May 12, 2015

A Work Not Yet Finished

About 5 years ago on a brisk October day, I was curled up in bed after suffering what doctor's believed to be a heat stroke following a cross country race. I was a freshman in high school, my only life plans were to get through the day at hand, and I hadn't yet had the opportunity to discover who I truly was or what I wanted out of life. As I was lying in bed that day -- missing school, spending time with friends, and cross county practice -- I recognized something: the pain I felt was unlike anything I had ever experienced before. That was the day I knew the tides had turned in a way that I wasn't sure I was prepared for. That was the day God began to prepare my heart to endure a life of chronic pain...that was the day He began a work in me that He is not yet finished with.

In the days and weeks to come, I struggled to get out of bed, dress myself, and put on a brave face. Somehow, by what I believe to be the grace of God, I did it. One morning around 5am, I woke up abruptly. Pain was shooting up and down my legs, through my abdomen, and back and forth between my head and neck. As I writhed and tried to restrain myself from screaming, I quite literally rolled out of bed. Using what little strength I had, I crawled to the bathroom, turned on the water to a somewhat scalding temperature, got into the shower, and laid down. I curled up in the fetal position and tears began to stream down my face as I came to terms with the fact that I may never, ever know what "pain free" felt like again.

In the months to come, I visited my primary care physician more times than I can count on two hands. The people in my life at that time may not remember me missing from class, family dinners, cross country races, or sleepovers...but I can assure you that I missed them, and in more ways than one. Not only did I miss them physically, I missed them emotionally. Every aspect of my day-to-day life had changed. Suddenly, the free spirited, naive freshman I knew myself to be had become a miserable sufferer who felt trapped inside her own body and mind.

It was at this time that I began to shut anything and everything out, convinced that I was the only one who felt the way I did...convinced that there was something wrong with my mind. Doctor after doctor told me that I was clinically depressed...that the blood tests were normal...that I would be okay with time and visits with a psychologist. They did not acknowledge the widespread pain that continued to overrun my body. They did not acknowledge the weight I continued to lose. They did not acknowledge the pain induced nausea that prevented me from eating. They did not acknowledge the swelling or redness in my joints or along my spine...and every time I broke down crying because no one acknowledged those things, I was handed some more little white pills and crinkled sheets of paper that contained referrals to mental health professionals I had not yet seen.

I can tell you one thing for certain about this chapter of my life: I was in extreme physical pain and I wanted to die because of said pain. I was grieving the loss of a "pain free" life (I'm STILL grieving that loss) and what it meant to be a teenager without much of a care in the world. I was grieving the loss of the freedom that my own body had taken from me.

During this time, it may have appeared that I began to internalize things and remain inside my head. It may have appeared that I rapidly became more withdrawn and distant. While I will openly say that all of those things are 100% accurate, I can also say with complete assurance that none of them happened because my pain was "all in my head," nor did they happen because I was seeking attention. They happened because my body was and IS attacking itself.

It wasn't until nearly a year of suffering that some answers were granted to me and my mother who was beyond desperate to understand. It was then that I was diagnosed with juvenile enthesitis-related arthritis, fibromyalgia, and moderate disc degeneration in my cervical spine. It was then that my pain was acknowledged. It was then that I was finally listened to by healthcare professionals. It was then that I finally had a name for the monsters I had been fighting.

Was I depressed at this time? Absolutely. Was I anxious and afraid? 100%, yes. Were those feelings caused by a figment of my imagination? Absolutely not. Those feelings were caused by underlying issues that went unacknowledged. Those feelings were caused by the extremity of distracting pain I experienced as I sat through Civics class trying my hardest to pretend it wasn't there. Those feelings were caused by the school events and sleepovers I missed because I was at home in bed, begging a God I wasn't even sure I believed in to heal my body or take my life (and I preferred the latter). Those feelings developed over time as reports of my pain were diminished, my judgements were questioned, and my time was wasted by people who did nothing but abuse my naiveté and try to talk me out of something that had so physically manifested itself inside my feeble body.

Not being acknowledged or accepted began to destroy me. And then I met Jesus. And Jesus taught me that we may not be able to understand or empathize with everything everyone goes through -- we are not Him. He taught me that we may not be able to find just the right words to say or just the right gift to give -- we are not Him. But just because we cannot or do not understand something does NOT mean it does not exist...and what we can do is precisely what He created us for. 

