Wednesday, December 29, 2010

In the After

A number of weeks after my diagnosis, I sat down to add a few things to my to-do list and came to a startling realization:

There was no list.

After a lifetime of perpetual list-making, this unexpected absence became one more reminder that everything was different now in my post-diagnosis life, in "the after."

Few of us are strangers to this notion that certain things alter our lives, our futures, our selves in radical and often unexpected ways.  Sometimes the catalyst for these changes is a deep and painful loss.  Sometimes it is a beautiful and immeasurable gain.  Sometimes it is an irreversible decision that definitively ends the old life and begins a new one.  Sometimes it is a change of heart or perspective so profound that our whole world shifts into something different.

Regardless of what happened to alter us, the end result is the same:  Our life divides into "The before" and "the after."  And for better or worse, the two are never the same.

Whether the change is a gain or a loss, in either case I find myself grasping at the pieces of my old life, pieces of "the before," trying to determine what is missing, what is still here, and how these shards of my world fit together in "the after."  Because "the after" begins as a foreign country, a place I've never been before, a place I do not quite understand or fit into yet.

In the months since my diagnosis, I have been doing a fair bit of fumbling about, trying to gain my bearings here in "the after."  Following nearly a decade of searching and nearly a lifetime of illness, I suddenly find myself in a place I never expected to be:  At the beginning of my healing.

And yes.  This is a beautiful, miraculous, God-breathed thing.

But it changes everything.

For much of my life, I have been at war with my own body.  All day, every day I have pushed against my limitations, both physical and mental.  Because to live within my limitations meant that I would barely make it out of bed, rarely out of the house, and never to work a job or have relationships or build a life.  Without the promise--or even the hint--of healing looming on the horizon, I made the choice to live, regardless of the cost to my body. 

And the cost was high.

I began to view my body as an enemy.  I stopped respecting the limitations of my physical and emotional self.  I forgot how to take care of myself, how to nourish and protect my body and soul.  And I learned to say "no" to myself and "yes" to everybody else.

And all the while, my sick and weak body became an even sicker and weaker body.

In the wake of my diagnosis, I found myself at a loss as to how I should proceed.  The only thing I knew for certain was this:  If I wanted to be well, if I wanted any chance at healing, I would have to live differently in "the after."  I could no longer push, or neglect, or ignore my body or my person.  I could no longer say "yes" to everybody else.  I could no longer fight a war against myself.  I could no longer be the person I had been.

Four months later, I am still struggling to find my way in "the after."  Slowly I am learning to listen to my weakness and my limitations.  To say "no" to most and "yes" to only the important and the necessary.  To find the things that encourage my soul, nourish my body, and calm my mind.  To rest when I need to rest.  To make to-do lists only for today and only for that which I have the strength to accomplish.  To live a life much different than "the before."

As much as I would have liked this diagnosis to mean immediate and definitive healing, it simply isn't like that.  I knew within days of my diagnosis that we had discovered an integral part of my illness and set in motion a journey I hadn't been expecting to take.  But only a few days after that, I realized that the journey would be long--and we had only just begun.

It turns out that the genetic mutation with which I have been diagnosed is closely associated with about 30 other mutations.  All of them interconnected.  All of them hindering the body's ability to absorb and utilize vital nutrients.  All of them resulting in varied symptoms such as the ones I have been experiencing for decades.

But the study of these mutations is new.  Practitioners who are familiar with the diagnosis and treatment of these mutations are few.  And only one physician in the nation is currently offering a comprehensive genetic analysis for all of these mutations.

I have been waiting 10 weeks for test results to come back.  I will likely be waiting a few more.  And even when they arrive, I will still need to find a practitioner to help decipher the results and walk beside me on this journey toward healing.

And some days, I am thoroughly overwhelmed by how far I have left to go.

But always, always, always I am grateful for "the after."  Because as hard and unfamiliar as it is to be here, it is still a blessing, a miracle, an unexpected and glorious beginning.  And I never want to go back to what came before.

Yes, everything is different now.  Everything except One.

He was here in "the before" and He is here in "the after."  And He will still be here in every "after" I will face in this life.  Thank you, Jesus, for being here.

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