November 9, 2014

Chronic Fatigue

It is a good Sunday in Phoenix, Arizona. I am home this morning because I am struggling with Chronic Fatigue, and I overslept again (another missed Sunday at church). I feel bad about missing church, but at the same time, I am thankful that I am under grace and not law when it comes to such matters. The Lord knows me well, and He knows when I need to rest. I hear His voice whisper to me "Rest, Carol, rest." Yes, I know that He is telling me to let go, to stop worrying about the details (the millions of details) that are outside my control. I know that He is reminding me that He is in complete control of my life. But I also know that He is telling me to stop what I am doing, to physically let go, and to REST.

I have felt the symptoms on Chronic Fatigue coming on now for a while, but yesterday and today, I woke up with that overwhelming feeling where my body stopped functioning. Yes, this morning especially, my body behaved like a stubborn mule -- I asked it to "get up and go" and like that stubborn mule -- my mind and body brayed "noooooo!"

My family will say to me, "Carol, you need to go to bed earlier. You are tired." They are right of course, but being tired is just part of the Chronic Fatigue package. Tiredness or being tired is only the tip of the iceberg. The mountain of fatigue exists under the water so to speak, and the tip, what shows on the outside, is what most people see and respond to with advice. However, I know the truth of the matter. I can tell the difference between being tired (lack of sleep) and true chronic fatigue. I know the feeling, the sensation that tells me that I am "at that point" where I am experiencing adrenal overload. That feeling is clear to me, and it reminds me that if I don't take the warning signs seriously, I will cycle down into a period of chronic illness.

The last time I felt that serious warning was toward the end of my Masters degree program in 2010. I was working at UOPX, and I was exhausted every single day. I was getting up for work, driving the 45 minutes into the office, and then sitting on the phone all day long (with students), making robo-calls, before turning around and driving the hour back (with extra traffic). By the time I would get home, I would be so exhausted (mentally and physically) that I would crawl to the door and before doing anything (eating, for example), I would collapse on the sofa or the chair. Usually, I fell asleep in the chair most nights. The fifteen months that I worked there were grueling for me. I am thankful for the experience. I am thankful for the provision (I have blogged about it before) of job and salary and benefits. I never thought that being an online advisor would be so difficult and would take such a toll on me physically and mentally. I was glad when I left that job, and I was so thankful for the next job the Lord brought to me at CVS Caremark.

Still, the experience of a full-on CFS episode caused me to take steps, which I did, and thankfully I was able to finish my MA program and stave off more chronic issues. I was able to survive by taking five Friday's off in a row, three day weekends, where I could sleep in and rest. I was writing my thesis and completing an intensive writing class on Humanism. The work load plus the mind-numbing tasks at UOPX coupled to bring on some of the symptoms of chronic fatigue.
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of memory or concentration
  • Sore throat
  • Enlarged lymph nodes in your neck or armpits
  • Unexplained muscle pain
  • Pain that moves from one joint to another without swelling or redness
  • Headache of a new type, pattern or severity
  • Unrefreshing sleep
  • Extreme exhaustion lasting more than 24 hours after physical or mental exercise
Over the course of the past thirty or so years, I have had several severe episodes of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. These episodes were so severe that I was unable to work, to function (literally), to manage daily life, for several months at a time. 

I was first diagnosed with CFS in 1988. At that time, I was working for Share Base, Inc., in Los Gatos, CA. I was putting in very long hours, subbing for a coworker who had drug and alcohol problems, and who frequently called in sick. I was responsible for my own 8-5 job AND working during the overnight or early hours to fill in for this other person. The stress of that job plus the fact that I became very, very ill (Bronchitis/Pneumonia) several weeks previously brought on my first diagnosed episode of CFS.  Moreover, while I was so sick, so overworked (mentally and physically), my company chose to let me go (lay off). I took the lay off personally, of course, feeling the deep sting of injustice because of the fact that I was doing so much work for them, and not getting paid anything extra. 