We can get on people's level and sit with them there. We can put our hand on their backs and rub it gently until the tears cease. We can offer warm, inviting hugs and we can lend a listening ear when they need to vent. And even when a mix of all of those things seems exhaustive...there is more. We can be transparent and share the truth. The truth that says we as humans are not all-knowing or invincible. The truth that affirms the fact that we may not be able to understand everything, but we genuinely desire to understand the best we can without experiencing it. The truth that acknowledges that we may not be able to take away the pain...but if we could do so, we would in a second.

A morning not too long ago, I woke up in my dorm room to the sun shining through the blinds. As I tried to get out of bed, pain shot up and down my spine. I shrieked and fell back onto my pillow as I began to have flashbacks from that brisk October morning just over 5 years ago. The pain. The fear. The desperation. It felt all too familiar...except this time, I didn't begin to wish my life away. Instead, I simply spoke 6 words aloud: "I can't do this without You..." And as I said that, I just knew. I just knew that I was not alone.

If someone you love has a chronic illness of any sort, I want you to know that it's not personal. The cancelled plans, the quiet demeanor...none of it is because of you. Most importantly, I want you to know this and this alone: acknowledgement matters. Complete belief, unending love, and absolute support are all things that matter. And though you may never be able to fully understand, loving people through and because of their pain in those ways will mean more to them than you will ever know.

I don't know who I wrote this post for. I don't know if anyone will read this and think, "WOW, I swear she took these thoughts right out of my own head." I don't know. I really don't. But what I do know is there's a chance. There's a chance someone out there is laying in bed, curled up in the fetal position, and writhing in pain right now. And whether that is because of chronic pain or mental illness or something entirely unrelated to either one of those things...they are waiting. Waiting to be acknowledged. Waiting to be heard. Waiting for someone to get on their level and sit with them there. And if that's you...if that's you there waiting, I want you to know a few things: you are not alone, the God who created you is the God that is with you, and He is not finished with you yet. 

I know it hurts and I know it feels like your world is crumbling. I know it feels like you will never be well again...and maybe you won't be on this side of Heaven. But He has promised marvelous things and He who promised is FAITHFUL. I believe that there is a reason for every ounce of pain in this world and I believe that He can use yours -- yes, even yours -- for your good and His glory. It doesn't mean it will be easy. In fact, I know it won't be...but He will be your strength and He will complete the work in you that is not yet finished.

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March 24, 2015

Stitch Fix Review Numero Tres

Back when I was a good little blogger, I used to post Stitch Fix reviews and #WhatKenzWore posts much more frequently. I got an e-mail last week from a reader who said she really missed that and I then realized I miss it, too! So I scheduled a fix and vowed to get my review up within a week. :) Even though I'm a broke college student now, I remembered that I had some credits on my account...what girl doesn't love getting new clothes for spring?! Hello, perfect timing!

I didn't understand how the whole thing worked at first, but once I started getting fixes regularly I felt like a pro! Basically, you sign up, fill out your style profile, and schedule your first fix for a flat rate of $20. Your stylist picks out things she thinks you'd totally ROCK and it arrives at your doorstep on the date of your choosing. From there, you try everything on and decide what you'd like to keep. You login to your account, choose the things you wish to purchase, and send the rest of the items back in the prepaid shipping envelope they send along. The best part? The $20 flat rate you originally paid can be put towards whatever item(s) you decide to purchase!

1.) Virginia V-Neck Top: I love polka dots and I'm pretty sure all that stylists I've had at Stitch Fix know this. ;) I was super drawn to this top and excited to try it on, but I didn't end up liking the fit at all. It was strangely ruffled in the front and didn't lay on my shoulders comfortably. I wish it had fit me better because I loved the outfits they put together on my little inspiration card! Verdict: SENT BACK!

2.) Tucker Split Back Top: Pictures of this top simply do not do it justice. The color combination is perfection for my spring/summer wardrobe. It has a higher neckline which I LOVE because then it's the perfect piece to pair with a statement necklace! The fit is flowy without being too much and it's sleeveless! I love pairing my sleeveless tops with cardigans in the spring/fall -- I know I will get my use out of this one and it was in my price range. :) Verdict: KEEPING FOR SURE!

