Tag Archive | grace

dei gratia


by the grace of God (latin)

God doesn’t necessarily gives us what we want. He gives us what we need.

in the same vein, thinking for years that i needed answers to heal? i couldn’t be more wrong. i always wondered why i couldn’t find the healing that eluded me. i believed that if i had answers, i could heal. but to be completely honest, i already have the answers. but answers don’t magically make everything go away.

going to the retreat in early January, not knowing much of what i wanted out of the retreat except that i wanted healing (by default that is always what i want out of a retreat), i left feeling rather unchanged. i didn’t “feel” like i was healed. but then again, what does it feel like to be healed? i felt underwhelmed. but as days go by, it became more evident that God’s grace was working in me. i was more joyful, less melancholic. i was able to cooperate with His grace. i am even more than 2 months cut-free! ah, such grace! also, God’s grace working inside of me though intangible, was even witnessed by my community!

this grace He gives was what i needed. it was a long time coming, but we live in God’s time!

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10 years

seeing my anaesthetist today brought back  many memories. the waiting, the feeble attempts to get my point across to the doctors, the plucking up of courage to ask for something, the decision to say yes to another medication, the sigh that comes with resignation…

it’s been 10 years since i begrudgingly said yes to my first diagnosis of RA and the treatment that ensues. the fuss over waiting times, doing blood tests and unpredictable results, imagings, complications, ever-changing prescriptions, side effects, new symptoms, rehabilitation, and the costs of everything. most of all, it is the constant struggle to carry on. but God gives me the grace to trudge on, to embrace the pain as it continues to keep me rooted to the truth in the cross. and most of all i am reminded to be gentle with myself. nothing comes out of being hard on myself, except bitterness and frustration. in the midst of these all, i am called to say yes always; to bear this cross with love and gentleness!


i was restarted on topiramate again to help with the constant tension headaches. bummed that my pill burden cannot be lessened despite my efforts in the last few years. i asked for trigger point injections in my back because it’s been killing me for many weeks now. so he gave me 2 bupivacaine shots. i was asked to try accupuncture and of course physiotherapy. couldn’t escape the question about exercise.


i can’t seem to escape the pill burden that’s haunting me for the past decade. i’ve tried deprescribing over the last few years, and while i’ve succeeded sometimes (especially with DMARDs), it somehow gets undone insidiously:

  1. Paracetamol+orphenadrine
  2. Etoricoxib
  3. Tramadol
  4. Metoclopramide
  5. Ergotamine+caffeine
  6. Topiramate
  7. Escitalopram
  8. Lithium
  9. Clonazepam
  10. Quetiapine

it still stands at 10 now, the number of prescribed drugs. and it drives me mad. but it’s ok; i’ve had worse. once again i am called to say yes to this struggle that comes with the cross i’ve said yes to carrying.


all these years struggling with pain has hardened my heart and made me bitter. i guess it’s time to reexamine how i will be coping with something that is inevitably a permanence in my life!

in te, Domine, speravi

“in thee, O Lord, have i hoped.”

i spent 3 days in sacred silence, in the holy presence of God. and the gifts i’ve received were plenty. my spiritual director led me towards gratitude- what i’m grateful for, for the past one year. with this in mind i spent time reflecting, meditating before the Eucharist, and was able to put into words 3 “things” i’ve been grateful for. (because there were too many, i grouped them into 3 themes. here goes!

1. Encountering God through people

i am grateful for the people in my life, and how God works in them and through them, and how they’ve been Christ-like to me. dynamics with my family have changed, and my parents have been trying to be more understanding and empathic towards me. though they may have slipped away from the Church, and though i pray for them to come home to God, i still see God working in them to help them help me in my recovery. i am also grateful to my friends and everyone in Sinners (my community). the past year has been extremely different, as i struggle in journey towards wellness and/or recovery. they made all the difference when they lent their listening ears, when they shared my burdens, when they lifted me up when i was down, and when they prayed for me unceasingly. for this i’m extremely grateful and edified!!!

