How I Came to Love the Limits of My Rare Disease

The more you try to avoid suffering, the more you suffer...

I know I’m safer inside, tucked away behind the drapes and in the shadows. My head understands when I venture outside I am vulnerable…that the sun itself is my nemesis. My body clearly protests even a single moment spent in the sun and heat. And though my heart doesn’t want to believe, it’s undeniable: I am “allergic” to the sun.

The specifics of my rare illness don’t matter too much, but if you must know, look up mast cell disease. It’s like being allergic to the world (to sun, to heat, to cold, to smells, to food, to stress, to the environment) without having a true allergy. My body decides without warning, or sometimes without even provocation, to dump the contents of my mast cells. I describe it as feeling like your own body is poisoning you from the inside out. In our rare illness group, we call these mast cell attacks. And the scary part is with every attack I risk life-threatening anaphylaxis.

So I stay out of the sun.

Everyone who lives with chronic illness or rare disease must face limitations. We face the loss of what our lives used to be (or could have been), and we rearrange our lives because of illness until we find a new version of normal. Whether we are dragged along this path of limits kicking and screaming or we step methodically and peacefully onto it is up to us. You and I get to decide how we want to deal with the limits imposed by our chronic illnesses.

Personally, I take a lot of medication to be able to function, and I’m very grateful I have a few somewhat helpful treatment options. But the very best treatment for my rare disease, is to avoid having my mast cells set off; I must cut out ANYTHING that could cause an attack. I must impose strict limits on my life.

At first imposing limits was loss. I had to give up so much in service of an illness I didn’t choose. And when a new symptom claims yet another piece of normal, it is still loss. And loss causes me pain.

Yet, staying out of the sun makes more sense. A highly specific diet makes me feel better. A warmer climate causes me less pain. Temperature control (i.e. air-conditioning) offers relief. My choices to limit my life bring me more: more freedom and more health, not less.

That’s how I came to love the limits of my rare disease; I discovered limits CAN offer freedom. Instead of fighting to maintain my life exactly the way it was and finding myself worse for the battle, my power is restored when I make choices that increase my well-being.

Do I fight for some things? YES! I fight to attend graduations, move my kid into college, volunteer at my favorite leadership conference, to stay working and some nights to just sit up at the dinner table with the family when my body is begging to lie down. Those are the hills I die on today.

Yet peacefully choosing limits can be more liberating than fighting hard any day, for the war with chronic illness will be won through wise choices and acts, not simply brute force and wishful thinking. What I’ve given up in limiting my everyday life is nothing compared with what I have gained from the freedom to stay a tiny bit healthier.

The sun, as it peeks through the clouds or bounces off the lake, is still amazing. I just choose to enjoy it from the safety of my bedroom window.

The Dark Side of Rare Disease

In honor of Rare Disease Day 2016

The Dark Side of Rare Disease

It’s February 29, 2016…Rare Disease Day! So today I challenge you to give a gift to the dark side of rare disease!

The last day of February each year, the world recognizes rare disease and the impact these 7,000 unique illnesses have on patients, caregivers, physicians, drug companies and our entire heath care system. Today is the day we raise the flag of awareness to advance hope, elevate awareness and provoke engagement. That’s the upside of rare disease day!

Inside each home and family impacted by rare disease, the story of awareness is secondary to another much, much more difficult story…the emotions, the physical reality and the economic impact of sickness. This is the dark side of rare disease.

Rare leaves you LONELY.

When despite best efforts no one really understands your rare disease, having a rare disease is lonely. Even though people may ask how you’re doing, their inquiry is usually phrased in terms of a comparison to getting better. There is no cure for most rare diseases; there is no better. We need genuine moments of understanding and friendship.

Rare finds you FEARFUL.

When your body regularly fails and your world isn’t safe, facing rare disease every day takes courage beyond what’s recognizable. Your paradigm for the world must be different, because you often cannot do normal everyday activities in the same fashion as others. We need safety. We need accommodations to be commonplace and offered generously by others.

Rare makes you ANGRY.

When your world keeps shrinking because your illness demands center stage, illness can be infuriating. You want to do and be more, and illness stands in your way. Treatments are few and medications are expensive. In most cases, medical goals for rare disease include increasing coping skills and decreasing pain and illness, not fixing the problem. We need an enlarging world. We need real hope. We need cures.

Rare keeps you CONFLICTED.

