History teaches us many things, but I especially like how it sheds light on how we live and what we feel today. For instance, if you look back at some of the times of great societal upheaval – the American War of Independence, the French Revolution to name two – many began or reached a boiling point (no pun intended) during the very hot days of summer. In fact, the term “Thermidor” was the name given to the month of July, when French revolutionaries overthrew the monarchy in France and re-engineered just about every aspect of society (including the annual calendar). This term was applied later to the overthrow of the revolutionary government, including Robespierre, in an event called the Thermidorian Reaction, in July 1794. Another very hot month, another political inferno.
This blog is not about history (although I appreciate your allowing me to indulge in writing about it sometimes). But we can apply the concept of “Thermidor” in a very contemporary way and perhaps learn from it.
If revolutions can spark during the hottest months of the year, what about anger in our hearts toward our lives with illness? What about frustration toward God for giving us such burdens? What about moments when we lash out at those we love because they “just don’t understand?” What about self-pity parties because we feel oh, so sorry for ourselves when it seems everyone else is getting a vacation and there is no vacation from illness for us? Ever. Can the heat of the summer instill heat of another kind in our hearts – a heat that is destructive and can cause lasting harm to us, our relationships, and our faith?
No flippant question, here. I notice that, if I go outside in the heat of the day, I am not at my best emotionally or physically. Hot weather zaps my energy and erodes resilience to keep my temper tempered, my thoughts away from how uncomfortable I feel (and oh, how it isn’t what I want at all). Yes, I can get angry when the mercury climbs, my own Thermidorian Reaction!
In my previous blog post, I wrote about illness triggers and ways to understand them. I mentioned heat as something that can be a trigger for me. All the more reason why I avoid it! And all the more reason to keep learning from history – we never know when we’ll gain wisdom and acquire awareness!
Sometimes when our illness flares or we experience new symptoms, we turn outward. Was it the weather that brought this on? To much work? Family quarrels? Traffic?
But as easy as it would be to blame every flare or symptom on our chronic illness, we know that sometimes we contribute to the situation, too. We allow stress to eat away at us inside. We don’t pay attention to the heat or the cold, even if we know that these extremes will bring physical harm to us. We allow family members or friends to draw us into their drama and, so, invite negative emotions and all the stress and syndromes that those can cause. And as for traffic or other “ordinary” challenges of daily life, well, we cannot avoid these completely, but sometimes we ignore the effects that they will have on us “just because we need to get something done.”
I know well the unpredictable nature of chronic illness. I’ve all but given up trying to predict how I will feel from one day to the next because lupus can be just that slippery. But I know, too, what some of the concrete triggers are that will cause me to be worn down, achy, or otherwise vulnerable to a flare. I know, for example, that extreme heat will make me so tired that it can take weeks to recover from exposure to it. Same thing with sunshine and some other things, too. And I’ve learned (the hard way, sometimes, but I’ve learned) how to adapt and avoid these triggers, even if it means “missing out” on some activities.
Do you cause your flares? How do you find out what your triggers might be? It helps to keep a very candid log of flares and what you were doing and feeling when they began. Track back to any spike in an activity, dietary routine, or overall lifestyle change that might have flipped the switch from “off” to “on.” Of course, the key word is, “candid.” If you find yourself thinking, “I never do anything to bring on a flare,” think again. Learn more about your health condition, talk with your doctor, examine your actions. You might uncover a trigger you didn’t consider before, or you might realize that you have been pushing yourself too hard to be “like you were before,” and are ignoring obvious things you could do to feel better (or, at least, prevent a flare from becoming worse).
Prayer always helps me center my thoughts and examine my actions, including those that involve living with multiple, serious chronic illnesses. As I pray, I ask for wisdom to do my part in staying stable in health and vigilant in my life. The more I listen to God’s guidance, the more I am able to do this. Then, I can work with my doctors to “change the things I can” and weather the storms that will come just the same.