2. “Weak made strong”

i am grateful for all that i’ve gone through the past year. not expecting that the year would be “that bad”, i am grateful that through the times i fell, i picked myself up again and again. of course it wasn’t by my own merit, but it was through the grace of God. in the times i’ve been self-destructive, and needing to go for surgery (so many damn times this year!), i came out of it with new insights. therapy has also gotten inexplicably better in the past year, after years of trying to tear the wall down between my therapist and i. he has empowered me with so much knowledge about why i am the way i am. my team of doctors and healthcare professionals have also been most supportive of me. the willing and intentional hearts they have treating me gladdens me so much. especially when i’m pretty much a “gone case”, and they have yet to give up on me! bit by bit i’m getting stronger, and little by little i find strength when i am fallen and weakest. “Weak made strong” was inspired by the bible verse:

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities; for when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12:9-10

3. Unmerited gifts from God

i’ve grown immensely in my faith, since returning to Church. i have also become more aware of what God blesses me with. love. faith. hope. joy. grace. mercy. forgiveness. acceptance. surrender. in different times of the year, God shows His love for me as is child, by giving me these gifts. at times, He simply strengthens the gifts, so that i may be made more aware. i’ve learnt so much about love. being loved, and loving others. i’ve felt deeply, though fleeting at times, hope that God grants me. hope that things will be better, for myself, for the people around me, for the world. i’ve been able to experience joy, despite the depression and chronic illnesses. i’ve received so much grace and mercy, in good times and bad. i’ve learnt better, to forgive, and to ask for forgiveness. i’ve witnessed acceptance, despite the multitude of rejections i face. i’ve learnt to surrender more and more, everyday, giving offering it all up to God. and in all of these, i experience faith in my Maker. and how He is unfailing and unceasing. relentless in His love for me. all of these, unmerited!!! how great is our God!!!


i didn’t know what i wanted out of the retreat, and what should be expecting. i only knew that in the spiritual drought i faced, i needed to spend alone time with God. with the help of my spiritual director, i have been made aware of my inner desires.

i thirst for God, and His graces. it’s that simple, but at the same time it’s tough to seek God in every moment of my life.

fiat. let it be done! i also long to say yes, just like how Mother Mary said yes to God. doubts may come my way, but i have to always choose to turn to God, and say yes to whatever He wills.


post-retreat is always the toughest. integrating what i’ve received during the retreat into my daily life, seems like an insurmountable task. but i will try. i will ask God to give me the strength and grace, to always thirst for Him, and to always so yes.

i can and i will!!!

Providence 

it’s been a crazy week- it was one which i could not see myself getting through when the week first started. the dysphoria i experienced shackled me in chains and threatened to pull me under. i flailed my arms and thrashed them around wildly. i was going under, and there was nothing to stop it from happening.

the outpouring of support in the midst of my despair, both online and in person, was something that lifted me up, and it’s also something that i am grateful for. i don’t think i could have lived past this week as safely as i did.

more than ever, His providence was more than i deserved. those waters i was sinking in became the waters in which He worked his graces and blessings. i don’t know what pushed me to pray when anxiety set in at every living and breathing moment, but praying the Chaplet of Divine Mercy every morning as i start my day, though seemingly a mere routine, became my refuge. i grew increasingly aware time and again that we walk by faith and not by sight. 

when i could walk no further, it is You who takes up my cross, holds my hand and tells me, “come follow me”. i fall on my knees at Your unfailing love, Your abounding grace, and Your divine mercy. i don’t know what i’ve done to merit this grace, but i know You never fail.

looking at matters, i know i will trip and fall again (and again). but i know also that when i do, He’ll stretch out His hand and tell me “it’s ok”.

 

everything will be ok?

everything has wound down for now and i can finally exhale- it felt like my life was on hold for the last 2 weeks. my vulnerability had left me holding my breath. i guess a lot of my past has shaped a lot of my fears and inhibitions. there has been several firsts in my feeble journey to recovery for the last 2 years, and if i wasn’t scared, i was disappointed.

my resolution to avoid incarceration lasted for a little over 2 years. i was in and out of hospital too much between 2010 and 2013 and lost almost 2 whole years spent in psychiatric wards. thus the decision to stay “out in the wild” in October 2013 after one last discharge. to be honest when i was “committed” (i wasn’t, but if i had not consented, they would have), i was very disappointed with myself for letting myself fall this much. but when the situation arrived thus far, how was i to fight and say no? i recognised that i was acutely sick in the eyes of psychiatrist and i needed help. i was such a mess that if it didn’t happen then, it would have happened sooner or later. so i let go and i let God, and surrendered myself wholly to His will.

