Health and Wellness

The Boy I Could Have Been

I put my hand over my heart, and I begged it to stop rattling against my rib cage. Rain was hammering my bare flesh. The trees were suffocating me, and I was locked within them. If I stopped now, they would be my tomb. Strands of wet red hair clung to my face where salty tears mixed with freshwater raindrops. I was going to die.

Thorns and branches tugged at my limbs. They scraped my skin until pebbles of blood pooled along the surface. Wobbly legs led to a break in the forest where I could see an empty beach. Dark thunderclaps rolled in the distance. Waves broke along the shore, swirling and frothing with rage. The last time I was here the sun was kissing my cheeks. A cold pink popsicle melted over my fingertips and ran down the length of my arm. My cousins laughed and my mom handed over napkins with smile. This time, I was alone.

I gagged on the sobs I tried to contain as vomit threatened to burn my throat. My mom was probably being told that no one could find me. I imagined her pouring her heart into her hands as she screamed my name. I’ll bet she was giving people a description of the dress I was wearing. It had been so pretty this morning, with delicate blue flowers printed on white cotton. It wouldn’t be recognizable now. I used it to wipe away mud that was smeared up my legs. I raked my hands across the hem to unpack the grime from underneath my fingernails.

I had twirled my way to the campground showers like a princess. Yet the longer I waited for my cousins to finish getting ready, the more impatient I became. I decided to venture off towards the direction of the campsite on my own when one path turned into another. Had I gone to the left or to the right? Or maybe straight? If I could just get up higher… to see where I was, then perhaps I could find my way back.

I climbed a dune near the beach knowing that my mom would be furious. It was against the rules to be out here alone. Although I wasn’t normally a rule breaker, an exception was made in my mind for life and death situations. Yet the water would remain off limits even as the hot sand burned blisters into the bottom of my feet. The task to reach a higher perspective was daunting, and my leg finally gave out from underneath me.

A twisted piece of driftwood sliced through my arch and blood stained its bark crimson red. I screamed in frustration, my wound, throbbing. I sat back on my bottom with a hard thump so I could have a good cry. A random hiker might find the shoe that got sucked into the mud pit. Or maybe they would find the one I threw out of anger when I couldn’t get mud-pit-shoe out of the hole it sank into. I wondered if they would locate my body sometime after that. 

Using the back of my hand, I dried my tears. I was a tiny speck of blue and white among miles of rolling sand mounds. I would allow myself to cry but I wasn’t allowed to give up. When the sun broke through the clouds, I shaded my eyes by using my fingers like a visor. A boardwalk path leading back into the woods could been seen in the distance and I whooped for joy! I still didn’t know how to get home, but I might be able to find help. I sprinted and the mud smeared dress swirled torn and tangled behind me.

When I reached the path, the knots in my stomach cinched tighter. I had barely touched breakfast and it was nearly lunch time now. The walkway wound through an eerie marsh lined with stumps and dead limbs, but I tried to keep my mind focused. I giggled when a long tongue darted out from the muck to catch a fly but stuck to the frog’s green eyeball instead. The creature looked confused and wiggled his mouth a little which made me laugh even harder.

A seagull, suspended in flight tucked its wings against its body. It danced with the breeze at a dizzying speed. Through moody storm clouds and patches of sunlight it dived headfirst into the wind.

I bet he could see my way home… I wish I had wings like his.

I rounded a corner to find myself no longer alone with the frog, the seagull, and my thoughts. A stranger materialized and for a moment I was relieved that I might be saved. I wanted desperately to tell someone that I was lost. Yet the voice in my head told me that he was untrustworthy. He tried to appear friendly, but his blue eyes struck me as menacing as he squared his shoulders with mine.

“Where’s your mom?”  He asked and I groped for words to wield like a weapon.

“Catching up to me.” I stammer and point in the direction I had come from.

I have the sudden urge to run, so I do. I carry myself as far away from the stranger as I can. When I am out of breath, I think about how his eyes brightened when he thought he caught me out here alone and how they darkened when I pointed to where I wished my mom would have been. It gives me a second wind to pace myself so that my legs can pump even harder in case the man tries to catch up to me.

The boardwalk ended at a dirt road and a three-way junction. I didn’t know where else to go from here. My stomach roared with hunger. The sun tucked itself behind the clouds again so I could barely stay on the path. I was exhausted. My resolve to hold onto hope was weakening with every step. Then I heard something. The rumble of an engine. A man wearing a park ranger vest on the back of a four-wheeler was coming for me. His vehicle skid to stop and relief floods his expression as he shouted into a walkie-talkie that he yanked off his belt.

