How I Got Better (from Chronic Invisible Illness)

How I Got Better (2)Whew! It has been such a long journey – six years of invisible illness. But I am finally better. As you can imagine, this is a very exciting post for me!

You can read about my journey here, but today I want to talk to you about how, today, I am living a full and healthy life again.

I had survived one of the worst winters of my life. The cold, the dark, and the damp weighed on me – and added to the fact that most days, I could not leave the house.

If you know me (the real me), you know that I am naturally a vibrant person. I get excited about everything and anything. The real me is overly optimistic. I am so positive and I love to smile at anyone and everyone I see.

But, these months, I was not excited at all. I really felt hopeless. I wasn’t really trying to get better because I didn’t know how I could possibly be my old self. I didn’t know how being in bed all day, every day would give me a fulfilled life. And on top of that, how could my husband live his whole life with someone that couldn’t help him cook or clean – someone that couldn’t share the things he loved to do, like camping or hiking?

Life wasn’t fair – not to me and not to my husband.

I knew that I was losing myself, and Mark (my husband) kept telling me that I could get better. I was drowning.

One week, I made it to church, but I couldn’t stop crying. A lady from church let me cry on her and I think that they was the start of change for me. I still felt mostly hopeless, but people started to pour into me. A couple of people came to visit me because they realized that I was stuck at home most of the time on my own.

During this time, we met a man who had done something called The Lightning Process, a training program by Phil Parker. He had had CFS/ME (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/Myalgic Encephalomyelitis) for something like 12 years when he did it, and now he is so much better. We had heard of the program, but it’s quite expensive. And also, we’d spent a lot of money on doctors already.

But Mark came back from a friend’s house one night. They had been talking about my health and how down I was getting. The conversation led to The Lightning Process. Mark came home to me laying in bed again. He told me that we should do it.

So we started the process. Money was the hard part – but people helped us without us even having to ask. The money gifts that they gave us were such a blessing. I like to think that their generosity helped give me my life back.

And when others heard that we were going to do this program, they began to pray. People from around the world were praying.

I have to admit that I was scared. I didn’t know what to expect. And I didn’t know for sure that it would work. But after I sent in my application form and Skyped with Michele (who does The Lightning Process training in Auckland), I began to feel hope. In fact, as soon as she accepted me, I felt such peace.

The hardest part was believing in myself – that I deserved to be well. It seems silly, but there was this lie that I was believing – a lie that said that I deserved to be sick.

But no one deserves to be sick. It was never in God’s plan that any of us suffer.

And if others don’t deserve illness and pain, then why should I believe that I do?

The Lightning Process is a three day seminar. Mine took place in the trainer’s home, where I went from 12pm – 5pm Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. I wondered how I would handle five whole hours with other people. But I did.

I practiced and I practiced what she taught me. And I went back the next day. Then I practiced some more.

What I want to tell you is not that The Lightning Process changed my life (though that may be true). It’s not that Michele changed my life (though I’ll use the tools she gave me for the rest of my life). I won’t tell you that the love and prayers of churches around the world helped me get better (though I know for sure that they did).

What I want to tell you is this: God is not finished with me, yet.

God is not finished with Ashley Ruth Stirling.

He is not finished with me. And he is certainly not finished with you.

There is always, always, hope in the darkness.

I now believe that God gives us all the tools that we need – right inside these amazing brains that he created inside of us. I believe that when God’s word says in Romans 2:2, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God”, it is giving us hope.

I have been changing the direction the neuro-pathways in my brain move. Where I believed lies, I now see truth. Where my mind said pain, I now say relief. Where my mind said fatigue, I now say energy. God gives us these tools, and I have been told how to use them.

The Lightning Process is not Christian at all, but I love how it has changed how I understand God’s will for me. Since that seminar, I have learned so much about Christianity.

I have been out of bed. The second day, I cooked and was not tired. This was a miracle. The third day, I left the seminar, drove a ways, and climbed to see a gannet colony.