it was definitely over 2 years ago when i halted my ECT sessions at #41 when i felt memory slipping through my hands like sand, too much for me to bear. the amnesia from #1 never went away, and only built upon each other with each consequent session. to say the least it affected my studies back then, my work, and then also my personal life. there was no lack of resentment for the retrograde and anterograde amnesia. but on the other hand i was also grateful that it saved me from my sinking sadness (and severe depression) many a time. when i was offered ECT as a first-line this time, i gave it little thought and said yes in a heart beat. there was everything to risk, and nothing but memories to lose. so this time i stopped at #44, and sometimes i ask myself if it was worth it. but right here and now, i think it was a good move made. i don’t think i can ever say no to ECT indefinitely.

it was my first time “coming out of the closet” telling my Catholic community whom i dearly call Sinners, that i was in. never in my life had i ever come clean with a group of friends with my hospital admissions. what it has always been was that my best friend would inadvertently find out about me being inpatient before i even told her. i knew none of my friends took interest in the fact that i was always in and out. besides it was never something that i could say without shame. closer friends told me before “you’re admitted AGAIN???”. and it hurt. however life has changed since joining Sinners in July and they have been my pillar of strength and support. admitting to them that i was going to be inpatient because i have been feeling a certain way… was me letting my guard down with my brothers and sisters in Christ, letting them see the vulnerable side me, and letting them stretch out a helping hand to me. the outpouring of love from Sinners, and also staff from Office For Young People, gave me this inexplicable feeling of warmth and love that i’ve never felt before. and God used them as His glorious instruments to tell me how perfectly loved i am. for all of these i have no words but my utmost gratitude.

it is also my first time being down with pneumonia. i hadn’t had a true fever for about 10 years (yes despite all my DMARDs), so the fever (up to about 39.2) caught me by surprise first. then the faint patch seen on my chext x-ray on my right upper lobe was the shock. my white cell count (16.6) had skyrocketed (neutrophils and monocytes were also twice the upper limit) i could never have fathomed that me and a case of pneumonia could go together. at least not at this age. all the doctors who were involved in my case before my diagnosis thought it was me restarting MTX 3 weeks before my initial admission. after my diagnosis, they all seemed to think it was that, and that it was hospital acquired (i was already in the 2nd hospital before i made the transfer to the 3rd hospital). they had asked my rheumy as well and her orders were to hold off MTX until i see her in December. that was something i was bummed with. i received several doses of intravenous tazobactam/piperacillin. my vein got “burned” and now it hurts even when i’m home. they discharged me only when they were positive i wasn’t getting anymore fevers..

coming out of all of these different than when i first got admitted is really God-given grace. i prayed and i read and i wrote and i drew and i sang and i meditated, in my bid to maintain any semblance of sanity especially in my first week of hospitalisation. as usual, with matters of the mind, things get really heavy and suffocating, and anxiety-provoking at times. i don’t know how i pulled through, but i know it could only be that my good Lord carried me through. no?


 

right now, the most pressing issue is school. i had decided to defer my current 2 modules, seeing that i have/will miss 3 out of 5 weeks of lectures. but i was just informed that these 2 modules won’t be offered till next September, and that means i have to defer my Honours year as well. i don’t think this was part of what i signed up for, so i think i’ll have to get an extension for my 2 papers which are due end of this week (can you imagine i haven’t started on it???), and read the lecture notes for my exams the week after.

i’m so screwed???

