Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Returning to Laughter

“So those who went off with heavy hearts will come home laughing, with armloads of blessing.” – Psalm 126:6

It’s been two years since I began this blog. Two years since my father died. Two years since I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Two years of many tears.

Two years ago, all I could see was pain. Emotional. Physical. Even spiritual, as I shook my fist at God and questioned “Why?” and “Why now?”

Being diagnosed with a chronic, progressive, incurable illness like RA has a way of derailing us emotionally. There we are, headed down the path of life, full of dreams of where we want to go, and suddenly, it all comes to a screeching halt.

I imagine it might be a little like being diagnosed with cancer. There’s something surreal about being told you have a disease that literally has the power to take your life (and yes, RA is more than just joint pain – it can, in fact, be deadly).

Unlike with cancer, however, where the biggest question is often “Can I beat this?” the question for people with autoimmune disorders – RA, lupus, multiple sclerosis, ulcerative colitis, psoriasis and more – is “Can I live with this?” There is no beating it. Even if they go into remission for a time, these are diseases you are stuck with for the rest of your life.

Grieving a diagnosis like this is much like grieving any other loss, though. There are five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression … and eventually, acceptance. The key to living with chronic illness is not getting stuck in the first four.

I won’t lie. It’s not easy to live with chronic illness. It goes way beyond the initial diagnosis. Doing what it takes to manage it takes work – a lot of it – and it takes time to figure out what works for you individually.

Initially, I thought I could manage my RA just taking over-the-counter NSAIDs like naproxen or ibuprofen. But when my knee swelled up enough to prevent me from being able to walk, I discovered the need for prednisone and prescription anti-inflammatories. When I was told I had to advance to a DMARD (disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drug), I cried. I was scared. Until it worked, that is. Then I felt great! But now, a year later, I’ve been told that drug is the cause of my newly diagnosed psoriasis. I’m fighting the doctor’s advice for a change in medication. After all, what will the side effects of that medication be? Yet, I know that it’s just a matter of time. It’s not just about my skin. I can feel it in my bones. Change is coming, whether I like it or not.

Living with all of this uncertainty, with painful symptoms that stubbornly won’t go away or medication side effects that may impact our energy level or even our physical appearance, can bring anyone down. Tempers can flare and frustration is often a daily companion. If we aren’t careful, depression can set in.

While I can accept that there will bad days, when the pain is too much or life just feels overwhelming, I’m not ready to give in to my disease, though. I’m not ready to give up!

It’s easy to look back to a few years ago, when I was fitter and trimmer, and had fewer restrictions on my life that have come with my illness. When my focus is there, it is depressing. I can grow angry and bitter that life isn’t what it used to be. But life is too short to be spent looking in the rear view mirror. Every day, I have a choice – will I dwell in the pain of life’s unmet expectations, or will I choose to look at what I still have? How can I beat back depression before it even sets in?

There are many things I do to combat depression, some of which include:

  • Taking a walk or doing another form of exercise, which can release “happy hormones” (endorphins) into my body;
  • Listening to upbeat music, which can lift my spirits or even give me a reason to dance!
  • Keeping my to-do lists realistic, and taking pleasure as I check off items one-by-one;
  • Turning off the news, and turning on a funny TV show or movie;
  • Choosing the company I keep – connecting with friends and family members who are supportive and can make me smile;
  • Serving someone else, even if it means just picking up the phone to offer encouragement;
  • Finding a creative outlet, exploring around town, or taking in the sights and sounds of nature – choosing to do something that brings me joy.

Yet, with all of those ideas, I can still fall into depression if I don’t remember two important premises: I am loved and I am never alone.

In so many places in the Bible, I see God’s reassurance that He loves and cares for us. Psalm 126 says “Oh, blessed by God! He didn’t go off and leave us. He didn’t abandon us defenseless…God’s strong name is our help, the same God who made heaven and earth.”

Despite how we might feel at times, God never abandons us. He loves us right where we are, and it is by His strength that we are able to overcome the hardest of times. We may be powerless over our circumstances, but He has all power! He may not rescue us out of our difficulties, but He always carries us through them.