3.) Assymetrical Zip Cardigan: Ah, I almost loved this sweater more than life itself. I have been dying to get one of these asymmetrical zip cardigans for a long time and I was so happy when it showed up in my fix! So comfy. So cozy. So versatile. The only issue was the price tag. Though I know I would get my use out of it, $68 isn't in my budget for clothing purchases at the moment and I found the same one on Modcloth for $54. ;) If anyone knows where I can get one even cheaper, let a girl know! This is a piece I definitely want to add to my closet. Until we meet again, pretty little cardi... Verdict: SENT BACK!

4.) Justice Detail Blouse: There are no pictures of me wearing this delicate little beauty because it did not make it on my body. The sleeves were TINY and I could not even get it over my shoulders. YIKES. Major strike out with this one, but I wish it had been my size. I am not an XS, that's for sure! ;) Verdict: SENT BACK!

The fifth item in my fix was a bracelet that I forgot to snap a photo of. It was pretty, but I'm not one to pay $30 for any piece of jewelry! I'd much rather shop the Target clearance or hit up Forever 21 if you know what I mean! 

Have you gotten a fix lately? 

If you decide to sign up, click right here! Help a girl out and get her a credit for referrals! Pretty please with a cherry on top... :)

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March 13, 2015

When I Feel Like I Can't Anymore

When you are first diagnosed with a chronic health condition, there are things that you are absolutely sure of and there are things that you are so cluelessly and desperately unsure of. There is no in between, usually. The way you feel and think about things becomes pretty black and white. It's one or the other.

It's yes, you're going to follow through with your commitments; or it's no your pain level is far too high to stick to the original plan(s). It's yes, you're going to class and work today; or it's no, you'll be staying in bed resting and attempting to *maybe* save up just enough spoons to take a hot shower.

You are sure you are in pain. You are unsure of how long said pain is going to last. You are sure there was a point in your life when you were not in pain. You are unsure of how that painlessness felt. You are sure you are "okay." You are unsure of how much longer you will be "okay" for.

Though I do it on a daily basis and dealing with the pain has become that of a second nature to me, there are times when I like I no longer can. There are times when, for lack of a better word (channeling my inner white girl here), I feel like I just can't even...anymore.

For example, on Tuesday, I had spinal injections for the first time in about 10 weeks. My neck pain and migraines were coming back with a vengeance the week and a half before. I was excited for relief, but I knew that (as the case with any procedure)...relief is not instantaneous. In fact, the 48 hours following spinal injections usually sucks a good amount.

The next morning when I awoke, I could hardly hold my head up. It was in the exact moment that I let my head fall back onto the pillow again that the words "I just can't," echoed through my mind. As pain shot back and forth from my head to my neck and then back to my head again, I reached for my iPhone and started emailing the professor of my morning class. "I won't be in class this morning due to pain following a spinal procedure I had yesterday. I can't..." I wrote and continued on. Though it killed me to write two words that made me feel so useless, helpless, and just plain angry all at the same time -- I accepted them.

Call it hopelessness. Call it settling. Call it depression. Call it denial. To me, it's normal and arriving at the awareness of feeling like I can't helps me to eventually arrive at the feeling that I can...and that I am.

When we feel as if we can't (in any circumstance), we need to remind ourselves of who we are. For example, I'm Kenzie. No diagnosis, no amount of pain, no medication, and no test or scan result will change the fact that I am alive and human in this moment. We need to remind ourselves of this fact daily. No, MOMENTARILY. That we have a life to live and the choice on how to live it...and if we aren't living our individual lives, no one will.

I got out of bed for my next class on Wednesday. Though the pain was still running rampant between my head and neck, I managed to remind myself who I am and the strength that came from doing so got me to the shower, into some clothes, and on my way to class. The strength I found in remembering carried me through until I finally could lay down to rest again that evening. 

And all that remembering led me to some more remembering...remembering that when I feel like I can't anymore, I can pray. When I feel like I can't anymore, I can utilize my support system. When I feel like I can't anymore, I can continue to seek Christ. When I feel like I can't anymore, I can worship. When I feel like I can't anymore, I can ask for help. When I feel like I can't anymore, I can allow myself to rest. When I feel like I can't anymore, I can reflect all the times that I did...

