Hoping and Coping With a Disability

We who have disabilities have certain limitations. We understand that and, with the passing of time, we accept them. But we also have abilities in addition to those limitations.

If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time, you know I’m manic-depressive. Or, to use the more common name for it, I have bi-polar disorder. People who are bi-polar are limited in different ways; limited in as many ways as there are people with the diagnosis, I imagine. And so it is with anyone who lives with chronic illness or a disability.

I believe that, although people with chronic illnesses and disabilities have limitations, most of us aren’t constantly “suffering.” What we’re doing is learning how to manage it; we’re living our lives and sometimes even thriving. Sure, we struggle sometimes.  But we also have hope. We manage to put one foot in front of the other (so to speak) and do the necessary things to have a relatively good life.

Stress exacerbates any chronic illness, so we must avoid situations we’ve discovered we can’t handle as easily as someone without a disability. The symptoms we often have because of stress could be mental or emotional. They could manifest as physical symptoms.

Please don’t expect us to make important decisions when we are sick. If we’re experiencing a flare-up or an episode of the illness, we may in fact, need your patience as we make simple decisions to just get through the day.

If it seems we’re being irritable, you’re right. Some disabilities are noted for having an irritability aspect. For me, this is one of the first symptoms I display when I begin a manic phase–even before I begin the ‘hyper’ activity. I think I can speak for many when I say this is another aspect of having a disability we wouldn’t suffer if we didn’t have to. Most of us have a great attitude toward life. We don’t complain all the time and we’re generally nice people. But if we’re in pain or not able to think our way out of a paper bag, we can get grumpy. Hey, everyone gets grumpy occasionally; people with disabilities are no different.

Some of the ultimate limitations are being bed-ridden; inability to communicate our needs effectively; a temporary inability to handle being in public or with groups; not being able to work; and the necessity for some sort of support equipment (i.e., wheelchairs, oxygen, inhalers). However, many disabilities are what we refer to as “invisible.” Please don’t assume someone isn’t struggling just because they don’t need equipment.

As far as our hope is concerned:

For the most part, we rely on being educated about our specific disability. Knowledge is power and when we understand what’s going on in our bodies, we’re better equipped to respond to the symptoms. Then we go from being helpless to being able to manage, to a certain degree, what’s happening. We might not be able to rid ourselves of the physical (or mental) state, but we can usually control what we do. We can control our attitude toward our illness and the world around us.

Many of us practice some sort of faith. We rely on worship and prayer and are grateful when our friends and loved ones pray for us.

People with disabilities usually need to grieve their health. That process may be subtle and we may not even realize grieving is what we’re doing. Frankly, our irritability might be happening because we’re moving toward acceptance of our limitations. I mean, who wants to come out and say, “I simply can’t do some of the things I want to do”? But acceptance is one key to handling our problems.

I’ve learned that having a good day might mean leaving the house and moving my focus off myself. I can get the proverbial shot in the arm by simply having a brief conversation with a neighbor or calling someone on the phone to chat. I write letters and notes to friends and family members. Engaging in hobbies or learning a new skill helps too.

People with disabilities have much to offer. We might not be able to work even part time jobs. But we can volunteer, we can engage in our communities as advocates for something we’re passionate about, and we can offer a compassionate ear to someone who’s struggling with an illness because we’ve been there ourselves.

Over the years, I’ve discovered what Helen Keller said is also true for me.

“I thank God for my handicaps for through them I have found myself, my work and my God.”

Seeing my illnesses as something I can learn about and learn from helps me to keep a positive outlook even during a flare-up. I know God is with me. Even during a psychic ‘crash,’ I know that when I pray, God hears me. I don’t look like I’ve got it together–and I don’t. But I trust that God is in control.

Today, I’m believing less in “self-help” and relying on “God-help.” Ironically, in my most vulnerable states, I realized God can make me strong. In our world many of us think we must declare our independence. We believe our dreams are a result of hard work and self-sufficiency. While there’s nothing wrong with hard work, I prefer to declare dependence. On God.

Having a disability doesn’t make me less human. It doesn’t mean my limitations define me. Having a disability doesn’t mean I can’t make contributions to society. I’m a person living my life with purpose because God has promised me that I can.