When to do simple daily tasks, you must choose between health and illness, having a rare disease can feel like daily sacrifice. In order to stay as healthy as possible, you cannot live a “normal” life, but where do you draw the line? When should you accept the consequences of increased illness to do something like work, or play or be there for your family? We need a compass to point us toward the most important choices. We need compassion.

Rare runs you TIRED.

When your emotional and physical resources are regularly operating on empty, rare disease can leave you exhausted. To get up and get to work or school can take an extraordinary amount of effort some days or every day. And emotional fatigue can be even more draining. We need borrowed energy. We need boundaries. We need an extra dose of kindness regularly.

Rare holds you BROKE.

When the cost of insurance, medications, therapies, travel to specialists and daily medical needs mount, rare disease can leave you without adequate financial resources. When you have a rare disease, you plan to go without. With illness, it is more important that you purchase medicine than new clothes. And with rare disease, it’s vital that you spend your money and vacation hours on traveling to specialists, not getting away on the perfect vacation. We need better financial options. We need better medical insurance. We need financial help.

Who do you know with a rare disease? Have you considered that along with the courage, character and strength that are built through struggling with rare disease, there is a dark side?

In honor of Rare Disease Day, I challenge you to give someone who has a rare disease one or all of the following:

  • Friend-filled understanding
  • Life-changing accommodations
  • World-enlarging hope
  • Choice-making compassion
  • Your own physical energy
  • Your financial help

Turn the dark side around and give someone with a rare disease HOPE!

 

Author’s note: three members of our family have a rare disease, including Mast Cell Disease, Ehlers Danlos Syndrome and Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome.

 

 

My Story of Suffering

The Tale of How We Suffer

I came upon this quote recently. Drink it in…read it slowly as to savor it.

“For while the tale of how we suffer, and how we are delighted and how we may triumph is never new, it always must be heard. There isn’t any other tale to tell. It’s the only light we’ve got in all this darkness.” – James Baldwin

When I came upon this quote, it immediately spoke to the very core of my heart, perhaps even my soul. It’s true; while the tales of acute or chronic illness are never truly new, they still deserve to be told. My story, the story of my family, as common as it may be, still needs to find its wings and flutter into form.

As I write, I sit in the common area of the Ronald McDonald House. In the background I hear families preparing dinner, playing games and telling and retelling their stories of what landed them in this terribly special, but never-in-a-million-years-wanted-to-be-needed place. Forty-two rooms. Hundreds of stories per year. Over the years, we’ve spent well over one hundred days and nights in this place. This time it is a wonderful family from China seeking treatment for their son’s spinal tumor, a girl with a progressive autoimmune disorder who doctors agree has a limited life-span, and a teen with complications from a past brain tumor and with a new mystery illness. And it’s a myriad of others, too many to list.

Our story of Mast Cell Illness, Ehler’s Danlos Syndrome, Postural Orthostatic Tachyardia Syndrome, Developmental ADHD, Traumatic Brain Injury and the like seems to pale in comparison. I don’t know why. Our story is not less real. It is not less life altering. And it is not even less complicated, especially because there are three of us in one family: with three sets of doctor’s orders to follow, three sets of ever-changing medications and three unique ways of managing chronic illness. Perhaps I am simply so intimately acquainted with our story that the complex seems simple when I recount it.

It would take miles of paper to tell the tale of how we landed in this place. For now, it’s sufficient to know that while some people find themselves facing health care crisis in an instant, our process has been much more like a small snowball rolling down a hill filled with fresh new snow, gathering steam and growing larger all the while. And try as I might to stop the impending avalanche of symptoms, diagnoses and treatments, the snowball has continued to grow.

Though I can talk about our family illness story for years if you ask, other than my close friends whom I probably bore with all the details, you will not know our true tale. In part, we keep the story silent to stop from “boring” families without health care issues of their own. Sometimes we keep the details hidden because unless you’re experiencing the symptoms daily, you could never understand the extent to which they radically alter life. But perhaps the strongest reason I don’t share our story is that it’s hard. And hard can be discouraging. I don’t like to be discouraging.

For our family, living with chronic illness means each day is like a minefield we are forced to cross. It’s hard when mom has daily trouble breathing, or when our girl has unquenchable levels of pain or when our son experiences life-altering memory problems. Our story includes fear of daily anaphylaxis, autonomic systems that don’t function and electrical wiring in the body run amuck. And the list goes on.

