Seven years ago my life changed forever. I was seemingly sailing along smoothly, when all of a sudden my ship hit an iceberg, and while I'm still afloat, the sailing isn't near as smooth as it was before. I've had to learn to adapt to a whole different way of living, and believe me, it hasn't been easy. For seven years I suffered an unknown chronic illness, one that doctors didn't seem to be in any hurry to diagnose.
They're not sure how it all came about, there are theories, but I don't think we'll ever know for sure what caused it. Seven years ago, in the month of September, I was working in a barn when one fine day I started feeling lousy. It came on as a general malaise then quickly got worse. That first day, my boss came in, took one look at me, and told me that I "didn't look so good" and to feel free to take the next day off. I nodded as I left, fully intending to be back at work the next day. Surely it would pass...
I ended up bedridden for the better part of three months. I never did go back to that job. I spent those three months in and out of doctors offices and Emergency Rooms. They ran every test imaginable, several times. Bloods tests, scans, numerous doctors..... and it all added up to a big fat, "we have no idea what's wrong with you." Most doctors just sent me on my way, acting like it was all in my head, some more patronizing than the rest. Others admitted that they simply couldn't figure out what was wrong, their tests all came back "normal", so they sent me on my way for lack of answers.
One doctor explained it to me this way: They knew that my organs were in crisis, the problem was that they couldn't figure out why. The muscles in my neck were also severely tight. They had no answers for that either. Eventually, an ER doctor, as a last ditch effort, gave me a cocktail of pills hoping to combat most of the symptoms or at least knock them back. With prescriptions in hand, I went home. I took the pills and rested some more....
Right around the turn of the new year, I started to regain some strength and stamina. I was able to get up and move around, slowly. It took another 6 months to get to a fully functional, semi normal state... but there was nothing normal about what my body had gone through. I soon realized that "getting back to normal" wasn't an option anymore. Life had handed me a "new normal" and I had to learn how to stay afloat in uncharted water.
Ultimately, I had to reassess every aspect of my life and make a lot of changes, from what I put into my body and what I did physically with my body, to my sleep patterns and how I dealt with my emotions. Everything needed to be adjusted. I now had to contend with a load of symptoms that included chronic pain, chronic fatigue, IBS, and migraines. I admit, a beautiful positive that came from this big negative was the fact that I did get healthier, ironically enough. I started treating my body a lot better than I had, I ate better, and I also addressed emotions that had been buried deep within me. This unknown chronic illness forced me to address other issues that I had, like my anxiety, and to learn to listen to my body better.
Fast-forward to about three years into the journey. I still had no answers as to what this illness might be, except that it was chronic. Doctors gave me vague diagnosis's and answers. The word Autoimmune disease was floated around a few times, along with "chronic fatigue syndrome" and "chronic pain syndrome", but nothing solid. While I didn't have the answers I was looking for, I did manage to achieve a "remission" of sorts by following a healthy, strict regiment. I was healthy, active, and felt great for the first time in years. My first remission lasted a glorious five months. The next remission, which came the following year, lasted for seven months.
I had a few setbacks in 2018, probably due to stress, among other things. Then 2019 came. In February of 2019, I started going to a chiropractor at the suggestion of friends. It was there that I learned that I have osteoarthritis in my neck and spine, which can account for some of the pain. In March, I decided that I wanted to start hiking again, something I enjoyed prior to the illness, but stopped in recent years due to mobility issues. I picked an even grade on the mountain in back of my house, hoping to slowly work my way up to harder grades. By April, I was experiencing symptoms that I first attributed to a flare up of the illness...... until they worsened to the point where I was having passing out spells, could barely walk, and felt as though my heart couldn't keep up with the rest of me.
