Since the first week we arrived here in June I’ve been having health issues. Our first week here there was an evening where I suddenly had severe lower abdominal spasming that had me writhing on the floor and unable to speak full sentences for almost an hour. The pain was residual and for the next few months I’d have a few days with pain, then a few days without. Back and forth and back and forth, never more than a week without twinges of pain. We spoke with lots of doctors, I got tons of tests done, all coming back normal, so the doctors would dismiss it telling me I was fine. For awhile we thought it might be my appendix and would go to bed at night wondering if tonight would be the night that it would burst. On days where the pain was very present, I would be exhausted. It was really stressful and unsettling. I did a Skype consult with a good friend who is a doctor in England. She listened to me! And believed me that something was still wrong even though the tests were normal! It was really helpful and encouraging and she ordered another round of tests to do only on a day when the pain was present.
The day after our conversation I had no pain for three weeks. The longest stretch in 5 months! But then it came back again. We got the tests done and had to wait a few days for the results. On one of those days I was in a significant amount of pain and it kept getting worse. Finally when I was talking to someone at the copier and started crying the hubs was like “GO TO THE CLINIC.” (I’m stubborn and he’s a good man.) So I went and everything fit that I was passing some sort of bladder or kidney stone. The clinic was mega busy and choc-a-block with refugees waiting to be seen. But the doctor quickly wrote out a prescription, and sent one of the guys in the office to go get what I needed. Three medicines and half an hour later the pain was not abating, it really hurt to pee, and I was pacing and trying not to curse. They gave me an injection in my hand and soon the pain settled. Whew. (But instead of going home, we needed to stay at work to fulfill a social obligation in the evening that we really could not get out of. Bah!)
So after that and the tests and other considerations we now know that I have bladder or kidney stones, and also (yay) IBS as a result of stress. Two separate issues that would explain the confusion of the docs the last several months. So we’re on the search now to find a good urologist and see what is causing the stones so I can make the necessary changes, because since I only have one kidney it’s really important that I don’t damage it.
Last week we also had a chance to meet with a counselor. She was in town for a few weeks, and is a certified counselor who works especially with cross-cultural workers like ourselves. Over the last few tumultuous years I’ve learned what an asset it is to check in with a professional if you get a chance, so when we heard she was in town and willing to meet with folks like us for free, we jumped on the chance.
We sat down with her and gave her a brief run-down of the last few years. Difficult unstable countries, expulsion, war, evacuation, in between countries, dealing with PTSD, marriage, non-stop travel for almost a year, and our first months here which has been full of stress, in ways more multifaceted than just my health.
After digging in a bit deeper to some of the bits, and hearing from us on how we think were doing, she gave it to us pretty straight. She said frankly that I am in burnout, that the hubs is close, and that I legitimately have a chronic illness now, caused by the unrelenting stress of our life the last few years. She basically said that we need to make big lifestyle changes so that we stop living without margin and can build up our inner reservoirs again.
She said scores of cross-cultural workers like us these days are going back to their home countries with autoimmune disorders, like lupus and chronic fatigue syndrome, caused by stresses that could have been prevented or reversed. She said that she herself has a disorder that she’ll live with for the rest of her life because she didn’t slow down when she needed to.
She apologized a little for being so frank with us, but was like “I see red flags! You’re sick! You’re exhausted! You’re going to get more sick and other areas of your life will suffer if you don’t make changes! Stop! Get better!”
So she spent some time talking through with us ways that we can make this context work for us. Because after being forced to leave other countries, and travelling nonstop for the first year of our marriage (we did a tally a few weeks ago–55 bed changes in our first 9 months), I really, really, really cannot cope with moving place again, even if only for a season. I need to settle and I can, and have to, just make it work here.
All of that was pretty scary and hard to hear. Especially as a person who puts a lot of time and effort into eating well and exercising. To have my current health, and possible longer term health take a hit a year into marriage and before we even have kids is actually kind of terrifying. We’re not exactly chomping at the bit to have kids immediately, but she went as far as to ask us as much as we can, to try and wait until we’re well again. To be 29, a runner, a person who eats tons of veggies and really well, does yoga, and always gets 8-9 hours of sleep a night–it’s really unsettling to hear that. To hear that I’m unwell.
It’s not a great time to cut back at work. There have been a lot of staff changes lately and some changes out of my control within my department so being there less days right now isn’t what I would choose. But that’s what were doing! I’m cutting back to part time, Dan is cutting back by a day, and we still love our work, and still glad we get to be here and do it, but outside of work we’re focusing our time and energy on getting better, on being married and settled, and restoring. To get back to a place of serving out of abundance. We’re doing it so we can be our best for each other, for our family down the road, and ultimately for work. Because if we don’t stop how we’re going now, we’ll burn out completely and leave here much sooner than planned, and in pitiful shape.
It can be a time of richness if I surrender to it and embrace it. God is gracious enough that we were spoken hard truths when we were. That we’re not too far gone! That we still get to be here, working (though less), for a cause and people we believe in, while still getting to step back and work towards restoration.
It means that, for now, some things at work will just have to go undone. That some people will think I’m lazy. That I will be misunderstood and that there are days that I’m likely to feel lazy and useless. It means swallowing my pride and being ok that my best right now just isn’t going to be enough for some people. I’m being forced to acknowledge that I’m not invincible and that my own toughness and resilience have limits. That I need to stop pushing through. It’s a chance to step back, draw closer to God, and hopefully learn that I’m still enough even if I just simply be. That I have nothing to prove at work, nothing to prove to people back home, and nothing to prove to the hubby (which he sweetly reminds me all the time). That I have nothing to prove and I’m enough simply because I’m the Lord’s. This next season: I’m allowed. Allowed to take it easier, allowed to give myself a break, allowed to be indulgent with my home time, allowed to be free of the obligation to meet the needs and wants of people at work and otherwise. This season I have nothing to prove. I need to get better and I need my hubs to get better. Because I don’t think God wants us to self-destruct in the name of service.