The happy list

I swear this has been my daily weekday schedule for the past month since returning to work;

6:00- alarm goes off

6:05-lay there and stare at my phone wishing that I could just stay in bed all day

6:10-6:30-shower, get dressed. In the process create a giant pile of clean clothes on the floor because I hate how I look/feel in everything.

6:30-6:45-lay on my bed and play around on my phone some more

6:45-7:15 hair, makeup, pack a bag for the gym (because obviously, I’m going right after work), eat breakfast, pack a lunch, make coffee, get mad at how crappy my travel mugs are as they leak all over me

7:20ish- possibly change my clothes as I realize I’ve already gotten food/coffee all over myself, then head out the door while making note that the cat-lady neighbor makes the hallway smell disgusting. Then I get even more ticked when the cats hiss at me from their balcony.

7:20-7:40ish-drive to work. Decide that my half-spilled coffee tastes like crap. 3/5 days I head to Dunkin and spend money I complain I don’t have on coffee I don’t need to be buying this often.

7:40ish-walk into work and grumble in my head about how annoying it is to walk from the back lot around to the front door with my hands full of my many bags and coffee

7:50-9:00- putz around on my computer for about 10 minutes before getting to work on planning sessions, writing reports and talking to colleagues.

9:00-2:00-see students

2:00-bathroom and then I sit down at my desk and pop open a diet coke.

2:00-3:30ish-continue working, with a few pauses to observe how exhausted and drained I feel. One such pause might involve a fresh cup of coffee.

3:30ish-leave work, feel the daunting heat outside and drive toward the gym. My decision to pull into the parking lot happens in a matter of seconds. I always rationalize my ditching by mentally noting that I’d feel better if I went home to relax first and had a workout later on. That rarely happens.

3:45ish-4:45 either workout or head home and lay in my bed and stare at my phone or computer for about an hour, try to figure out what to eat for dinner and deciding when I’m going to get my butt to the gym.

5ish-whenever I get to bed- I decide early that I’m too exhausted to deal with my very patient friends and loved ones, so I often cancel plans and avoid new ones. Typically I’ll do chores, watch tv, read or cook. I may also run errands that can wait in order to avoid overeating on junk food, but then I often buy junk food on such errands and stuff my face anway. Then I self-loathe for awhile.  

In the mundane moments of my day to day, I draw my own attention away from what’s going right and straight to the factors and circumstances that do little but help me feel sorry for myself and envious of others. And when your emotions are generally racing all over the map, I find it absolutely necessary to force myself time for fresh air, prayer, writing or other focused, but relaxing activities. Then it seems so easy to stand in awe of how much I’ve been blessed. Today especially was one of those days where nothing particular went wrong, but my heart was heavy and plagued by fears, hurt and regret over my own mistakes and shortcomings. But beyond all that it was a really good day. Nothing extraordinary, just an ability to see through the blur of some tears at the beautiful aspects of having this life. That’s why I wanted to take some time to stop and spell out what I’m so unbelievably grateful for today.

  1. This fall weather: In a matter of days I went from laying there, unable to function because of the heat to having the energy to actually run outside. I’ve gotten 6 miles in since Saturday and the crisp air has been invigorating. The Prarie Path smells like fresh fallen leaves, the stores have Edy’s pumpkin ice cream, Dunkin has pumpkin coffee, my thermostat reads a perfect hoodie and blanket temp and all feels just right.
  2. Forgiveness on a practical, human level: Because I think that’s the only way I can even begin to grasp how magnanimous Christ’s limitless love and forgiveness is. When you feel a taste of the hurt, pain and mistakes that others are capable of causing by simply being human and your love for them is so real that you are drawn to forgiveness and an ability to move on, you truly feel more grateful that others are able to forgive you all the same. In a loving relationship, you are to support one another and build them up in Christ and this often means holding each other accountable to sins but also forgiving. In Matthew 18:21-22 and Luke 17:3 Jesus spells out that for each time a brother or sister repents, we are to forgive time and time again. Sometimes it seems impossible to forgive ourselves and other people. If my faith and trust helps me to forgive on this level because of love that I feel, how much greater is that of my Father in Heaven for the sins and wrongs I’ve committed against others and Him? Second, third, fourth and even 100th chances are hard to come by in this world, but they’re gifts I never want to take for granted. I find it breathtaking to even think about.
  3. My mommy: She’s always there whether I need a shoulder to sob on or to help me get insurance junk straightened out so I can get prescriptions on-time.
  4. Cold, rainy, dreary days: Spending a day inside with a blanket, the Bears game and a crockpot of chili was just what I needed yesterday.
  5. Frosting, chocolate, ice cream. Enough said.
  6. Seeing progress in students: When you least expect something great or when you can simply reflect on where they were at a few years ago, it’s incredibly satisfying.
  7. My car that’s made it almost three solid weeks problem-free. Woo, woo!!
  8. Friends that can witness your obnoxious stupidity on Saturday and still take you seriously Monday morning.
  9. Leftovers: I don’t have to do a thing in the kitchen. That means I have time to write and even watch a movie. Am I the only therapist who never had to watch Ordinary People in grad school? I will say it was probably groundbreaking to delve so deeply into depression in 1980 and the story is great, but I do want to punch Mary Tyler-Moore square in the face. Uh-oh, look at me getting all negative here….time to wrap this up before I take a dark turn, hahahaha!

What’s hot, what’s not…

I’m not writing this one as a plea to feel sorry for me or to force personal miseries on others so they see how easy they have it. In fact, I’m aiming for the opposite. “Misery” is a gross exaggeration and there is no way I think others “have it easy” at all. Everyone’s lives are very different and comparisons will do little to heal and build any of us up. I began scribbling this out to create a more concrete description of what’s it’s been like battling my arch nemesis; this muggy heat we’ve had this past week. Fortunately I’d say 2013 was a relatively mild summer overall in terms of temperatures and humidity, but I still had my days and weeks. Many loved ones admittedly just don’t get it and want to understand as much as possible, but this one isn’t easy to put in words. It gets redundant or annoying to say and hear phrases like “I’m not feeling well” or “the heat is exhausting” all summer. Those are common human experiences and it’s easy enough for us all to relate to what that’s like, so those phrases do this experience no justice. I would get incredibly annoyed too if the same person was whining about how hot it is all the time. I love being outside, but this is one of several areas in which my mind and my body can’t come to reasonable terms and cooperate. So take close notes as I try to enlighten you on what’s hot and what’s not…

Why does heat exacerbate MS symptoms? The healthy nerve has a layer of fatty insulation, known as myelin, that helps it smoothly transmit signals throughout the body. Heat naturally slows down the nerve signals, but this myelin is supposed to compensate and help move it along. My nerves are damaged from the inflammation and destruction of this myelin, so heat worsens the symptoms or deficits already there. Past symptoms can also temporarily reoccur. It even happens when the weather is fine and your body temperature still rises from hot showers/baths, intense workouts or fevers. No joke- one of the first ways the disease was diagnosed was submerging the patient into a hot bathtub and monitoring signs and symptoms.

The predominant ways the heat affects my case of MS (remember they are all very different) is muscle fatigue, overall exhaustion, numbness in my upper body and sometimes muscle spasms. This isn’t the same exhaustion you get after a day of grueling yardwork or too much sun at the pool. It’s not a very tangible concept until you experience it. And it’s not something you experience unless your central nervous system is all out of whack. For some reason my encounters with heat scare the living crap out of my mom. Although I’ve explained it time and time again, she’s still worries that overheating will cause my disease to progress or change in status. I think I remember her sitting at the hospital with me researching different types of cooling vests to buy, how to claim air conditioning as a medical expense on your taxes and low impact exercise programs  because there was absolutely no way I’d live above 65 degrees from that point forward! If she ever found out I sat in a hot tub, I’d imagine getting smacked with a spatula (she prefers the slatted kind as she claims there is “less wind resistance”). Contrary to Mom’s anxieties, as soon as the heat subsides its effects eventually dissipate too. It might wipe me out for a few days to follow, but things will eventually turn back to normal (well not the old normal, the new baseline for normal!). Remember that scene from Mean Girls when Amanda Seyfried’s character says her boobs can tell the weather, she cups them and then says “there’s a 30% chance that it’s already raining?” Well my upper back, neck and the backs of my arms can sort of do the same thing. Numbness increases when a temperature jump is in the forecast. So on to what the heat feels like in this “hot body” of mine (sorry I had to, hahahaha), as I can describe it to the best of my ability:

Imagine taking some relatively light hand weights and holding them out away from your body for as long as possible. As soon as you can’t hold them up any longer, rest for a minute and try holding them out again. The muscle fatigue itself feels similar to the sensation of lifting those weights again after already tiring yourself out from it. But this sensation is literally all over. And you feel it carrying a bag, walking up stairs, writing and pretty much every physical task- even laying still. At times it’s worse than others and you can often get used to it in order to accomplish what you need to do in your day, but it catches up and depletes you at some point.