“I found her! I found her! Tell her mom that I’m bringing her back to camp now!” The static was electrifying.

Through tears of relief, I explained how I lost my shoes. As he doctored up my blisters, I talked about making my way to the beach to look for help only to find it empty. The ranger winced as he applied a sunshine yellow sticker to the cut on my foot. His kind face was contorted into a grimace as he told me that the beach was empty because a boy my age had drowned.

He had been ripped away from his family by an undercurrent. Search and Rescue had been on the water trying to locate him and they cleared the beach, but it was too late. When my mom heard a rumor circulating camp that a missing child had washed up dead on the beach, she thought that the kid might be me. She spent the hours I was missing praying that it was someone else’s child as she searched the campground trying to find me.

The ranger scooted forward and tucked me safely behind him. My legs suspended around the seat; my fingers griping so tightly that my knuckles turned white. I rested my head on the strangers back as we flew through the forest. Myhair waving goodbye to the marsh, the dunes, and the boy I could have been.  

Every year three to four people drown in Lake Michigan at or near the Indiana Dunes State Park. Men, women, and children have disappeared. One boy fell through a sand dune never to been seen again, and police in the area are still looking for three women who went missing on a beach full of out-of-state visitors.

While there have been other times throughout my life when I have gotten lost, I’ll never forget how lucky I was to be found that day. In moments when my health has tried to drown me, or in instances where I’ve felt like I couldn’t find my way, I remind myself to keep moving forward. As my grandfather use to say, “If you don’t know where you’re going, and you don’t know where you are…put one foot in front of the other.”

Health and Wellness

The Zebra Farmer

There’s a famous one-line quote that many doctors have heard in medical school that refers to looking for a diagnosis that’s more common than not. “If you hear hoofbeats, remember to think of horses and not of zebras.” The problem is that medically speaking… not everyone is a horse.

Six months after I got married, my husband and I sat down to a large cheese pizza and a movie. We did this little routine every Saturday night to ensure that we made time for one another as much as possible. Rob was stationed in South Korea, and we could never be sure when he would be shipped off for training or getting ready for war.

We lived in a two-bedroom, two-bathroom flat a few streets over from the Army base with a rice paddy in our back yard. It was our first home together and the minimum requirement that we would be living there (through military contract) lasted at least a year, but possibly longer. None of that mattered so long as we could be together… until the night that changed everything.  

I was positive that I had the stomach flu. By the time the movie ended, I wasn’t feeling so hot. My stomach churned, my face turned pale, and I made several trips to the bathroom to get sick. I had hope within that moment that everything would work itself out. That I would be feeling better again in a couple days.

That’s the funny thing about hope, in the beginning you have a lot of it. Yet as time wears on, it becomes the most dangerous emotion that someone who’s chronically ill can have. When days of being sick turn into weeks, and weeks turn into months… with no end in sight. You begin to lose it. You bargain for your life. Have another hospital stay, see another doctor. Sit down in your 100th exam room and hope has dwindled until there’s nothing left.

When you’re young you start out with the notion that all doctors are smart. You feel as if the world is full of incredible people, and that someone somewhere will know how to fix you. You move on to hoping that there’s a pill to take or a treatment to try that will give you a better quality of life. Yet you settle on symptom management. The ability to have more good days than bad ones… or just any good days at all.

My husband watched me waste away from being vibrantly healthy to counting the bones in my body just from looking at me. I weighed 64 lbs. Just a few pounds shy of the weight my almost eight-year-old boy is now. My body punished me for every morsel of food or liquid that passed my lips, and I was told more than once that I was probably going to die. I was racked with abdominal pain, and I couldn’t prevent myself from throwing up repeatedly no matter how much I begged to make it stop.

I reached a point where I longed for death. It took great effort to get dressed, to brush my hair, or just to walk from one room into the next. Upon trying to make my way to the hospital on base (The TMC), I would sit on the curb and lean away from traffic to avoid getting hit by cars when I passed out. I was transferred to a better hospital by ambulance, where doctors discovered that I had a kidney disease… which had nothing to do with regaining my able to eat.   

