Healing hurts

Healing hurts.  Any type of healing, from any type of issue.  Pain doesn’t always lead to healing but healing always involves pain.

For me, 12 weeks on from open heart surgery with my emotions no longer masked by strong opiates, the pain is becoming almost unbearable.  Which I can only hope means that there is a lot of  internal healing going on.

In the first few days after my surgery when I was still in intensive care and the high dependency unit, I was overwhelmed with intense physical pain. One of the two large drainage tubes in my chest had lodged between my ribs and was hitting a nerve, sending my back into spasms and stopping me from being able to breathe properly.  I could only take tiny shallow breaths.  It felt as though my lungs were on fire, and my chest felt broken.  It was broken.  My sternum had been sawn into two length ways and my chest pulled apart then pulled back together again, held with steel wires.  I was swollen and raw and bruised. I couldn’t concentrate on anything except the pain, getting through second by second.  I can’t really remember anyone else being there with me, even though some of my family and friends were there, because the pain was all-consuming.

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I do remember having the drainage tubes pulled out of my chest, and the pain associated with them stopping immediately.  I still couldn’t take a deep breath.  It was weeks before I could and in fact I still can’t take a deep breath without pain.    But having the drains removed was wonderful nevertheless.  It meant I was able to get out of bed properly and take my first walk with the nurse.  I was moved out of the high dependency unit straight away.  I can remember that moment, those steps – smiling from the inside out, being so happy to be moving again.

When we are in such intense pain and the cause of it is removed suddenly like that it truly is incredible, liberating.  But more often than not it  leaves wounds that still need to heal.

As well as a large wound down the front of my chest, I had holes where the tubes had been. Each one stitched together, sore and inflamed, still needed to heal and would leave permanent scars.

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Sometimes in life we experience situations, circumstances, traumatic events, that are so intense or sudden they completely consume us.  When they stop, change, are over, that initial risk and fear may have gone, but we are left with deep, open wounds.  No one pulling us back together with steel, or stitching us with little bows.

We are left shocked and stunned and alone.

We are changed.

More often than not, we scramble around trying to find things to self-medicate with, to soothe ourselves with, as we try to make sense of what has happened to us.   We can spend years packing our feelings away, pushing pain deep into ourselves, avoiding anything that reminds us of what happened.

Even really good things.

We tug and pull at our wounds until they are unrecognisable in the hope that we will be able to move on without ever really looking at the damage, without ever feeling anything.

But like I said before.

Healing hurts.

Numbing isn’t healing.

Punishing yourself isn’t healing.

All the coping mechanisms in the world, as useful as they may be at the time, are not healing.

To truly heal, you need to feel the pain.  Be in it.  Face it.  That’s the only way that you will know when it has gone.

For me, the open heart surgery has been a huge painful trigger, a reminder of something that changed me.  Something that happened nearly 17 years ago and shaped my life.  I’ve spent those years hiding myself, burying myself in layers of fat and emotional walls in an attempt to protect myself.  Which in a way has worked, but I have sacrificed so much in the process.  I’ve rejected myself out of disgust and hidden myself out of shame.

I’ve had attempts at dealing with this stuff before, but I’ve always failed and ended up worse.  My failure shows outwardly on my body as I lose weight, get to a certain point, then feel vulnerable and exposed again so put the weight back on.  But this isn’t really about my weight.  That’s not the real battle.

The real fight is to feel safe to be myself.  The real fight is to be comfortable in my own skin.  The real fight is being able to look at what happened and the consequences.  The real fight is about forgiveness, and mercy and grace.  The real fight is to reach out to myself with love.  And reach out to others for support.  The real fight is to allow myself to feel pain and trust that  I can survive it; realise that I have survived it.  The real fight is about acceptance and intimacy and love.

This is a battle of true healing.

And healing hurts.

Love Lou x

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Twas the week before surgery…

Yesterday as I sat in the coffee shop at the gym one of the lovely staff asked if I’m nervous about my heart surgery next week. And you know what my response was?  Yes of course I am nervous but I’m also excited.

Excited???!!!!!

My own words took me by surprise. I’m going into hospital in a few days to have major open heart surgery, surely that can’t be how I’m feeling? 


Of course I’d just spent 2 hours dancing so it could have been the endorphins talking. (Did you know that the endorphins released in your brain after exercise trigger a positive feeling in the body and mind?) But I think it’s more than that.  I think I am actually excited, and I think I’m as ready as I can be to go through this.