In May of 2019, I tested positive for Lyme Disease. I had Lyme for the majority of 2019, finally being "cleared" in September. I went through four or five rounds of high-powered antibiotics in the process. It took me a lot longer to recover from the Lyme than I had thought it would. On top of causing more damage to my body, it also caused a few setbacks in regards to the chronic illness. I also developed a severe sensitivity to light and sound. It is now very easy for my brain to experience a sensory overload. I'm still learning to deal with this new issue and work around it.*
In the Autumn of 2019, I finally received a breakthrough diagnosis. I have Fibromyalgia. That is the chronic illness that I have been dealing with for the last seven years (on top of arthritis). I now know what I'm up against and can now hone in on it with more specific treatments. Because Western Medicine can't do much for me, except prescribe pills with side-effects, I've turned to a more holistic approach. I'm still early in that journey, but will document it more as I go. This post is to give a fairly full account of the first seven years of the chronic illness journey, one in which I can now build off of with future posts. If by chronicling my chronic illness/Fibro journey, I can help even just one person, I'm glad to do it.
*For more details about my health issues in 2019 with the Lyme and such, you can read my catch-up post, and my "You Look Fine" post. Also, a future post will address the brain issues more fully for anyone interested.
There's a house on the hill
that your life used to fill,
but now it's empty and still.
Much like a broken heart
it's falling apart,
crumbling and shattered
like a sad piece of art.
Through the years, the paint has begun to fade and peel,
but time has yet to cover the loss that I still feel.
It is no longer a home,
and though I should have known,
it's still a bitter pill,
knowing that you no longer live in the house on the hill.
~Liz Austin 2020
My home isn't in the here and now,
but the there and then,
a place I'm unable to go back to again.
My home lives in the past,
but oh the memories last.
They take on a golden haze
as I look back on those past lived days.
I cannot truly go home again it's true,
though the structures are still here,
the time is different and I am too.
My home was in those fun-filled days,
the smell of fresh cut grass and a summer daze,
the tinkling of wind chimes, the creaking of a swing,
and listening to the birds joyously sing.
My home is a time long past,
but I go back through the memories often
as if watching an old movie with a familiar cast,
for not everyone in those golden memories have made it to the present,
and so I find they are both sad and pleasant,
sad for those who are now missing,
and pleasant for they'll always live through my reminiscing.
Yes, my home is not in the here and now,
but in the there and then,
and I visit often through my memories,
again and again.
~Liz Austin 2019.
I wish I was a tree,
yes that would suit me.
Not a care or a woe,
nothing to do but grow.
I could stay in one place,
towards the sun I would face,
and grow at my own steady pace.
Yes, I wish I was a tree,
though stuck in one place,
I'd still be free.
~by Liz Austin 2020
2020. A New Year and a new decade. I admit, I have high hopes for this new chapter of life. Hopes for health, growth, and forward movement. I don't usually put much stock in "New Years" and all the fuss that surrounds it, but 2020 feels different. It feels as though God has placed a renewed hope on my heart..... I pray I'm not wrong.
Leading up to 2018, I started a new "tradition" for New Years. Instead of making impossible resolutions, I decided to pick a word and try to live that word for the year. In the few months leading up to January of each year, I would pray and try to be more mindful about what words seemed to stick out to me and placed on my heart. For 2018, it was "Brave". That word ended up carrying through to 2019.
This year, as I started to really look and pray for a new word, "persevere" popped into my heart. I felt it deep down in my soul, but I still wasn't totally sure. So I asked God to help me be sure. Soon, "persevere" kept popping up everywhere, in books I was reading, in sermons I was listening to... and I knew it was right.
2019 was an incredibly hard year, so the word "persevere" was both fitting and hard to swallow. 2019 took a lot of persevering to get through, and by the end, I wasn't sure I had any left.... but alas, here I am with "persevere" as my word for 2020. At first, I worried that I didn't have it in me. I was worried for what 2020 has in store. Is there something coming this year that I'll have to persevere through? Then, I reminded myself that God is always with us. If he placed this word on my heart, then there's a reason and there's also a lesson.
So 2020, here we are. I'll do my best to grow, to learn to persevere well, and to lean into the hard or uncertain times of life. Here's to a fresh year and a new decade, may it be a blessed one.
To say that 2019 was a really hard year would be putting it mildly. There were periods during the year when I honestly didn't know how I was going to get through it. 2019 was a year of illness, pain, letdowns, and change.
