Thursday, October 31, 2019

What a Wonderful Day!

I wrote this in 2004 when I was living in Tennessee.  It's a very busy time in my life right now so I thought I'd post something that was very important to me, even though it was a long time ago.

Saturday evening...
Wow.  Now that I'm back home it's hard to believe that it really happened.  I went on my first hike in years!  It was so hard but so wonderful.  I wrote this stuff in my journal so that I would be able to remember this day and I'm pasting it here for your reading edification.  :)

Get a snack, go to the bathroom, get settled in a comfy chair - it's not short - but I think the time that God provided for me today is so great that I just had to share...

The views of the river and the mountains on the way there were so beautiful!  I will have to go back; it was prettier there than in the Smokies.

I originally was going to go on the hike and then meet my best friend to spend the rest of the afternoon with her.  When I finally realized it just wasn't possible to finish in time to meet her, my phone had no service. Just a few minutes later (after I said, "Please, God"), my phone had service. So I was able to call her and tell her that I wouldn't be able to make it (which allowed me to not worry about rushing).

I originally missed the trailhead and ended up going over the North Carolina border (this was not amazing or profound, but was interesting - I went to another state today!)

Right after I finally found the trail I looked ahead and saw that the way was blocked by some fallen trees.  It was really tempting to just leave, but I decided to push through.  (This was a theme throughout the entire hike).  It wasn't difficult once I got there to climb over the trees.

I started out so excited and super-confident in my ability to make it - especially after I "overcame" the trees.  At first, the trail was easy... level... mostly beaten down.  I went through an area of complete silence - the only thing I could hear was the rustling of the trees.  I saw a patch of rhododendrons that had to be 20-30 feet high.  Once I saw a beam of sunlight not far off the path; I felt the urge of the Lord to go and stand in it.  It was scary to sept off of the path but it was no neat to look up through that virgin (according to my guidebook) forest and see the sun through the one hole the trees allowed.  It was like twilight on most of the path - except for those patches of sunlight that would pop up occasionally.

Not long after stepping off the path, the trail began to get harder, steeper, with more mossy, slippery rocks and roots.  I was probably a 1/3 of a mile in by this time.  There was mud in the trail that I had to work around and sometimes just had to step in.  I had to go under a tree and over another one that was blocking the path.

Then about halfway in it got really difficult.  It got so steep that I was terrified (I'm scared of heights).  God kept reminding me that He would take care of me, but I kept thinking about falling and hurting myself so much that I wouldn't be able to make it back to the van.  But I had peace and kept going.  I said out loud, "I need a walking stick."  And right then I looked down and saw one that had been discarded by someone (I hadn't seen it before).  I was still scared but I decided to go down this really steep part.  When I looked at the path ahead, I literally couldn't see a way to get down certain parts of it.  But as I walked, with each step I took I could see how to get through the next part.

I walked through streams, where I had the thought/fear that I would slip and soak my shoes, making walking the rest of the trail very difficult.   But my feet stayed sure on the rocks in the streams.  I did slip once but it wasn't in one of the streams and I didn't fall; I was able to catch myself with my walking stick.

- I finally made it to where I could hear the falls.  I was getting weak by this point and decided I had better take a break.  I ate my crackers and drank part of my water, and finally made myself get up - after all, it was just around the corner (or so I thought).  But instead around the corner was the steepest part of the trail yet.  I could not see a way to do it.  However, I had come too far to go back.  It took all my resolve but I started.  I had to use the walking stick as a balance point and halfway down I broke it.  At first, I started to panic (how would I ever finish without the stick?!), but then I realized that it broke at just the right place to become an even better height for me.  So I made it down that steep part - to a place where I could see the falls.

I was so disappointed.  The "Falls" that I had walked so far to see was just some water trickling through some rocks.  I took a few pictures and then took a drink of water before heading back.  As I took the drink I looked up... and saw the Falls.  They are so beautiful!  I then realized that the trail continued to the real viewpoint that I had read about in my guidebook.  but I had to cross a large stream that flowed from the base of the falls.  I really debated with God about continuing!  I was very tired by this point and even after I made it over this stream, I would have to go up an area that was as steep as I had just made it down.  I felt God say, "Go," so I finally decided to go.  Even though this point was not the base of the falls, I got a great view of them from there (one day I'm going to go back when I'm more prepared and can make it the entire way to the base of the falls.)  I took more pictures and chilled out for a minute.