Every time a symptom crisis occurs, I feel a catch in my chest; I think the tightness in my throat, the instantaneous nausea and the feeling of despair that grips my core is my physical expression of suffering. Someone once told me that while pain is inevitable, suffering is a choice. I completely agree…in part; suffering is an emotional decision. I CAN choose to see the good in our situation, to choose joy in the midst of pain. (And if you know me, I do; perhaps I find the good in illness to a fault.) Normally, I make a choice to evade suffering and deal head-on with pain. Yet, I must firmly disagree with the whole of that paradigm.

Sometimes, the fatigue of the daily struggle against pain and illness lets suffering stealthily creep into my soul; that is one part of the tale I believe James Baldwin says must be heard. When moments of suffering crash into my soul, in a single instant I grieve every loss of years of illness. Every dismissive doctor, every lasting symptom, and every outing ever missed cries for attention. Scenes of the active family life we will never have taunt me. Flashes of pain, grief and loss rapidly fill the pages of my mind’s illness memoir. For as many moments as I allow, suffering takes hold. Like a bad flu, it wears me down, robbing me of health, life and energy.

Suffering, however, is not our end. In the most hidden parts of me, as I wrestle through my feelings of loss and pain, I know suffering is truly a beginning. It’s a place where I can begin anew, moving through sadness toward peace and hope. Scripture says, “suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame. (Romans 5:3b-5a)”

Perhaps someday, whenever people think of our family health story, they will find hope. But for now, I am content to know it’s again a season of perseverance; staying steady in the rough times and joyful in the good times. And though every day, I would like to move straight to hope, sometimes the cycle restarts itself at suffering. Try to skip this step and more suffering is likely incurred.

That’s the beginning of our tale that begs to be heard. It’s devoid of details and perhaps lacking in inspiration; it’s not yet bursting with joy and triumph. It lives in the tension between suffering and hope. It teeters on the edge of despair and rushes again toward expectation. And as James Baldwin offers, “it’s the only light we’ve got in all this darkness.” It is how the character, and ultimately the hope, of Jesus is being lived out through us.

Four Ways to Create Your Own Best Chronic Illness Life

My goal is to create a life I don't need a vacation from.

I’m still learning about living life with a chronic illness. I’ve been sick all my life, but it’s not like a person can master how to live gracefully and courageously when they’re fighting with a body that doesn’t seem to want to take orders. I don’t have it all figured out, but every day I work hard to become uncommonly brave: to live my life under my terms with a sophisticated peace that conveys I am the author of my own experience.

Want to create your own best chronic illness life? Where do you even start? Here are a few thoughts to get you going:

  1. Your nest. Think about your home, your bedroom or the place you spend the most time when you’re feeling ill or having a bad day. This is a great place to begin. What would help you feel more comfortable here? Do you need extra pillows, a special chair or a bedside reading nook to create a space that feels warm and inviting? Or do you need a desk where you can be productive for a few minutes at a time? Make plans to redesign your space to make it work for you and your unique needs and desires.
  2. Your free time. Think about what you tend to do with your free time. Maybe you already take long walks on the beach or in the woods. Maybe you love window shopping or crafting gifts for others. Whatever it is that fills you up, do more of this! When we’re sick, we tend to stop doing the very activities that might distract us from our illness and bring us internal strength. If you’ve stopped doing these things, start today. Even a few minutes of soul-filling activity is worth it! And if you need help, ask for it. Maybe you can’t walk through the woods, but you could use a nice drive to a park. Make it happen today.
  3. Your work time. Think about how you spend your hours contributing to the family income. If you don’t work outside the home, think about the activities you do inside the home. We all spend a lot of time at our workplace or working at home. Do what you can to bring life and joy to this situation! Pin up pictures of things you care about in a work locker or in your cubicle. Add color to  your office or computer area. Find a few favorite restaurants that deliver. Block out time to have lunch with a friend. Start simple, but make this area and the time you spend in it something you look forward to. Sometimes even the simplest things can make a huge difference.
  4. Your life. Think big! Do the suggestions above seem too small? Then think bigger. Maybe you don’t need a few minor improvements to create a life you love. Maybe you need radical change. Of course, I’m not advocating you make reckless changes to your life (like quitting your job without another income or moving to a place you have no support system developed). But if you’re really feeling like your life has become unbearable, it might be time for a major adjustment. Maybe it’s time to gather a few friends, share your dreams and talk about how you might achieve your goals, despite your illness. It’s never to late to start again.

Life is just plain difficult when you’re living with a chronic illness, chronic pain or undiagnosed illness. But though your body might rebel, you still have the ability to affect positive change in your life. Why not start now?

