I am a medical doctor. A psychiatrist. I went to school and always had the impression that you do your part well and life will be good. You work hard, study hard, get a good job and get married and life will be good. You might have had the same impression too. But…Life can throw curveballs at us and… BAM. They can hit us pretty hard… I have read about life stories of people who have experienced big challenges,like a rare medical condition, an unexpected aneurysm bursting in their brain, cancer, or car accidents. But… It has never affected me, like recently…
Because recently I have experienced a medical challenge that has affected my life a lot. A neurologic condition that 3 neurologists are not sure what it is exactly and we are waiting on NIH. I am at NIH Undiagnosed Disease Network now for a 4 days evaluation. I have done 4 MRIs, ( and repeated one in 6 months) Spinal fluid test, and all lab-works. It has affected my walking and balance. No one knows what it is yet. Some kind of an MS maybe? The worst parts… It has been getting worse and I fell 6 times in 7 months; 3 of them were face down. One time I have broken my nose. One time after a fall at home I started crying, not of pain, but fear…The fear that next time I fall, I could injure my back or neck…The fear that it was getting worse and progressing. That was scary.
When you have been independent before, going out, walking 2 miles and now have a medical condition that limits your ability to walk, it is frustrating. Now when family or friends want to go out you have to be mindful that you can not walk as much or fast. Worry if your illness could progress and get worse and affect your other abilities. Worry how it could affect your studies or work. I had heard that before. I had seen people with anxiety or depression as a result of a medical condition. It always seemed so far away from me. Now, these thoughts have passed through my own mind.
I remember a while ago I read a blog post by a person who had chronic back pain. She described how she had lost her abilities to do a lot of things on her own. She had to lie down on the bed for many hours. She was worried that her husband was getting tired. She later learned that her husband had his own journey as well. He had to learn as well. He had to trust God as well. Now I was experiencing these thoughts myself.
But… I can tell you that in these past two years I think I have done more in my life, in comparison to the 4 years before that. This condition has been a motivator, well… most of the time. I walk with difficulty. I walk much slower and my muscles feel so stiff. Indeed I have to walk slowly so that I do not fall. I have to be much more careful about my environment and my walking. My balance is off. Who knows, maybe next year it is even worse. But… That has become a motivation to want to reach people, to encourage them, to transfer what I know. I thought that I probably will not be able to see patients face-to-face in the coming future. Okay! Then what else can I do instead? Telework? Online courses? Making an Audiobook? Online teaching?
I decided 5 years ago before any of the symptoms started that no matter what happens to me I will leave a full life. I was thinking that you can have an accident, you can have an aneurysm burst in your brain; things that you cannot have any control over. I had seen Amy Prudy in Dancing with the Stars, dancing so beautifully with prosthetic legs after her legs were amputated after a severe meningitis. I had thought about paralympic champions. I saw a man who did an amazing workout in the gym while he was wheelchair-bound. I thought basically nothing is a restriction.
Maybe long before these hard days I made a good enough foundation. My relationship with God, my friends, my beliefs about life, about myself, my social support and encouraging people around me were all there. I had a good enough foundation and on that, I started to build even more when hard days came. I never saw my difficulties as a restriction. They created an environment of growth for me. There is a song by MercyMe music group that now I can so much relate to. It says :
People ask me how I can praise you with all that I have gone through.
The question just amazes me, how circumstances possibly change who I am in you.
Maybe since my life was changed Long before these rainy days,
It’s never really ever crossed my mind,
To turn my back on you, oh Lord My only shelter from the storm
But instead I draw closer through these times
If you or a loved one are also in the midst of a medical challenge that is bringing you down, first know that You Are Not Alone and second, you do not have to take that path alone. As human beings we need support. Reach out. What you go through are very tangible conditions. They are not only in your head. When we go through something hard, our threshold for tolerating emotional pain can decrease and we would be more vulnerable to experience the effects of anxiety and depression. And depression or anxiety can affect your wellbeing a lot. The first step is noting if depression and anxiety are sneaking in and lying to you and are bringing you down. Then you can take action to stand against them. It is important to extend grace toward yourself. We all have different backgrounds and things can affect us differently but at the same time there are a lot of similarities in how we feel and react.
There is only one of you in this world and no matter what limitations you face, there are gifts and talents you have that others don’t, and you alone can share them with the world to make it a more beautiful place. Challenges can become an environment of growth for you. I know I add beauty to the world. Yes, I face a lot of limitations and have weaknesses, but also have a lot of strengths. I would never minimize my strengths and the beauty that I add to the world. I have my touch. So do you. Never underestimate and minimize your touch in this world. It is helpful to remember not to go through those challenges alone. Ask for help. Know what you are facing and equip yourself with good tools. We can transcend the ordinary and hard and challenging. We can make stumbling blocks stepping stones.
.To your success
Sara Mazaheri Jones MD