I saw another group of hikers at the falls.  (I had suspected there was another group on the trail but I wasn't sure).  When I noticed that they were getting ready to leave, I started back.  I knew I was pretty tired and a tad dizzy and I didn't want to be behind them (just in case I did fall, I wanted them to come upon me).  I pushed myself too hard... going down the steep part was hard, but going back up was even harder, especially as weak as I was getting.  I had to take frequent breaks and when I felt the Lord say, "Rest", I would rest.  (Something I realized about myself, though - I had to take a few more steps and reach another goal int he path ahead before I could really rest.  I'm going to have to work on obeying immediately, even if "my goal" isn't met.)  This group did pass me, but just as they did, another group passed heading towards the falls.  So I knew I could slow down my pace and not worry about being completely by myself.

The trail back seemed so much longer than the trail there.  Like I said, I had to rest a lot.  It was scarier too because I was a little lightheaded at this point.  But what choice did I have?  I could make it back or sit down and quit (not really an option).  So I made it, one step at a time.  One thing that was really wild was that when I finally did make it back to the first half)the level, somewhat beaten down part), it was really hard to walk!  I was so used to stepping up or down that I could hardly walk on a level path.  I finally made it back to the rhododendrons, then the trees that I had to go over and under, then the trailhead.  I MADE IT!!!

I shared this lengthy novella because God's provision was so wonderful.  He is so faithful!  He led me to do something I've desired to do for a long time, gave me the time and strength to do it, and provided during the process.  At the risk of super-spiritualizing everything, God did show me some really great truths:

- That the whole "one step at a time" bit isn't just a cute idea.  I wouldn't see how I could walk on the path ahead of me until I got up to the hard place - and then EVERY TIME there was a way - over, under, around, through...

- That sometimes I have to step off of the beaten path in order to stand in the light...

- That God will provide extra help when I need it (my walking stick). And even if something about that help needs to be broken or changed, it will still be enough.

- That it's easy to think that I've made it to the end and assume that what I first see is all there is (when I thought the falls were nothing but a small drop-off in the stream).  But then when I looked up, I was able to see something spectacular.

- That I can make it through a really difficult path and then have the easy part be as hard because I'm having to compensate differently because I'm already tired of "conquering" the hard stuff.  I had to adjust myself for the path and just continue walking (the flat end of the trail where I could hardly walk).

- But mostly God showed me that I can make it through something that is too much for me to handle on my own (I now realize I really wasn't in shape to do this) WITH the Lord's help, guidance, and encouragement.  he cares about my desires and He fulfills them!  Isn't He a wonderful God?!

Sorry to sermonize.  This has been one of the most awesome days of my life and I just really wanted to share.  May God with you on His paths in order for you to see something spectacular!

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

To All of the Professors and Teachers of Those with Invisible Illnesses:

I know that, overall, you are compassionate people and really do try.  You chose to work with young adults.  I don't think that you chose teaching just because you like kicking people when they are down.  I'm sure you feel you are doing the best thing for everyone when you don't honor a student's accommodations so that you can "be fair" to the other students.

But there are some things you may not realize.

You may not believe that these students have actual medical conditions because when you see them, you are usually seeing them at their best - on the days they are able to make it to class and get their work done.  There are many medical and psychological conditions that are cyclical.  A student might be fine for a month or more and then have a flare-up that's so bad she can hardly get out of bed.  Just because a condition isn't there 100% of the time doesn't make it not real.

You also may not realize that often those with invisible illnesses are great actors.  They work hard to cover-up the fact that they feel bad.  So even when they do make it to class, they might be a huge internal fight just to make it through the class time and learn something - and it's possible you would never know how hard they were struggling while sitting right in front of you.

It's easy to think that someone who consistently is late to class or doesn't show up is lazy.  There are many students who are.  High school and college kids ditch class all of the time.  You probably think your strict attendance policy is to help them show up.

But for those who have diagnosed mental, physical, or mental and physical issues, it's a totally different ball game.  You see, my daughter has several "invisible illnesses".  She has fibromyalgia, dysautonomia, major depressive disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder along with some other issues.

You don't see her crying because she's hurting so badly that she can't stand up to pick out her clothes for the day.  You don't see her not eat because she is nauseated from anxiety because she's behind in her schoolwork.  You don't see her try to "be normal" (for once) and go to a sporting event during a school break only to have it wipe her out for days afterward.

I understand that you probably have many in your classes that don't care.  They don't care what they learn; they don't care what grades they make; all they care about is hanging out with friends and partying.

I can't speak about every student with an invisible illness, but I have known several.  Generally, they are incredibly hardworking and care so much about doing a good job and making great grades, even with all of the obstacles they deal with daily.

These young adults have more than the average number of doctor, therapist, and specialist appointments that take time away from attending class and getting homework/studying done.

Not going to class is a necessity at times for these kids because they literally can't deal with the pain or they literally aren't able to concentrate.  They know that if they make it to class, they will be held accountable for the information so sometimes they are absent because they know they won't be able to retain what was said.  It's better to wait and get the notes later when they are able to focus.