My Chronic Illness Bucket List

A Goal is a Dream with a Plan and a Deadline

We all have dreams: things we want to do, places we’d like to go, people we’d like to become. Humanity has been gifted with the inordinate capacity to dream about becoming something more than they already are. People who deal with chronic illness share in this too. We’re not as discontent as we might sometimes feel; instead sometimes we’re simply wrestling with the craving to reach out and touch the stars, to experience life to the fullest.

Dreams are amazing. But if our lives are only spent dreaming and are not also spent doing, we will end our existence with a pile of regret. Anyone with chronic illness familiar with regret? Most of us are likely too cozy with this feeling. So this year, I challenge you to make a bucket list. You know, that list of dreams you want to accomplish before you “kick the bucket” and you no longer have the chance. Why not take a few minutes and think about what’s really important to you? (Can’t leave your bed? Check out my post about a bedside bucket list.)

Personally, I’ve always been quite goal oriented. It’s super important to me that people in my family, on my work team, and in my life are all headed in the same direction, working together to achieve the same goals. And every year I set personal goals. Some of them are short term desires, and a few are long-term dreams. I find what’s written down and reviewed regularly will receive a ton more attention that what’s simply floating around in my mind.

To be honest, though, I’ve never created a dream bucket list. I’ve had ideas of things that are important to me, but when I got sicker, I sort of stopped dreaming. And a bucket list seemed extravagant to me. For a while, I stopped doing too; I only had the energy to attend to the “must do” list. Certainly anyone with chronic illness can understand what that’s like. Some days, some weeks or some years are simply difficult, to say the least.

But now…now it’s time…time to fight for my dreams.

Today, I start my bucket list. I’m going big.

  • Item #1: Visit Paris. It’s always been my dream to visit France. Time to make a plan?
  • Item #2: Own a house on a lake. Well, at least on water. This one might happen soon. It might be a pond, but I’ll take it. It’s so exciting!
  • Item #3: Become a magazine editor. Wow. That one just happened. I’m the new editor for the Mastocytosis Chronicles. One edition down, lots more to go.
  • Item #4: I don’t know…

My personal assignment to myself: finish my bucket list. Dare to dream. Chronic illness is NOT an excuse for giving up on the human search for life at its fullest!

Chronic illness: Learn to be gentle with yourself

Be Gentle with Yourself

In the last few years (meaning many), I have learned to live life at a new pace (meaning slower). And sometimes I even like it.

If you have a chronic illness, a rare disease, or even an undiagnosed illness, you will likely understand what I mean when I say that chronic illness strips away your level of choice. Choices like how you spend your time, where you go and what you eat. My illness is progressive, so each year it seems I can do a little bit less. I have less energy to burn, therefore I must move slower. So one of my highest priorities is to choose how to use the energy I do have well.

But this is harder than it seems. Because it’s not just prioritizing life choices that weighs you down when you have a chronic condition. The emotions involved in being sick can turn ugly. You might get angry with people who provide you with services. You can find yourself out-of-your-mind upset with medical professionals. You can take out your frustrations on your family. But unless you’re accustomed to playing the victim card, the person who typically suffers the most from your raging emotions is you.

Recently I’ve been sick. Coming down with a regular illness (like a cold) on top of being chronically ill just stinks. The illness stays around longer and seems to knock me down harder than it might the “normally healthy” person. So whenever I get a cold, I watch as it slowly turns the corner to bronchitis. And when I have bronchitis, for the first few days, I can do nothing. I lie in bed (propped up of course) and wait. Wait for the days to pass. Wait for the virus to exit my body. Wait for my energy to return. Just wait. And of course this happens whenever I get an illness flare too.

If you’re a caregiver of someone who is chronically ill, think about all that waiting time. For most of us who deal with bouts of illness that confine us to bed, we can have a lot of unproductive time on our hands. And when you feel like you got run over by a fleet of semi-trucks, being unproductive is about all one can manage. Sometimes, we can feel well enough to contribute to the world in small ways from our bed. But often, waiting is what we must do.

And during all this waiting time, our emotions can get a little messed up.

Healthy or ill, each of us have limits. We are not omnipotent. I never have liked the fact that I cannot leap over tall buildings in a single bound. Or that I’m confined to travel by foot or car; flying (like Superman) would be so much more efficient. But I cannot leap over buildings, and I cannot fly. Sometimes I cannot even get out of bed.