There. You totally get it now, right?

Just kidding. I never intended for you to. Yes, more knowledge has always helpful to those who’ve sought it. But this is literally all I can do to convey this experience to another person. But we don’t have to know exactly what something is like to provide support, respect, empathy and compassion to those around us. It’s much less about the events and situations themselves and all about the emotion behind it. It’s common for many of my students at work to deny experiencing emotions like fear, sadness, anger, anxiety, etc… Sometimes it’s because they’re embarrassed to admit their perceived weakness, while others might be trying to maintain the illusion that life is perfect and there is nothing to work on. But emotions unite us as humans- we all experience them to some degree throughout our lives. If you know me in some capacity you can read it on my face when I’m worn out, frustrated and depleted by everything described above. And because we all know what each of those feelings is like we can begin to understand it as simply a difficult human experience.

Validation should not be dependent on our judgment of the severity of what they’re dealing with or its source of fault, but it often is when we measure it against ourselves and the standards we set. We often think of self-pride as stemming from personal accomplishments, talents, material possessions and the like, but there’s a new phenomenon of people all around us trying to one-up each other with their “my life sucks because” dialogue game. And you obviously get bonus points when your hardship is out of your control! Think about it; our hearts would feel for anybody with cancer, right? But what about those snap judgments we make when we discover that John with lung cancer was a smoker and Bob with skin cancer was a tanning bed frequenter? If we have our own experience as an active, healthy individual who takes care of themselves but still gets a life altering diagnosis….well then we might think that they had it coming.

I reference Tullian Tchividijian’s Glorious Ruin a lot, but it really is top of the line good stuff (how’s that for my literary analysis, hahaha). Anyway, Tchividijan explained that “A person with no arms trying to punch themselves until their arms grow back may the best description I’ve ever read of what it feels like for a depressed person to try to cheer herself up. Yet this description applies to any kind of suffering that resists our attempts to address it, both big and small…Far too often we interpret life’s defeats as a challenge to pick ourselves up by our bootstraps, dust ourselves off and get back out there and try a little harder…Like Job’s friends, we prefer the safety of if/then conditionality. Suffering, however, often serves as an unwanted reminder that reality does not operate according to our preferences.”

Think about it. The book of Job is 42 chapters of dialogue between “friends” trying to figure out why one of them was facing unimaginable hardship. Tchividjian uses his work to show how much human time and effort goes into trying to make sense of what God puts before us. But we completely forget that God knows agonizing pain too. Our sins pained him. And his only son suffered, but on behalf of us and our sins for our eternal life. So as we try and “triumph” over tragedy, we’re missing the big picture. Christ came to this Earth as a human being with human emotion, physiology and experience- becoming close to us through suffering. Don’t we also then suffer to bring us closer in kinship to the one who endured this for us? Can’t we use the commonalities of life’s difficulties to build love, trust and understanding with each other? 

Normal Eating

Confession time: In the last two weeks there were two nights in which I groggily awoke from the early stages of slumber, stumbled into the kitchen and casually ate over half a carton of ice cream at once. And that’s on top of a few spoonfuls of peanut butter, a handful of chocolate chips and whatever other snacks and meals I had earlier in the day. Oh and there was a third day where I just flat out ate ice cream for dinner. And even though I live alone, I still sneak around to hide the evidence and replace food containers to make it seem like it never happened. Phew-it’s a relief getting that off my chest!

Actually, there’s no relief from that! At the level of sharing the specifics of what I ate, how much and when, there’s no shame as long as my friends and family continue to respond favorably to my casual remarks and jokes about my addiction to cake and sweets. And at this point I know my audience. I trust them and how they reciprocate during what would otherwise be awkward one-sided conversations about cans of frosting and giant scoops of cookie dough. They are never judgmental, never condescending and their jokes never make me feel bad or stupid. They understand me as person that’s dealt with some crap, but know that I’m healthy enough at this point to use humor effectively as a coping strategy and laugh in the face of hardship. While I’m the most sarcastic goof-off imaginable most of the time, they also know there are many layers to Melissa that in time, I’ve actually started revealing (yes, besides the flaps of loose skin!!!). They are always demonstrating respect and love.

If you haven’t concluded this about me yet, you clearly haven’t read much that I’ve written; I talk about myself a lot! On this blog, in person, whenever, wherever. I’m like a two and a half year-old that recently discovered the phrase “why?” I can’t pass up an opportunity to share where I’ve been, how I’ve gotten out and where I’m still stuck. Very few individuals, if any, actually see the triggers and raw emotions though- being so exhausted and at the end of myself that I somehow find refuge in the sedating effects of heavy, sugary delights. The shame of doing this, yet again, when I already know that no amount of food is as fulfilling as I hoped it would be. The guilt of treating my body with disrespectful behaviors and thoughts regarding food, exercise and body image. The frustration of continuing to struggle with what I see as the most disgusting aspect of who I am- a gluttonous pig that can’t keep it under control and just eat what I’m supposed to.

And then there is also the shame of just not feeling adequate enough to nip it in the bud and reach that elusive, perhaps even fictional, state of full recovery. And at the exact same time there are these ongoing streams of thought convincing me that this isn’t really a big problem after all – I’ve maintained a steady weight and I’m neither obese nor anorexic anymore. And it’s not like I’m harming myself in other ways… And there you have it; my whole obsession with food, eating, dieting and exercise goes back to these external indicators like weight or physical appearance, not how I’m doing emotionally, mentally or spiritually. And furthermore, I keep free and clear of other “worse,” more socially unacceptable behaviors…so I must be doing this right, right?

I’ve discussed this on here before I believe, but I’ll reiterate a point that I used to think made my problems more meritorious to face and then overcome: A struggle with obesity is viewed as unique in that it’s impossible to hide from the world around you. We all have to eat and the rest of society can clearly see when our pattern of doing so is unhealthy because it sticks out all over in the form of fat. Think about that logic; other struggles like anger, violence, sexual impurity, alcoholism or even other Eating Disorders can be carried out behind closed doors or internally unless it reaches an extreme where it spills out publically. So here is the stream of thoughts where it dawned on me that comparing my problems to those of others is partially what’s holding me back;

1. Regardless of the issue, people are not wanting/needing to necessarily deal with it unless it affects others or becomes so personally distressing that you reach the end of your rope.

2. I did reach the end of my rope and sought professional help because the struggle was becoming more noticeable to others and was no longer bearable. Currently in its DRASTICALLY improved state it’s not obvious and in comparison to collapsing on my floor in a hyperventilating heap of ugly tears and screams back in 2011…this is certainly bearable.

3. I’ve experienced my pain and struggle both publically and privately- this has no weight (hahaha, lame pun usage right there) on how difficult a situation can be. Sometimes what’s left unspoken can hurt more than the public shame.

4. I’m no different than anybody else around me. People’s life experiences, support systems (or lack thereof) and current resources shape how they cope with life. Sometimes that means with drugs, alcohol, sex, becoming a social recluse, becoming a sociopathic criminal, ending relationships, starting destructive relationships, turning to food etc…

5. What all of these struggles or issues, as I’ve delicately referred to them as thus far, have in common is that they’re usually the resulting outward indicators that our hearts are broken to deeply entrenched sin and are vulnerable to the mistakes, regrets and hurt resulting from others and ourselves.

6. And just to clarify; I’ve really been referring to the struggles we face on our own accord and not the uncontrollable life events that also happen to many of us. But of course becoming a victim to things like disease, poverty, abuse, losing loved ones, getting bullied, etc… can lay the foundation for a lifetime of other struggles and/or triumphs.