 

rotator cuff tendinitis

image

 

in the ultrasound image captured on film above, it compares the supraspinatus of my chronically painful right shoulder to the less affected left shoulder. following the indictors that mark distance, and looking at the bottom left where the numbers are shown, it says that my right supraspinatus is thicker than the left by about 0.11cm.

yesterday as i left the hospital, i looked through one of the private hospital’s directory (the one that i only ever go to actually) to look for an orthopaedic surgeon. i didn’t have an idea who i could see, so i looked at the directory, looked at who’s good at the shoulder, and oddly also whether the doctor’s face is endearing (this is very important!). and so i settled on one and tried to ask if i could see him. yesterday wasn’t possible, so it has to be today. i am that desperate with my shoulder.

i saw him today, with merely an ultrasound report of my shoulders from 2011. i told him of the problems i was having, my history and what i’ve been getting and given. he did a PROPER physical examination of my shoulder, and it’s true that a physical examination can give the doctor a lot of clues, oft times accurate ones too. as we discussed what can be done to see what it really is, i just had to ask him what he thinks it is, although it’s really too early to tell. he said honestly that it seems like a Rotator Cuff Tendinitis or Tear. WELL NOBODY TOLD ME THAT FOR 10 YEARS SUFFERING FROM SHOULDER FLARES. i’ve only always been told it’s tenosynovitis/ bursitis.

i managed to, not that i was imposing, convince the doctor that perhaps an ultrasound of my shoulder today will do some good. he did agree in the end, because he gave me a solution of injecting my shoulder with steroids, and he thought that if the ultrasound excluded anything in the subacromial space, then of course it would make more sense to go into the glenohumeral joint. it couldn’t have been vice versa though. he, like my other private doctors, always advocate for getting things done in the restructured hospitals if i am a subsidised patient,  didn’t recommend didn’t a MRI. i pushed for an ultrasound (although the doctors at the hospital yesterday ordered for one) because i just wanted to have an ease of mind knowing that it is something benign, or rather something that i feel i can tackle head on. and so i did, and it was a day of waiting. it wasn’t too bad though.

when i returned to see him with the report and film of the ultrasound (i already had a look at the film and i was guessing thickening, but could not correlate), he said it was definitely Rotator Cuff Tendinitis. so from there i would get my jab of triamcinolone+lignocaine in the subacromial space. i did ask him what am i to do if it persists, seeing that i’ve already failed oral medications and 3 intra-articular steroid injections. his recommendation is that the next step is physiotherapy. and if that fails, then i should look at surgery. SURGERY??? 😦

i cringed at the thought of physiotherapy. if i couldn’t get rid of the pain, i don’t know how i could start on physiotherapy. i gave the go-ahead for the injection anyway. how weird is it that i miss the feeling of the needle piercing through the shoulder anatomy, and the feeling of the drugs being pushed in? maybe it’s been too long.

anyhow, it must have been God’s grace that i met this doctor. the whole time i was talking to him, he needed to know who my rheumy and anaesthetist was. and when i spoke of them, he seemed to know them. nearing the end of the consult, i asked if he was from that hospital (you know, the one which i used to work in, and the same one i’m a patient in), and he said yes! i actually told him that honestly, i’m scared that i’m gonna get scolded by my rheumy for not heeding her advice by getting a joint injection outside. but he told me to mention that i saw him to both my doctors, because the both of them would know him and it would not be a problem. REALLY???

and so when i was getting ready to leave and had to make payment, the doctor told his staff to waive ALL charges except for the drugs used in the injection. i couldn’t believe my ears! because i know the consultation fees were at least $200, more perhaps because i spent quite a bit of time in his office, i was trying to get a discount by “pulling strings”, citing that i used to work upstairs (it works like that, when you are the ex/staff of doctors, the other doctors tend to give you discount). but in the end i think he waived off everything because i was a long-time patient of 2 doctors he knew from his old work place.

grateful.

i know i will have my share of critics for doctor-seeking, especially since me coming out of the emergency room only yesterday. i’m not finding excuses for what i’m doing. but i do this because i need and want the help that only doctors can give. my problem was NOT remedied yesterday. remember the IM diclofenac injection that was given to me at 2.15pm? by 7pm, i was flaring all over again and i was in deep regret for what i put myself through. i already knew it wasn’t going to work well nor for long, but i didn’t know it was going to be that bad. as a chronic patient i choose to be proactive in seeking help for a joint that’s “crying” for help. and while i know my joints are always crying for help whenever i flare, i also have to give them time and myself the patience to endure the pain, to tell if they truly are in trouble. this shoulder is the first, and it has been taken very lightly. mind you, me raising the issue of this shoulder pain wasn’t even this year. it started way back since last year.