In hindsight, getting let go was a blessing in disguise because I needed to rest, really rest, and quitting my job was not an option back then. The time off in between jobs was welcomed, but  even though I had recovered from my earlier illness in January of that year, I still wasn't able to shake the excessive fatigue. So when I suffered another physical setback in mid-March (a broken elbow), I wound up so depleted that I ended up in the doctor's office crying for help. I was desperate to understand why I was so tired, why I was so depressed, and why I wasn't able to regain control over my life.   My doctor diagnosed me with CFS even though back then there wasn't a method for diagnosing this syndrome (researchers still do not know the exact cause of the disorder). His prescription was to rest, to take a prolonged vacation -- like months -- free from stress, from work. In addition, he focused on my health, and my well-being.

Hearing that diagnosis was like a breath of fresh air to me. Finally, I had an answer to the symptoms I had been experiencing for so long. In truth, I probably had other episodes of CFS prior to this point in time. I can remember these exact same symptoms in high school, specifically in the months after my car crash in 1979. More than likely, the adrenal overload started around that time. I kept the symptoms in check by working sporadically, off and on, while taking classes at the Community College. My family considered me lazy. They complained about the long hours I would sleep. They urged me to get a "regular job" or to focus more on my studies. It took me four years to complete my Associates Degree, and while I am glad I did finish it, truthfully I found the whole process -- school, work and such -- a blur. I was in a mental fog during those years. I look back now and see the Lord's hand on my life, His provision and control, helping me through those very dark and debilitating years.

Now, all these years later, I can point to a roughly ten year pattern of symptoms. I can also see mini-episodes where CFS seemed to rear its head and because of the Lord's doing, I was able to avert a major onset.

So here I sit today, on this blessed Sunday, feeling a bit guilty over missing church again. I realize that my workload and the stress of my doctoral program are creating the "perfect storm" where CFS could sideline me. I was praying this morning, asking the Lord for His intervention, when I remembered a conversation I had with Him previously. I think it is funny when that happens, when the Holy Spirit brings up a time of prayer and petition, and you realize (sort of an A HA! moment) that the Lord really does know what He is doing in your life. Let me explain...

It was 2013, summer to be exact, and I was praying about my work situation. I had completed my first doctoral class at Regent and I was panicked over my workload at CVS Caremark. I felt certain that I couldn't work full-time and complete my studies -- that the combination of stress from work and the demands of doctoral research would be impossible for me to manage. I remembered praying about teaching, thinking that the perfect solution to my problem was a teaching position.  Teaching, the thought of it, as well as the contemplation of the possibility of teaching, was not a new topic of discussion for me and the Lord. No, this conversation started way back in 2010 when I first started applying to graduate schools for a masters degree. 

Zoom backward to 2010 -- I was in the midst of separating from my husband, and I knew that I would need a career (sort of) to provide for my needs (short-term and long-term). The Lord had placed the idea of graduate study in my mind 17 years prior, but due to constraints and the difficulties of my life up to then, it was not doable. That is until my life turned upside down and I found myself suddenly single. So as I listened to the Lord, stepped out in faith and applied to Mercy College for a MA in English, I remember discussing options for using that degree. Option one was to teach. Option two was to become a writer. Option three was to work in corporate business marketing (sort of a combination of my experience and my studies).

Working on my Masters program gave me time to think about these options. I also started working various jobs, Macy's first, UOPX second, and finally CVS Caremark, third. I had opportunity to explore corporate business life, and I tried to move into positions where I could use my marketing experience and my graduate study to benefit a career. It seemed that I had good success in my work, but doors didn't open to let me pursue these other jobs. So while everyone at my work encouraged me to apply for "better jobs" -- the doors just didn't open to allow me to follow those leads.

I thought seriously about working from home again, about having my own business, about managing my time/work/life in a home-based business. Part of me loved the idea -- setting my own hours mostly. But the other part of me panicked at the thought of being self-employed. I had lived that life for so long, and I hated it, simply hated it (not enough income, no benefits, no security). Even though the Lord did offer me opportunity to work from home, I rejected the idea with emphasis. I didn't want to live that way again (O, ye of little faith, Carol!) so I pursued option one, teaching.

