Monday, September 26, 2011

Two Roads Converged In A Yellow Wood...

Have you ever felt yourself coming up on a crossroads in your life?  Somehow I am there now I think.  The trouble is, right now I don't see down either direction as clearly as the poet, Robert Frost, did when he penned The Road Not Taken.  But even so, when we do come upon these points in life, we cannot see very far ahead no matter how hard we try.  As I look ahead I see possibilities mixed with obstacles.  There is no going backwards, nor would I choose to if I could.  There is only forward.  But which way to go?

As I sit here contemplating where I have been this past year and where I would like to go yet before this year comes to a close, I am also wondering about what lies beyond.  Right now I have no idea which direction I may choose to take.  What I do know is that I can't continue in this place where I am for much longer.  I never imagined in my life that I would have been through the things I've been through the past few years.  But come through it I did, with the help and grace of God.  The lessons I have learned, the people I have come to know and love, and the opportunities I have been given this past year have just overwhelmed me to the point that I know there is more out there waiting if I just step out in faith to find it.

Looking out on the road choices ahead I do see the obstacles standing boldly there trying to convince me that there is no going forward for me.  I've overcome a lot of obstacles and challenges in my life but today these particular obstacles seem to loom up taller and stronger than any I have faced before.  Maybe they are so big that they are blocking my view of what is down those roads waiting for me to choose.  I remember days past when I would simply pick a road and rush ahead to see what was there, almost without even considering what might be down the other road, or what the consequences of my choice might be.  I also remember more recently being timid and afraid to make the choice and letting the road choose me, again not looking at the possible consequences.  But this year has been a mixture of both options I believe.  I've made many strong choices.  I've also had choices made for me that I would not have picked, as well as those that I was very excited about.  This time, as I sit here reflecting on past choices and past forks in the roads I've traveled, I think of where I would like to go and what I would like to be doing next year.  

Friends, I am taking some time this time to think it through.  I am no longer rushing into this path or that path.  Neither am I sitting back and allowing the path to choose me.  If you don't see me for awhile during this decision-making process, don't fret.  I'm still here and I definitely plan on keeping you posted on my progress.  I love you all more than you know.

The Road Not Taken, by Robert Frost 

Monday, September 19, 2011

30 Things About My Invisible Illness You May Not Know

The following post is something the Invisible Illness Websites asks people to do if they want to.  I didn't do it last year but decided this year was a good time. I think my answers are better this year than they would have been last year.