I am getting my heart fixed.  The process is going to be horrible in many ways I know, but I am being reassured by all the cardiology team, and fellow heart warriors across the pond,  that the results are going to be worth the pain.

I can’t imagine what it is going to feel like to not have a mucking great big hole in my heart anymore, and to have all the blood vessels in the right places so I have more oxygenated blood.  I’m guessing and hoping that it will feel wonderful. That once I’ve recovered from the surgery I’ll be able to build my fitness to beyond anything that my body is capable of right now.  That I’ll have loads more energy to dance and move and stomp.  I do like a good old stomp!

And I am excited about spending time with people during my recovery.  I honestly feel incredibly blessed to have so many amazing people in my life who love me, and want to spend time with me to help me, support me.  I know that I won’t always be good company, that I’ll be in pain at first, and there will be many tearful days.  But I also know that allowing myself to be that vulnerable with others will make me stronger and strengthen my relationships with them.   That’s very exciting to me.  I want my heart to be stronger so I can love more, and be a blessing to others too.

This surgery has been hanging over my head for 5 years now.  It’s a bit shocking to think that this time next week it will be done and I’ll have got through the time in intensive care, already back on the ward!  And the weight of anticipation will be lifted from me, I’ll be free from the looming dooming surgery ahead because it will be behind me!

I didn’t know I would feel so excited.

But really I do.

Now don’t get me wrong.  I’ve not gone manic.  I realise that this is huge.  I’ve been told the risks countless times. And no doubt will be again next week before the surgery itself. I’ve gone to the depths,  I’m not avoiding the fact that I might die.  I’ve felt it, I’ve stared at it.  I’ve cried and screamed and shouted at it.  And I have accepted it.  The surgery might kill me.

It is true.  But you know what I am going to die some day!  We all are. And I am not scared about it.  I know I’ll still be with Jesus when I die. He’s not going to leave me, not ever, not for eternity!  Death – where is your sting???? (1 Corinthians 15: 55) 

I can also feel a defiant strength rising up in me.  It comes from that acceptance, that knowledge.  When I am weak, He is strong! (2 Corinthians 12: 9-10)  I’m pretty sure I will need reminding of this a lot over the next few months, but going through this process is a gift. Being weak and vulnerable is a gift.

His grace is enough; it’s all I need.

His strength comes into its own in my weakness.

I have to focus on the positive benefits or there is no way that I will be able to go through with it.  I need to focus on my future, all the possibilities, all the adventures to be had.  I’m getting a chance to spend the rest of my life with a heart that works much better. As it is, my heart defect means that I am in a high risk category for stroke and heart failure.  I desperately don’t want either of those.  The surgery will give me the chance to live without those high risks.

Now comes the ironic part. As I got to this point in writing, I got a call from my surgeon’s secretary to say that my surgery date had been changed. Brought forward by a day.

I wasn’t expecting that!

With help from my friends I’d had everything for the next few days planned out and organised. I was in control. So much to do – finish cleaning and sorting the house, get everything ready for Christmas, get my boiler fixed and a million other chores. I had cat sitters sorted, family arriving, meals planned.

Then got that call.

I’m now going into hospital on Monday instead of Tuesday.  surgery now Tuesday instead of Wednesday. Of course only if there is an intensive care bed.

And I freaked out.

When I took the call I was feeling positive and hopeful. The news made me feel instantly anxious. My mind went into overdrive with everything I have to do.

One minute I feel in control, the next I’m reminded that I’m not. That’s not easy for a control freak! 

But it’s important for me to learn this. 


Last night I went out and tried my best to forget about it all. I had a great evening. I really did. I’m so blessed with such beautuful, wonderful people in my life. 

And today? 

Today it’s 10am and I’m still sat in my dressing gown. I’ve got loads to do and will get started in a minute but right now I’m enjoying a lazy Saturday morning. I’m enjoying my heart as it is. I’m enjoying being myself. I’m taking a bit of time to appreciate my life. To be thankful.


And I’m starting to feel positive and excited again.  

I can do this. I can get through this. I can see my situation as a gift and learn from it. 

Deep breaths, chin up, big smile and best foot forward.  

Love Lou xxx

A new beginning

“You need to live not just be alive.  Take in every moment. Do spontaneous things without asking anyone’s permission!  Leave anything that makes you unhappy and be content with who you are.”  Kaydee Watkins (ahiddenillness.blogspot.com)

These are the words of one of the fellow congenital heart disease warriors that I have connected with on social media.  Just 6 years ago she was fighting for her life.  She posted this wisdom on Saturday morning along with a photo of her in a coma in intensive care.