The year started out hard, as I found myself dealing with gallbladder issues and constant pain. I spent February looking into alternative treatments for my chronic illness, which I learned this year is Fibromyalgia. I first went to a neurologist, who suggestion injecting nerve blockers into my neck to get rid of the pain. Needless to say, I wasn't super keen on that idea and decided to explore other options. I soon found myself in a chiropractor's office...... It was there that I finally found some relieve and a few answers, for which I'm very thankful. That was a blessing in this hard year.
I started feeling a bit better and wanted to get back on track with my health and fitness. I'd been wanting to start hiking again, so in early March, I started easing myself back into that. I picked a fairly even grade up back of my house (which is all woods and mountain) and worked from there. I felt pretty good for most of March, like I was finally getting back to my normal self. Then April came.
By the time April came around, I started to feel very lousy pretty quickly. At first, I just attributed it to a flare up of the chronic illness, but then things got worse and I felt that this time was different, that there was something more behind it. By the time May rolled around, I could barely walk, was super ill, and was having passing out spells. I felt as though my heart couldn't keep up with the rest of me. On top of that, my migraines, of which I've suffered from for years, got worse. I finally broke down and got checked out, knowing that this was definitely NOT a flare up.
In May, I went to the Urgent Care Center. After explaining my symptoms to both the nurse and the doctor, the doctor literally looked me up and down, and said, "Well, I don't know what to tell you, you look fine." It was only at my very stern insistence that he, begrudgingly, ordered an EKG. The EKG came back with abnormalities. Evidently, my heart was indeed running slower than it should. The doctor then ordered blood tests to see what was going on. The diagnosis soon followed: It was Lyme's Disease. I was put on a round of antibiotics........ and then three more.
May through September, I battled Lyme's disease, the effects of the disease (and the antibiotics), and the damages it did. The whole summer is just one awful blur to me. Nothing really sticks out. I spent a lot of time in bed or in the ER, nothing else was done or accomplished. Since then, I've been trying to get back on my feet, which took longer than I was expecting. You see, the Lyme did some damage that's irreversible. It also brought on three of the worst Fibro flareups that I've had in years. My Autumn was spent mending and again, in bed.
While this month (December) seems to have brought improvement in my health (I finally feel like I'm getting back on my feet), it has also been spent learning to function again and more importantly, how to live and work around the issues caused by both the Lyme and Fibro flareups. I know this will take time, and though it's frustrating to me, I know there's no other way. I feel as though this year was a big waste. I accomplished nothing. I spent most of this year just surviving. But I guess that's the key: I did survive.. and maybe I'm stronger for it (though I don't feel like I am currently).
Though this year was one of the hardest I've had so far, I'd also like to acknowledge a few good and fun things that happened. For starters, I had made the decision to try to broaden my horizon color scheme wise. As an Enneagram 5, I'm known to stick to basic colors in my wardrobe... mainly black, with a little pink mixed in. They've always been my two main colors. This year I made myself step out of my comfort zone and try some new colors and patterns, and I'm quite happy with the outcome. I also cut way back on my use of makeup this year, which I felt was a needed change. I wanted to be more authentic and didn't want to feel like I "needed" to wear it. I've learned to feel a little more confident in my own skin this year.
While I did spend the majority of this year sick and in bed, I did have some good, quiet times with my faithful furry companion, my little shepherd Beau. I also managed to get out and do a few fun things like: going fishing (only once this year, sadly); going to the county fair with my kid sister, where she won me a stuffed llama; and going to the Wool & Arts festival this September. These activities may not sound like much, but to me they were sweet blessings.
So while I'm definitely ready to see the back of 2019 and look towards the hope of 2020, I would like to thank God for another year (hard as it was) on this earth, for good friends and family who've been supportive this whole year, my faithful little companion Beau, and Hope. Hope for health, hope for growth and forward movement in the year to come, hope for opportunities..... and Hope in God. That He is who He says He is, and always will be.
Here's to a New Year full of new hopes and new mercies!
When I die,
please don’t leave me where I lie,
Lay me down in a field of green
where the woods surround me
and the hills are serene.