I went from having a needle phobia and being terrified of hospitals to showing up to medical exams for regular testing. I was forced into being dependent by allowing my husband to help wash my hair when I couldn’t do it myself. Rob spoon fed me broth or soup when my hands shook too much out of weakness from malnutrition. When he couldn’t be there, and we were back in the states (two years later) my mom helped take care of me.

All the while my husband was forced to continue going on training missions that kept him away from home for weeks at a time. He would stock the refrigerator and pray that I would still be alive by the time he came back home again. I was unrecognizable. He didn’t handle the new adjustment to my health very well. Alcoholism ran in his family, and he relied heavily on that to help him cope. Which began another kind of sickness that we had to fight to get through together.  

I spent nine years of my life more bedridden than not. I fought to avoid feeding tubes and TPN, I tried every medical miracle I could find (sometimes at the detriment to my body and peace of mind) because deep-down I wanted to live. I wanted a full life on my terms without lasting side effects from daily medications or being hooked up to machines that would barely help me survive.

Six months of testing at Mayo Clinic and I was diagnosed with a little-known illness called Gastroparesis. Which is the shortened medical term for stomach paralysis. To this day episodes of what I call GP strike fear and anxiety within my heart. It never fully goes away. It can become more manageable (like it did for me) but for the millions of friends I’ve made over the years through support groups… Gastroparesis doesn’t always get better with time (or in my case… with pregnancy). It can get so much worse.

I have a long list of zebra-like symptoms beyond Gastroparesis. Things that happen to me that can be explained under other diagnoses in which I was given, and things that can’t. I’ve had more than one near death experience and knowing my medical history… I’m sure there will be more. My husband and I have spent thousands of dollars trying to figure everything out only to walk away with less money in our pockets, and no answers to show for it.

One of my favorite primary care physicians I’ve ever had once told me that my medical history was so interesting, he took it to bed with him as reading material. While under his care, I contracted a rare parasite that no one in my area had experienced in almost 45 years. Upon returning to his office for a follow up exam, he shook his head, and we laughed over the absurdity of it together.   

When new doctors are forced into my life because physicians retire or move away, I am coaxed into relaying the bizarre sagas to fresh faces. The jaw-dropping reaction of disbelief is one I’m all-too familiar with. I can tell within the first five minutes of conversation whether that specific doctor can handle my case or not.       

Farm life and motherhood are my reasons for getting out of bed in the morning. There are moments when I am so overcome with pain that it takes everything within me to do the most basic tasks. My ability to run our farm, be a professional photographer, write, and build a small business is accomplished not because I’m young or feeling my best, but because I am resilient.

One of the many roses in my garden.
A picture of me right after I got pregnant. I got worse before I got “better”
I didn’t take pictures of myself very often but I took this one to show how much
weight that I was losing
Health and Wellness, Parenting

Thief of Joy

I can feel sweat sliding down my neck and slipping between my breasts underneath my shirt. Its continual dribble is saturating my bra with the scent of salt crystals. My nostrils flair because I’m worried that if I can smell it, someone else probably can too. I am convinced that my brain is swelling and smooshing against the confines of my skull. It must be that way because my mood has soured and I’m feeling forgetful, mouthy, and blatantly rude.

The day began with such promise but turned rotten when amid running errands during a Georgia heat wave, the air conditioning went out on my SUV. Even with all four windows tucked away and the breeze attempting to cool things down, I can feel my skin cooking like a rotisserie chicken set aside at Walmart. I don’t do golden brown though, I only do red. The flecks on my shoulders become more prominent but the rest of me looks like the underside of a baboon.

My husband kept talking. I would ask a question and he would snap at me while my son would repeat himself… and repeat… and repeat. My mind wandered and drifted off to laying on my bed at home in my underwear like a starfish. Air conditioning on blast, an iced tea in my free hand… or maybe it was an ice cream. My mouth watered at the thought of anything cold being pressed against my lips and lingering on my tongue. I would love for the water from a frozen swimming pool to graze across my skin right about now.  

“Maybe it’s a problem with the compressor… are you even listening to me?” He interrogated.

I wasn’t. The blowers were turned on but the only thing coming out of them were flames that were aimed directly into my face. He kept them turned all the way up because he had spent hours sitting in the Auto Zone parking lot messing around with parts underneath the hood. He wanted to see if he had fixed it yet, he hadn’t. He was doing it for me, but I just wanted it to be over. The vents stayed on blast while I was in the fast lane of being driven to insanity.