And it struck my heart like a beautiful sledge hammer.

I realised that this is what I need. This is how I want to live.

I’ve done a lot of reflecting this year.  A close friend pointed out to me on Friday night (as we stayed up chatting until the wee hours) that I’ve been looking at my life, myself, under a magnifying glass.

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She’s right.  I have.

And I’ve realised how much of my life has been automatic, routine.  Doing the same things. Thinking, feeling, being.

You know that feeling you get sometimes when you arrive somewhere and you can’t remember the journey? You’ve done it so many times that it has become automatic.  You know the route really well but you don’t notice the details of it any more.  You just do it over and over again, without caring whether you are enjoying it or not.

Its a means to an end.

It’s familiar.

Apparently safe.

Well in many ways I’ve been living so much of my life like that.  What opportunities, what beauty, what excitement, have I missed because of it?  What have I ignored, gone past, not noticed, not allowed myself?

And I’ve been asking myself why.

Why have I got like this?

Another close friend said to me this weekend (as I spent a second night in a row chatting until the wee hours) that sometimes we won’t ever know the why, but we can work out the how.  She was referring to something different, related to other people’s behaviour towards us. I completely agree with her.

But I think that for our own behaviour, our own patterns, the why is in us.

Somewhere.

For me, the why is buried under a lot of stuff.  I’ve chosen to hide it, from myself, from others.

 And the more stuff that I’ve piled on top over the years, the more automatic I’ve become. And the more of my life, myself I’ve lost.

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It’s not just one thing, one reason.  It’s many. But they are connected, stemming from the same thing.

Fear.

Fear of rejection.  Fear of not fitting in. Fear of letting people down.  Fear of losing people.  Fear of making mistakes.  Fear of risk.  Fear of loss.

I’ve talked about fear a lot over the last six months or so, but what have I really done to tackle it?

Outwardly, not much yet.  But inwardly?

Inwardly I’ve been hauling a giant magnifying glass around and observing myself in new ways.  Facing open heart surgery has led me to do this.

And believe me when I say that some things look extremely ugly close up. Really they do. But other things look shockingly beautiful!  I’ve been surprised, alarmed, amazed at what is inside myself.  At who I am.

I’ve found hopes, dreams, desires, wishes that I didn’t know still existed in me, or I didn’t know were there at all.  Some weird, some wonderful.

And I’m finally realising just how important it is to be spontaneous, be true to myself, be me.

I’m tired of having everything so planned out, so diarised that there is no room for doing whatever I feel like doing in the moment.  It doesn’t feel right.  It’s not right for me. It has been stressing me out for several years.  I don’t mind being busy, but I need more balance, more fun, more adventure.

Space.

e80ed159bfc1faa0606afa9e5a027353I need space in my life, my week, my days to be in the moment, to go with the flow.  To do what I feel and want to do at that time.  How can I possibly know today what I will feel like doing in 2 months time?

Don’t get me wrong there is a time for planning ahead, and routine is important.  But things have got out of balance for me, gone too far.

And it has been suffocating me.

I want to have days where I get up in the morning and take myself somewhere, anywhere. Do new things, have new experiences.  Without having to ask anyone’s permission.

I’m getting my heart fixed soon.  A second chance.  A new lease of life and I want to live it to the full.  Be myself to everyone.  No more hiding.  No more excuses. No more apologising for who I am.

This is just the beginning.   A new one at that.

Love,

Lou x

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Fighting fear

Today, I had plans.  A huge list of things that I wanted to get done, achieve, enjoy.  I got up and washed at 7am with big intentions for the day but now it’s 2.34pm, and I haven’t left the house yet.  In fact, I only got dressed an hour ago and still need to straighten my hair and put on my make up.

Today, I had plans.  But they got waylaid.

Because, you see, today I have been in a fight.

A big one.

Against fear.

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I felt it creeping up on me yesterday.  Fear. Making me doubt myself, question my abilities, my skills, my character.

I’d returned to work this week after a month off, and I’ve got a new role description and responsibilities. Monday was great!  A meeting with my manager, who is also one of my best friends.  He encouraged me and supported me, and I felt excited to be back.  Monday evening I saw a lovely friend.  She encouraged and supported me too.  I am so blessed.

But yesterday I felt the prickly pain of fear pinch my thoughts.  Was I good enough?  Could I do this job?  Could I make a difference?  Then, as I started planning the term, I realised how close December is.

Meaning how close my heart surgery is.