Since then, I have been doing normal human activities daily. I have climbed hills – hills that I watched my husband and friends leave to climb while I stayed back in my rest that did not end. Until now.

I have been doing the laundry! I have been able to shower – every day! I have been able to hold conversations with people around me. I have been able to love my husband better. I have been able to love myself better.

God is not finished with me, y’all.

He is lavishing his love and mercy on me every day.

He wants to do the same for you – for all of us.

Thank you for all your support through my darkest times. I pray and hope that these words I write resound in every corner of your heart, mind, and soul: God is not finished. Not yet.

Not ever.

Unrealized Dreams of a Chronic Fatigue Sufferer

Unrealized dreamAnyone else out there a dreamer?

I have so many big plans, and I’ve always been very conscious of making my life a good story. I’m “closing in on 30”, as my dad puts it. But, I have a countless number of goals. My head is always spinning with ideas – a centrifuge with no output.

When I grow up, I want to make a difference.

I want to be an adventurer.

I want to be an artist.

I want to be an author.

Six years ago, I could act on my dreams – on the plans that God had for me then. I’ve travelled. I wrote a little book. But now, everything is a blur because I have an invisible illness. My mind is a cloud, and I’m endlessly searching through that cloud for some release from brain fog so that I can get on with my life. I wake up each morning wanting to be normal again. Some days when I feel better, I find hope. I feel like I might be normal again. So I start dreaming.

I dream of keeping a meaningful blog going.

I desire to be an important part of our church.

I dream of being a speaker at a women’s retreat. At a youth camp.

I hope to open a women’s center. Soon.

I dream of running a café.

I yearn for the opportunity to teach underprivileged students.

I dream of being healthy enough to go hiking whenever my husband wants.

I dream a lot of things. And some aspects of what I dream get done. But, I need more help than I can say to do them. I need encouragement. I need grace from friends, family, and church members. And I feel ineffably thankful when I receive any affirmation at all. It keeps me going.

I want to be well. I don’t want to have CFS/ME anymore.

I want to be more than a dreamer.

I want to be an active character in my own life story.

Depression & Loneliness: The ‘Tug-of-War’

“Loneliness reflects how you feel about your relationships. Depression reflects how you feel, period.”

– John Cacioppo, author of Loneliness

out with the old (1)

As you know, we have had many conversations about loneliness since this blog began. We’ve talked about how important it is to get to know yourself and be able to be alone and be content at the same time (finding the inner person); we’ve discussed being in tune with others and ways to get out there (finding the other person); and, we have tossed out the idea that spirituality can help us climb out of loneliness (finding the upper person). But we have only barely begun to touch on the subject of depression. How does depression relate to loneliness? Does loneliness have anything to do with depression? Are they one and the same?

Before we can even begin, we need to know some basics about depression. Like loneliness, it carries an indescribable weight along with it – one that a simple word cannot communicate. The depression we are talking about here is clinical depression. Doctors define clinical depression as having some/all of these symptoms:

 

–          Ongoing sadness; crying frequently

–          Sudden weight loss or weight gain

–          Change in appetite

–          Feelings of emptiness

–          Feelings of worthlessness or helplessness

–          Feelings of guilt

–          Anxiety or feelings of restlessness

–          Difficulty remembering, focusing, or making decisions

–          Fatigue, low energy

–          Apathy toward what you once found exciting

–          Aches/Pains

–          Insomnia, or trouble sleeping

–          Suicidal thoughts

Some of these symptoms, as you can probably see, are also symptoms of loneliness. Ongoing sadness, crying, worthlessness, guilt, restlessness.

We’re quick to find one-word labels for our problems, but truthfully, we are more complex than that. We are whole people, and our mind, body, and spirit are separate but all a part of us. So sometimes loneliness becomes a symptom rather than the problem. And sometimes depression becomes a symptom rather than the root problem. Psychiatrists have known for a while that loneliness often accompanies other conditions. But a study by Segrin showed that the “most common pairing was intense manifestations of both loneliness and depression” (Cacioppo 83).