So why have struggles with overeating, binge-eating, restricting, purging, exercise addiction and low self-esteem plagued me the past 26 years (I guess I’ll actually say 25 years, those first few months or so of bottles, baby food and cheerios appeared pretty uneventful to my knowledge)? Some social worker that studied in a Psychodynamic and somewhat Freudian graduate program might argue that something went awry those first two years in the Oral stage, leaving me fixated at that psychosexual level of development (But hey- I’m not saying I buy into all of Freud’s stuff, so don’t jump on me for it). My mommy might say that it probably goes back to the plethora of ear infections and tube surgeries that left me laying on the couch in searing pain while repeated episodes of Carebears played and I was comforted with snack, after snack, after snack (seriously, this is among my first memories). And that same social worker will absolutely argue that these early coping strategies carried over throughout the years. She even experienced that first light bulb moment where she made the connection between childhood and current motivators to overeat during a joint therapy session where she invited her amazing mother along. But the typically vibrant and passionate mid-late twenty-something that still can’t believe she is sitting on a couch in the home she owns during a summer vacation from the career she loves with a spotless health record (not counting those currently stable spots on my brain and spine. Hahahahaha I just laughed so loud at this pun too) and a solid set of family, friends and an amazing boyfriend, needs a deeper examination of her own heart in the context of her relationship with the God that has blessed her beyond words and continues to love her despite the broken mess she has going on.

Throughout my journey I’ve made food out to be both my greatest enemy and a revered idol with the power to heal and help me find rest. Food is used symbolically and literally throughout both the Old and New Testament to remind us that God provides for all needs. It’s in Christ’s promises and truths that we are to find our refuge, peace and contentment- not gnawing on a roll of frozen cookie dough at midnight. I’m not going to get into it here, but research has shown that sugars and simple carbohydrates release the same neurochemicals as many illegal drugs. So yes, sweets literally do help me kickback, disconnect and even fall asleep at times. But that rest is very temporary- the same physical fatigue that plagues me all day, the overwhelming feeling that I just can’t handle work this week and the everyday anxieties will still be there tomorrow! Additionally there will also be bouts of bloated gas, sluggishness and regret. Moses explained to the Israelites: “Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years; to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna…to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” Deuteronomy 8:2-3. And in 1 John 2:15-16 our physical desires (food, drugs, sex, etc…) or cravings of sinful man are referring to how we turn outside of God to get needs met- one of the ways we’re tempted and pulled away from God in tandem with the lust of the eyes and boasting. I continue to preoccupy my thoughts with worries and anxieties over food. What if I wholeheartedly believed Jesus’ words when we’re reminded to not worry about physical needs, as they are always provided for (Matthew 6)?

My need to control my food intake is reflective of my wanting to control my health. I went from feeling like I was in the pilot’s seat carefully fine-tuning everything about my weight, fitness level and health concerns to the way I thought they should be- but I was thrown that curveball and had to redefine what it meant to be healthy and trust that God’s will was far better than my own, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord. Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11). I learned throughout therapy that overeating is an expected part of normal eating and I’ve experienced this during holidays, dinners out, etc…but I can differentiate when I’ve just eaten too much and when I’ve used food or exercise to cope with a greater need. But when I’m hyper-focused on my weight and body image, it’s because I’m unhappy with person I am. I’m longing to feel more acceptable, desirable and beautiful in the eyes of the world. I equate thinness, weight loss, exercise and eating healthy with being valued and wanted by others. At the other extreme I associate overeating and weight gain with rejection. So sometimes I still workout too long or too often with the empty hope that it will make me more worthy of feeling loved, wanted and good enough even though on some level that’s the message I’ve always gotten from loved ones. If that sounds irrational it’s because it is- we are a world that looks to every single possible source personal fulfillment except to the one that validated our worth by dying on the cross for us.

So in conclusion to this long, summer-boredom fueled rambling- keep on laughing with me because it’s a huge part of how I’ve navigated this craziness. But don’t be afraid to pray with me, pray for me or ask how it’s really going because I need to fill in those other cracks with his love, forgiveness and healing. And please, please, please tell me or show me how I can do the same for you!

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This has been hanging on the side of my fridge for the last year and a half, but I’m thinking it could use some additions!

Take a Walk in the Symptoms…

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I’ve been walking a lot lately. More than I ever have in my entire life. This is after I went from sitting 8 hours a day on the couch to losing 8 lbs. a week and running 8 miles a day. Do I dare say I’ve finally found that middle ground? That “balance” that’s eluded me? Yes, but not entirely. I’ve learned to enjoy a good mixture of physical activity, but I still passionately love running. The inconvenient combination of Multiple Sclerosis and Asthma gives me a 10 degree window in which to run without a cold-induced asthma attack or a heat-induced numbing spell. My heart still aches for something I feel I’ve lost at times when my legs itch to get out there and I just can’t do it. But at the same time walking gives me the opportunity to soak up the sounds and sights of the world around me and chances to ponder what’s been laid on my heart. So I’ve been walking a lot lately and actually appreciating it. I also spend a lot of my time with this fella that’s been hanging around me by the name of Kyle. We go for a lot of walks together and even piled on a nice 45min. evening stroll in addition to our morning 5 miles at WalkMS. He was one of the many loved ones that joined me last Sunday. I seriously couldn’t ask for a better bunch of people to have shared the day and the cause with. I really wish my philanthropic interests could extend further and not to just what hits so close to home, but for right now I’ve bitten off exactly what I can chew. As one that hates playing host because I am deathly afraid that it will all fail and make me seem like the lamest person on the planet, I put way too much time and energy into planning events that would essentially run themselves. There’s no need for copious amounts of food, beer or “clever” team shirts. The same people, donations, gracious understanding, love and support would still be there. (side note: My Grandma came into my house, picked up one of the shirts and said “well, talk about loving yourself!” But she still wanted one, nonetheless!). Kyle would have still held my hand much of the route. He probably would have still carried my “treasure” that I garbage-picked off a curb in a fancy Naperville neighborhood a few miles into the route too (it was wicker basket in perfect condition, fyi!) My Auntie Jennifer would still get me the hook-up to talk to a pharmaceutical researcher she knows that could give me the low-down on all the new MS drugs that just came on the market. My siblings and cousins would still show up with their witty jabs at Melissa, but unwavering pride to call me their big sister/cousin (seriously where does that come from? I don’t deserve it guys, I’m kind of a weirdo!). My closest childhood friends, that’s right… the ones I’ve known for 21 years now, will always be there for me in one way or another. Those facing financial hardship will still give more than I can fathom. And those with the charm and connections will still go above and beyond. The people with plenty of worries, diseases, chaos and heartache in their own lives would still take part. My mom would still walk around collecting MS info from all the vendors and booths so she can learn something new. And they would all wear those cheesy race bibs listing me as the reason that they walk.

So you might be wondering about the direction this little ditty is headed. I’m going to take time to complain about some things because I’m really great at that. As the walk began, cardboard posters with arrows and Facts about MS accompanied many volunteers to guide walkers on the route. One of the first posters announced the theme of those to follow; “take a walk in the Symptoms of MS.”  I knew they were the same last year, but I guess it hit a different chord with me this time around…

50% of people with MS have problems with memory or other cognitive abilities

80% of people with MS deal with bladder dysfunction and/or bowel incontinence

Problems with gait and walking are among the most common symptoms

It went on and on and on the entire route. I was thinking in my head “wow, this must be what it’s like to be the only black kid in your class during lessons on slavery or the Civil Rights Movement.” Even though it probably wasn’t the case, I felt like my friends and family were all wondering “wow, does Melissa crap her pants?” I’m not arguing with any of the facts, they were all true. And no, I fortunately don’t have bowel problems! But I was disappointed with their use and placement at an event that’s supposed to inspire hope and celebrate the advances in research, public awareness and quality of life for those with the disease.

Did you know that 20 of the 120 individuals that sought physician assisted suicide from Dr. Jack Kevorkian between 1990 and 1998 had Multiple Sclerosis? This wasn’t that long ago! And it meant that early death was more appealing than enduring the symptoms, suffering and course of this disease. I only added that “fun” and “uplifting” fact because it shows what a difference 20 years, medical advances and organizations collecting money to directly benefit patients and that research can make. Since the 90s the number of FDA approved treatments tripled and there are countless other drugs approved for symptom management. There is even one that literally triggers and changes specific nerve signals to make walking easier. Theories on specific causes have been disproven while others have garnered support. Many states and the federal government now have MS Advocacy days. I could keep rattling off these more positive tidbits of info, but that’s what should have been conveyed at the walk.