12 weeks away, maybe only 10.

I felt fear’s razored tongue gently caress my ear, hissing its painful thoughts at me. Jabbing, cutting, making me bleed.

And I took a handful of chocolates from the tin and ran and hid in the bathroom and stuffed my face.

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In that moment I was in the throws of fear.  Fear of failing at my job.  Fear of failing in my relationships.  Fear of still being overweight.  Fear of not losing any more weight before the surgery.  Fear of the surgery itself.  Fear of it going wrong.  Fear of having a stroke, brain damage, kidney damage, heart failure, infection.  Fear of the recovery, loss of independence, being a burden.  Fear of pain.  Fear of being stuck at home.  Fear of losing my job, of not having enough money.  Fear of being rejected, being single forever.  Fear of not fulfilling any of my dreams.

But today?

Today, I remembered that I have weapons.  A whole armoury in fact!

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I have been declaring truth over myself, my life, my situations.  I’ve read scriptures about not giving up  and scriptures of encouragement .  I’ve sung songs about not being a slave to fear, and how strong God is, how strong I am through Him!    I’ve found photos that inspire me and put scripture on them to create motivational pictures that truly resonate with me.  I’ve danced.   I’ve shouted out.  I’ve prayed.  I’ve stomped.  I’ve cheered.

I’ve remembered who I really am.  Who He really is.  And what He has given me.

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I’m excited about my dreams.  It is not stupid to believe that God wants me to have the desires of my heart.  His word says that He has put them there!  My dreams are not unrealistic, or stupid or wrong.

God gave me this body and it is OK,  no it is right that I should be taking care of it, and taking time to use it well and love it.  My body is not something for me to worship, but it is a temple for His Holy Spirit.  I was bought for a price. He dwells in me. My heart is His!  I am fearfully and wonderfully made, the apple of His eye!

I don’t need to fear, because He is with me and there is an amazing plan for my life that is beyond anything I can imagine.  In Christ I am not timid. I have power, love and self-discipline, all the time.

Today I have been in a fight.

A big one.

Against fear.

And I won. 

A milestone not a tombstone

I can’t quite believe it has been so long since my last blog post.  I’ve not shared anything because I’ve been in a strange place emotionally the last couple of weeks and feared my writing wasn’t positive enough. But I was reminded by Jennie (my wonderful personal trainer and friend) that I can be honest without being negative.

I can be hopeful and grateful and plan for the future.

Her kind, thoughtful message got me thinking. Can I do those things?

Be hopeful and grateful maybe, but can I plan for the future?

And I realised that a part of me still sees my upcoming heart surgery as a tombstone.

Perhaps I am feeling this more at the moment because I’ve been focusing on the things my heart condition is stopping me from doing?

Last week I made a decision to defer the next part of my law training for a year instead of continuing in September.

I guess I had a bit of a reality check.

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All the exercise I am doing to get fitter for the surgery is making me mentally tired because of my  issues with oxygenated blood. This means concentration is becoming harder. I also need 3-6 months to recover from surgery. I told myself I’ll do it in 3, and arranged to have spring term away from uni.

But what if I can’t do it in 3?

So I decided to take the pressure off myself.  I’m still in the process of organising it with the university but they are being extremely supportive of my decision. As is my doctor. And everyone else I’ve told so far. In fact I’ve wondered whether people thought I couldn’t or shouldn’t be studying in the first place. But that’s just paranoia.

I hope!

Anyway I can’t help but feel frustrated right now. A bit angry even.

There’s a part of me screaming ‘Why can’t I have a normal heart?’ ‘Why can’t I just get on with stuff?’ ‘ Why can’t I be more resourceful? Stronger?’ ‘Why am I so crap?’

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I know my demons well enough to know that these questions aren’t helpful. They are the wrong questions entirely.

What would be really good to work out is why am I seeing this heart surgery as a tombstone?  A tombstone to my dreams, my passions, my life.

No.  Why, is still the wrong question.

The right one is what do I need to do to be able to see beyond it? What else do I need to change?

I’m already reducing my hours at work, taking a year off law school, doing a physical training programme, spending more time with God.

As I sit here in the coffee shop at the gym, post pilates class and pre personal training I can feel the penny starting to drop.

Romans 12.2 says ‘Let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.’ (NLT)

The previous verse tells us to give our bodies to God as a living sacrifice, this worships him. But it is changing the way we think that transforms us!

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A few months ago my beautiful, wise friend M, referred to my heart surgery as a milestone.