Anxiety increases with every class missed. This starts a horrible cycle: Class was missed so the notes have to be obtained, which takes time and effort.  If there are questions about the lecture or assignment, a peer or professor has to be contacted to make it clear.  If there was a quiz, test, or in-class work done, time outside of class must be found to make it up, which takes much more time and effort than just doing it in class.  If there is a test review, these students miss this important benefit.

Spending time catching up from the missed class(es) means there may not be enough time to get the new homework or studying done before the next class.  So even if able to get to the next class, they are behind.  They are trying so hard to catch up but "brain fog" (yes, that's a real thing) won't let them concentrate.  New material is much harder to comprehend if they haven't been able to fully understand what was discussed earlier.  The anxiety increases, which makes it harder to focus on catching up and usually makes the underlying condition worse, getting even more behind.  And the cycle continues...

Think about it logically... Why would a formerly good student choose to do all that extra work day after day if it wasn't necessary?   Yes, some students get to high school or college and decide that fun is more important than grades, but those students also don't work constantly to try to make up what was missed.

This cycle is complicated further when a student feels that the teacher or school won't understand and thus doesn't feel comfortable disclosing a disability or accommodations. In this situation, the student struggles alone.

These students with health issues essentially have to teach themselves the material.  I don't want to offend, but it seems like some of the best professors and teachers automatically assume each student who isn't on time at every class is lazy and doesn't care.  In many cases, that couldn't be further from the truth.

Another argument I sometimes hear is: "When they get out in the workforce there won't be those accommodations."   I understand this point.  As a mom, I am concerned about this point.  I don't want my daughter to rely so much on her accommodations that she won't be a good employee or have a great career.

But there are several problems with that argument.  One is that an employer is paying you to work; in college, you are paying for the education.  The school is essentially the employee.  So the school should do what the student (employer) needs in order to get the training needed to later enter the workforce.

Along those same lines, when these young adults go out to get jobs, they can look for jobs that could accommodate their needs.  Jobs that include working from home, gig work, freelance, or those with flexible work hours are becoming more popular these days.  Will these young adults always be able to get these jobs that will work around their disabilities?  Maybe not, but if they know that there is no way they can work a typical 9-5 job, then they'll have to figure that out.  Penalizing them while doing what it takes to get a degree won't automatically mean they will be able to work a standard job later.

Another problem with that argument is that a young adult is just figuring all this out.  Most would agree that being a teenager or young adult can be a difficult time of life in the best of circumstances.  Many young adults with chronic mental or physical illnesses aren't diagnosed until the late teenage years.  Even if diagnosed as a child, learning to deal with these issues on your own is entirely different than when your parents or teachers were there to help you.

Think about a 10-year-old diagnosed with diabetes.  At first, his parents and teachers help with managing the disease.  So by the time he gets to college, he should have experience in watching what he eats, independently testing his blood glucose, and figuring out how much insulin to inject.  But in college he has to also be in charge of making sure he stays on top of ordering insulin; that he gets the supplies needed for testing and injections; that he knows what is going to be served at the cafeteria or an event so that he can bring something different if needed; and that he knows how to inform his teachers and other peers about what to do if he has an issue.  This is a lot to handle for someone who has already been dealing with it for years, but it's even more so for someone just diagnosed.

If you find out that you have a chronic condition that even doctors don't fully understand or can fix when you are a teen or young adult, it makes this already difficult time of life much, much harder to navigate.  This age group doesn't have the life experience to know how to navigate the medical system; in fact, many don't know how to make a doctor appointment on their own.  When you find out you have a life-long condition that is manageable once the right therapy is found (which could take months or years) but isn't curable, it makes getting a homework assignment done on time not as much of a priority.  Give this student a few years working with doctors and specialists and management might be a whole different story.

I know that you want to help all of the students you are teaching.  Please remember that these young adults deserve the same education that the others do, even if it takes more effort to give them that education.  Work with them within the limits of their accommodations.  Recognize how hard it is for them to make it to class at all, instead of looking down on them because they were late.  Make them feel comfortable about coming to you when they run into issues because of their diagnosed conditions.  Listen to their concerns about their grades and their later careers being affected by something they don't understand and can't fix.  Above all, trust, support, and validate that you realize that they are trying as hard as they can... just like everyone else.

Just Another Mom of a Hardworking Young Adult with an Invisible Illness

Monday, October 7, 2019

Autobiography in Five Chapters by Portia Nelson

This is one of the best portrayals I've seen about the struggle of recovery... 
...and how you finally win.


I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk
I fall in.
I am lost...
I am hopeless.
It isn't my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.


I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don't see it.
I fall in again.
I can't believe I'm in the same place.
But it isn't my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.


I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall's a habit
My eyes are open; I know where I am;
It is my fault.
I get out immediately.


I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.


I walk down another street.