1. The illness I live with is:  Atrial fibrillation, arthritis, mild depression, PTSD, panic disorder, obesity
2. I was diagnosed with it in the year:  The atrial fibrillation was diagnosed in May 1994.  The arthritis  was diagnosed in 2001.  The mental health issues were diagnosed in 2007.  I became officially disabled in 2007.
3. But I had symptoms since:  I've had symptoms of the atrial fibrillation since 1990, the arthritis for years before it was diagnosed, the mental issues I've had most of my life.
4. The biggest adjustment I’ve had to make is:  Loss of my independence.  I gave up my car when I was at my sickest and now that I feel better, I still have no car.  I need assistance with household chores at times such as a full house cleaning once a month.  My mobility has drastically changed and even though I can walk, I use a cane and can only walk or stand for a very short time period.  I need to use the motorized carts if I go shopping.  And I own my own wheelchair which I am thankful for but I have not fully accepted.
5. Most people assume:  That I am not as sick as I claim to be and that I am faking most of the time.  At least the ones I know from before I got sick and at the time I got sick.  The ones I have met since my diagnoses have been much more accepting.
6. The hardest part about mornings are:  Mornings are actually my best time IF I have had enough sleep the night before and IF it isn't one of those days when every inch of my body aches.  I had both knees replaced so the stiffness problem for me grows worse over the course of the day.  Nights are worse for stiffness for me.
7. My favorite medical TV show is:  HOUSE
8. A gadget I couldn’t live without is:  My computer
9. The hardest part about nights are:  That I can't sleep without taking sleep aids and sometimes they don't even work.  I am a natural night owl so I have always stayed up late anyway, but without the sleep aids I would not sleep til 5 or 6 am and then have to sleep most of the day.  I want to participate in life so I have to get some good sleep.
10. Each day I take:  9 pills regularly plus either extra strength Tylenol or Vicodin for pain as needed.
11. Regarding alternative treatments I: am not interested in alternative treatments at this time.  I don't trust them.
12. If I had to choose between an invisible illness or visible I would choose: I think I would choose the invisible because I have the visible ones as well and I don't like the stares I get or the snide comments you can hear as you pass by some ignorant people.
13. Regarding working and career:  I enjoyed some of my jobs I've had but I've always had difficulty on jobs until the last two jobs I had.  I always wanted my career to be full time wife and mom, but that didn't always work.  After I was divorced I had to support myself so working became a hugely stressful part of my life, adding to the stress that contributed to the atrial fibrillation.  I worked from home for 15 months after being disabled but the stress was still too much.  Not having to work leaves me a lot less income for sure, but it also reduced the stress levels immensely.  I've learned how to be content with what I have and just not want so much I don't need.
14. People would be surprised to know:  Those people who see me as faking would be surprised to know how limited my activities have really become.  Those who do know I am sick would be surprised to know that there are more things that I can do than even I thought possible and with assistance from friends and family I could do even more.
15. The hardest thing to accept about my new reality has been: That I lost friends that I thought were real friends.  When I was at my sickest and needed those friends, they had turned their backs on me.  It's been over 4 years and I still never hear from any of them.
16. Something I never thought I could do with my illness that I did was: Go on vacation this past August!  It was difficult and not having done this in my condition before, or even healthy, I was thoroughly unprepared for a lot of things.  But I learned from that and if I get to go somewhere again, I will know more about what to do ahead of time to make the trip go more smoothly.
17. The commercials about my illness:I don't watch TV and don't see many commercials.  But the one that gets me is the "Hoveround" and the person sitting on the edge of the Grand Canyon.  I've never been to the Grand Canyon, but after the trip I just went on with just a regular wheelchair, I can only imagine the difficulties of getting that scooter up there.
18. Something I really miss doing since I was diagnosed is:Being active in my church and going out with my friends from church, along with just having my friends there to talk to or play games with like we used to.  It is like I suddenly became some kind of freak that they don't want to look at.
19. It was really hard to have to give up:  My car.  I want another car but cannot afford to buy myself one.  I also am not sure I could afford the insurance.
20. A new hobby I have taken up since my diagnosis is: It's not a hobby actually, but I have become involved in an online support group for people who have become victims of romance scammers.  It is a very rewarding thing that I am actually able to do at any time of any day.
21. If I could have one day of feeling normal again I would:That would require also having a car, but if I could feel normal for one day I would get in my car, take my fishing equipment with me, my camera, and set out on a road trip for just one day on back roads so I can see the landscape and nature.  Now this is something I can do on any day if I had assistance but getting that is not easy.
22. My illness has taught me: I've learned who my real friends are and they are wonderful people!  I've learned that I am still a capable person and that I can do just about anything I ever could do before but I just need some help doing it.  I've learned that getting help is not easy.
23. Want to know a secret? One thing people say that gets under my skin is: One of two--"You can do better than that." or "Get over it!" (depression issues).  Another one would have to be when they say they will get together soon and take me somewhere fun but then never do.  Sorry that's 3 instead of 1.
24. But I love it when people: Follow through on their promises, offer assistance, ask me what they can do for me or if I need anything.  I would love to have a friend who enjoyed the outdoor activities I enjoy and had free time to take me so we could have some fun together.
25. My favorite motto, scripture, quote that gets me through tough times is: It can be different ones at different times. I don't think there is any specific one.
26. When someone is diagnosed I’d like to tell them: If you don't like or trust your doctor, keep looking until you find one that is good for you.  They all have different styles.  Don't just settle for the first one, unless he/she is great!
27. Something that has surprised me about living with an illness is: How people you have known for years and been close to and done things with regulary can just walk away when you need them.  The same thing for a church and its pastors and staff.  They are the ones who are supposed to be there for you especially when you are part of their membership.  They should not abandon you when you are sick.
28. The nicest thing someone did for me when I wasn’t feeling well was: Brought me a meal, cleaned my house, ran errands for me...take your pick.
29. I’m involved with Invisible Illness Week because: I've seen it on Facebook for the past couple years and I like the message presented.
30. The fact that you read this list makes me feel: Either you are curious about what I wrote or you really care.  Either one, I am glad you are reading it because maybe it will help you understand the next person who comes along in your life and has an invisible illness. 

Thursday, September 15, 2011

To be happy...

I was talking to some friends today and somehow the subject of my New Year's "Resolution" came up.  I realized that this is September already, and already half way through the month!  It will soon be another New Year coming around with another resolution to make or break.  But what really got my attention was that, so far, this year I have done my very best to keep my resolution I made back at the end of 2010.  