Curiously enough, my desire to "try" teaching failed initially. I started applying to schools as soon as my MA was posted. No one took a look at my resume. I became depressed over the thought that I had misread the Lord's directives so I focused on internal jobs (at UOPX and later CVS). I thought "Ok, option one is not going to work, so on to option three (again!)" It seemed like I spinned my wheels for a long while until finally a door opened for me to be a teaching assistant at Grand Canyon University. I jumped at the chance to gain teaching experience, and I enthusiastically threw myself into learning how to become a teacher.

Zoom forward to 2014 and to where I am this day. I am presently teaching adjunct at two universities: Grand Canyon and Arizona Christian. I enjoy aspects of teaching. I enjoy the idea of teaching students. However, I am seeing the backside of the profession, the difficult and long days, the mounds of paper, the student struggles, and the administrative/policy issues that make being a full-time instructor difficult. Pad in there the low wage, the bare minimal existence for adjuncts, and the fact that I have no benefits to speak of at this point in time. Sigh!

Lately, I have questioned whether this is the best path for me to be on, whether I made the best choice. In reality, I don't think I made any choice. I followed the open doors. I prayed about each opportunity, and in many cases, I was guided to the opportunity (I wasn't even looking for it) by the Lord so I really just prayed for confirmation that I was hearing His voice. I cannot say that I took any of these jobs without the Lord's permission (even the horrible NurseWise position that I held for three weeks). No, I carefully considered each opportunity. I prayed over them, considered them, meditated on them, and when I was finally convinced of their approval, I stepped out in faith and applied for them. I doing so, I trusted the Lord for His grace, for His guidance, and for giving me the opportunity to experience various positions. The Lord guided me to the position, through the application and the interview process, and then into the 'experience' of learning how to do the work. In each case, the Lord covered my steps, and He gave me great success and favor with employers and coworkers.

I say all this to convince myself that the path I have followed has been God-ordained. Yes, I do believe that I have followed the Lord faithfully through every opportunity, every open door, and into every single path, no matter how twisted or turned. He has led me by the hand as I transitioned from one life (married) into another life (single). Now I am struggling with fatigue, with the mounting pressure, and with the burden of financial care. I am struggling, I am feeling the pinch and bite, and I am trying very hard to reconcile the past, the present, and the future. I know the path I am on is sure. I know that the Lord will provide a full-time position for me --> at some point --> down the road. My physical condition, however, screams that I need to rest. My mental state cries out to the Lord for rescue. My emotions are in check, praise the Lord, and my spiritual state is rock solid. Yet, I am struggling to make ends meet, to get out of bed each day, and to complete all the tasks on my to-do list. 

So what do I do? What is the best course of action? How do I figure this one out?

Only the Lord knows the plans He has for me (Jer. 29:11). I believe in faith that the Lord does have a good plan for my life. I believe in faith that He knows me well -- my coming and my going -- and that He has me well-covered with His grace. I believe in faith that the Lord is my Shepherd, my Guide, and that His word is my Lamp. I trust in Him, I believe in His goodness and His mercy. Therefore, I rest (spiritually) and let all this go. I surrender all to Him, all to Jesus. 

All to Jesus I surrender;
All to Him I freely give;
I will ever love and trust Him,
In His presence daily live.

I surrender all,
I surrender all;
All to Thee, my blessed Savior,
I surrender all.

All to Jesus I surrender;
Humbly at His feet I bow,
Worldly pleasures all forsaken;
Take me, Jesus, take me now.

All to Jesus I surrender;
Make me, Savior, wholly Thine;
Let me feel the Holy Spirit,
Truly know that Thou art mine.

All to Jesus I surrender;
Lord, I give myself to Thee;
Fill me with Thy love and power;
Let Thy blessing fall on me.

All to Jesus I surrender;
Now I feel the sacred flame.
Oh, the joy of full salvation!
Glory, glory, to His Name!

Words by Judson VanderVenter, 1896

Yes, I wait upon the Lord, and I look up. He is my Rock, my Refuge, and my Strong Tower. I place all my faith in Him, and I rest.

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