A milestone is a marker on a journey. It maps something, marks something. It can tell you how far you’ve come and how far you’ve got to go. It can make you stop and take a deep breath, look around. Pause…

then carry on.

A milestone is not the end. It is just the beginning.

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There is an adventure beyond the milestone. A continuation of the journey but better.

I’m getting a chance to live life without a broken heart.  The surgery is a necessary part of that.

And one day I will be sat here at the gym, physically and mentally stronger, with a super fit toned body that can jump and run and dance easily,  looking back to this milestone knowing that I am a survivor, a fighter.

And I can start that fight afresh right now by choosing to see a milestone not a tombstone ahead of me, no matter how tough this feels.

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Thank you for supporting me on my journey.

Love Lou x

Meeting my heart surgeon

Back on 18th May 2016 I met my heart surgeon for the first time.  I wanted to share about it straight away but I couldn’t.  I didn’t feel able to.  I’ve needed some time to process and reflect upon it first. It was a profound day in my life.

Surreal.

Overwhelming.

And down right weird.

For those of you who don’t know, I’ve got a congenital heart defect I am looked after by an Adult Congenital Heart Team, which consists of medical cardiologists, specialist nurses and surgeons.  Patients only get to meet the surgeons when it is definite that surgery is required and can go ahead.

For the last 5 years ‘the surgeon’ has felt like a strange mythical character, in a far away land.  I’d heard a lot about him, but had never seen him.  I could only hope that he was as wonderful as everyone had told me.

So on May 18th I put on my best shoes and danced off to meet him.  This wonderful surgeon of Oz.  I got the bus to the city, and walked the long way to the cardiology centre, but there was no yellow brick road, just what felt like miles of  long, sterile white corridors.

No scarecrow. No tin man. No lion.

Just me.

It felt very strange knowing I was about to meet the person who would be mooching and fiddling around inside my chest.  It’s weird. Hard to get your head around.

But little did I know that there was even weirder stuff to come.

The thing that bothers me the most about the surgery is being so vulnerable, so open, so dependent on others.  Literally unconscious with my chest broken and pulled apart. My heart stopped. Reliant on machines to pump blood around my body and oxygen into my lungs.

Exposed. Violated. No control.

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I still shudder at the thought as I write this.  I try not to think about it you see. It scares me. It scares me because I won’t be able to defend myself, protect myself.

Powerless.

And yet remembering that I am the one who is putting myself in that position. It’s my choice. But I’m kind of being forced into making that choice because I’m getting sicker, my heart is getting weaker.

“You’ve outlived your life expectancy.”

Anyway. I digress. Back to that first meeting.

I stopped in the hospital chapel to pray. I like to look at the prayer requests that have been left in there, written by people feeling all sorts of pain and despair. I like to pray for them. It helps me get perspective. Get a grip.

When I got to the cardiology department, booked myself in and sat in the waiting room, I saw a woman there. I smiled at her, noticing the little white trenches that her tears had left in her perfectly applied makeup.  I asked if she was OK. She told me that her 19 year old daughter was having an echo scan – a check up following a heart valve replacement 6 weeks earlier. Her third surgery.  She was doing really well.

The mum went on to tell me how many heart surgeons and cardiologists they’d hadhqdefault over the last 19 years and how, out of all of them, Mr C was the best one. Who was I seeing?  Mr C! She sang his praises. He listened. He cared. He was arrogant but skilled. She reassured me the best she could. She encouraged me. She helped me. She pointed out the way to go.

She was my Glinda that day.

Then I heard my name being called. A familiar voice. It was one of my nurse specialists, who had come to support me in this first meeting. Was I ready? She asked. Come on then, lets go through.

He’s in there.

The wonderful surgeon.

And off we went.

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Mr C met me with a big smile and a firm, steady handshake.  I instantly went into my smiley, funny, happy protective mode. I wanted him to like me. I needed him to care, so he would want to save my life, do his best work.

Lovely accent Mr C, which part of Spain are you from? please like me Oh how lovely, I’ve always wanted to go to Spain please don’t let me die.

Niceties over we went straight into talking details.

Gory, scary details.

Risks, side effects, dangers. Death, stroke, kidney failure, heart failure, pain.

“But of course you are already at risk of all of these things living with your heart condition now.  These risks will be higher during the surgery and it will make you feel bad, really bad. But the point is if you survive and recover well from the surgery these risks in your life will be lowered, you will be able to build up your fitness again and live a normal life, a longer life”.