For a chunk of the first two miles, there was a gentleman,likely in his late 40s or early 50s, that walked very slowly with a cane and an obvious foot-drop (one of those symptoms you could find on the plethora of posters). I overheard him talking about the gorgeous weather and going to work the next day. I have no idea how long he was able to keep walking, but the fact that he was walking and is a seemingly functioning member of society demonstrates that the funds raised over the years are doing exactly what they’re supposed to!

One more complaint that’s entirely tied to the one above: Downtown Naperville hosts a lot of charitable walks and races, including my agency’s Step Up Autism Walk.

Big side note to advertise, hahahaha: That walk is June 23rd (also my 26th birthday) Register for the SUFA walk on the Little Friends website with the Krejci Clinical Team and Friends or come to the team fundraiser June 8th at Crosstown Pub!!!!

Anyway… They host a lot of events in general. Having lived there and run the Riverwalk routes countless times, I’m familiar with the lay of the land. And the lay of the land doesn’t usually include chunks of sidewalk missing on a route that is supposed to be 100% accessible to those in wheelchairs and using other mobility devices. When I walked around off the curb to avoid the missing sidewalk, I immediately thought of the man back in mile 1 and all of the other people I saw with mild walking hindrances who carefully make-due without equipment as well as those with walkers, canes, scooters, wheelchairs, etc… I got the “I want to cry” lump in the throat feeling because for some time I felt for the shame and disappointment they might have encounter on the walk route and in their daily lives when the world isn’t designed for their needs. So if you are having a walk to specifically include those people with all of the disabling symptoms you just plastered across the city, shouldn’t the organizers be 100% sure that those 80% of people with difficulty walking can safely navigate the sidewalks?

I could have just ended the blog entry there, hahahaha. But because of the support and love I feel from all of those who’ve gotten involved in my journey the last two years, I can’t end on such a snarky and sarcastic Melissa-like note. Hugs, phone calls, prayers, donations, just being the people you’ve always been and providing me your unconditional love leaves me indescribably grateful and forever indebted. Who would have thought that a young girl who was so uncomfortable being herself and disgusted in her own skin that she needed to pick on everyone else, especially those with disabilities and other personal struggles, would be doing what she’s doing today. And I’m referring to more than just my career direction. My body may be very broken at times, but my heart is whole in Christ;  “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all of these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.” Colossians 3:12-15

Thankful, I am. Loved, I am. By both our forgiving Lord and the people he’s blessed me with. As far as all of those other things, I’m learning a little at a time from the ultimate example!

Spoons

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“Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:18

As I meander blogs, Pinterest and other websites seeking new information or fresh perspectives on everything related to Multiple Sclerosis, I get quickly discouraged by the redundancy and annoyed with the level of self-pity out there. As somebody that knows what this diseases feels like physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually, I will never feel vindicated by the clever pictures, stories, tattoos, jokes, slogans or awareness mantras out there that scream “I have MS, but MS doesn’t have me.” I also strangely worry about the impressions projected onto MS and its population because of our society’s obsession with ourselves. Free speech, social media and egotism can be the perfect recipe for a large-scale pity-party. Whether it’s one-upping each other to decide whose life sucks more, bashing doctors or filling your personal pages with the world of orange colored girl (or boy) power, there is a danger in defining your entire identity with a disease and letting it play out on the world stage of the internet. But don’t mistake me for that unpretentious woman who steers clear of it all- I let MS shape who I was and I what I could do for many months. And, duh! MS has impacted me enough that I’m writing about it right now!

I thought the more I read, wrote and researched the better off I was. About 6 months into my diagnosis I realized there was an information cap. This celling was not in the amount or quality of information available, but in how much my brain and heart could handle before I got tired of it. There is no article, book, diet plan, medical approach or doctor out there that has the absolute answers and cure. The experience is different for EVERYONE and there are no end all, be all answers -especially on the internet! New desires to read and search only arise when I hear about a new study or something feels physically off and I want to either quiet my anxieties or create all new ones to perseverate on. So I thought I’ve read it all. That’s until a new trend started popping up in what I was seeing and reading: spoons.

Why the heck do people keep referring to their spoons? And why are women tattooing spoons on their bodies with orange MS ribbons wrapped around them? Am I missing something? Apparently so. The Spoon Theory.

The Spoon Theory is metaphor outlined in a short true story written by a woman whose close friend asked her what it’s really like to live the day to day with a chronic debilitating disease. The friend wasn’t referring to what the symptoms felt like physically, but how they affected the mind, body and spirit on the whole each day. I get asked the symptom questions sometimes;

“What do you mean by numb? Like pins and needles? Like your arms fell asleep?”

“No… it’s like the skin just isn’t there. Or it’s dead.”

Does that really make it more clear? I didn’t think so. There’s no way you can do a physical sensation (or lacktherof, hahahaha) justice by describing it in words. You absolutely can’t relate unless you’ve experienced it in some way. So how would one begin to explain what her entire daily life is like to a relatively healthy person? In the midst of a shared meal at a diner, the woman grabbed all of the spoons she could find off the nearby tables and began to illustrate her life. I’m not going to sit here and summarize the entire story, you can google it! But the main points; if spoons were to represent physical energy and or/abilities in currency form, the individual with MS or other chronic conditions has a limited supply of spoons each day while the healthy person’s spoons are in a constantly replenishing supply. Additionally, the spoon “cost” for activities, tasks or responsibilities is higher for the sick individual. So in handing her friend the pile of spoons, she demonstrated how simple things that the healthy person doesn’t give a second thought to costs the person with an illness precious energy and effort;

Taking a shower this morning? Holding your hands above your head to lather up the shampoo will definitely be a
few spoons. Oh and don’t forget how physically draining the hot water will be when the heat causes your symptoms to flair-up for a few hours. Now you have to get dressed? It’s not a day for tricky zippers or buttons, your hands are way too sore and weak. Spoons please. You have to run a few errands? Better pick one and save the rest for another day. Grocery shopping itself is daunting, forget standing in line at the post-office. You don’t have that many spoons to spare.

You get the depressing, but perhaps eye-opening idea. I have quite a few stories that shed light on how disillusioned I was once I experienced the helplessness no active twenty-three year old ever expects. My first month or so back to work was quite the ordeal. I spent one hour every night preparing for the next day; a feasible outfit that I could snap, button and actually put on/take off without assistance. I did two practice runs of getting dressed before I deemed it “safe.” This was especially necessary when your bladder goes out of whack and leaves you making a pit-stop every twenty minutes. And I packed a lunch that contained nothing I had to open, heat, cut or use other utensils for. The following morning? Wake up two hours before I had to leave to ensure that the whole showering, getting ready, eating something routine went off with as few hitches as possible. Out the door, into work and you wouldn’t have a clue how crappy I felt physically. If my day was divided into a spoon allotment it would have looked something like this:

10% Getting ready for the day

80% Going to work and doing a pretty darn good job with my responsibilities given the circumstance. I poured almost all of the day’s energy into this. It’s the one thing that made me feel normal and productive.

1% Laying still on the couch for three hours, unable to move and sulking.

5% Pushing my body’s limits to maintain weight loss and compensate for binging.

4% Getting ready for the next day

And Repeat!

I guess the Spoon Theory can be a great way to simplify and clarify if someone is truly clueless and wants to understand, but fortunately life isn’t the same as tableware. My supply of spoons is NEVER limited. Sure, I might need to borrow a few from a friend or let someone else do the serving (yeah, I’m still playing along with this weird metaphor, just go with it) but that’s what loved ones are there for. They want to lend a hand when yours’ aren’t working the way they’re supposed to. And while I might feel like I run out of “spoons” at times, I’ve learned to cherish the ones I have because they are beautiful gifts. My real spoons that I eat with get stuck in my garbage disposal all the time. But I’m slowly learning to take care of the other ones and use them wisely. When you can wake up and thank God for the mundane parts of each day because you know what it’s like when they seem impossible, that makes for a few great spoons made of fine silver. I’d keep those over a bulk supply of the plastic throwaway kind any day. And even if I had zero spoons, Christ is still my rock and providing all I need.

 

 

 

Wow, I made it this entire post without attempting a joke about forks…I’m growing up guys!

It was Always the Elephant in the Room

Here is a draft of Chapter 1!

