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.

My Chronic Illness Journey

My Invisible

Chronic fatigue/myalgic encephalomyelitis (CFS/ME), adrenal fatigue, IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), fibromyalgia, food intolerances, migraines, dysmenorrhea & ovarian pain, disordered eating, depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts. My invisible illness journey, like so many others, was not easy. In fact, it was freakin’ hard. A mountain that I was too tired to climb.

Looking back, I’m proud that I made it through. I am so, so proud.

It was the end of October 2011 when I got sick. Over six years ago now. I was working as an au pair, or nanny, in Auckland and suddenly couldn’t get out of bed.

It was hard to see a cause at the time. I suppose it had been a stressful year, though I still think of that year as one of the best of my life. That was the year I met my husband and my best friend, and got to have a small part in raising two beautiful little girls. But, a family friend passed away in October. And I was a victim of cyber-bullying right at that time. Plus, my host mom was travelling a lot so I had more responsibility during that time. Maybe each of these played a role. Maybe it was a change in diet. I’m not really sure.

Mark and I had just started dating a couple weeks earlier. It was him who took me to all of the doctors, to the emergency room once, and to get blood work.

The first doctor urged me to take a week off of work (but really, I had no choice). She told me to stay somewhere else, if possible, so that I wouldn’t feel guilty around the house.

Confession: I still feel guilty about having to leave that family. I was never able to go back to work, and I know that was hard on them. When I came back after that week away, I could not get out of bed. I could hardly speak. Mark had to tell them that I couldn’t work anymore and I could hear them from my bed where I lay, immobile and helpless.

After I left there, I stayed in a small spare room in a house with some others my age. Mark had to bring me food, sometimes helping me to eat it. He even had to walk me to the bathroom at time – which is not how one wants to start a relationship.

I wanted so badly to just get better. But weeks turned into months, and I had just managed to get on a plane back to the States at Christmas.

Those with a sudden onset of chronic illness will understand the frustration of going from doctor to doctor with no diagnosis. Even if I tried to count all the doctors and specialists we went to, I couldn’t. I remember one doctor telling me that maybe I wasn’t breathing properly.

They first ruled out diabetes, thyroid, cancer, heart problems, etc. It was a couple months of just ruling out everything and spending a lot of money doing so. We drove four hours to a really nice hospital where they did several other tests, and still had no real answer. My gastroenterologist found pre-ulcers and gastritis and that was as far as we got.

No one wanted to diagnose me with CFS/ME (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/Myalgic Encephalomyelitis). The doctors didn’t seem to believe in it.

That made me feel worse because they didn’t believe that my symptoms were real. The people around me struggled to understand, and guilt chewed me up inside – even though none of this was my fault.

I do want to say that there were sympathetic doctors (and acquaintances) along the way – and I know they really, really wanted to help me. They just didn’t really know how. And I still think of them fondly. Caring people always make a difference – whether or not it’s the kind you’re looking for at the time.

My parents did a lot of research and we found Jacob Teitelbaum’s work on CFS/ME in From Fatigued to Fantastic!  I’m sure that what we did from his suggestions helped a little. I could help out with children’s programs at church most weeks.

It wasn’t until mid-2013 that we found a doctor near us who would really help us. He was an M.D. who had gone back and gotten a D.O. (Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine).

We brought our list, our script, and presented it to him, and I remember my mom and I crying with relief when he said, “I can help you.”

When you give someone hope, you give them power.

They did more tests – some that other doctors didn’t do because of the holistic nature of them – and found adrenal fatigue (which I had been tested for and not diagnosed) and bacteria that they believed I had from a trip to India and Nepal in 2007. They gave me a book called Adrenal Fatigue: The 21st Century Stress Syndrome by Dr. James L. Wilson. And I turned a corner.

After cutting out sugar, caffeine, dairy, and gluten, we added a probiotics, a powerful set of pills for

Our church was doing a Vacation Bible School that week and I did the class that I’ve done since I was 13 – and I realized that, hey, I enjoyed teaching.

I was feeling better and my doctor was really optimistic so I signed up to teach high school English in a small town close to home.

Those two years of teaching were phenomenal! Oh, how I loved it! I loved waking up and being able to get out of bed. Every day was a gift. There were still some bad days, but I always managed to recover. During this time, I did chelation therapy and continued to see my doctor. Though I used all of my sick days, I felt that my life could be full again. I was making a difference and I was happy.

Mark proposed (we had been doing long-distance for four years) and we planned a wedding in three months. We got married in November 2015 and came back to New Zealand after New Year’s.

I didn’t do so well after that. We had planned on me working, but I was sick all the time. We were happy, but my health took a turn for the worse.

We did some doctors again and tried different things – and the same things as before – but I was losing hope. I blogged to help me through the hard times (through a loneliness series, some lies we tell ourselves, and No-Sugar September posts). But after a few months, the brain fog and body fatigue were too much. I was in pain half the time and we just coasted until a couple of months ago.

During this time, my depression got worse. I felt suicidal at times. This is something that is important to realize about invisible illness: It is hard for us to stay hopeful. My husband helped me so much during this time. It could not have been easy for him to see me at my worst.

We had heard about this program called The Lightning Process for years, but hadn’t done it. We knew a couple of people that had been through the training by this time, so that helped us finally sign up.

I’m writing this post now without any brain fog. I’m not in pain. I’m not tired.

I am HAPPY and I am HEALTHY.

Just in the past week, I have done three huge walks and several shorter ones.

Two months ago, I would have struggled to do half of a short walk. And then I would probably have been in bed for a couple of days recovering.

I’m cooking and cleaning and showering whenever I want now! This sounds basic, but some days I had to choose between taking a shower or talking to a friend because both were exhausting. And there are people that are way worse off than I was.

I’d love for you to read about how I’m living a full life now. Tune in later this week to read about it! I hope it can help someone out there who feels hopeless, as I once did.

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.