GI issues

A New Season

Settling into our new home

Settling into our new home

(I wrote this last week as I was packing to move--hence the blog silence lately!)

On Friday my husband and I are moving into a downtown Denver apartment building to start our job of being a Cares Team. (You can learn more about the Cares Program here.) As with most big life changes, I'm excited, a teensy bit apprehensive, slightly nervous, and a bit stunned at what is happening. At the end of this month I will also be starting my new counseling internship at Authentic and True Counseling Center, where I will be starting my private counseling practice. In a whirlwind of events, I ended up needing to leave my original internship placement early. What could have been an incredibly frustrating circumstance led me to ann amazing opportunity. Essentially, at Authentic and True I will get to start my counseling practice a year early! (Which also means I will start being paid now, rather than upon graduation! Counseling folks know this is a remarkable blessing that is pretty much unheard of for master's level counseling students.) The plan is that I will be a part of Authentic and True's practice the entire time I am getting my counseling licensure hours. So, rather than 1) working an internship that's unpaid and will in no way lead to a job and 2) graduating and not having a direct way to start accruing clinical hours for licensure, I have a job, an amazing supervisor, and a stable place to start my clinical work! 

It honestly feels like the summer of blessings. In addition to the new apartment/job and internship, all my GI testing showed nearly nothing wrong! I don't have Ulcerative Colitis! At first this felt pretty discouraging--an odd reaction only those who have carried the burden of being undiagnosed or misdiagnosed understand. But in the end, I'm relieved. Having AS is enough for one lifetime. All the tests showed was some stomach inflammation and a small ulcer, probably caused by all of the anti-inflammatory meds I have to take.

So as I sit here in Starbucks, escaping the war-zone of my half-packed apartment, I'm reflecting on this new life season and the newfound sense of resolution it has brought. I, Katie Jo, with and despite my chronic disease, can live a good, fulfilling, productive, and exciting life. Foraying into the blogging world has made me aware of some amazing women who are living this chronic-illness life with so much intention and fierceness. Women like Aimee who has Rheumatoid Arthritis and regularly posts videos of her workouts. (Aimee, your "Stronger than RA" t-shirts strike a chord!) Or take Kenzie , a college student and nanny who has juvenile idiopathic arthritis, is studying to be a social worker and regularly blogs with honesty and wisdom beyond her years about her life and disease. My new circumstances mixed with inspiration of their determination and diligence are giving me a new, stronger, more certain desire and will to live my life as fully as possible. I want so deeply to not let AS win in my fight to live with joy and the intention to bless others. And, lately, I'm just not ok with AS keeping me on the couch instead of on my bike, walking my dogs, or working out. 

It's a new season, which means I have new opportunities to exercise agency in my life to live as I want--as a fierce, loving daughter of God who won't let disease keep her from loving others (or herself!).  And there, friends, we have the constant tension of chronic illness--of practicing acceptance while also pushing for fullness in life. Both are necessary, but without the tension, life becomes unbalanced. May we live the tension well!


One of McDowell's lovely and hilarious  Empathy Cards

One of McDowell's lovely and hilarious Empathy Cards

Life's been giving me lemons lately. I've had a series of strange and frustrating health issues over the past four months--a pulmonary embolism (a blood clot in my lung), a bout with pleurisy (think stabbing, aching chest pain and trouble breathing), a long-lasting sinus infection (damn you, immunosuppressant drugs!), and now I'm having gastrointestinal issues...again. (Yeah, GI problems are where writing about health gets intensely personal and embarrassing. At least for me.) I've been pretty sick and my body can't seem to get out of a state of fatigue. And I hate even admitting this. I had gotten used to being a somewhat functional version of myself again. I was enjoying being a full-time graduate student with a wonderful part-time job. Leading a small group with my husband. Doing more than I've been able to at many points in my life S.S. (since sickness). I'm 2/3 of the way through my Master's in Counseling, and fiercely want to graduate in one year like I've been planning to. But my body's not cooperating, and once again I'm finding myself in a place of uncertainty.

Earlier this week I discovered Emily McDowell's empathy cards, a series the artist made after suffering with cancer. In an interview with NPR McDowell shared, "The most difficult thing about my illness was the fact that it was so lonely..." One of the reasons was "friends and family either disappearing because they didn't know what to say or well-intentioned people saying the wrong thing. So one of the most difficult things about being sick was feeling really alienated from everyone that I knew." In periods when my disease is more intense and active, it's pretty easy to feel alienated from friends and even family. Most of my energy ends up being used up by just being sick, leaving little left for pursuing friends or even letting them know I'm struggling. Unless you've experienced it, it's hard to comprehend how incredibly exhausting it is for your body to be attacking itself. But, no matter how difficult it may be, I'm convinced that isolation does not have to be the status quo for those who suffer with chronic illnesses. While relating to friends who are chronically ill might feel awkward (or even frustrating!), it's worth the effort. And, as a follower of Jesus, I think it's a calling and a duty for the body of Christ.

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.
— Romans 12:15 (ESV)

McDowell's cards give insight into what loving an ailing friend can look like. Even simple statements like, "I've haven't known what to say, but I want you to know I care," mean so much. The people who have supported me (and my husband) the most in my sickness have been the friends who just show up, who face the conscious and subconscious fears of awkwardness and decide to relate to me instead. And it's those friendships that have convinced me that alienation doesn't have to be my experience. It's the friends who have chosen to enter into my world--which sometimes literally means entering into a messy apartment and holding me while I cry--who have taught me how to hope and to live for more in my suffering. The truth is, I need friends. No matter how many years I've been suffering with AS, I'm not going to reach a spot where I've totally mastered taking the blows that it brings.

Anyway, talking about community was not exactly what I thought I needed to write about, but maybe it's what one of you needed to hear. As for my lemons, they really are sour and I'm not sure what to do with them. The coming weeks and months might hold some really unpleasant days, medical tests, and decisions, and I'm not sure I feel like going through this all over again. That's where I'm at. So I'm just letting my lemons be and trusting that God will hold me together while my health and plans feel uncertain.