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He explained how he would take some of the pericardium sac from around my heart and use it to patch the holes. Then move the blood vessels that are in the wrong place.  Although every heart defect is unique, he had performed similar surgeries countless times. It was a big deal for me, but routine for him.

The fitter and lighter and healthier I am before the surgery the better.

Then we talked about dates for the surgery.

December?

Yes, December Mr C, give me more time to lose weight, etc.

December? He asked again, his face suddenly lit up beaming with hope and excitement.

Well in that case, how would you feel about having your surgery performed by a robot?

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A robot?

A robot.

I looked at my nurse. She looked at me. We looked at Mr C, and said in perfect unison.

An actual robot?

Yes! An actual robot!

Silence.

You could’ve heard an ant whispering.

Honestly.

 I think my nurse must’ve looked more shocked than I did.

Mr C went on to explain how he would be in a special console room next to me controlling the robot. Like a computer game.

Except its not really is it? It’s my heart. My body. My life!

He had never performed surgery like this before. He is having training in America over the summer, which he is funding himself.  And he will be ready to carry out his first robotic surgery in the UK in December. The first of its kind in the UK.  Would I be his first patient?

Would I?

The benefits for me are that it isn’t open heart surgery. The robot is able to reach my heart precisely through ribs on the right side of my chest. So no broken sternum, no huge wound to heal. The robot can move even the tiniest of blood vessels, ones that the surgeon on his own cannot. And the specialist surgeon from America will be here supervising Mr C as he does it.

The down sides are that the procedure will take a lot longer, about 10 hours. That’s a long time to be under anaesthetic. There is potentially longer in intensive care, and none of the medical staff will have looked after anyone from this type of surgery before.

Overall, the initial recovery will take less time, about 6-8 weeks. Which means I can start gaining fitness again faster.

It is less routine.  Not as straightforward. The robot could go wrong. The surgeon will be less experienced in performing the operation in this way.

But it is pioneering.  And could pave the way for future heart patients. Save more lives in the future.

And I like the sound of that.

So will I let a robot operate on my heart?

A robot?

Yes, a robot.

And yes. I will!

Eek!

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I left that first meeting quite excited actually. Yes the surgery is still scary and unknown – now even more so. But I feel a sense of God being in charge. The timing of this is so perfect, is must be intentional.

Meant to be.

I’m not meeting Mr C again until about October time. I’ll see my cardiologist, Dr C in September. It’ll be interesting to hear what he thinks about it all. In the meantime I have to focus on my health, weight loss and fitness. And preparing myself spiritually and practically.

Right now I’ve hit a bit of a wall with that, but I’ll share that in another blog soon.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments about my surgery.  Would you let a robot near your heart? Would you be a pioneer?

Love,

Lou x

Loneliness is not a sin

I’m going to start this rant courageously by saying that…

I am lonely.  

Yes I know that I have a family who love me, know a lot of wonderful people, and have some amazing close friends.  I know that I am a Christian, and have an incredible relationship with Jesus.  I know that I am loved, and thought of affectionately by people. And I am very grateful for all of these blessings.  But…

I am lonely.

And it is painful.  It is a near constant physical ache in my chest, my stomach.

Sometimes, the pain is loneliness-pilar-francounbearable and my thoughts frantically scrap around my mind to find an escape – binge? purge? run away to start again? suicide? In the last year I have either done, or made plans to do, all of these things to try to break away from the intensity of the pain of loneliness.

Last night I cried myself to sleep.  This morning I wept as I made my coffee.  This is not unusual. I am now so used to this pain that I no longer reach out for comfort I just carry on with whatever I am doing.  That doesn’t mean it hurts any less, it simply means that I’ve got beyond the point of crying with others about it and have found a way I can continue to function with it.

I’ve prayed. I’ve asked God to help me with it, to take it away, to make me not care anymore.  But He hasn’t.  Instead it has got worse.  This is clearly a burden that I am meant to bear right now.  So I can only think that He wants me to explore it, to understand it, to rant about it.  Perhaps because I am not the only one. Perhaps because it will help someone else to know they are not alone in their pain of loneliness.

This is a good time to explain that, for me at least, loneliness and being alone are two different things.  I enjoy being independent. I like my own company.  I relish in solitude. But when I am in it because of circumstance rather than choice, then being alone can exacerbate the pain of loneliness.