April 1, 2011

It was Always the Elephant in the Room

An age-old dilemma for the late twenty-something: Do I put together a killer outfit, plaster on the fake smiles and perfect the sing-songy “how are yous?” and “what are you doing these days?” for my high school reunion, or do I avoid it like all of those dances where I’d have to slip on a size 24 dress and pretend to be content with the fact that no one ever asked me to dance, let alone take me as their date. As cliché as a scene from a romantic comedy or sitcom, we all know that the extremely overweight, single, broke, unemployed youngling’ that’s likely addicted to something or still lives in their parents’ basement probably won’t go out of their way to make an appearance. But how about a thriving young woman that just lost 175lbs, is weeks away from graduating with a Masters in Social Work degree, was just hired by a well-respected local agency as a family worker, is moving into a great new apartment and is training to run her first race next weekend? She is the epitome of sayings like “get out there and show ‘em what’cha got!”

I technically had about four years to go before one of those awkward evenings, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t walk around with a self-effacing, but satisfying “look at me now!” swagger in the meantime. I was on top of the world and wanted to flaunt it to those who’d ignored, loved, respected or were repulsed by me all the same. I always considered myself accomplished in that I was continually striving for my own conceptualization of success in school, work and relationships. How many people finish 12 consecutive semesters of post-secondary school maintaining a 4.0 GPA, land sweet internship experiences and have a whacked-out goofy persona that only those worthy of my awesomeness could appreciate? At least that’s the energy I pushed outward in order to convince myself of its merit. The truth was that I weighed 352 lbs (but I was pushing 400 lbs at one point), was entirely guarded emotionally and inundated with self-disgust and zero confidence. This was aside from my commendable wit and fine academic skills that would undoubtedly carry me through life, of course.

I easily fixed one of those problems. Yes, I truthfully mean it when I say easily because that’s what it was. Losing a total of 195lbs over the course of 13 months with diet and exercise paled in comparison to the challenges that would await me. After a first-week 8lb drop, the diet just kicked into high-gear and the weight-loss felt effortless. The phrase uttered by many became entrenched in every thought and behavior at every single moment: nothing tasted as good as skinny felt. And I wasn’t by any means skinny in those first months. I was quickly becoming normal. My first ever bag of hand me down clothes from my cousin was like gold. Flirting from guys no longer felt derisive. Walking into any store I wanted at the mall and knowing I could fit into anything was liberating. The experience of respect and acknowledgement becoming a standard was mind-blowing. Normal was still extraordinary and novel to me.

As you might suspect; it was far too good to be true. It wasn’t a dream and I wasn’t hallucinating. It really did happen, but the full impact of dropping a 6’0” male off my 5’6” female frame was much more than a physical change. I was so proud of where this journey had taken me and I subtly made sure others knew that I was no longer the same quiet, awkward, fat girl that kept to herself growing up. Any teasing for my weight was typically indirect or behind my back, but I’d argue that feeling ignored and simply different was worse. But, Ah-ha! The gift of social media. You bet your Farmville dollars that I updated pictures pound by pound! I basked in the glory of compliments and almost felt vindicated for the hurt others knowingly or unintentionally caused years prior. My confidence skyrocketed, but thrived almost exclusively on the responsiveness and attention of those around me; past and present.

I began reaching out to those who’d impacted me positively throughout the years. In these instances I wasn’t looking for them to just take notice of my transformation. It was my chance to convey that their time and influence on my life was not futile. I was going places, and losing weight was assurance that it would actually come to fruition. I was physically healthy and my dreams, as most twenty-somethings might envision, could flourish without the likely chance my weight would stop me. The health, fitness, job, place to live- it was all happening and at an awe-inspiring rate. So when I emailed my favorite college professor, who I now just call Jane, I asked if I could stop by her campus office for a visit because I wanted to tell her about my classes, internships and graduation. More importantly I wanted to finally thank her for inspiring and preparing me for my career as it was about to take-off. I had no contact with her in the two years since finishing my undergraduate degree. My weight loss wasn’t just an added bonus to show off, it was necessary for me to feel confident enough to revisit the past. I no longer had to wear the hmost shameful, embarrassing and disgusting part of me every single day. I didn’t have to save-face by avoiding unnecessary social interaction. Oh, have I mentioned yet that I was becoming a social worker?

Jane was the staff member I chose to present my hood to me at graduation and I vaguely remember how it awkwardly rested along my 23 inch neck-line. Yes, that’s the size of kid’s or petite woman’s waist! Since it was her last visual memory of me along with my 4XL sized gown in May 2009, I figured I needed to mention it somewhere in our email threads that began a couple days before we were to meet:

Ms. B,

That’s okay I am moving to Naperville at the end of April (and not far from downtown), so we can even meet for coffee or lunch sometime if that’s more convenient. I am graduating in May and Little Friends offered me a position, so I will be the parent educator at Krejci Academy (their K-12 school) starting in April since I finished my field placement hours already. On a more personal note I’ve also lost 170 lbs in the past year, so things are going very well for me right now. I hope everything is great for you too.

Melissa

I have time from 4:00 to 5:00 on Friday afternoon – in between clients. Any possibility we could grab a cup of coffee? Can’t wait to see you – and wow, 170 pounds. Outstanding!!!! I may not recognize you.

Jane

“I may not recognize you.” There’s no chance she would. No one had unless they saw me throughout those 11 months, before that pinnacle month of April.

However casually I wanted to address my weight loss with people as a simple “fyi,” I knew I would look drastically different and that became a source of severe anxiety. It was only 11 months since I’d been so morbidly obese. There were a lot of people that I hadn’t seen in that time span who only knew me as heavy; out of state friends, extended relatives, you name it. Showing them how I now looked was so much easier through pictures- I was spared the I just saw a ghost or deer in headlights reactions that’d become so customary since they would occur behind the privacy of their computer screens or smartphones. My own great-aunt turned pale and froze with a dramatic jaw drop that I was sure was turning into a full-blown heart-attack after she realized who I was at a family party. It wasn’t the surprise itself that caused me discomfort, it was feeling like a stranger in front of people who’ve known me forever. This time I walked into a Starbucks in the lively downtown Naperville area. It was just a block away from Jane’s private practice office above a local sandwich shop where she’d be walking from shortly after 4:00 pm. This would become our regular meeting spot from now on. It’s funny how a small turn of events can turn two solid years of zero communication into a friendship I’ve come to treasure. But I’m getting a bit ahead of myself- in that moment it was terrifying.

This was one of those gray days where everyone expresses some variant of “I could just stay inside and nap all afternoon.” Plenty of cold, intermittent showers necessitated a warm trench-style raincoat, grey boots and a number of bobby-pins to tame my frizz-prone hair. As I stood to the left of the register waiting for the tea I just ordered after scanning the area for the familiar face, I saw her about ten feet from the front door. I cleared a giant lump in my throat momentarily thought, “Maybe she actually will recognize me, my hair’s the same, I always wore it up like this in college.” She approached the register and similarly glanced around. I interjected with a wave and “hi!” I honestly don’t remember our immediate greetings which in actuality is a good thing. So many other encounters felt awkward and unnatural with tons of “oh my goshes” and near tears. This almost felt like seeing her on any old Monday morning in her office or prior to her class. My mind was nostalgically traveling back to college.

I had taken numerous classes at Benedictine University, a small liberal arts school outside Chicago, with Jane and excelled on every exam, project and paper. I still use a fake mask of humility to deflect the bright, blinding beam of pride that must radiate from my smirk when I think about the time she scribbled in standard red ink at the end of a term paper that I should get my doctorate in social work. I held her in high esteem for her professional knowledge, experience and guidance in helping me discover social work as a career path to seriously consider. She was the first person I called (okay, actually I cried and hyperventilated on her office voicemail) when I found out that one of my prospective graduate programs lost my application when I was anxiously awaiting a letter of acceptance and was approaching the decision-making deadline. She quieted my irrational ranting and helped me narrow it down to what mattered. Despite the cost difference, I truly wanted my degree from Loyola University Chicago anyway. When I met a challenging impasse during an assignment or had questions pertaining to my undergraduate field placement she had all the right words of encouragement. She wasn’t even technically my faculty advisor, but my go-to person for everything school/career-related. It wasn’t until this late afternoon did I realize that that was the extent of my rapport with her. Sure, she was aware of my family’s financial struggles and my Mother’s battle with a chronic illness, but that’s only because I incorporated it into a project for her Social Welfare course on Social Security Disability Insurance. This was characteristic of most of my friendships and relationships throughout my first twenty-four years; narrowly focused and guarded.