I wanted to feel ashamed for not considering the homeless people who have tents tucked underneath bridges in Atlanta. Yet I was selfishly focused on my heat intolerant body and my ability to avoid passing out so I could make it home… so I could identify as a pink naked starfish. The trip to the laundromat proved to be equally fruitless. I tucked my computer underneath my arm hoping to connect to the Wi-Fi, download some movies, write, and perhaps cool off a little. The problem was that their air conditioning had gone out too.

They used an extension cord to provide power to a massive fan as a way of circulating air flow and making things more comfortable. Unfortunately, a woman who didn’t have enough quarters for a dryer had emptied her wet belongings into the bottom of a cart while hanging her fitted bedding from the corners of the rack on top. The speed of the fan turned her bedding into a parachute that blocked the cool wind tunnel from caressing anyone or anything other than the clothes she wanted dried.

Normally I pay close attention to my body language but since I had lost my ability to sympathize, my foul mood and disgust was written clearly across my face. I should have considered that perhaps the woman was a truck driver, or someone who (in this current economy) was forced to live out of her car. It’s also possible that like me, she felt so delusional from the grotesque Georgia heat that she had forgotten all about the fact that they would dry rather quickly if she had only chosen to hang them up outside. I however didn’t think about any of those things before tossing dirty looks in her direction. She was the thief of my joy after all.

She tucked her yellow locks behind her ear, and I thought that it looked a lot like crunchy instant ramen noodles, so I made another face. I didn’t feel particularly proud of myself for thinking that way, but I was angry. Nor did I feel good about judging her life choices, yet I wouldn’t dare choose to wear white spandex in public on a day like this. As I sat there making mental notes, I assumed that perhaps this heat had her looking at me in the same light… or not. I didn’t care.

The woman stammered an apology. She tucked her sunny blue shirt into her leggings and fiddled with her hands as she tripped over excuses for stealing my happiness. It was too late; my back was turned, and I wasn’t listening. We loaded our small laundry pile into our plastic basket and onto the sticky leather seats of my car so we could head home. Relief at last!

As I lay like a naked starfish across the length of my bed, I didn’t radiate with joy like I thought I would. I felt cooler, I felt more levelheaded, but the only one I had to blame was myself. Rather than thinking rationally about my mood or my actions I allowed how I felt to determine how I treated people like my husband, my son, and even strangers within my orbit.

I could have scrounged my car for spare quarters to share. I could have thanked my husband for standing in the heat to rescue me even though he was frustrated too. I could have set a better example for my son. It’s hard to humble myself and ask for forgiveness. To point out that I didn’t do my best and that sometimes how I treat others is a dead give-away to what’s going on inside my head. My car runs. I have a house to go home to and yet, I was the thief today.

My blueberry lavender mental health milkshake 😋
My mental health reading list for this summer & for our big family trip to Glacier National park 🥰❤️
Health and Wellness

Fragile Lemon

I knew it was a bad idea the moment I had agreed to it. The gravity of how unbelievably stupid I had been didn’t fully register until I was holding on for dear life, staring at my muck boots while watching the ground skate underneath my heals. I kept recalling all the times I walked by a mirror and was struck by the realization that I’m not as young or as thin as I once was. My age and poor judgment left me with a crippled right hand, a limp, and a trip to the emergency room.

As I was withering on the ground with pain sending shockwaves through my body, I wondered how I was going to explain what happened to my friends and family. I didn’t last more than a handful of seconds before going bottoms up and mooning the evening sun. I tried to do a mental inventory of my extremities, but I had already assessed that something felt broken. Perhaps multiple things and there was no way I was going to be able to write for a while.

One moment I was screaming and the next moment I was uncontrollably laughing at the absurdity of the accident. My husband looked at me in horror. Blood was pouring down my hand, running over my arm, and dripping off my elbow. He doesn’t do blood. He handles it well because he was a soldier, but the sight of blood makes him sick to his stomach and causes his head to feel woozy.

“I’ve never seen someone get so injured going under five miles per hour. Why didn’t you hold on better?”

“ME? Why did YOU speed up?”

“Well, we’re not exactly tiny people Lish. I had to build up momentum!”

“Yet I was begging you to stop! I think I broke something. No, I KNOW that I broke something.”

