Turns out that I don’t really have that many pictures of myself where I am not smiling, which I love. I’m generally a happy, glass-half-full kind of person, and even in the midst of hard seasons, my eyes are set on finding the good. I think it’s the way that God made me. Because He knew all that was to come in my life, and knew that if I was any other way, I would just flounder under the weight of it all. Or maybe it is the transforming work of the Holy Spirit deep within, changing me to be more like Him. Eyes not set ultimately on this world but on the one to come. But either way, I am grateful.
My journey with autoimmune disease has been a long one, starting with that first diagnosis in 2012. And you can search the blog archives here under “autoimmune” or head to my Instagram and read my autoimmune story highlights for more about my actual journey itself with all its diagnoses and ups and downs, but this is how it all began. In the middle of grief. In the middle of tragedy. And I haven’t told many people that before. Yes, in retrospect, the doctors that I have worked with have been able to help me trace some of my autoimmune issues back all the way to birth. They may not have been full blown chronic illness then, but I had the markers for it becoming so depending on lifestyle factors and a whole lot of other things. But what really blew my health up (which is probably a poor choice of words) was walking through grief for the first time in my life. My health erupted due to trauma.
I lost my mom when I was just a baby. She was tragically torn out my life, and her loss and the circumstances surrounding it was a lot to grow up with, which is a total understatement. But the thing is, as a child, you can’t developmentally deal with loss the same way that an adult can. At times, if I’m being honest, I had zero emotional attachment to this person that was my mother because I couldn’t really get it. But the older I got, the more impacted I was by it. And then there was this day that I woke up one morning at the age of 21 with this sudden awareness, as obvious at it is, that I did in fact have two parents and all of sudden it wasn’t okay that one hadn’t been there my whole life. Yes, I lost my mom when I was 11 months old–but I mourned that loss, truly entered the grieving process, 20 years later when I finally felt the weight of it all. Her missing from my life all of these years, and the terror of how she died.
There was a three and a half year period of my life that was set apart from any other experience that I have ever been through, where God gave me the utter gift of mourning the loss of my mom. A journey I absolutely did not see coming, but one of the most beautiful gifts I could have ever been given, even in the darkest days of it all. I experienced her loss in so many ways–in mourning the life that could have been, in holding a ticket stub for a flight from London to JFK with that number 103 on it and a partly incinerated passport, in joining a missions team that took me to England–the last place that I was expecting and truly the scariest place I could have been asked to go, because it was the last place that she was alive and the second I touched down on UK soil I felt like I was living in a grave, until God changed the story. I’ve experienced her loss the two times I went to Lockerbie–the first trip that left me feeling nothing but the deepest grief and the second that was full of freedom and light. And then the aftermath of those months spent in the UK that utterly changed everything about me. Selling the house I grew up in which was the only tangible, physical representation of her that I had because it was the only place where we had been together. It’s been a lot. And there is so much more to the story than these small pieces. So much about the utter complexity of mourning the loss of someone you never got to know (it’s all in my book, which you can be praying about if you are the praying kind of person. Pray as it gets ready to reach the right hands). But this three year set apart time of my life led directly into another journey I never saw coming.
Autoimmune disease. These chronic illnesses that will be with me for the rest of my life.
I’m not a doctor and I’m not going to go into what the research says–but it is all out there for you to see if you want to look it up. But there are tons of correlations between child trauma (and even trauma in adulthood) that leads to chronic illness. Studies upon studies. Throughout those three years as I was living both a nightmare and a healing journey all combined in one, I experienced some PTSD for the first time, which led way to a whole new world of mental illness. Generalized anxiety disorder. Panic disorder. It threw my world upside down in both good ways and really hard ways that will impact me for the rest of my life, just like the loss itself. But that pain, that grief, that trauma is the HOW behind my autoimmune journey. Because as I was emerging through the deepness of this experience–this set apart time–and moving on in a sense (not that it ever leaves you), that is when the symptoms started to hit. All the digestive issues that truthfully I had been struggling with my whole life. The intense pain in my stomach that made me just want to curl up in a ball. The fight with doctors for them to even test me for Celiac because I had a hunch that was going on, and finally getting that confirmed. And that was just the beginning, the first diagnosis of many more to come.
If you’re part of the autoimmune world, you know how deeply a role stress can play on the body. And I think this is an area that we don’t talk about as much–how grief and trauma can actually be the trigger of our chronic illnesses. But that is where my story began. And it has been an up and down road, and thankfully I’m in a place where I feel the best that I have ever felt, although it took a lot of work to get here. But life still carries on and things happen and grief sneaks up on you when you least expect it and that’s where I am right now, sitting in a wave of grief. But I’m smarter this time around too, and I’m treading carefully when it comes to taking care of my body. I know how easily these deep emotions can lead to a flare, and I’m being mindful of that.
This has been one of the best years of my life, but a heavy one as well. Starting with weeks of sitting next to my beloved Mimi as she was in hospice care–the woman who stepped in when my mom died and became one of the greatest gifts of my life. I’m still dealing with the pain of that loss, my second mother in so many ways. And this year is all the firsts without her–her birthday just passed. First Thanksgiving. First Christmas. The day she had her brain seizure in December (December is not a good month for my family). Almost a full year of her being gone and it still doesn’t feel real. And then there is this time of year itself, which is always heavier than the rest of the year. With the 30th anniversary of Pan Am 103 coming up on December 21st and so many tributes already happening which mean the world but sure do dredge up emotions. It’s a lot. And it’s real. But I’m not afraid to meet grief when it comes, because I truly believe that it leads to healing and that there is freedom and release on the other side.
Like I said, I’m being extremely careful with my body right now. Being mindful of the fact of how these heavy emotions coupled with my anxiety plays a role in how my body feels. But this is just part of the journey. It always has been and always will be. And as “down” as this message may sound, I’m really not feeling that way as I write this. Because I also know that God is using my story–both of tragedy and of illness–for good. My tears become my testimony, and if I can help others in the process it is all worth it. Plus I believe with every fiber of my being that my God makes beauty out of every broken thing, and I know that there is so much more beauty to behold.
But I wanted to share this. To start the conversation. So many of you started following along when I started sharing about my health journey, and I want you to not just know about the journey itself, but the how of it all as well. Not to mention the other part of grief–the mourning of the ways our bodies are supposed to work, but that’s another story for another day. Because I also know that I am not alone. I know that so many of you have experienced your own childhood traumas and grief, and that plays a role in your journey as well. And I want you to know that I see you and I feel you and you’ve always got a friend in me.
Life is a lot sometimes, my friends, but it is also so very good. Even when we cannot see it in the moment. Even when it feels so very hard. I’ve said it so many times and I’ll say it again. That this is not where our stories end. Not in anxiety and illness and despair. Our God is a God who will turn our mourning into dancing. Our sadness into joy. He will wipe away every tear forevermore. He is the restorer of all things, and although we don’t always see that here in this life, redemption is always happening, and it’s also always on its way. And when we’re in the thick of it all, in those wasteland moments of our lives, still He is there with us. Forever by our side.
If trauma is part of your past, I see you, friend. If it is part of your chronic illness journey, I would love to connect and support you. You’re not alone, and we can find the good together. Because there is so much goodness to behold.