I naturally thought the first question about the weight loss would be “How did you do it?” There were no pills, surgeries, or other seemingly unorthodox methods. It was just inflexibly rigid changes to my diet and exercise. I suppose the excitement and astonishment of those around me that it was actually happening, for real this time, caused few to stop and question whether my new behaviors were in fact “healthy.” I was adhering to the protocols of a nationally-known weight loss program. So it was being properly monitored, right? The meeting leader once asked if I was actually eating to which I responded with a brazen, “Yes. I am definitely still eating, thank you.” Not only did I speak the honest truth, but my “I’m a professional and you are not” sense of entitlement kicked in. How dare some lady whose qualifications were simply a) having success on the program herself and b) receiving some corporate training question me? I was eating and losing weight, plain and simple. I was the highly trained professional and was getting a Master’s degree and state license to prove it.

Clearer memory of our reunion began after we both ordered and Jane said, “you have to tell me all about this.” I went to grab an empty table while she awaited her coffee. The conversation would obviously go there, but as I sipped my calorie-free black tea I opted to evade it for as long as possible. My plan was to the tune of “I’ll talk about myself without talking about me at all;” the courses I took, my concentration in the program, the internships, the job offer. There was plenty to keep the conversation going and this was the extent to which I’d opened up to her or anyone else before. After sitting down Jane initiated the inevitable when she simply said, “This is amazing, but I still see you. You’re the same person I remember, I can tell by your eyes.” Already this conversation felt different than all of the others and I was surprisingly at ease. In all of the cookie cutter conversations sugar-coated with praise and requests for my “secrets” to losing weight, no one, not even me, ever took the time to acknowledge that I was still the same person. I was and still am Melissa.

Jane is a therapist and I was too, but my title was brand new and only backed by the education, training and passion that put us in the same field. Unlike the program meeting leader, I felt humbled by those who’ve proven themselves in the field. Jane deserved a level of veneration for her decades of experience in understanding people, their plights and a responsiveness to their needs so seamlessly woven into her communication style-even in our casually talking. What she had to say mattered to me and I was about to have a genuine conversation about my obesity. When did I gain the weight? Was there a specific event or age in which it began? Have you tried other methods to lose the weight? What triggered this last successful attempt? What made you decide now was the right time to deal with this? How did your family address your weight? Or did they at all? And the ultimate question with an answer seeming so obvious at the time: “Do you ever feel like you are hanging on to your new eating habits with white-knuckled sobriety?”

That was a term I was all too familiar with after having studied the nature of addictions in Jane’s Alcoholism course my senior year. As is the case in any adventure thriller where a character desperately clings to life from the edge of wall or building with a fisted-grip clenched so tight that all color drains from their tiring hands, was I frantically holding on to this diet? The character is either spared in a heroic rescue or plunges to a dramatic death and his fate often depends on his ability to maintain that grip. One slip-up and it’s over. We see this all the time with alcoholics and dieters alike; with a single beer or slice of chocolate cake, a person can revert to the same cycle of destructive behaviors. I hastily answered with what was probably an unconvincing “no, I’m never going back to being the old me.” Woah! No one’s asked me that yet and the mere thought never even popped into my head. I was momentarily panic stricken and then relieved to change topics slightly.

Jane sipped her coffee and leaned back in her wooden chair with a familiar expression on her face that usually meant “I’m pondering something, but give me a second to formulate the words.” She did this all the time in class when intriguing questions were asked and I could imagine it similarly playing out in her office during sessions with clients.

“You know Melissa, your weight was something that I always struggled with while you were at Benedictine. Here you were, this bright, amazing student doing so well in all of her classes and getting straight A’s. You were very successful, but here was this very obvious, severe weight problem that you never talked about and we never talked about. It was always just this elephant in the room. And was it my place to say anything? Would that have made a difference for you?”

Is this what it was like to actually talk to a therapist? Well duh, I was! But I’d never actually been in counseling before myself and very few people ever spoke to me about a topic this real-no holds-barred. There are many social work, psychology and counseling programs throughout the country that require its students to take a gander at becoming the patient, client or consumer of therapy. It wasn’t mandatory in my graduate studies at Loyola, but always hailed as an invaluable opportunity to gain a new perspective from the other side of “the couch.” Addressing one’s own personal struggles, issues or the taxing effects of working with others so closely on their own was a respected decision. I always self-righteously ignored the general idea; the need for counseling didn’t apply to me. My immediate family members were the ones with depression, anxiety, chronic physical illness and other considerable challenges. I was getting by just fine. Yes, I weighed close to 400 lbs, but on the whole I had my life together.

In response to Jane’s question, I rationalized for both our peace of minds that it wouldn’t have done much good because I wasn’t ready to hear or deal with it at that time. In truth, I have no idea how I would have received that type of conversation. I was taken aback that she actually gave my weight that much thought –I must have figured everyone learned to bury it like me. I don’t know how a person could get by day to day with a problem that permeates literally every aspect of their existence without suppressing the embarrassment and pain. Would my admiration for Jane have stirred the spark to get this done a few years ago?

How was this never an issue or a topic of conversation? My amazing mother sat by my bedside when I’d have a breakdown and we’d talk late into the evening about wanting to lose weight and feel normal, but these were rare and always initiated by me after a triggering event. And now that the weight was gone, Jane was the only person that talked to me directly about the process. Loved ones didn’t ever approach it, so I began to mull over the possible reasons. Were people in my life quietly burdened with some sense of guilt for not doing more to help me? My best friend from high school, Michelle, told me the previous December that she never thought of me as being that heavy. I just assumed friends and loved ones were doing something I’ve never been able to do- accept me for who “I am on the inside”, despite my weight and physical appearance. Obesity is different than many of the other faces of personal turmoil because you literally wear it on the outside twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Despite my hard exterior, was everyone just fearful of how fragile I really was? Would the conversation be too risky, even if I was literally destroying myself?

Jane had to get back to her office for her 5:00pm client so we wrapped up our conversation, hugged and parted ways with plans to definitely meet soon for coffee again. I quickly jogged while jaywalking across the street to dodge the approaching Friday afternoon rush hour traffic and the continued raindrops. As I took a deep breath of cold air, I felt filled. I couldn’t have conjured a more perfect story of where I’d be two years after finishing my undergrad career. Physically, my legs felt as weightless as they did when I’d hit the pavement each afternoon to train for my first race next weekend. Little did I know in that moment how relevant our hour-long conversation would become. I truly was the old me and a fancy diet and tighter clothes wouldn’t be able to hide the truth in the weeks and months to follow.

 

June 23, 2010265090_229923953687248_100000089352937_1004194_4889798_n

The “difference” a year made.

Paper Towels and Bandages

The following is a chapter from my book. Feedback is much appreciated!

Mom, I need You to Bring Me Some Paper Towels and Bandages

April 24, 2011

Mom disdainfully refers to it as the gene because it runs exclusively on Dad’s side of the family. Dad and I don’t call it anything because we’re too busy uncontrollably laughing at the mere thought of the examples Mom uses in her case against us. Our objectionable sense of humor deals with one specific topic: people falling or tripping. We weren’t even there the infamous day my late Grandma Marge went outside on the front porch to retrieve her Chicago Sun Times. The story itself painted the side-splitting visual of her bending down for the newspaper and not coming back up. The injuries were not the least bit funny, her hip was fractured. Go ahead, say it. Mom does frequently; “you guys are sick.”

I don’t, however, discriminate in whom I target with my laughter. Some of my funniest stories involve me! Just typing the title you see above took me right back to a chilly October morning my senior year of college. My standard for appropriate flip-flop weather was simple; no snow. So despite the temperatures, I waddled out of my 8:00 am class and out onto to the quad to walk back to my apartment. I’ve always considered myself clumsy, a clod-hopper, accident-prone and liable to spill or break anything that stains or is of value. All I can say about that morning is that I lost my footing where the sidewalk meets the grass and down I went. Upon standing I assumed I was fine besides the mud I initially noticed on my bare foot and pant legs. Once I noticed the blood streaming from the side of my right foot, my always awkward self tried to play it cool. I continued walking back to my apartment and immediately phoned my roommate, Gaby, with the now legendary conversation.

“Gaby, I need you to come to the door now with paper towels or something to clean up a lot of blood!” The words were hyperventilated and barely discernible.

“Melissa, what did you do? It’s not even 9:00, what did you do now?” She was still half asleep and completely unprepared for what she was about to see. Because she knew me well, she knew it had to be good.