He helped me limp my way to the house by slinging my arm around his shoulder and we left that stupid minibike where it fell. If I didn’t need one good leg to stand on, I would have kicked it out of spite as we were hobbling by. I had spent all day gardening. I was sunburnt, exhausted, and possibly a little heat sick. That’s the only reason why I recalled agreeing to his request. That and my desire for a little excitement. The walk up our driveway had looked especially daunting and the thought of a cool breeze getting tangled in my red hair sounded magnificent.

“Want a ride to the house?” he asked

“It’ll be fun! Come on… live a little. You won’t have to walk!”

“You’ll be fine!”

It looked like a bad idea. I said as much but he’s always good at talking me into stepping outside my comfort zone. Yet a conversation I had with Izzy just a week or two before didn’t resurface until after the accident. Rob had attempted to convince her to ride on the back of that stupid minibike too. She came into my bedroom laughing about how ridiculous someone would have to be to take him up on it. She talked about how there was no way they both would fit because there was barely enough room for one adult person. That’s when I told her that saying “No” was probably the smartest decision she had made that day. Yet somehow, I had forgotten to say no.

“Eighteen years babe. You should know by now not to listen to my bright ideas.”

I snorted, laughed, and then admitted that he wasn’t wrong.

Two broken fingers in my right hand, tons of bruising on my side, a possible fracture to my right kneecap, and I had obtained some wicked road rash on my palm and knee as well. I almost needed surgery and I had to re-learn how to do things. I still have months of physical therapy to tackle in order to get my middle finger to bend correctly. What’s interesting is that this isn’t even the first time that I’ve broken the exact same middle finger.

I can no longer make a fist without flicking people off which to be honest… may have come in handy a time or two. Yet I didn’t grasp just how messed up I was until the night after the accident when it took over two hours to open the bottle of painkillers that the doctor had prescribed me. Or the almost three hours it took me to accomplish farm chores the next morning (not including all the regular housework I had to do later in the day). Hauling feed, tossing hay, washing dishes, opening packages were only a few of the things I began to dread doing.

While contemplating the state of my existence and waiting in line to order my favorite drink from our local coffee shop… the barista asked me what had happened to my bandaged hand. I laughed nervously, trying to decide if I should add the fact that I injured myself on a mini dirt bike or if I should go ahead and leave that part out to make myself sound cooler. In the end, I relayed the truth of it and had her grinning. Then with a mischievous spark in her eyes, she said something that profoundly changed the way I saw myself… curvy body and all.

“Yeah… but at least you got on!”

At least I got on. I stepped outside my comfort zone. I tried something extremely stupid. I failed, but I got back up and I had been physically and mentally open to doing something spontaneous. As my husband had slung my arm around his neck to help me limp back to the house, he beamed at me and shook his head.  

With a chuckle in his throat, he said “Think of it this way my fragile lemon… you have a good story to write about.”

He wasn’t wrong.

Taken with my “good camera” of one of the ducklings on our farm a couple years back.
A cellphone picture I took of Nikolai and his cousins playing with our baby ducklings in our kitchen sink.
Health and Wellness

Discarded Fear

I sat on the dock with my feet dangling over the edge. Wisps of my red hair that had mixed with the salty sweat on my forehead and neck had practically glued themselves to my skin. I tried to pry them away by piling the mass of flames onto the top of my crown to cool myself but they just kept tumbling back down again. I felt sticky and it made the humidity that much more unbearable. Maybe that’s why the idea popped into my head in the first place. A combination between the wicked Tennessee heat wave I had been enduring and the stress that war had brought into my life.   

Fear constantly played in the background of my mind like static taking over a good song on the radio. Somehow the events of the day had subdued it for the time being. It was as if someone turned down the volume just long enough to quiet my insecurities so I could enjoy myself for a spell. The worry that my husband might not make it home was still there, it just played a little softer. My irrational fear of deep dark water was still there too. The fact that I never really got the hang of swimming any more than I could flail my arms during a doggie paddle. A graceful swan dive wasn’t within my skill set so it probably wasn’t the best idea. I also never really got over that weird self-conscious feeling whenever I was forced to undress in the girl’s locker room.

Hush.  

Hush.  

Hush.  

I swirled my toes around the murky darkness at the edge of the bank. It was a fear facing kind of night. The stars danced on the water like fireflies in the middle of summer. The moon shattered into pieces of light over the lake and three of my favorite girlfriends gathered around me. We laughed together after a full day of trail riding horses and eating buttered popcorn for dinner. We smelled like manure and bug spray which made me happy even though in the back of my mind I knew that somewhere in Afghanistan my husband was probably running from mortars. Every day without him was a struggle. I thought a lot about death in between the moments of living my life and I needed an escape.