When I die,
lay me to rest somewhere high
close to the clear blue sky,
with a view of mountains in the distance
that remind me of the Lord’s existence.
When I die,
please don’t cry,
for I’m not under the thick clay,
though my soul will visit, if I may.
I’m sure I will miss my green hills,
the Summer heats and the Autumn chills,
but know that I am home
somewhere up in that beautiful blue dome.
~ By Liz Austin
I am a wild rose,
I love to be free,
please don’t take that away from me.
I am a wild rose,
not one to retrain or contain,
more like lines of free verse prose,
I’m not one to hold to one lane.
I am a wild rose,
it is not the pain that I fear,
but the ties that bind me,
and loss of the independence I hold dear.
I am a wild rose,
I don’t mind settling down,
happy in the life I chose,
but I won’t wear the gown.
~By Liz Austin 2019
Where were you when the world stopped turning? September 11. 2001 is a day that will forever be remembered, or it should be. It lives as our generation's Pearl Harbor. Everyone remembers where they were and what they were doing when they heard about the Towers falling. Memory a memory was born that day, both horrific and beautiful. A song was also born from the event.
I, like so many others, remember where I was September 11, 2001. It was my first day of 4th grade. School had started late that year due to construction. I didn't find out what was happening until I got home, but we all knew something was wrong during the school day. I remember hearing teachers whispering and crying out in the hallway. There was a hush that seemed to wash over the whole school. There was something in the air that even an 8 year old could sense.
Even when I did find out the details of what happened that fateful morning, I didn't quite understand. I didn't know what it meant nor how to process what I felt. September 11, 2001 was the day I first realized that the world wasn't safe, that really awful things could happen to innocent people. I didn't know how to deal with that. I remember listening to the adults around me expressing anger, bewilderment, and grief. I remember my grandmother worrying aloud that the country might enter another world war (she'd lived through one already). I stared at the TV for days and I just couldn't believe that it was real.
Over the years, I've seen a lot of people disparage/look down on Alan Jackson's song "Where Were You When The World Stopped Turning?" I'm not sure why they feel the need to do so. They often say "it's pandering", "it's cheesy", and "it's stupid". I disagree with every fiber of my being. It's a beautifully simple song that comes from a very genuine place. Unlike other songs that were released after the 9/11 attacks, full of bravado and anger, this song was more about quiet bewilderment, sorrow, fear, and a desire to understand what happened and why it happened. This song was for those who were still sitting on the ground, looking around, wondering what happened, who weren't ready to get back up and fight just yet....
For an 8 year old girl, who didn't know how to process what happened, this song was a blessing. It was the first "commentary" on the attacks that I could understand and relate to. Here is a song that presents a grown adult admitting that he doesn't know much about politics and such, as well as trying to process how we all felt that day. Jackson presented it in such a simple but powerful way, that the song truly did speak to so many people, of all ages. The depth of the song doesn't come from the lyrics, but from the heart of the deliverer/author.
"Where Were You When The World Stopped Turning" told an 8 year old girl that it was Ok if you did not understand or know everything what was going on. It also told us all that we could feel whatever it is we felt, and that we were not alone in our feelings. For that, I am grateful to Mr. Jackson.
And to all those snobs that hate on and stick their noses up at that song, I'd recommend finding something more productive and positive to do with your lives. Come down off your high horses, and listen with an open mind and heart.
"But I know Jesus, and I talk to God, and I remember this from when I was young: Faith, Hope, and Love are some good things He gave us, and the greatest is Love."
I am a wild rose
who longs to be free,
but I am stuck in this pot
and it seems I’ll never be
I gaze up at the sky
and I see the sun,
I see the birds flying high
and I wish that I was one
But here I am
rooted in the dirt,
dreaming of open spaces
deep in the desert
I am a wild rose
longing to be free,
but alas, I fear
I’ll never be.
~ Written by Liz Austin 2019
Born and raised in Upstate NY, Liz is a freelance writer. She has written for websites, blogs, and magazines for the last 10 years. She works as a freelance writer and editor, as well as a proofreader and beta reader for several authors, all the while working on her first book.