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I seem to feel it the most when I get home from being around people at work, or church, or anywhere else where I have been in a group then see others going home with, or to, their family, or partner, or friends.  And those times where I am going home after something exciting has happened, or I’ve learned something new, a good day or a bad day, and there is no one there to share that with.  No one asking how my day was.  No one wishing me luck in the morning, or asking about my day in the evening.  More painful than that, there is no one coming home who I can ask the same questions of, who I can be there for, listen to, laugh and cry with, pray with, support and love.  No housemates, no children, no partner.

There’s no one to share the chores with, to make decisions with, to argue with, to watch telly with, to cook with, to eat with, to nag at, to be nagged by, to ask where I am going, to worry about, to tidy up after, to go on holiday with, to hug, to touch, to have adventures with, to make packed lunches for with little notes of encouragement in the tin (I’m a bit of a romantic at heart).

And sometimes that is bliss!   Just me and my two beautiful cats, no one to worry about or think of. It can be wonderful.  I imagine that many people crave for a day, a week, or more like that.

But for me, day after day, night after night, month after month and year after year, those times of enjoyment in being by myself are becoming less and less.   The pain increases every day, and digs in deeper, to depths and thoughts that I did not even know were there. And I’m tired of it.

God knows I am.

loneliness-abril-andrade-griffithIt’s not only living in a home without another human that causes me such pain.

One of the other things is my health. My heart condition can be extremely isolating.  I get exhausted sometimes and can’t do all the things I want to do, particularly in the evenings. I make plans but have had to rearrange or cancel with people so much that I hardly get invites any more.  Which I understand, of course I do, but it still adds to the pain of loneliness.

I have to live with the knowledge that I’ve outlived my life expectancy and am considered a high risk for stroke, kidney failure and heart failure.   I still don’t know what to do with that – be grateful? apologise? I often feel it as a pressure that I should be doing more, enjoying more, experiencing more. Like I am living on borrowed time.  I feel guilty for still being alive, when there are thousands of people dying every day who have people in their lives who rely on them, who really need and want them.  People who have people to live for.

blogger-image-1053526043I’ve even had thoughts that it would be better if I did die in the heart surgery.  I know that I’d be with Jesus, all pain and suffering gone.  I ask Him if that’s the plan, if that’s His plan.

But in my heart I don’t want to die yet.  I don’t want to die until I’m old.  I want to live life to the full!

I want to get stronger physically, emotionally and spiritually so I can experience new things, continue to serve God, to love people.  Jesus came to set me free so I CAN live life to the full. I know it is possible.  And this has to be despite of my circumstances – that’s the whole point.

I just never thought I’d be so lonely.  Not me.  I love people, really love them.  I grew up in a bustling, busy, sometimes chaotic household.  And have lived in a few of them with friends since. In fact I’ve only lived on my own for the last 5 years.  The 5 years before that (the first 5 years of being a committed Christian) I had housemates, before that I had 2 long-term relationships in which we lived together, with a gap in between during which time I lived in house shares.

I made the decision to live on my own because I had started the application process to be a foster-carer, and I obviously needed to have a spare room for this.  However, I became very ill at this time and was unable to continue with the application.  Now, as a cardiology patient, I am not allowed to apply.  I’ve slowly come to terms with that, and there is a glimmer of hope that this may change in the future.  I leave it in God’s hands.

Anyway,  I’ve digressed.  The real message I want to share in this blog is this…

Loneliness is not a sin.

The pain of loneliness can be very difficult to share with others.  In my experience often other Christians can be the hardest to share with.  I’ve read articles that suggest loneliness is a sin and been told, very lovingly, that there is no need for me to feel lonely because I am in relationship with God.  God will never leave me or forsake me.  I’ve also read and been told that loneliness is a sin because it means that I am not truly engaged with  God, don’t have enough faith, am listening to lies.  Now there may be truth in some of this advice, but for a long time this has added to my guilt and shame of my loneliness.

 

I’d ask myself why I was struggling so much when I had a relationship with such a loving God?  Am I somehow inferior in my faith?  Perhaps as I mature in my faith I will stop feeling lonely?

But the months and years have passed and my pain of lonelin80e4c847197227b1bb1023623db565c3ess has increased.

The issue isn’t that I don’t know or believe that God is with me, and loves me, or that I
don’t believe He will never leave me.

It never was that.

Far from it.

As my loneliness has increased so has my awareness that Jesus, my Lord God,  is in the loneliness with me.  He is there in the pain.  He is the only one who knows exactly how I am feeling, who hears me begging for respite, who sees my tears as I drift off to sleep.  He is the only one who knows how hard I find it to come home to an empty house, so difficult that I sometimes avoid going out in the first place because I feel too fragile to cope with it.