I was the girl that never really took risks- unlike my husband who pulled me out of my comfort zone whenever he had the opportunity to do so. Mid-twenties at the time and I had never been drunk (I still haven’t). I had never so much as considered trying drugs, and I certainly never put a cigarette to my lips. I was proud of that (I still am), but I wanted to know what freedom felt like. To not be so wrapped up in worry that it prevented me from actually living my life. To all my church friends I was the “bad girl” who made inappropriate sex jokes because I grew up in Chicago. I thought they were funny… they didn’t. Yet to all of my non-Christian friends, I was the religious kill-joy who played it safe and ruined their fun.

All of those things encompassed who I was to some degree or another and yet none of them expressed me at all. There was a whole other version of me that very few got to know. Sure, I was uptight at times. Yet my soul had been searching for the kind of freedom that came with letting go of what was expected of me and finally doing the things that made me happy. I needed liberation from the prison I had built within myself. I looked at the water rippling below me and I couldn’t shake how good it might feel to be fully submerged. To quench the heat of the day. To put a stop to thinking endlessly about what could go wrong and just enjoy everything that could go right.

The tree frogs serenaded one another and the crickets joined in harmony. My friends and I talked about our lives. We cried over things we had never spoken out loud before. We howled over shared memories that had long-since passed and the mood of the night unchained me, link by link. The background noise in my head sounded a lot more like my husband’s voice of reason and his endless support.

“We should go swimming.” Did I say that out loud?  

“We don’t have enough swimsuits.” My blonde friend replied pouting with disappointment.

“Do we really need them?” I pondered.  

“You mean like… skinny dipping?” My brunette friend giggled.  

“Why not?” My heart was racing as I said it.   

How deep was the lake again? I couldn’t remember. Could my feet touch the bottom? Doubtful. Weren’t there fish in there? Probably.   

Snakes? Most definitely.   

It was too late to take it back; a pact of trust had been made. All four of us left piles of discarded clothing on the landing. I pulled the hair tie from my tresses and curled my toes around the edge of the pier. My stomach lurched and goosebumps sent a shiver over my spine but the rest of me was still. My bare-bottom faced the woods but I was locked on the rippling reflection of the sky beneath me. I took in several gulps of air, squeezed my eyes shut, and squealed before launching myself into the milky way.   

Twisted red locks suspended like a halo and my heart paused for a moment. I left everything I had been afraid of behind me with the heap of laundry that I didn’t need. Within that moment I was the brave one. Within that moment, I could do anything I set my mind to and I could do it on my own. The lake kissed my flesh with ice water as I plunged below the surface. It was a shock to my mind. I was swimming naked in an inland with no bottom while facing some of my biggest fears. My soul had never tasted such joy… right up until my foot touched something slimy.

My pale legs danced beneath me and parted water to keep me afloat. I imagined that I looked something like a gladiator or a goddess because that’s how I felt. To everyone else I probably looked like a fish slapping its fins against the shore and begging to be released… but it didn’t matter. A whippoorwill cried out from the darkness like my soul had been reaching towards the light.

I didn’t need anyone to help me get there. No hand holding was required as I stood at the edge of the pier. I did that all on my own. There’s a sense of empowerment when you tackle things you didn’t originally feel comfortable doing. You become washed in pride over having proved to yourself that you could do the unthinkable. A caged bird no longer, fear facing nights are the kind of nights that set you free.  

So tell me, what fears have you faced and how did coming to terms with those fears help you? 

An old image of me before I had my son
Back when I was a lot skinnier 😉
Health and Wellness

The Value in Being Validated

I am no stranger to doctor appointments or hospital visits. My favorite primary care physician once told me that my medical records were so interesting that he took them to bed with him as reading material. I laughed and told him that interesting wasn’t the word I’d use to describe them. I’m thirty five years old but before my twenty fifth birthday I had already had several close calls with death. I’ve seen more specialists in the past seventeen years than most people see in a lifetime. Yet if you had asked what the hardest part about being sick has been for me… I would have told you that it was going through the motions unheard.

I would spend weeks or months counting down the days until my next big doctor appointment. I would carefully make a list of talking points, plan out what I was going to wear, and even decide what kind of makeup to use… all because my life depended on it. Within the few minutes of meeting a new doctor and going over my case with them I could tell whether or not they were going to write me off. If I looked too pretty I was labeled as having psychological issues instead of physical ones. If I wasn’t put together enough, I was (in their mind) a possible drug seeker. If I looked too young… I was a healthy woman physically but a hypochondriac, or a woman who had severe anxiety problems and a nervous stomach.