My resolution then was: "To be as happy, healthy, and strong as I can be physically, mentally, and spiritually whether I am with someone special or alone."

Somehow, with getting older and having health issues like I have had the past few years, I just wasn't into making the same old type of resolutions people make such as to lose weight or to change jobs, or move, or whatever specific, easily breakable resolution they might make.  The year 2010 had been a year of exhaustive changes, some good and some not so good, and I just wanted to see 2011 be the best it could possibly be but without all the pressure we usually put on ourselves.

In May, 2010, I had my first knee replacement.  A few months later I also decided, without giving it much thought or prayer, to join online dating sites and give myself a chance to maybe find someone who might see me for the real person on the inside and not have an issue with the "house" I live in that is this body.  What I got was a Nigerian romance scammer instead.  It was a total shock to even realize that this kind of thing was going on over the internet.  It was even more of a shock that so-called human beings without consciences could actually do such horrible things to other human beings.  But every cloud, they say, has a silver lining.  I say that the bad things in our lives often are stepping stones to better things if we have faith enough to trust and wait on God.

As a result of meeting this scammer, I did some research and found some websites dedicated to reporting the scammers, and educating the public on how to be safe online and protect themselves from online dating scams.  One such site included a chat room which is something I was very much interested in.  They also have a very active email group, but I wanted more real time conversation with other people who knew what this romance scam stuff was all about.  I am not one who really likes dealing with email in the first place and I felt more comfortable talking to a group of people who had been through this and knew how to help me deal with the emotions involved.  In that process I found some of the best friends I have ever had in my entire life.  Like I said, sometimes the bad things are stepping stones to better things.
After ten months in the chat room, in mid-July, the owner of the email group and chat room decided to pull the plug on the chat room for whatever reasons.  This left those of us who really loved being together as a sort of online family out in the cold.  We felt like passengers on a sinking ship with no land in sight.  At that point, we banned together and came up with a lifeboat solution, temporary as it was at the time.  We got together on Yahoo Messenger in a conference chat while we decided what we could do.  A plan formed and within an hour we had a temporary new chat room where we could at least stop and breathe awhile before deciding what to do next.  I cannot describe the way we all felt that night.  It was as though we had been scammed by the one who had rescued us in the first place.  We felt lost.  We felt betrayed.  Mostly we felt hurt and scared about what would happen to our family.
Three weeks later we had a permanent home.  Thanks to the generosity of one of our members, we had both a domain (6 in fact that all point to the main URL) and a chat software just like we had in the previous location.  Thanks to another member we had graphics that included beautiful background and logo.  Coding was in place.  Now it has been two months since we began this new journey and we have grown to include other ventures as well as the chat room.  We have brought back together 30 of our regular chatters and we are officially open for business to help anyone who comes along who has been or is being scammed by a romance scammer.  We are there to help friends and family members who are trying to get loved ones to break free from the scammer's hold on them.  We are there to do what we were doing before we lost our first home.  We feel maybe this was what God had planned all along.  (For anyone who may be in need of this help, please feel free to visit Scams Of The Heart .)
For me, what did all this mean?  This chat room, the first one and the one we have now, have been a lifeline to me in many ways.  For me it was first a place to heal from the emotional upheaval of the scam.  Secondly it became a place where I made some really wonderful friends.  But it also became something I have wanted all of my adult life.  It became a mission for me.  As a Christian I always wanted to have some kind of way to serve God and did my best in the little ways I could while I was raising a family.  Now that I am disabled and limited in what I am able to do, knowing I found somewhere to serve online is amazing to me.  The night the first chat room was closed down I felt like I had lost everything I was working for in life.  I felt like I had lost my chance to do something with a real purpose where I could make a difference in someone's life.  Getting that chance back again gave more meaning to my life than I could imagine.  
Today when my friends and I discussed whatever it was that lead up to talking about this resolution I had made, got me thinking deeply of how far I had come this year since I made the resolution.  You can read my other blogs for more details of things that have happened this year already.  But I can safely say that I have actually lived out this resolution to the best of my abilities and I have been as happy, healthy, and strong as I could possibly be physically, mentally, and spiritually so far this year.  I've made wonderful friends.  No that special person and I have not found each other, yet.  Maybe it's not in God's plans for me, but I am still very hopeful.  This year, even with the few low points, has been a tremendous year for me.  And there are still three more months left before another resolution will need to be made. 

Who knows?  Maybe I will just extend this year's resolution for another year!