 

Author’s note: I don’t claim to know everything about every chronic illness. I know some illnesses make an individual totally unable to make decisions for themselves and caregivers are needed to help them navigate life. This post about the abilities and limitations of people with disabilities is not all-inclusive or meant to be medical advice. The comments herein are taken from observations of my friends’ conditions, conversations with those individuals, and my own experience with several chronic illnesses. For those interested in such things, many support groups exist addressing the needs of a variety of illnesses.

 

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A Peace That Transcends Everything

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:4-7; emphasis mine).

Truthfully, the current patterns of the world are not worse than ever. Hard to believe, but it’s true.

We are in no more danger sitting at home in our living rooms than the ancients were. There has always been war. We have always seen unrest in families. Children have always, unfortunately, been neglected or abused. Economies crash. People betray us. Loved ones die.

Sin took its toll on Earth and we have never been the same. At one time, it got so bad that God flooded the earth and saved only one family.

Believe me, this is not meant to be a gloomy article or a prophecy about what God has in mind for us if we don’t obey. Today I merely point these things out because they are the reality we have always lived in.

However, for those who trust God in everything, we have hope. We also have peace because we know that, no matter how things look right now, keeping an eternal perspective presents the reality our Lord showed us.

Are you struggling today with unrest in your family? Is someone sick or have a chronic illness? Does your financial situation look sick as well? Is a loved one fighting to defend freedom in a foreign country and you wait while they come home? Are you grieving?

Whatever the situation, God will, if you ask, give you wisdom, strength to endure, and the knowledge you need to come through your struggle. You can be at peace when you understand how faithful he is.

God “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust” (Matthew 5:45). Even though he sends the rains, he has compassion on those who suffer. Because God has shown me mercy and because I finally acknowledge that, I can have compassion on people who, a few years ago, I would have shown indignation. I might have even been angry with them without knowing their individual circumstances. It’s a humbling thing for God to show me how arrogant I can be.

Our struggles are temporary like everything else in the world. To keep this in mind also helps to endure and press on. Today, know that I’m praying for you. I don’t know your struggles, but God does, and he’s there for you when you call on him.

Heavenly Father, please help those reading this to know the peace which passes all understanding. Not a peace as the world gives through temporary things, but the peace which you give. Your love for us means you are faithful to provide, to still our hearts, to heal. Thank you for giving your Son, Jesus, who is our Savior and Friend. Amen.

 

Contentment as a Way of Life

“I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:11-13).

The apostle Paul is saying he learned contentment by trusting the Lord for everything. Knowing God is in control of every aspect of our lives is the “secret” he talks about. If God’s eye is on the sparrow, know that He watches over you.

Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” (Matthew 6:26)

God is Good, All the Time

When I hear people say, “God is good” after they’ve heard good news, I wonder just when they think he isn’t good. There’s a fancy word for saying God is unchanging: immutable. It’s another aspect of his being. God is always good.

That’s why when you hear someone say, “God is good all the time,” even though it sounds trite and cliche, it’s praise that’s closer to the truth of who he is.

Don’t forget that today. Even if stuff gets hard; you’re mystified over what in the world is going on; people are acting like noodle-heads; or you’re hurting physically or emotionally. You know how it is. It’s like the cheese just fell off your cracker. Well, God has it all under control. Nothing in this world surprises him and his goodness is everywhere.

Maybe you aren’t seeing it now. Watch for it. You’ve seen his goodness before? You’ll surely see it again.

Still Working on the Bucket List

In the space within my home I call the “Bedroom/Office,” are both a two-drawer and a four-drawer file cabinet. They share that space with two small desks, two small dressers, and my twin bed. There’s very little floor space left, but I make do.

Recently I began the process of eliminating one more item on my Bucket List: “Reduce my files down to one four-drawer file cabinet.”

Presently, I’m plowing through the records in my four-drawer file cabinet and all the three-ring binders looking for stuff. I’m looking for stuff I don’t need, stuff I still need, and stuff that’s “iffy.” Some of it I wonder why I thought I needed it in the first place.

The process, after I discover those things I don’t need, is to toss that stuff into the recyclable office paper box. Those things I decide I want to keep are put in a folder, taken to the library and scanned in pdf format onto a flash drive. Then they go in the recycling box with the rest.

I’m big on recycling and this project is big on my Bucket List because the less I have in my home when I kick the bucket, the easier it will be on my children to clean up what’s left.

