an infinitely more needed break.  My friends and I hung out with a group of young soldiers who were all going home briefly before they headed off to their different assignments.  We talked while we waited for our delayed flights, and they told us that they were the military’s “truck drivers”.  Their group often drives over the IEDs.

And after complaining of my own tiredness for so long, this was a paradigm shift.  Talk about perspective.  I don’t know what will happen to them, and I don’t think I’ll see them again, but I will pray that they enjoy their short rest now and be able to find rest even in the midst of such hard lives.

In conclusion?  Sleep!  Rest!  Take time to step back and renew yourself for whatever you will create in the future.  I’m going to spend some time with God, my family, my friends, and my books.

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P.S.  Help, I’m still listening to Bastille… to use their wording, they’re properly mental.

sick.

My brother does this thing.

There are so many things that he could say instead, as most people do.  I’m sorry.  Feel better.  A soft, murmured, poor thing.  A pat on the back, a sympathetic groan, a thoughtful do you need anything?  They’re all things we say to people that are sick and really hurting, and they’re all perfectly wonderful things to say.  They truly make me feel a little bit better.

But my little brother looks up at you with a soft smile and offers up a quiet, songlike “I love you”.  Sure, he says the other things, too.  But somewhere in there that simple phrase softly emerges, putting emphasis on the love every time – “I love you” – as if those three words could go farther than a healing of the soul to a physical healing of my body.  And that seems ridiuclous at first.  Why would he say that?  Great, but how’s that going to make me better?  The thing is, I have never once thought that when I hear the words leave his mouth.  It never makes me bitter, because it’s hard to look at pure love and feel upset.

And I think my little brother has the right idea.  I think (as much as I want to separate the two) that the soul and the body are more closely linked than we imagine or want to believe.  Love is so much stronger than we even realize, and we don’t see that.  We look for complex solutions, pragmatic findings, things that can be tested and proven.  And of course this matters.  But sometimes – most of the time – we need to know that we are loved as much as we need medicine or the right diet.  It might not heal our bodies by itself (although I have no doubt that it helps), but it reaches in and heals our hearts.

When we’re the most vulnerable, all we want to know is that we are valued, loved, and cherished.  That’s why those other things mean so much, too.  The sympathy, hugs, acts of service.  They’re all ways of sharing an immense love, and it’s a beautiful things in the midst of feeling absolutely awful.

Love heals.  Jesus cares about our bodies as well as our souls – why else would he have healed all the people that he did?  It was a way to show his love and his power to them and also meet their needs.  Not only that, but he healed us completely, in all our being.  Jesus’ death on the cross for our sins was the ultimate sacrifice of his very life that brought the ultimate and eternal healing of our souls.  We’ll get new bodies, too, in a resurrection to mirror His.  We will beraisedwith Him to live in eternity, forever made new and forever healed.

I’ve had the flu since Sunday, when I woke up with a fever.  I’m not going to pretend that I’m enjoying this, or that this is how I really wanted to spend my Spring Break (truthfully, it’s pretty terrible).  It’s really, really difficult to find the bright side in spending my only week at home on the couch in the study, surrounded by meds, toast, blankets, a thermometer, and Netflix (okay, that sounds kind of nice, now add the flu).

But I am loved, and I know that.  I am loved so much more than I deserve.  And a hug, just being held by someone who knows full well that I’m contagious, is one of the most beautiful things in the world.

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Read this: “We love because he first loved us.” 1 John 4:19

Also, I read Blue Like Jazz (<click) a few days ago, and it was brilliant and amazing.  Go buy it now, or check it out from the library, or borrow it from a friend.  It’s beautiful, and fantastic, and honest, and I loved it.  I don’t really know how to explain it.  So read it, and maybe I’ll write a post on it soon.

See this: I’ve watched a heck of a lot of TV these past few days.  I wouldn’t recommend that telenovela or the end of the Mummy #3 (I think…?) where Brendan Fraser and his attractive British son use great teamwork to stab a Chinese mummy (uh)…  But the 1950’s version of The Importance of Being Earnest was pretty fantastic.  My family’s also forced me to watch a heck of a lot of Burn Notice, and I’ve watched some Phineas and Ferb (NO REGRETS).  Oh, and expect something soon about Breakfast at Tiffany’s.