The blood clinic is one of the most depressing places I know. I spend more time in that place than the average 20-year-old and, frankly, I hate it. You sit around with a bunch of people who are sick and waiting, and there is too much time to think.
I was there again yesterday. I go to the blood clinic so often that it has gotten to the point where the nurses recognize me. They know I need to lie down or I will get dangerously close to passing out, and that it is easier to find the veins in my right arm than my left.
Sometimes the most annoying interruptions are actually answers to prayers.
I usually arrive with a stiff-necked kind of resolve, like I am about to conquer something. This time I kind of limped in, tired and a bit defeated. This worked in my favour because I was super relaxed while lying on the table, liquid red quietly draining into those little plastic tubes. But I also left the clinic with a deep-set frustration, like I wanted to either punch something or lie down and sleep forever. Instead, I went into my van, put my forehead against the steering wheel and cried.
I live with an autoimmune disease called Ankylosing Spondylitis, and I hate talking about it because I think it’s a little overdramatic to use the word “disease” followed by the whole Ankylosing Spondylitis mouthful when I’m 20 years old and visually appear pretty healthy. It just sounds like I’m dying or something, which I’m not. I experience a lot of inflammation and general pain in my body on a daily basis. I get tired easily. My body has a shorter threshold than other people.
It kills me to admit all of this.
Essentially, with autoimmune illnesses, the body is attacking itself internally. I hold a bit of a silent rage against my body because of this. It is the deepest kind of betrayal for your own flesh to turn against you.
Sometimes I can feel my body starting to lose its grip, and it is disheartening. No! Not yet! We’re a team, here. You can’t give out already. There is still so much further I want to go. This is my internal dialogue, and generally it is followed by anger and a resolve to push through because I don’t want to be sick, and besides, everyone else looks fine. I refuse to be beaten down by my own self.
This only works for a short time, until I find myself in a blood clinic and taking time off work to rest, which gives me too much time to spend getting upset at my body for not working properly. It’s a vicious cycle. I’m noticing that I have no grace for my own flesh and bone, and I’m beginning to understand that this isn’t helping anything.
I’m working through all of this right now. This is a really deep problem, and I need to address it or I’ll keep getting sick, and I’ll keep sending little tubes of blood to sterilized labs while I sort through all of my pent up anger and frustration for the thousandth time.
I’ve realized that when my body stops healing itself, it means that I need to stop and listen.
That is so obvious, I know, but it is so difficult for me to honour.
What I know is that the body and soul are intimately interconnected, and when I get stuck emotionally or spiritually my body is the first thing to shut down. I hate acknowledging that I have limits, because to me that equals weakness, and I always want to be the strong person, the one who knows the answers, the one who is there for you all the time. I’m slowly learning, though, that I need to lay down that pride and accept a new rhythm that includes grace and a bit more humility. I am not superwoman, and that is OK.
Stop and listen
A few hours after I returned home from the blood clinic, a friend texted to ask how I was doing. I answered honestly that I was a bit discouraged. She replied and said that maybe God was getting me to rest because he needed to speak to me or teach me something and this was the only way to make me stop and listen. She told me that sometimes the most annoying interruptions are actually answers to prayers and, if you are open to it, they can bring about the deepest transformation.
That thought bounced around in my mind all night. It occurred to me how totally selfish and isolating it was to prove myself as the strongest one all of the time. I thought about how our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit and how I was spending so much time ignoring the little danger signals and getting upset and feeling generally sorry for myself that I was not listening to God so much anymore. I was letting bitterness chip away my gratitude. I was choking out the possibility of God using the quiet, weak moments I experience for his glory.
Right now I’m standing closer to grace and humility and quietly scraping back the bitterness to listen again. I’m starting to walk the long journey of making peace with this broken body that God gave me. I’m learning to see it as a reminder to stop shouting and let him speak. It is surrender, and it is hard. But somehow I think that it will make me softer, and more grateful, and more aware.
That is so healthy and beautiful.
Ankylosing spondylitis (AS) is a type of inflammatory arthritis and an autoimmune disease. An autoimmune disease is one where the body’s immune system becomes confused and begins to “attack” the body. In AS, the joints in the spine are the target of the immune attack, resulting in pain and stiffness (inflammation) in the back. The first symptoms of AS typically start in late adolescence or early adulthood (ages 15-30).
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