As I do the work of de-cluttering my physical world, I always think of how the Holy Spirit is transforming me into the likeness of Christ the same way. Some things are kept. For instance, God doesn’t take away the personality he gave me; now he’s refining it. He gave me talents that I’ve had since I was a child; now he prompts me to use them for his kingdom.

Working through the process of de-cluttering also makes me think of some of the things that have cluttered up my spiritual life.They need to go. While God transforms me, he helps me get rid of

  • Specific rules of men that have no bearing on my salvation
  • Shame or unearned guilt over past sins
  • Resentment or bitterness over the hurts others did to me
  • Worry

The key is wanting to let go of them. I know that, just like with de-cluttering my bedroom/office, I’ll always need to take inventory of my spiritual life to see what needs to go. I tend to look at some of my stuff and believe “That just might come in handy sometime.” I suppose the parallel to that is recycling the constant stream of junk mail. Rarely do I need to hang onto junk mail.

Unless it’s a coupon for coffee.

Friday Takes a Turn to Mental Health

Today’s post is a little bit modified from a post I created a couple years ago. Since it’s Mental Health Awareness Month, I feel compelled to post something even if it’s almost the end of the month. We can always make efforts to educate ourselves about health issues.

______________________________________________________________________________

Advice to Young Poets
Never pretend
to be a unicorn
by sticking a plunger on your head

from The Republic of Poetry by Martin Espada

 

When I started writing this blog and was given the opportunity to create an About page, the idea was more than I wanted to consider. I played it lazy and kept it short. Later, I made the changes you see now. While the changes may not agree with you, they reflect the real me.

I’m like anyone else, I suppose; I can talk about myself all day long. If we’re honest, we admit that we–or something about our life–are our own favorite subject.

My About pages are general in nature. That’s okay, based on what they’re designed to do. Now I give you Mr. Espada’s poem as an adjunct to getting to know me. Also, as advice to follow. Truly.

I’m sincere when I say that through my blog I hope to share my journey in finding joy and contentment with Jesus Christ. I also hope to sometimes encourage, comfort the weary, offer consolation, teach, break through spiritual obstacles or propel someone toward God’s purpose for them.

However, I haven’t been totally honest yet. I’ve been wearing a plunger on my head, so to speak. Unknown to some of you, I’ve been trying to be something I’m not. It’s time to reveal a secret. I have manic-depressive illness which is not totally controlled even though I take my medications as directed and try to do all the things my doctor prescribes.

I know this revelation immediately sets me up for criticism. It’s okay. I don’t like being criticized for something I can’t help; but I think I can take it. Criticism or a “follower” of this blog deciding to stop following will be fine. You certainly can’t call me anything worse than I’ve called myself.*

Life with manic-depressive illness, also called bi-polar disorder, can be devastating to the one diagnosed with it. Depending on the severity of our individual diagnoses–and there are many–it can also make life hard for the families of those people with it. We don’t always act like we ‘should.’

We don’t respond the same way as people who have what I call ‘respectable’ illnesses like asthma or heart disease or diabetes. People with those illnesses have physical manifestations if things get out of sync. With a mental illness, the manifestations can be physical, but mostly they’re behavioral.

Maybe you’ve witnessed those manifestations. We just don’t act right.

Taking Mental Health Awareness Month seriously means you educate yourself about the difference between multiple personality disorder and schizophrenia; whether someone is worrying or actually has anxiety disorder. You might take it so far as to learn how to respond to those with mental illness. After all, one if five people struggle with some form.

Your knowledge of what to do could make a big difference to someone in your circle of acquaintances.

I’m not writing today to go into my story from the day I was diagnosed (and before). It’s not a pity-party. I decided to write for a couple of reasons.

First, if you decide you want to continue reading my blog, it should be based on honesty. You don’t have to be honest, but I need to take the plunger off my head. Then you’ll see me as I really am.

Honesty about who I am in this regard will also help us both see how blessed I’ve been so far in my journey. God has been holding my hand through many difficult times; while I was inpatient as well as an outpatient. That’s something people who walk past me in the hallways at church aren’t even aware of. **

Second, the Church is becoming more aware of its role in meeting the needs of those in their communities who are mentally ill. It’s encouraging to see this. Some of the awareness has come because of family tragedies hitting like tsunamis in the news, or in our own lives. But the Church has a long way to go in this regard.

If I write about my own experience, people may find it easier to just relax and accept us. We aren’t unapproachable. In fact, we might be some of the nicest people you can meet. I plan to share some of my journey here occasionally. I’m working on a book with the hope that people will help understand the struggles, believe that God is our refuge through it all, and to, oh what the what–maybe even tell some funny stories.