You may be reading this and thinking if Jesus is real, and if He really is a loving God, why is He allowing me to feel like this?  Why doesn’t He take my pain away when I cry out to Him?  Why doesn’t He miraculously cure me?  And why aren’t  I angry that He hasn’t?

And I have asked those very same questions.  And I have been angry.  But I always come back to the same place.  I know He loves me.  I know it in the core of my being.  So despite the pain of loneliness, the isolation, the sadness, the difficulties, I trust Him.  I trust that He has a plan in all this, that this is happening for a reason.

Does that knowledge make it any easier? No. Do I hope that the pain will go away?  Yes.  Do I hope that I won’t have to live alone forever? Yes.  Do I hope that I meet someone special to love and share my life with?  Yes.

But right now, while I feel the raw pain of loneliness I need to explore these feelings. Accept them. Stop trying to block them out with food.  Stop punishing myself for feeling them.  Give myself the space and nurture I need to be able to break free from this ‘fat suit’ I have grown to protect myself with.  Learn to accept and share aspects of myself that I have forcibly tried to bury and forget, but are important, wonderful parts of me.

Not punish myself for being lonely.

I’ll leave the last words to the wonderful blessed Mother Theresa – download (3)

“loneliness & the feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible of poverty”

 

 

 

 

 

Pushing through my fear

I feel so stupid sat here with my laptop and tears spilling down my cheeks, so ridiculous. Even though I know that suppressing my emotions is not good for me, this is still so hard. I don’t want to feel like this.  I want to be happy.  I’ve got a lot to be happy for.  But right now I can’t stop thinking about what is wrong with my heart and the open heart surgery.

I’m scared.  And I know that I need to feel this, to face this, to allow myself to process my fears and feelings instead of pushing them away with food, or masking them with laughter.  I am giving myself permission to feel scared without feeling guilty about it, so that I can wade through it, deal with it and press on.

So what am I scared of?  I’m scared of the surgery itself – of having complications like a stroke or heart attack during the operation or in recovery.  I’m scared of it not working and going into heart failure.  Basically I’m scared of something happening which means I am left disabled, or sick, and losing my independence.  I’m scared of getting severe depression or memory loss – possible side effects of being on the heart-lung machine.  I’m scared of being out of control.  Of being entirely vulnerable and exposed as I lay unconscious with my chest cut open, my heart stopped, reliant on machines and strangers to stay alive. I’m scared of being stuck in my house, alone.  It makes me feel sick, panicked.

 

I’m scared of having the surgery, but I’m also scared of not having it.  I know I am already at a higher risk of stroke and heart failure just living with my heart as it is.  And now I’m feeling some symptoms of my heart being enlarged, although it is horrible, it helps me to know that surgery is the right choice.  It gives me a fighting chance.

And I will fight.

face fear

I’m taking part in the British Heart Foundation’s My Marathon this month – to help raise money for them.  The idea is to walk, jog or run 26.2 miles over the month of May. Whether you do it in one go or a bit each day doesn’t matter.  You can follow my journey with that too if you like by following this link 

On Saturday I went for a walk with my bestie who came up north to visit me this weekend.  It was so good to see her, and great to get outside in the sunshine.  We walked along the canal path, through woods, up steep steps, down big hills, across little bridges.  It was frustrating to be getting more out of breath than I should be – not because I’m unfit, but because of my heart defect.  And about half way through our walk, I noticed that my hands had swollen up – my fingers were full of fluid, like fat sausage rolls and it was hard to bend them.

Regardless of this, I wanted to carry on, and we walked 10km – a huge achievement.  I did feel good for doing it, but was completely exhausted later on.   I balanced it out with complete rest – laying on the sun lounger in the garden for a couple of hours – which stopped me from feeling ill.  Praise God for sunshine!

My bestie said that she didn’t think I was as breathless later on in the day as I was the evening before.  And that is apparently a benefit of the exercise.  So even though it does completely zap my energy, it really is helping – making my heart stronger, ready to be fixed!

So on Sunday, after my bestie had left to go home (boo hoo) I walked another 6km.  And today, even though I feel physically tired, I will go to the session with my personal trainer. Of course I will have to balance this out with rest too.

So this is me fighting.  This is me doing my best not only to face my fears, but to push through them and press on.  I know that I am well supported by friends and family, I just need to share with them, and ask for the help and support that I need.

And most of all I need to focus on trusting God, for He has promised that He will never leave me or forsake me.  When my heart is laid bare, it will be in His hands.  I won’t be alone.