The stitching on my purse blurred into a black smudge as the doctor shook his head. “I’m sorry, but there’s nothing I can do for you.” The words I dreaded had just become reality.
I’d been going from doctor to doctor trying to find help, always with the same result. Eight months earlier I’d agreed to speak to a group of pastors’ wives on a small island in the Caribbean. Two days after arriving I felt sick, but the next day I felt better and enjoyed meeting new people. After the meetings ended I returned home and went back to my regular job.
But then I started feeling sick again, with stomach pain and low energy. Again, it only lasted a short time and then went away. This became a pattern—a few good days and then a few uncomfortable ones. Every time I had a few good days I’d feel relieved that maybe whatever it was would just go away. But the symptoms grew closer together. Before long, doing anything at all took more energy than I could muster.
I decided I’d better see my family doctor. After examining me he sent me to see a gastrointestinal specialist. I told him I’d been out of the country and that I’d gotten sick while I was away. He did a series of tests and found no answers. Then followed a succession of other specialists, who also came up with nothing. Soon, visiting doctors, getting blood drawn, enduring all kinds of tests, and taking a wide variety of medications became a large part of my life.
One day, while delivering a stool sample to the lab, I even tried cheering myself up by imagining someone mugging me and being surprised when they opened the package I carried! Silly, but I was desperate for some joy and humor.
Part of me wondered why God had impressed me to go on the trip and then allowed me to get so sick. I wondered if this was how the rest of my life was going to be, and depression dogged me every day. Some days I just didn’t know if I could go on feeling so sick and useless.
Eventually I was treated for three types of parasites and a bacterium. I found some relief but still had continued symptoms and fatigue.
After nearly eight months, our children were on spring break from elementary school. I knew I couldn’t take care of them alone all day. So my husband drove us to my parents’ house several hours away, and then he went back to work. Mom and I researched doctors, calling to see if anyone knew how to help me, but after a week nothing had materialized.
“What are we going to do?” I asked my mother. We’d been praying all along, but she said, “Let’s go kneel by my bed and pray.” We poured out our hearts to God, asking Him to help us find someone who would know how to help me.
Within five minutes the phone rang for me. The caller was from a doctor’s office several hours away. She said they’d heard I was not doing well and asked if I’d like to make an appointment. (I forgot to ask where they’d gotten my name—it wasn’t any doctor we had called—and I still don’t know how they heard about me!) I told her I would and asked when I could see the doctor, assuming it would be several weeks before I could get an appointment. But she said, “How about next Wednesday?”
This new doctor was a parasitologist, with pictures of odd creatures on his walls. After looking at my records, more blood work, and lots of questions, he finally had the answers he needed. I’d been fighting a fourth parasite. He knew how to help me, and I could finally start getting well.
I slowly began to regain my strength. Simple chores no longer drained every ounce of my energy. Life was looking better! Then my children got chicken pox. I’d never had it as a child, and my immune system was still depleted, so I got chicken pox with a vengeance. I vaguely remember having a bad headache and my husband carrying me somewhere, and then I woke up in the hospital.
The diagnosis was meningeal encephalitis. I was in the hospital for a week but only remember perhaps 15 minutes of my stay. Because of the swelling in my brain I couldn’t walk on my own, couldn’t feed myself without dropping much of it in my lap, couldn’t write, and couldn’t talk so I could be understood. The one bright spot was that at least the doctors knew what I had this time!
But when you’re that sick you can feel so alone. My discouragement deepened. My lack of hope made me wonder if I’d ever be well. Would I survive the depression?
I begged God to help me, and gradually a thought came to mind. Maybe I needed to try harder to find what good there was in my life. One day I opened a blank journal and willed myself to think of just one good thing to write down. It took a while, but I finally did. In the succeeding days I kept the journal handy and tried to think of good things—blessings that brought me joy.
Now it seems odd that it was so difficult to come up with things to write, but at the time it was hard work. Ever so slowly I worked myself up to 10 new “joys” a day, and I felt my attitude starting to shift. Some days I couldn’t think of anything new, so I’d go back to past entries and remind myself of the good things in my life.
Writing my ten “joys” first thing in the morning helped to set the tone for my whole day. This mental exercise helped my body to heal, and I began to experience hope again. Gradually the horrible headaches became less severe, I was able to feed myself without wearing my food, and I could walk on my own—although not in a straight line!
Since then, I’ve filled several blank books with the good things in my life. Sometimes I’ll go weeks or even months without writing in my joy journal. But then life will throw me a curve, and I get out my journal again. Praising God is an antidote to the hardships we face in this world. When Satan whispers to me that God doesn’t love me and that there is bad all around me, I shout back at him through my journal that he is a liar and doesn’t speak the truth.
Next time you’re feeling overwhelmed, why not journal about the joys God has given you?