She wasn’t feeling good. It has been that way a lot lately. She said she needed to rest on the couch while we played a game. I helped her maneuver the pillows that she was trying to place behind her. I got her the fluffiest one. After she was situated comfortably, I took the softest blanket I could find in the room and laid it over top of her, gently tucking it in around her chin. I knew she’d like the blanket because it was green, and green is her favorite color. I smiled at her and crawled up on the couch next to her, snuggling in close, as I found the perfect position where I could both keep and eye on her and pay attention to the deck of cards in my hand…
The above is a true story. It’s a small glimpse into the scene that occurred in my family room this past Sunday evening, except this isn’t a mother talking about taking care of her child, as you might have first thought. Read it again. This time, when it says “she”, insert the word “Mommy”.
Chronic pain changes the natural order of things. The above excerpt is not how things are supposed to be. It should be read as a mother taking care of her child, or husband, or elderly parent. But this disease has caused my reality to flip flop. Things are not how they should be.
“Mom guilt”, as I like to call it, is an old familiar friend of mine. She used to come around a lot more often, before I was on medication for my depression. Her voice constantly followed me. I remember a specific incident about a year ago. I remember it b/c it was one of the first times I began to recognize her comments for the lies they were. I had finally found the courage to schedule an appointment with a Christian counselor and was driving down the freeway, to the appointment. I had just dropped Promise off with a friend. As I drove, I passed the WI state fair grounds. Immediately, she started in, “Promise just told you the other day that she’s always wanted to go to a fair. You’ve never taken her. Most of the other moms you know take a day out of their week to take their children. But look at you, such a failure, driving to counseling instead of taking your own daughter to the fair.” I cried a lot that day on the freeway.
Thankfully, my “Mom Guilt” has decreased significantly since that incident. I’ve worked hard (now that my brain is working as God intended it to…) to fill my head with what my own Heavenly Father thinks about my mothering, instead. I’m trying to let His voice be the conviction I hear and feel.
But there are times when “she” still likes to sneak in and stir up my emotions, especially when the pain is really strong. As I share my story and continue to hear stories of young moms, like me, living with the burden of chronic pain, I know for a fact that this is a common struggle.
This past weekend was a weekend of struggle for me. I was told repeatedly by my medical team, before my fusion in March of 2012, that because of my small bone structure I would feel my hardware more than most. “Most” in this case, referred to the 7 other patients in the country who had had this procedure performed on them. My surgeon and his team didn’t lie. I definitely feel…well, screwed.
It’s no huge surprise I feel like a “kids home depot project gone awry”. Obviously, I’m NOT criticizing my neurosurgeon’s handiwork. He did an amazing job for which I am TRULY thankful. He took 8+ hours putting all of this in and in no way is comparable to a 4 year old learning to hammer. But sometimes that is how I feel.
I am at a point in my diagnosis where it is really REALLY difficult to determine what causes what, so it’s nearly impossible to determine why my fusion will rub me the wrong way sometimes. It could be the Chiari causing the muscles in my upper back/neck/shoulders to tighten, which then causes the muscles around my screws to tighten and rub against nerves. OR it could be the screws rubbing against nerves and bones and then causing the muscles in my neck to tighten which causes the weakness in my arm. OR it could be that there’s scar tissue building up around my screws which rubs on nerves and causes weakness in my arms. The list could go on and on and literally make me crazy if I think about it all too hard.
So instead I rest. Sometimes for 48 hours (if my nerves cooperate and time their tantrum over a weekend). But the funny thing about rest is that it gives you a lot of time to think. I’m not naturally a personality that worries and fears every ache and pain (If I was, I’d live isolated in a clear box with a lifetime supply of maple/bacon donuts to eat and chi-weenies to entertain me… with air holes, obviously). However, when the pain gets like this…and I can literally feel the metal gnawing against my bone, muscle, and nerves…I begin to worry.
I start to imagine what my body will feel like when I’m 50, if I’m already in this much pain at 29. All of the emotions that flooded me, post surgery, come rushing back; “What if this is permanent?” “What if the pain doesn’t go away?” “What if I need another surgery?” “Who will take care of Promise?” and sometimes I even land at the worst “Mom Guilt” question yet…”How could I have been so selfish to bring a child into this?”
That’s when I have to do what Paul encourages the Philippians to do in Philippians 4:6&7;
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Out of a desire to understand this text better, I did a little digging. “The Bible Knowledge Commentary” says this;
“Joy and gentleness accompanied with an awareness of Christ’s imminent return, should dispel anxiety. But this was not a call to a carefree life. To care and be genuinely concerned is one thing. To worry is another. Paul and Timothy cared for the people they ministered to, yet they retained trust in God. Jesus warned against worry which obviously eliminates trust in God (Matt. 6:25-33). Paul exhorted the Philippians to prayer instead of anxiety. Praying with thanksgiving involves trusting God.”
It’s OK for me to be concerned about the pain I’m feeling and the way it affects my family. But it is not OK for me to stop trusting God’s sovereignty and stop thanking Him for what He has already done in my life. God knows that this is not how things are supposed to be. It’s being aware of this, through my pain, that pushes me to seek out truth and knowing God to the fullest that I can (here on earth) until He does restore things to the way that they are supposed to be.
Stuart Briscoe, now in his 80’s, has devoted his life to traveling the world and telling others about the life change that knowing Jesus can bring. My friend Elizabeth, shared at our HOPE talk this past July, that Stuart said the common thread that connected all of these people groups together, was the awareness that our current state is not how it is supposed to be. We live in brokenness, but there is hope in Christ.
This should eliminate my “Mom Guilt” forever. But then again, I’m broken and need to be reminded 🙂
My next post will also be about something that is “not as it should be”. I have my 21st surgery coming up on November 6th. More details to follow in my next post…