There it is. I don’t pretend to know God’s ways, but I do know he invaded my life through manic-depressive illness like He’d never invaded it before. His voice has never been heard so sweetly to me as when he whispers, “I love you” as I crawl the walls or wail like a lost child.

Heavenly Father, thank you that when we realize our identity in you we no longer need to pretend to be something we’re not. Grant us the ability to love one another no matter what physical, spiritual, emotional, or mental affliction is with us now. Heal us and sustain us as you see fit. Extend grace to us in our weaknesses for your glory and in the name of Jesus. Amen.

 

*Although I have yet to call myself a unicorn.

**Until now.

“Two Scoops of Ice Cream…Wait, I Mean ‘Grace’: a Book Review

In her book, “Two Scoops of Grace with Chuckles on Top,” Jeanette Levellie wants us to know right up front that God is a gracious God. He’s perfect, but not a perfectionist. He watches over us, but not with an abacus on hand, ready to count our failures. Her stories, told in devotion style, could be read one a day (so you can savor them slowly) or as many as you like at a time.

She’s an expert storyteller so it may be hard to put this one down.One thing I will say, Jeanette has a keen wit. It’s a gentle and kind wit. And it’s most often at her own expense because she’s learned to laugh at herself. She’s a mother of two children and a pastor’s wife. She has bright red hair which she claims can be as unruly as she is. That’s another thing about Jeanette, she’s honest about her failings as much as she is about her love for God. If I was a betting kind of gal, I’d bet she has oodles of friends who love being in her company.

In addition to the delicious fact that there’s ice cream on the cover, the book is full of stories to which we can relate. Even if we’re not a pastor’s wife or have children. Even if we’re brunettes or silver-haired beauties. I’m guessing the target audience is women.

But when you know men who occasionally wonder whether God is really there for them; whether His grace can forgive the messes they make; if the dreams they dreamed will ever come true; or the future holds any promise–Two Scoops of Grace is a book you might want to recommend.

Inside are 72 story devotions ranging from Drive-by Diapers, Culture Shock, A Pitiful Piece of Pie, and From Hair to Eternity. While the author insists we be gentle with ourselves and laugh a lot more, she also uses her stories and the Word of God to help us remember the path we’re called to walk. The devotions are comedic and convicting at the same time. And that can be refreshing.

The words ‘grace’ and ‘chuckles’ had to be in the title of this delightful book. Because, in this life, we desperately need them both.

Bench-Pressing a Hersey Bar

“Strength is the capacity to break a Hershey bar into four pieces with your bare hands – and then eat just one of the pieces.”
― Author Judith Viorst

When I was raising my children and dreaming of one day being–dare I say it–a famous author, I enjoyed reading Judith Viorst’s column in Redbook magazine each month. I also read her books. I even wrote to her once and received in return a sweet postcard.

When I become famous, I’ll answer my fan mail too, I thought.

Mrs. Viorst could make us chuckle about what it takes to keep house and raise children and maybe even teach us about resisting chocolate. But she couldn’t tell us where the ultimate source of strength comes from.

Like me, you’re probably faced with areas of weakness or a problem that doesn’t seem to be getting solved quickly enough for you. Where do you turn? Bench-pressing a dark chocolate candy bar seems like a good idea, but it doesn’t truly solve a problem of any magnitude. (Much as this chocoholic hates to admit that.)

My children are grown, but being a parent of a grown child possesses its own challenges. I’ve always been good at the housekeeping thing, but there are days I’d sooner eat that Hersey bar than sweep and mop the floors. And then, there’s the never-ending challenge of keeping finances in order, relationships from falling apart, and my health from doing likewise. I’m getting old and sort of broken down.

Heaven, help me! Literally.

“Therefore, we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).

When I’m honest, I’ll tell you I’m challenged on some days to keep my eyes on Jesus, the one who keeps me strong. We face things like the annoyance of a cancelled appointment, a disobedient child, needing an unexpected surgery, or the death of a loved one. Scripture says these things, which we can see, are “light and momentary troubles.”

It doesn’t seem like it, does it? Yet we’re told to stay strong because what eternity holds is worth it. God wouldn’t tell us a lie about eternity; it’s his dwelling place and inherent in his nature. So trust him for that and stay strong.