I watched the events in Dallas and elsewhere unfold into the late hours on Thursday and could feel myself sicken at what I saw and heard. I know many people experienced the same kind of physical reaction, a kind of pervasive emotional nausea that oozed into the spirit.
Immediately, I turned to social media, but there, too, were words that seemed to intend to inflict more harm. Perhaps unconsiously or without meaning to. But, well, there was a lot of hurt all round that night – and there has been more to come as the story goes on.
With all the pain swirling around in Dallas and into our homes, added to our already painful illnesses and other chronic health conditions, we might be sensing even more “illness” than we did before. A kind of sickness from what is happening around us instead of only inside of us. It’s stressful to live in a world where some are so bent on violence and hatred. It’s even more stressful to think of that violence and hate darkening our communities or doorsteps. As we know, stress is a great enemy of our health (or what health we might have). And this kind of stress, public and powerful, exacerbates our worry – and can have a negative effect on our physical illnesses and pain.
As I watched and listened Thursday evening, I tweeted and sent off prayers. I’m still praying. And as I turn to God for grace, calm, wisdom, and stability in a very unstable world, I find that the stress caused by what I see is held off more and more by the very things I’m praying for God to bring. Yes, we can become what and who we pray if we keep at it. And if we join others in those very potent and wonderful prayers, turning our focus to our loving God, we can bring cleansing that begins at home and moves out into that stressed world.
We can pray as we watch the news. We can pray after we turn off the news and rest in quiet. The important thing is that we pray, and we join our brothers and sisters in prayer. Let God’s comfort pour over you and me, putting us back on right footing and our hearts to right focus.
Yes, let us continue to pray and invite God’s love in where it hurts the most.
Want to change doctors? Think you could do better with someone else? Well…
It’s not unusual to feel frustrated with your medical care at some point during the course of life with illness. Perhaps you have a friend who is so happy with his or her doctor that you think yours isn’t as good. Or, you might have heard that a doctor “over there” has some kind of “magic” treatment that your current doctor either does not know about or will not use, and you think, “I should change.”
But before you leave, it’s a good idea to take a step back (or a deep breath, as I talk about in my book, Don’t Panic!: How to Keep Going When the Going Gets Tough (http://www.maureenpratt.com/works.htm) and seriously consider what you’d like to do. Changing doctors is a big step and will entail a lot of time and effort on your part, and might not guarantee that you’ll be feeling better after you do. Also, with any doctor, much of the follow-through is our (the patients’) responsibility; if you’re not willing to do what you need to do now, you might not do what you need to do with the new physician either.
Here are some considerations to weigh before you take the plunge and change docs:
- What am I dissatisfied with regarding my current doctor? Have I discussed these concerns with him or her? Have I tried to work out my problems with my current doc?
- Are there things about my current treatment that I am unwilling or unable to do, and how might this be affecting my state of health? Why am I not doing these things (or don’t want to do them)? Will the situation change if I move to another doctor?
- Am I being realistic about the extent to which treatments can help my health get back to 100%? For example, do I understand my illness and, if it is incurable, do I accept that I have certain limitations or that the treatments for my illness are going to be limited no matter which doctor treats me for it?
- How does personality play into my dissatisfaction with my current doc? Am I expecting my doctor to be my friend, or do I want a competent physician who knows how to work with the health issues I have?
- What are my expectations about the way a physician’s office works today? (ease of getting appointments, organization of information, etc.) Am I sure that another office will be “perfect,” or can I approach the office I work with now differently so that I am not as frustrated/dissatisfied?
- Pray over any decision you want to make, and ask for wisdom and objectivity. Sometimes, if we think about it a bit longer and away from the heat of a difficult day or encounter with our docs or their office staff, we can see more clearly where problems might be solved where we are. And if you do decide to change, help your new doc and his or her staff by bringing all your records, list of symptoms and past tests, hospitalizations, and other information. Allow time to get settled in – and keep praying for understanding, wisdom and compassion for all!