“Oh crap, did you kill ___(let’s just leave this blank)_____?” We both were hoping our mean, randomly assigned roommate would be leaving soon, but no. I did not take matters into my own hands.

At this point I was in pain and panting as I crossed the single campus street that winds in front of our apartment building.

“I’ll be up in a sec. Maybe bring some grocery bags or something too.”

She was already standing in the open door frame with a roll of paper towels when I trudged up the stairs leaving behind clearly outlined footprints that took a few rain showers to wash away; one bloody and the other muddy. I tied the plastic grocery bags around my feet so I could tread across our light gray carpet to the bathroom to assess the bodily damage. I was not going to risk campus-housing fines for just another one of my stupid moments! In the age when Facebook was still in its infancy, a couple of pictures of my fat and swollen feet still made their appearance.

The hilarity wasn’t in the injury itself, but the fact that I manage to fall or hurt myself with such regularity and under the strangest of circumstances that I could probably write a book on that alone. I once fell into my parents’ empty swimming pool while attempting to weather-proof the wooden deck. Mom saw it happen from the kitchen window, but waited to come out and help me until I tried leveraging myself out and she finished laughing (yeah, and she says I’m sick!).  I also split my lip open playing softball in 7th grade. No big deal. Everyone has sports injuries right? Well I split it open a second time in the exact same spot and on the exact day the first set of sutures were removed.

So what was the latest injury necessitating paper towels? While I was still getting inpatient treatment I was considered a fall-risk and therefore not allowed to take showers or use the bathroom alone. I aggravatedly rejected every offer for a sponge bath and instead opted to have my mom shower me. The nurses agreed to wrap up my IV port every day so I could at least feel clean. I still believe some hospitals do everything in their power to strip away human dignity and make you feel worse than you already do, but that’s an argument for another time. I believed I’d been discharged in the exact same condition I was admitted and didn’t recognize a lick of improvement. Apparently the physical therapists needed to use these giant resistance bands to hold me up when I tried walking the hospital hallways in the first few days. Regardless, once I was home I still couldn’t shower, manipulate anything with my hands or prepare food safely. I didn’t have the strength needed to hold my hands up to my head or the sensory capacity to feel my scalp if I were to lather up with shampoo.

My mom was probably the only person in the world I felt comfortable handling my basic life skills for me. While I was so fortunate to have her assistance, it was still the most helpless and undignified I’ve ever felt in my life. So when she cautiously agreed to let me give showering a-go on my own, I felt compelled to attempt what would feel like real, adult independence. The task: shaving my now beastly legs. Needless to say from the general themes above, it wasn’t pretty. The ten inch scar down the front of my shin is there to this day. In that moment, I was despondent. Life was going to be like this forever.

For the first time in eight years I actually understood and felt the pain, shame, fury and uncertainty to be the woman I resented so often for what she couldn’t do, be or give me. I suppressed the selfish anger of having a mom that’s sick with a neurological condition; a mom that couldn’t get out of bed most mornings without agonizingly lifting her pain-ridden body, a mom that couldn’t go to work like the other kids’ or a mom that spent many hours just lying there when all you wanted to do was plan a shopping trip or grab lunch together. Yet here she was cleaning up my brokenness, my pain and my anguish.

A week prior I was an educated, self-sufficient, active and finally healthy twenty-something and instantly I couldn’t even take care of myself! I sat catatonically and half-naked on the edge of my bed while my mom soaked up the blood that slowly dripped down both legs and onto the laminate floor. She then used the other side of the towel to begin wiping the streams of tears that steadily started trickling down my face. Neither of us uttered a word, but that said it all.

Changed

I came up out of the water
Raised my hands up to the Father
Gave it all to him that day
Felt a new wind kiss my face
Walked away, Eyes wide open
Could finally see where I was going
It didn’t matter where I’d been
I’m not the same man I was then. I got off track, I made mistakes
Back slid my way into that place where souls get lost
Lines get crossed
and the pain won’t go away
I hit my knees, Now here I stand
There I was, now here I am
Here I am
Changed

-“Changed” by the Rascal Flatts

Being the rigid, super-anal, type-A individual that I still am in so many respects, it shouldn’t surprise many of you how organized and tailored my music playlists are on my iphone. One of my favorites is my “5k” list that I threw together before one of said races and have since meticulously edited and rearranged for one specific 3.10 mile route I take through my neighborhood. Seriously, I have it timed to inclines, turns, the Map My Run lady’s voice that marks each mile and the final stretch as perfectly as Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon is synced to the Wizard of Oz. One of my new all-time favorite songs is “Changed”  by the Rascal Flatts. It’s the new single from their album of the same name and I actually heard it debut on K-Love Tuesday after falling in love with it a couple months ago. In the randomness that is my music taste, I fittingly made this my cool-down tune on the route. It starts about two blocks from my condo complex and finishes up as I walk into my building (yeah, I know how strange I am). And I run this route about twice per week. While sometimes I meditate on the lyrics as Gary, Jay and Joe harmonize so beautifully. Other times I’m more preoccupied with watching some interesting neighbors go about their business, the turkeys wandering about the Podunk streets of Wheaton or my longing for a hot shower. The song is so much part of the routine that I often overlook the degree to which their words have mirrored my own life, especially after my own baptism the Sunday following Thanksgiving.

I absolutely, without a doubt, am changed..for the better. On the inside I was broken, scared, alone, resentful, angry, jealous, depressed and falling even more apart by the minute. I can say I “hit rock bottom,” but really there was still room to plummet deeper into despair and even further from Christ. A real rock bottom would have to be one’s physical demise accompanied with that enduring spiritual death- unfortunately that’s where I was headed. On the outside you could see it in my sunken eyes, catatonic affect, physical weakness, binge trips to Jewel, merciless runs on the trails and the mornings I awoke keeled over a makeshift vomit receptacle.  It was suspected in either my vacant social presence or entrenchment into the “I now have Multiple Sclerosis and my life is over, so I’m going to be as miserable as I can when I’m around other people” attitude. It was visibly obvious in the 6 weeks I dropped another 50lbs off my already disappearing frame and the later months when it piled right back on thanks to my devouring entire cakes, cans of frosting, boxes of cookies and dozens of doughnuts in one sitting.

So to say that I feel like these lyrics and the heart behind them reflect my own faith journey is an understatement. I’m not going to outline the specifics of how God’s work in me has made me a more healthy and pleasant person in terms of outward behaviors.  I’m sure those close to me can at least in some capacity attest to how I’ve finally started adjusting healthily to my diagnosis and have fully embraced the principles of recovery and a normalized mindset toward eating, exercise and body image. Internally I’m also overflowing with renewed hope, love and joy in Christ. The huge problem here: why is it not radiating through in every word or action more boldly than my human pride and sin? I’ve been told that I have an inspiring testimony. God’s unwavering love, grace and forgiveness can make for a great transformative story, but faith, salvation and love for Christ cannot sit idly. Spiritual renewal is constant and growth is a process where our hearts and minds are continually stirred or challenged.

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.  For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.”         -Romans 12:1-3

My recovery is perhaps the most egocentric example of how I assess where I’m at spiritually, but it’s relatively accurate because food and body image permeates the everyday in our culture- there is no escaping it. We as humans need to eat and we place social importance on food and dieting.  So this past Saturday when I was exhausted and had about an hour before I had to head out the door to get to my part-time job, and most people might take a nap, watch TV or grab a cup of coffee, I let unhealthy thoughts take over for about twenty minutes when I felt the need to go for a run in the freezing cold because it would be my only chance for a workout the entire weekend. It’s very fitting that MY THERAPIST just happened to drive past me while I was huffing and puffing on my Asthma inhaler. It turns out she actually lives on the above mentioned route and rightfully asked why I was pushing myself during the drive to my house. That’s right, she drove me home! The previous Sunday I was extremely grateful that I could go the entire weekend without working out and without feeling an ounce of guilt. I even sat on my couch that night to watch The Biggest Loser while eating a giant bowl of ice cream. My point here? Disordered thoughts and behaviors can easily maneuver their way back into my life; ahead of prayer and ahead of Christ. And when this happens I take immediate notice because I find it personally distressing. But in other areas of my life I allow gossip, hate, judgment, crude humor and other indiscretions to infiltrate even more regularly because I’m under an erroneous impression that they aren’t affecting me as much. But sin is sin. James 2:10 reads; for whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. It’s all one in the same in that they impede on my living for and serving Christ.