If the doctor chose within those first five minutes to write me off, then the process of finding someone else and having to wait for an appointment time would start all over again. It would pull me back into the cycle of trying (and failing) to manage symptoms on my own over and over again. I would pin all of my hopes on receiving a diagnosis or finding a doctor who would take a moment to hear me out. Someone that could possibly provide me with the knowledge and power to change my life for the better. Yet when those hopes were dashed… I wanted to claw my way under the silver and white comforter on my bed and stay there.

To say that my quality of life was significantly diminished would have been an understatement. At one point I weighed sixty four pounds… total. I knew if I didn’t fix it, I was going to die. While trying to figure out why I couldn’t hold food down, my doctors discovered by accident that I had a kidney disease. From vomiting, to severe weight loss (then later rapid weight gain), to random fevers, OBGYN trouble, unusual swelling in my limbs, heart and blood pressure issues, to kidney trouble, vertigo, unconsciousness and beyond. Every day of my life was a challenge (and still is).

I can count the doctors I credit for giving me hope again on one hand. Not a diagnosis. Just the ability to have hope that someone was willing to fight for me. When compared with the money spent seeing hundreds of doctors throughout my life… it’s a tragedy. All they had to do to be counted was to take the time to listen. I had more respect for the OBGYN who tried to think outside the box than I did for the OBGYN who brushed off my suffering and told me to only come back and see her when I had my yearly physical exams.

Upon being sent to a cardiologist recently, I sat in the waiting room with one foot out the exit. Having experienced things like severe high blood pressure, unconsciousness, heart palpitations, forgetfulness, feeling jittery, and my hands shaking uncontrollably… my husband pushed me to be seen by a specialist. My husband was afraid that I would have a stroke, but I was afraid that it would end up being another useless endeavor.

This time will be just like all the others” I told myself as I tapped my foot impatiently. I was so sure of it.

I felt that it would be a total waste of time and that our money was better spent elsewhere. Another long battle to find the right doctor to figure out how best to fix me (with medication) or to help me learn to live with my new symptoms. When I was finally ushered into an exam room, I started answering questions being fired at me by the nurse. Ten or fifteen minutes went by after she had left, a short elderly gentlemen entered. He announced that he was my doctor but I only felt relieved because I couldn’t wait to get the whole thing over with. He started off by asking me if I still had fevers. I’d been struggling with them again for several days.

How did he know about that?” I wondered thoughtfully.

He went into great detail about reading my medical history all the way through my time spent at Mayo Clinic many years ago. I began to feel impressed, most physicians wouldn’t take the time to get that far. He went over my kidney disease, my stomach illness, and even read the report that had my autoimmune specialist puzzled. I discussed being a wife and a mother while trying to find balance with my health. I talked about having a small farm, and struggling to accomplish daily tasks. I revisited times when I had left a shopping cart full of groceries sitting inside a store so I could return home quickly in order to rest. I didn’t have to say anything he didn’t already know, but he listened anyway.

When we got done discussing my case, he looked me in the eyes, touched my hand and said “I can’t fix everything, but I think I can help you.”

My eyes overflowed with emotion, fat drops stormed down my cheeks. I sobbed and asked him if I could hug him before wrapping my arms around his shoulders. After we discussed testing, treatments, and follow-up appointments, he bowed his head and prayed with me. Before I left he said I seemed like a kind woman who just wanted her life back. His words planted seeds of hope not because he knew what was wrong with me, but because he spent time listening. He made me feel safe and he validated my concerns. I walked out of his office feeling like I didn’t have to carry my burden alone anymore. Someone was on my team.

You don’t have to be a doctor to validate someone. You just have to be the kind of friend who listens. It takes such little effort on our part to change someone’s life by letting them know that they are being heard. To remind them that they have someone on their team. We get so wrapped up in our own lives that we forget to nurture others. Just the other day I caught myself making this grave mistake while I was talking to my mom and I had to correct myself. The true value in being validated is that burdens become lighter when they’re shared. If you really want to see someone bloom… take the time to listen and plant seeds of validation.

Roses from my garden
Some of my favorite garden blooms
Helping others bloom will add to the joy in your life