In my younger years, I was pretty hard on myself when I would get sick. Endless hours of television aren’t very activistic, and I love action. I used to blame myself, question God and get angry at each and every bad day. Part of this anger was dealing with undiagnosed illness. But part of it was I had no compassion for my own weakness.

Now…I work hard to give myself a break. To be gentle with myself; for I am fighting a hard physical (and therefore emotional) battle. And nowadays, I find my significance in life not in how many times I can pick the children up from school or go grocery shopping or meet a friend, but in the breadth and depth of my own humanity.

My spirit is rich because I no longer fight to rid myself of this illness. Instead, I wait steadfastly…knowing my down time, while not my choice, is what it is. And somehow, once I stopped fighting, I could even enjoy some of those sickbed moments.

Please, be gentle with yourself and your loved ones who have chronic illness. They did not choose to be sick. But in gentleness, they may find peace.

How to Choose Hope When Chronic Illness Abounds

Choose Hope

It would be ludicrous for me to say I understand what you’re going through. When you have a chronic illness or a child with a chronic illness, there is practically no way for anyone to truly understand the depth of your daily distress or the breadth of your pain. You may be walking through some of the most difficult days of your life. You might be finally feeling like you can breathe again. Even though I cannot fully understand…even though I do not know what your circumstances hold…I do know this…hope abounds.

Hope is not a fuzzy feeling. It’s not an illusive mind trick. It’s a real and absolute assurance. It’s an understanding the future holds promise and good.

Not clear yet? Then, consider the opposite of hope: despair. We’re all familiar with despair. It comes in varying forms and levels. It’s the feeling there is no way out, no way forward and no assurance of a better future. It’s the “end of the rope.” Different than depression, despair is a sense that difficulties cannot be repaired and forward momentum is impossible.

I think that’s the core of the issue…to choose hope, we must believe forward momentum is possible. We must believe there is a brighter day. We must know that in the midst of our troubles, we stand on solid ground, and not on sinking sand.

Maybe I recently mentioned that one of my mast cell friends recently said she felt better, calmer after talking with me? I quickly suggested to her this feeling has nothing to do with me being a good, calming person…but everything to do with my relationship with Jesus. For me, this friendship with God is what allows me to always choose hope. Because I know God is always with me, I can claim the promise that He has a good plan for my life AND a HOPE for my future (Jeremiah 29:11). I can choose hope, because I know there is always a way through.

Sound sappy? Maybe it seems that way. But I can attest to the fact that it’s not. While I still struggle with fear, anger, sadness and all manner of distress, one thing I do not struggle with is despair. Despite my pain, despite my illness flairs, despite my ongoing symptoms, I have hope. And this hope is not just the maybe-someday-things-will-get-better kind of hope. It’s the calm assurance that no matter what circumstances seem like at the time, God is capable of helping me handle them.

So how do you choose hope? You find your solid ground. Mine is Jesus. What’s yours?

Today I was brave. I got out of bed.

Today I was brave! I got out of bed.

Today I looked chronic illness in the face. Today I was brave. I got out of bed.

So…it’s been a long week. For the last several years, I’ve had the opportunity to volunteer behind the scenes at a national leadership conference called the Global Leadership Summit as the assistant video director. I love what I get to do! I call cues for the camera operators and the director to ensure the presentation is as seamless as possible. Fast-paced, high-pressure environment. It’s one part planning, one part strategic thinking and one part leadership.  It kinda comes naturally to me.

But…to volunteer, I must travel by airplane, sleep away from home, figure out what foods are safe to eat while traveling and, because the satellite truck must keep the equipment quite cold, I must endure some very cold temperatures. That’s hard on the body when you’ve got a chronic illness. It’s a definite sacrifice.

And…after I got home late, I went right back to work the next day (Sunday), and my kids had their first day of school today (Monday). 5:45 AM. That was the time my alarm went off. That’s a TERRIBLE time for the alarm to go off when you’ve got a chronic illness. But dad is traveling, so I gotta do what I gotta do. Thank goodness for grandma and grandpa pitching in (thanks mom and dad)! The kids survived their first day back at school, and we’re all wrapping up for the night.

Some things are hard. Like getting out of bed. But they’re ultimately worth it. Do I feel great? NO! But am I infinitely glad I made the choices I did. YES! I don’t know what you’re facing today. Maybe there is absolutely no way you could dream of doing what I’ve done this past week. Maybe you could do more. It doesn’t matter. Because the truth is ultimately the same: Sometimes we must choose to feel sick, so we can experience a joy greater than our illness.

