This time of the year is always a rather reflective time for me.
Six years ago, on March 11th, I woke up and knew something was dreadfully wrong. It was still dark and I quietly hobbled into the bathroom, trying not to wake my roommates, flipping on the lights to reveal the visage of a disease that has no cure: mixed connective tissue disease. A few days later, I was officially diagnosed.
Autoimmune diseases are chronic, mysterious in origin, and poorly understood. The immune system goes haywire and begins to attack its own tissue and organs. The symptoms range from mildly uncomfortable aches and malaise (in mild cases) to organ involvement and complete debilitation (in severe cases). I fall somewhere in the middle.
Usually, I'm really quite fine. My disease is managed with medications but, occasionally, the disease does flare up and gifts me with horrible fatigue, crippling bouts of nausea, inflamed joints, and - what bothers me particularly - sausage fingers. Most of these symptoms have no external sign which makes for a hidden fragility.
Last month, shortly after President's Day, I drove myself to the emergency room because the disease flared up suddenly after being relatively quiet for a long period of time. Discouragement settled on me as I labored to breathe and, after six hours of monitoring and tests I was released to go home and cry while my friends went out and danced. I’m still not over this flare.
Many women deal with a whole host of insecurities about their bodies. Mine are much more extreme and far-reaching. Will I ever be able to not fear my body? Will friends fall away if I cannot consistently be there for them? Will I be rejected because of this? … Will I become a burden on those I love?
Suffering is my daily companion; I endure its presence forever in this life.
Suffering is said to be one of the strongest proofs against the existence of God. Not because it is the soundest argument as proofs go against the existence of God, but because arguments seem insufficient held before the face of human misery. Do you DARE to say to someone who is grieving over a lost one, to someone crying quietly at night from pain, to someone diagnosed with a terminal illness, that God is *loving* and *merciful*?
Each day, I pray to be healed. The hardest thing to pray is "Blessed be God in all His designs" and "Thy will be done." Why do His designs not include my health? Why does His will exclude this? If He only said even a -word- I would be healed.
And yet, I must pray these things.
To believe that suffering has no purpose, that life ends in this world, and that it is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short” would hurt me more than to disbelieve that there is justice in the next world – bodies made sound, injustices righted, and an eternity of happiness to exchange for a life of misery. When I ask God why there is suffering, why *I* am suffering, I speak to a face that reflects and holds my pain, to someone else who prayed for a cup to pass, to someone who, out of love, became united with us in our humanity and, through voluntary suffering, re-set the disorder that creation had fallen into. Suffering is no longer pointless; in our commonality with Christ it is turned to some good as we take what pittance we have, our very lacking, and give it to Him. It is no longer a bleak landscape without a horizon but a weary pilgrimage to a better home.
I am Catholic. These things I firmly believe – not out of weakness or because it is a pretty fairy tale to soothe away mental or emotional anguish – but because it is the only thing that makes sense to me. I don’t understand why me and I do not need to.
“God has mysteries. Only the devil has secrets.”
–Alice Thomas Ellis
If you are Catholic and feeling charitable, I’d ask that you join a Spiritual Go Fund Me: say a novena to St. Joseph the Worker for my healing and for all those who suffer from chronic illness. We need your prayers.