Inspiration · Life Changes · Medullary Cystic Kidney Disease · Words to live by

Choosing Joy {in chronic illness}

It’s very easy to slip into some form of depression when you have a chronic illness. Battling discomfort or pain every day, week after week gets really old, really fast. It’s a constant presence in your life; one which you didn’t invite in and can’t seem to get rid of. There are many different types of chronic illnesses and many types of depression, and I don’t claim to know much about it all except what I’ve learned from my own, very limited experience dealing with chronic kidney disease. Please read these words through that lens; with the understanding that your illness and your depression is yours, and coping and healing looks different for each person. I’d label my depression as extremely mild in comparison with the other types of depression out there. I’m not minimizing my struggle, just acknowledging that while I have been able to combat my depression on my own, some depression requires heftier interventions, such as medication and counseling. But I do believe we can all improve how we cope with the negative things going on in our lives.

Lately I’ve been hearing a lot of “You don’t look sick” and “I forgot you were sick”. Those comments always take me by surprise because, while I guess I don’t always look sick to others, I sure do feel sick. Every morning it’s a struggle to get up. It’s a struggle to stay up. I struggle with nausea and headaches and with forcing myself to eat something. I want to stay in bed. I don’t want to go to church. or small group. or work. or to the grocery store. I don’t want to stand at the school bus stop with my daughter. I don’t want to do the dishes. I don’t want to shower.

And yet I do {except I usually ignore the dishes} despite all of the yucky-ness this illness brings me. How? I choose to. That answer seems so simplified, but it’s ultimately all there is to it for me. God offers JOY in this day. He offers PEACE in this day. And I choose to cling to that rather than allow my focus to remain on the yuck. The yuck isn’t going anywhere right now. I have to wait for my transplant in order to escape it, and even then this yuck will be replaced with a different kind of yuck during recovery. So instead of letting the yuck make my life completely yucky, I choose joy.

I absolutely believe God is generous in providing us with all of the fruits of the spirit {love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control} just as He promises in Galatians. However, it’s not that we automatically become more patient or kind or joyful as soon as God flips the magic ‘Holy Spirit’ switch in us. We have to choose to seek that change in ourselves. When I find myself asking “Why am I restless, where is my peace?” and “where has my joy gone?”, It’s then that I need to actively pursue seeking to change that in my life. That seems so simple, but it is very difficult to look for peace and pursue joy when you are chronically ill.

In depression, it’s difficult to get up, get out, do things. But that is absolutely what I have to continue doing in order to battle back those feelings. I go and I do, when all I want is to stay and sit. And in return, I experience joy and peace in this time of my life where I am scared and nervous and so uncertain of my future. Did you know that God created us to laugh? He gifted us with a sense of humor because laughter truly is the best medicine. I’ve learned a lot about the concept of ‘brain over body’ this past year. I’ve had to train my brain to respond ‘yes’ when my body cries out ‘no’. Yes, I will go to that meeting because I know that when I get there I will find my purpose {and laughter}. Yes, I will go to small group because I know when I get there I will find comfort {and laughter}. Yes, I will play with my kids because I know they will give me snuggles {and laughter}. And experiencing laughter is one of the ways I find joy in my life right now. Laughter is the greatest distractor; it allows me to get through tasks that are otherwise overwhelming and exhausting. I will choose to experience joy and laughter each day rather than simply bide my time while I trudge through these murky waters, hoping for a different tomorrow. Each day that I wake up feeling sick is still a day that counts towards my life’s total days. I don’t want even a single day to be a waste. God is generous with providing me with opportunities for joy and laughter. It’s up to me to recognize those moments and choose to experience them.

choose joy1

And one more thought, simply because I don’t want you to leave this conversation thinking “Wow, must be nice to just choose happy and then everything is rainbows and unicorns” {insert eye roll here}. It’s absolutely not. There are many days where I am in the murky water and I stay there. Choosing joy doesn’t mean the yuck goes away. It simply means you recognize that God is there too. Right there with you in the yuck. And he is offering you peace and joy in so many different ways so you can actually live while in the yuck, rather than simply exist. But you have to reach for it. Choose joy.

xoxo,

Ashley

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