...and, suddenly, when I feel like I can't anymore, I CAN.

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March 06, 2015

He's Trying to Change ME

It's been eerily quiet around here lately...and not just in the physical sense. Emotionally. Spiritually. It's been quiet. After surgeries just over two months ago, I've been working through some tough things. Things I didn't want to document or discuss or admit to even though they have been consuming me.

The doctor's warn you about the possibility of post-operative depression when extensive or back-to-back surgeries are done. They warn you and they give you resources to combat those feelings if they happen to arise, but they don't tell you how it's going to affect you personally. They don't tell you because they don't know.

And, so, I was warned. I knew what to *possibly* expect. But much to my surprise, I didn't recognize when those feelings of loneliness, hopelessness, and frustration began to affect me and every little piece that makes me who I am.

Immediately following surgery, I was in agony mainly due to the fact that I was in a lot of pain and struggling to get any sleep because of it. I was out of it/completely dazed for majority of Christmas break. I stretched, showered, napped, stretched, napped, ate, stared at the TV, and attempted to nap some more. Repeat. Day after day after day. I didn't feel much except for when it was time to take my pain meds again.

After New Years, I moved back into my dorm at school and started to prepare myself for j-term. I was on crutches and still in pain, but I was ready to get back to the school routine and be surrounded by the awesome ladies on my floor again. I didn't have a clue what I was in for.

As the days passed, I found myself internalizing anything and everything. I found myself avoiding my pain med because of the nausea it caused and in turn lying in my bed miserably for hours at a time. When people asked how I was doing, I would quickly respond "I'm good, how are you?!" in a peppy voice with a fake smile plastered on my face.

It wasn't that I had forgotten God's goodness. It wasn't that I had forgotten His faithfulness. I'm not even going to allow myself to blame it on being in pain. The bottom line is that I was looking at my circumstances -- the here and now -- as if they would never change. As if I would never heal from my surgeries, as if I would never be able to study in my favorite place on campus again, as if the friends I'd made would stop pursuing a relationship with me. I allowed myself to be drawn away from the eternal perspective God calls us to have, and that made me angry, bitter, and desperate for an awakening.

On the last night of j-term, I was lying awake in bed praying about my math final the next day. I had done all the work. I understood the overarching concepts. I had studied. In the middle of praying about that test, I was interrupted by something I still can't seem to put my finger on. All of the sudden, a thought hit me like a ton of bricks:

I used to pray that God would get me through the week, the month, or the season that He had me in. I used to pray for clarity hoping He would make my decisions and sacrifices easy. I used to pray for answers and for prayer to change circumstances to fit my desires. I used to pray all of these things, but now I finally understand...

In that moment, I finally grasped the logic that Jesus moves us to when the Bible talks about trials of many kinds, especially in Matthew 10:29 which says, "Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. Therefore, do not fear." 
I finally grasped that instead of "getting through" certain seasons, He wants to use us in them. He wants us to thrive and He wants us to enjoy the journey. I finally understood that instead of clarity and ease, He wants us to learn that fully trusting Him is the only way to overcome anything this world throws our way. I finally understood that instead of explanations as to why things happen, He wants us to simply have faith in His perfect plan.

I finally understand that He's trying to change ME, not the circumstance at hand. In all my muck and mess, He's trying to change ME. Now THAT'S what I love about the God we serve. Instead of brushing over the issue or sweeping things under the rug, He gets to the heart of the issue. He looks at the causes of the hurt...He looks at the causes of the desperation...He looks at the causes of the sin and He seeks to change those things so the causes can ultimately change the effects. He seeks to change all of those things IN us. And when those pieces of the puzzle begin to change, so do our circumstances. Why? Because the way we perceive them is never the same again. Though not without great challenge, I understand all of these things now.
And now that I finally understand these things, I hope that it will be a little less eerily quiet in every last nook and cranny of my life...right down to this little ole' blog. :) But before I make that promise or get to writing and publishing new posts, I just need to say this:

Thanks for sticking this out with me. I'm glad you're here.

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