I was given the gift of fibromyalgia.
That is not typically a word that you put beside “gift”.
Fibromyalgia is easily paired with words like “pain”, “ache”, or “fatigue”.
I have always been a high achiever. Even in middle school, I sometimes would get upset at myself for getting a 94 on a test. Unfortunately, I set unrealistically high standards for myself. And it didn’t take long for that to catch up with me.
I can remember a moment in high school after one-act play practice my senior year. I was in the running for valedictorian. I was class president. I was yearbook editor, speech team president and lead in the play. At play practice that night, a critic judge was brought in to make recommendations. He thought the play was miscast. He said I didn’t fit the role well. He said I needed to give more. When I got home that night, I had a nervous breakdown. I don’t mean that figuratively.
Anxiety has been my lifelong cellmate.
For years I have been terrified to drive. My hands would sweat so profusely when I got in my car that I could not grip the steering wheel. This only made the anxiety worse. I even tried driving gloves. My hands would be prunes by the time I got to my destination. Instead, I found ways to have Gabe drive me places.
When I had kids, my anxiety switched to their wellbeing. I had constant fear. I checked them incessantly for breathing when they were babies. I developed a fear of trash bags because of the suffocation warnings. Real, panic inducing fear. I feared a car hitting the house into their room. I feared them getting hit by a car. I read the first chapter of Anne Voskamp’s book “One Thousand Gifts” and she talked about her sister being killed by a truck. I had terror images in my mind for years afterwards, always with my child’s face. I never read past the first chapter. I’ve taken my kids to swim lessons, but I don’t know how to swim. So I sat outside the pool and my heart raced and anxiety pulsed through my veins for the entire hour.
I thought I was normal. Everyone gets stressed. Everyone worries about his or her kids.
There is a fine line between normal and too far. I wasn’t toeing the line. I was drowning on the other side.
And then came fibromyalgia. A constant achy pain and a constant state of fatigue. Of course, I didn’t know it was fibromyalgia at the time. I guessed I had cancer. Maybe Lyme’s disease? I should probably start writing my last words. Thank you, anxiety. Turns out, one of the treatments for fibromyalgia is fluoxetine. You probably know it as Prozac. They started me on anti-depressant/anti-anxiety medicine. My fibromyalgia gift.
It took several months of taking this before I started to realize I wasn’t in a constant state of stress. I even started driving myself to busy places…and I didn’t need gloves. It wasn’t until I experienced “normal” that I realized just how “un-normal” I was. I still had stress. I still worried. But I wasn’t drowning.
But who wants to admit they are on Prozac…? There is a stigma around that. So I decided I was “cured” and dropped it. Apparently, my brain chemistry disagreed. My counselor put it this way: Some people need seizure medicine, some people need insulin, some people need Prozac.
I never would have known I needed it without fibromyalgia. Physical pain caused me to see a doctor, who unknowingly helped treat my mental pain.
Sometimes the best gifts are in dark places. When Paul says in Philippians 4 that he has learned the secret of being content, he was locked in prison. Commentaries say these were dark, dirty rooms under ground (possibly an old cistern), and you were lowered down through a hole. Content? In prison? How could he “rejoice always” in such a place? Perhaps he had learned to see the gifts in dark places.
There has been a small lice scare going around our area lately. The kids were scared and asking lots of questions. So I told them a story of Corrie ten Boom. She was a Christian in a Nazi concentration camp, in a room crammed full of women, dirty straw, and lice. So many lice. Corrie’s sister told her to give thanks in all circumstances. Corrie said she could not thank God for lice. But she did. And she later learned why the guards never went into their room, never inspected their bunks…and never found her bible she had stashed away there…it was because of the lice. No guard dared enter the room with all the lice. Lice…a gift? Absolutely.
Give thanks in all circumstances.
Look for the gifts in dark places.