Loneliness is bad enough on its own.

Depression is definitely bad enough on its own. I think it’s one of the very worst possible maladies one could ever contract.

Their relationship is stormy. They are a paradox – a yin and yang – both separate and whole. They feed each other. They feed off of each other. They pull each other & push each other. They fight each other, and they fight as a team against you.

Loneliness with Depression

Loneliness is a common “feeling” – one to which any human can relate. So, when we feel lonely and wanting companionship and deeper friendships, we can get to a point where our loneliness actually leads us into depression. Many physical illnesses unrelated to depression eventually lead to depression just because the sick person begins to feel loneliness. As the person continues to feel isolated in their illness or in their disability, they begin to feel lonely. Other factors lead them on a path that continues on into deep depression through stress factors and physical trials.

Depression with Loneliness

Depression is also common, but not so widely felt as loneliness. Though many people struggle with clinical depression, not everyone can relate to a chronic, constant state of sadness and apathy. Though loneliness can be immensely difficult, depression can be debilitating.

When we experience depression, it is because we are deficient in serotonin. This, then, causes feelings of being alone. The voice in our head tells us that we are alone. Alone-ness becomes a state of being, not a feeling. We cannot feel happy emotions. We, ironically, feel apathy. We feel the lack of feeling, and we experience that apathy deeply. Our ability to reach for others is stunted. We can become passive, and in so doing, we can become dangerously lonely.

The Tug-Of-War: ‘D’ versus ‘L’

Untitled design (2)In one corner of the ring, we have Depression. Down-and-Out ‘D’, trying to prepare to battle it out. He grabs one end of the rope and sighs. His odds don’t look promising.

In the opposite corner, Loneliness gives a shy smile. Left-Out ‘L’, bends down and holds the other end of the rope with one hand. Will he even try? Will he succeed?

They stand off. Down-and-Out ‘D’ against Left-Out ‘L’. The crowd sits back and wonders. Many of them leave. It’s not going to be an exciting match. These opponents are opposites, but they look like twins. They could join each other and fight against you easily.

Even though they are similar, Cacioppo the “loneliness expert” says this: “Loneliness, like hunger, is a warning to do something to alter an uncomfortable and possibly dangerous condition. Depression makes us apathetic. Whereas loneliness urges us to move forward, depression holds us back” (Cacioppo 83). Because they are linked in this way, loneliness seems to pull depression, and depression seems to push loneliness. It is a tug-of-war, a link that can be broken. But the lack of ability to control thinking and decision making makes it difficult for both to stop pushing and pulling.

Answers

On both sides of the tug-of-war, depression and loneliness are stuck. An outside influence is needed to break the chain. This can come in the form of an outside helper, an inside helper, and/or an upper helper – like we talked about. Medication may be needed for depression, even a little spark of desire to get better can come from within, and a look at the big picture or a spiritual identity can help you from beyond yourself or anyone else.

The thing is that we need to fight back. We need to catch depression at the onset and seek help. We need to notice loneliness and take action. If there is a long road ahead, we need to learn how to cope during the healing process – in the in-between no matter how long that may be.

We need to help others with these. We need to fight for each other. You may be the outside force for someone else. You may save a life.

Loneliness and depression are intertwined – both friends and enemies. Both hard to get rid of. I battle both often, and I’ve learned to let others help me. I’ve learned to help myself. And I’ve learned to look up. My hope for you is that you can get through these tough days and find hope. My hope is that you find joy – that you find meaning in the darkness.

Right now, I am filled with joy and I feel content. I pushed through yesterday and have found today. It’s possible. You and I don’t know what tomorrow looks like. But today can be joy. Hold on to that hope. It’s a weapon you can use to fight back.