If I look back over my life, I can see clearly the loving hand of God in it. Can’t you? And when I choose to see His goodness and faithfulness, when I choose to remember those times in which He carried me through to the other side of my most painful circumstances, I find gratitude. And that gratitude is what leads me back to joy.

My life may be difficult at times, as I look through the lens of chronic illness and the uncertainty that brings, but there are so many things for which to be grateful. Sunny days. Nourishing rain. The singing of the birds. And a God who says that when I go to Him with my heavy burdens, I have the hope of coming home laughing, with armloads of blessing.

How do you handle pain and uncertainty in your life? Has living with chronic illness left you hopeless, in despair? What tools have you used to combat it? If you are still struggling, are you willing to accept help and hope from the living God who loves you and wants to lift you out of the pit of depression? 

Returning to Laughter originally appeared on Spring Sight blog, by Linda W. Perkins. Click here for more posts. Get even more encouragement by following me on FacebookPinterest, and Twitter

Many of Spring Sight's posts can also be found each week on Crystal Storms' #IntentionalTuesday,  Kelly Balarie's #RaRaLinkUp, Holly Barrett's Testimony Tuesday, Arabah Joy's Grace & Truth, Holley Gerth's Coffee for Your Heart, and Woman to Woman's Word Filled Wednesday. This week, I am also linking up with Jennifer Dukes Lee and Dawn at Journeys in Grace, as well as with Lori Schumaker.

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  1. My friend has RA - I will pass this along. Thanks and next to you at Lori's this afternoon - also blogged on grief of a different sort.

    1. Thank you, Sue! Yes, please do pass this along to your friend! And I will check out your post as well. Blessings to you and yours.

  2. Such an incredible blog Linda. Bravo for how well ti is written. Yes I cannot do it alone, Sheryl is int he fight with me, my doctors, but I have to do my part. At least one big laugh a day.

    1. Thank you, Rick. This is one of my new posts for #RAblog Week. :-) Yes, we really do much better if we can laugh every day. And that is certainly easier for me when I know God has things under control! Many blessings to you today.

  3. Linda, I'm visiting from Jennifer Dukes Lee's blog. I have to say your tips for combatting depression are very wise. I do not struggle with chronic pain nor depression, tho' both of those have been a part of my life in the past.
    Your 'tips' are great for life in general, when the enemy of our souls wants to lie to us about those two truths--being loved and not feeling alone.
    A healthy soul and spirit are just as important as a healthy body.
    May God's grace sustain you and continue to give you hope and healing.

    1. Thank you so much, Jody. I don't suffer from depression, but many people with chronic illnesses do. It is very common in people with RA and other autoimmune diseases. Therefore, I do my best to ward it off! I appreciate your encouragement and support. God bless!

  4. Oh, Linda! This has so much hope in it! Your words will encourage the hearts of many who have lost their joy in the midst of the grief. You are such an inspiration, my friend!
    Big hugs,

  5. Thank you, sweet friend! God has the power to lift us all out of despair, when we need it. There are things we can do to help ourselves as well! My prayer is that this reaches those who need to know there IS hope, indeed.

  6. Linda, your story is amazing. You inspire me!

    1. Wow, thank you, Meg! Just knowing God is by my side keeps me pushing through whatever challenges I face, one day at a time. Wishing you many blessings and much joy!

  7. Linda, as difficult as your story is, I'm so glad you shared! We have gone through the diagnosis with our daughter of two different autoimmune disorders of which there is no cure, and it is difficult to wrap emotions around while still moving forward to do what is necessary for quality of life. Courage, hope and faith is a choice, and I'm grateful for the truth that God does not abandon. Crystal~

    1. Absolutely, Crystal! God is faithful, even during our most difficult circumstances. I write about my experiences in order to offer hope through Him to those dealing with any chronic illness. I post about once every week or two, if you or your daughters would like to subscribe via email. Or you can find me on Facebook.com/LindaWPerkins1. Blessings!