Today, I was brave. I got out of bed.

It was well worth it.

When Chronic Illness Flares into Worry

Worry Does Not Empty Tomorrow of Its Sorrow

This weekend I had a chronic illness flare. Most people with mast cell disease call them attacks. And this attack once again introduced worry…

Because of my mast cell disease, I can react to normal everyday stimuli as if I were highly allergic. In fact, some people with mast cell disease describe it as living every day in constant low level of anaphylaxis. One of the more depressing reports I read recently suggested patients like me are “extremely ill” and live close to death’s doorstep. How encouraging. Not.

But even though that statement was from a new story where truth can often be sensationalized, this explanation of mast cell disease holds a kernel of truth. I can get extremely sick, and sometimes I am even worried that things could go really bad when I’m having an attack. For me, attacks can include trouble breathing, chest pain, flushing, headache, internal pain, full body pain and even (warning: TMI) GI distress. Most times it happens in a slow burn…unrelenting symptoms that leave me feeling sick, but able to function. Sometimes though, like this weekend, it happens quickly…extreme symptoms that make me feel like I’m going to explode from the inside out and leave me completely unable to function.

This weekend it was fumes from gym floor lacquer mixed with off-gassing from new carpet. Normal people might be annoyed with these smells. But me…exploding headache, nausea and a feeling like someone drained all the blood from my body (that’s called anaphylaxis – for which I took emergency meds). While I was able to make it home, load up on Benedryl and sleep, it left me unable to function for quite some time.

But what episodes like this also leave behind is something I don’t want to be a party to…WORRY!

People with chronic illness can easily worry. Worry, when they’re feeling good, whether or not they will get worse. Worry, when they’re feeling bad, whether or not they’ll ever feel good again. Worry they will not be able to participate in their family. Worry they will loose their job or their source of income. Worry their friends will not understand. Worry their family won’t either. Worry they will die.

Interesting thing is that worry does no earthly good! As Corrie ten Boom says, “Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.” Worry (which is a form of fear) doesn’t do me any good. It doesn’t make me feel well. It cannot save relationships with my friends or family. It cannot supply for my financial needs. Worry can only cause all these things to become more difficult.

So worry needs to be kicked to the curb.

Yesterday I was talking to a friend who also has mast cell disease. She mentioned that she felt better after talking to me…that I had a calming presence. My response: that’s Jesus in me. Left to my own devices, I would be a complete worry wart. Because of God, I can take all my fear and worry about my illness, or anything else in my life, and give it to God. The Bible says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6). That’s the cure for worry: let God handle it. I don’t need to carry around a weight of worry. God is big enough to handle any of my problems.

And yes, all those things I could worry about regarding my chronic illness might happen. I could loose my friends. I could loose my income. I could feel worse. I might never feel better. But I’m not worried. God’s got it. And He will give me the strength to handle each any every one of my problems as they come. For today, I choose to save my strength. I choose trust.

How to Count Your Blessings When You Have a Chronic Illness

I Am Not Lucky, I Am Blessed!

It requires bravery to count your blessings when it seems like your body is falling apart. When you have a chronic illness, it’s easy to ignore the good. When things around you are in a natural state of decline, you can get sucked into the sentiment that everything is going to “heck in a hand basket.” And when we fall into these thinking traps, it is difficult to recover. In this state, we see scarcity in the world.

Thought it can be difficult at first, I believe you can learn to count your blessings. You can learn to see the abundance in the world. Here are a few tricks that I use to help me get started:

  1. Thankfulness – I can choose to be thankful for the little things and the big ones. Whether it’s rain for the grass or a diagnosis that helps guide my healthcare, I can choose to count those as blessings.
  2. Comparison – Though comparison is always a game of subjectivity, when I compare my life to that of others, it’s always possible to find someone with pain or symptoms worse than mine. I can count my lesser symptoms as blessings.
  3. Wisdom – I have learned a ton through being chronically ill. I can choose to count all my new knowledge and wisdom as a blessing.
  4. Strength – I have gained physical, intellectual and emotional strength over the many years of my illness. This hard-earned strength has become a blessing that now spills over into other’s lives!
  5. Friendships – Because of my illness, I have gained new friends…others who have similar symptoms and parents of children who have chronic illness. What a treasure it is to count those blessings!

I could go on…but you get the point.

Sometimes what starts out as pain, ends in a gift: blessings you can count. Choose to count your blessings today. You are not simply lucky. You are blessed!