being in the system as a patient for long and having worked in the system, i know how it works and goes. me resorting to the private system is me waving the white flag and recognising that the doctors in the private sector have higher priorities for their patients (although i cannot deny they have priorities for costs too; but now 4 of them have waived all costs, except for drugs!). i know that at least when i’m in their care, i am taken care of, and if i need to be treated, then i’m treated! but the reality is, i cannot afford to be treated by them long-term, and that’s why i am still cared for in the hospital.

now the only thing i hope is for the steroids to quell the inflammation in my shoulder. i have to await my rheumy’s appointment next Wednesday, and till then, i have to see how it goes. i hope this steroid injection lasts me for loooooooooooooooong, and not the mere 1-2 months like it has always been.

loving and learning


aup10
photo credit: Lawrence Lim

as of now, i’ve only been SUP-ing for about 2 over months. and i’m glad to say that today, i was fortunate enough to take part in a SUP race! i joined the fun boards category, because my board of choice was only 10-feet, and also really because i didn’t think i can push myself further than 2km.

by God’s grace i was granted an off day today, so for that i am thankful.

out of the day came plenty of insights. i had my monsters, and i had my saving grace. i had terribly weak flesh, and i had some perseverance. but i think most of all, i tried to outdo myself today, which i did! and for that i feel utterly blessed.

i completed my 2km race with sluggish performance. i will not find excuses. i did not hydrate myself adequately, nor did i have a good breakfast. i did not want to compromise of all things, my heart, when i felt my chest heaving in a painful and odd way, and when i was dizzy. i basically did my 2nd km kneeling down although i had a freshly scrapped knee.

i was quite downtrodden when i carried my board off the water and onto land. 2nd last! oh my gosh! my monsters came out. i’m a competitive person by nature, and although i know sports will never be my thing, 2nd last wasn’t good enough for me. but though i had friends around me on the spot, they saw my FB post and the words “sluggish performance”, and J was very encouraging. it is true that all that really matters is that i completed it and i had fun!

later on, after the race was officially over, i told R i wanted to rent the board again for an hour just for a leisure paddle. i took my favourite board out, paddling leisurely with my water bottle and my handphone playing soundtracks, the hour passed quickly. in that hour i paddled about 2.8km, which is the furthest i’ve paddled (and recorded by GPS) at a go. i was surprised that i wasn’t tired. it is mind-blowing what a mindset can do. i said i was just gonna paddle to enjoy- i did, and i even surpassed myself.

so today i paddled 5km+ and walked 2km+ (to and from the beach), which is the most workout i’ve done in donkey years. (i’m not am ‘exercise’ person to begin with, and since i retired from ballet due to RA, then fell into depression, i have been severely deconditioned from hospital stays that stretched as long as 4-6 months.) i even managed to go get a prescription after that, go home, change and then go to church!

for 5 years i’ve been nagged at to pick up a sport or something i like. because of the severe depression i never got to do so. finally being able to pick up both a sport and something i like is God’s grace to me. when my treatment team told me that it would help with my mood i never believed them. that is, until i tried it. after today i learn even more about myself and how i have to find a balance between SUP-ing as something i love and as something competitive- something i was not able to do with ballet although i loved it so very much, because no matter how, then, there was an unhealthy element to it.

my SUP instructor and friend R, who also organised the race, left this comment on my FB after my photo post about the race, and i really liked it. it inspires me so much!:

Way to go, Stephanie. SUP is not only about racing, it’s about uniting souls from all corners of the world towards a common goal. It’s about pushing through your boundary, setting new ones or banish them all. The horizons are as far as you can see and paddle. Chase the rainbow at the end of it. YOUR own Rainbow! Enjoy walking on water, every single time. Jesus first walked on water, we just follow.

You did Awesome, finishing the race! Proud of you! Once stretched, you’re never the same Stephanie again.

i am just so happy right now, i can’t wait for my next off day to go for a class with R, or just go for a leisurely paddle.

i’m a little lazy to post photos here because they are all on FB. i have only a few taken myself, and the rest are by the photographers. i’ll find a way next time? this is my procrastinating again.