We must always remember that we “all sin and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). It shouldn’t, however, be a point for discouragement; “God made him who had no sin to become sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21). So yes, I still believe that I am changed for the better- but only because of what Christ did on the cross. Despite our inherent shortcomings, we are so loved by a Savior that gave his life for us. If that reminder doesn’t stir the longing to grow in his image and be that light that shines as an example in this broken world of ours, nothing ever will.

1 Peter 1: 22-25; 2:1-10

“Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart.For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.  For,

“All people are like grass,
and all their glory is like the flowers of the field;
the grass withers and the flowers fall,
but the word of the Lord endures forever.”

And this is the word that was preached to you.

Therefore rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.  For in Scripture it says:

“See, I lay a stone in Zion,
a chosen and precious cornerstone,
and the one who trusts in him
will never be put to shame.”

 Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe,

“The stone the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone,”and,

“A stone that causes people to stumble
and a rock that makes them fall.”

They stumble because they disobey the message—which is also what they were destined for. But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”

New Year, same me!

Two years ago today I went for my first run, ever! The forced PE mile runs and my treadmill self-tests to see if I could go a full mile don’t count. January 1, 2011 was the first time I tied up my shoes, went outside and hit the pavement because I wanted to for fun.  I can’t believe I’ve been free of the weight for that long now. Running wasn’t a plan for 2011, it just so happened to pan out that way. And I’ve never been one for New Year’s resolutions, but I’ve been giving my personal goals a lot of thought lately. And by lately, I mean constantly…for the last two years. I’m hoping that by writing and sharing some of these grand ideas, I’ll be able to benchmark my progress and have something to reflect on 364 days from now- regardless if I actually accomplish the following. A few weeks ago I shared my biggest personal prayer request for 2013 with my small group- stability. And I don’t mean that I’m praying for God to make the events and circumstances stable, I wouldn’t be who I am without the surprises. And as Paul said  in Romans; “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28). Whether the punches at the time seemed to tear my life apart or build it up, everything has drawn me closer to Christ and that’s all the good I can count on and need. So what I’m really praying for is to live according to that truth. Adjustment, flexibility, contentment and peace with my life, as God planned it, is what’s key. But it’s always fun to predict what the year might have in store and to think about how I’ll be used this year!

  1. Pass the LCSW exam and get more letters after my name. Then the next step is to explore my options in doing some part-time private practice!
  2. Experience my first year of FULL recovery. I made it through the holiday season without an Eating Disorder pulling me away from living, loving and enjoying it all. This freedom is indescribable and I can’t wait to have a year of “firsts” with normal attitudes and behaviors. It’s been almost 26 years, about freakin’ time!
  3. Finish writing part 1 of my book, and solidify my outline and plans for part 2. This means having serious conversation with the people I’m hoping will be interested in contributing their professional expertise. And that means mustering up the courage to even ask and to handle the possible “no’s.”
  4. Run a half marathon- only if my health is stable. It will have to be less than 60 degrees outside, so does anyone recommend a cold weather location or race this year? If MS says no to this, I vow to listen to my body and respect my limitations.
  5. Go on or plan a short-term missions trip. God has definitely been laying this on my heart and I need to stop being so complacent.
  6. Start bike riding-this could be interesting. I’ve been saying this for a long while, but I think the fear of injury or embarrassment has caused me to continually put it off. It’s happening this spring people!
  7.  Be a better friend when it comes to returning phone calls, getting in touch and making plans. No excuses. I’ve been lazy.
  8. Read God’s Word every single day. Again, I’ve been lazy.
  9. Stop being such a crappy sister. I need to produce a better balance of sincere kindness and the sarcastic, witty teasing that defines our relationships. I also need to stop cutting them down when we argue or get competitive.
  10. Do something spontaneous at least once per month. You might know how rigid I am at times and boring at others, hahahahaha.

Happy New Year friends and family!

Airing out my dirty laundry

“In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps” –Proverbs 16:9

I’ve obviously dropped the ball on writing posts recently. Once a week became once a month and now it’s barely that. Life is moving full speed ahead! I bought a condo in Wheaton which places me at the perfect distance from work, doctors, church and most of my close friends. I no longer have my weekend bouts of sulking where I want to be social and fun, but feel too drained to make the 25 mile drive, yet again, from Des Plaines to the west suburbs only to kill more time in my car between meeting people. Move is complete, that problem is solved.

I’m in love with my new part-time job (it’s even walking distance!). I’ve enjoyed decorating and making my new house a home (I still need some dining room chairs though…anyone selling? Hahaha). My fatigue and symptoms have improved considerably. If it stays at this level, I’m definitely able to manage. I’m even back to a comfortable running routine. And as emotionally exhausting as dating has been lately, I’m having a lot of fun and by no means am I discouraged.

I occasionally wonder what readers think about my level of self-disclosure here on the internet. I’d hope that whether you’re a close loved one or a perfect stranger, it represents my authentic self all the same. You know the rule-of-thumb where if you second-guess sharing something, you probably shouldn’t? It’s current to the social media infiltration of our culture and I’m definitely guilty of being a tad too “myself” at times on facebook, instagram, etc… In working on the book, I’ve asked myself a number of times “how can one person talk about themselves so much?”When is it simply TMI, oversharing or airing out my dirty laundry? Have I ever crossed the line of using the public attention that comes with publically sharing all of this to meet some subconscious need for pity, sympathy or on the contrary: to exalt myself? If I wasn’t gaining somethingfrom this, would I still do it? Yeah, we all know at this point that I’ve gone through a lot of personal trials, change and growth too…but when is enough, enough? How much more can I say about it?

My question is rhetorical, but probably a lot!! I like to think, analyze (fine, overanalyze) and process. I’ve mentioned before that the book contains many excerpts from here, but I’ve incorporated them in such a way that the blog itself has become part of my processing even months after it was written. I’m actually dissecting my entries to better understand where I was at emotionally, mentally and spiritually. I’ve literally started analyzing my self-analyses. Every topic, focus, and even the writing style speaks to my grief, struggles, healing and recovery.

I’ve taken to writing in the first place, because let’s face it: my thoughts in their raw form really scare, confuse and annoy even ME at times, hahahaha. Journaling has been one thing, but writing with the intent of sharing has been key in organizing the chaos, a way to check-in with others and it’s how I feel called to communicate a story that needs to be shared for God’s glory. Even when I’ve “worked hard” to change my attitude, thoughts or a situation, it’s only because God equipped me with the strength, tools and resources needed for that accomplishment.

I tend to stress the above point often. So what’s the purpose of this entry? Assessing if I really have a handle on this and to remind myself of why I’m doing it in the first place. We are now a society that’s dependent on being validated by other people. So that’s part of the motivation, I won’t deny that. For much of my life I felt unique, but not usually in a good way. What I excelled in was never enough to compensate for where I struggled. And even at the peak of academic, professional or weight-loss success, I couldn’t describe who I genuinely was or the purpose I had in this life. Even if my favorite professor (turned mentor and now friend) told me on several occasions I needed to get my DSW degree based on my academic writing abilities, so what? It was beyond flattering to a lost perfectionist student, but what good was that going to do any one? What would be the ultimate aim of that degree and how would it contribute to society?

So a strange tidbit about how my mind operates: The face, core personality traits and demeanor I’ve irreversibly given Paul when reading his letters in the NT is the character of Sawyer from Lost. It would be more fitting if Sawyer converted to leave behind his arrogant/bad-ass self for humility, honesty and patience in spreading the gospel and planting churches, but it’s my imagination! In 1 Corinthians 1:26-31 he explained to the people of Corinth that we have what we have spiritually only because it was bestowed on us by God and grace:

Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”

We are equally broken in God’s eyes and called according to his plans to build his body. Paul was used through persistence, leadership and well-intentioned assertiveness in order to inculcate the message of salvation through Grace. By no means am I comparing my plight to that of Paul’s, but I long for that type of humility in Christ. Right now God is calling me to use my writing, love for people and professional interests to reach others through my own crazy story. I seriously have not the slightest clue where the journey will take me, but that’s what makes it a journey in the first place. I’m beginning to thrive on the excitement of the unknown and living in the moment long enough to really live in it. So the writings, blogging and over-analyzing will continue for now. And if my words truly reflect “where I’m at,” it’s probably going to be some very positive reads. The “dirty laundry” is getting cleaner and crisp. Stay tuned!