I end up writing about chronic illness pretty frequently on this blog. It doesn’t define who I am, but having Crohn’s disease has impacted some fundamental ways I think about the world. Illness has forced some realizations in me that I may have otherwise waited years for, if those epiphanies ever came at all.
By the time I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, I had been experiencing symptoms for five years. After five years, no matter what pain you’re feeling, it becomes normal. I didn’t tell anyone about the symptoms I felt that first year, because they weren’t bad. By the time they got bad, they were part of my routine. Bleeding and pain and stomach cramps and fatigue were my daily bread and the passing of years made all of those things routine. Eventually, though, a particularly bad day knocked me down and I thought once again that thing I had pushed away so many times: This can’t be normal.
After visits and procedures and blood draws and tests, my suspicions were confirmed by a bonafide professional: This is not normal. In fact, this has a name and we can treat it. At 19, being told I had a disease that would last a lifetime did feel a little scary. But more than fear, the first thing I felt was relief. My pain had a name. It had a reason. I wasn’t making it up. I wasn’t crazy.
So often when I feel pain, be it physical or emotional, I assume I’m over-exaggerating. I assume it can’t be as bad as I think in the moment that I feel it. I’m sure others do this too.
Recently though, in a less serious scenario, I felt once again the power and relief of giving something a name. A year ago, I started graduate school (and I’ll graduate this December!). Nine months ago, I got married and moved into a new home. Four months ago, one of my jobs changed significantly. Two months ago, my other job also changed with a significant increase in hours. All of this built up over weeks and months, until I found myself routinely frustrated. Things that should have just irritated me made me furious. Something that should have just made me a little sad was crushing. I felt fragile and volatile and weak.
Then a couple weeks ago, after a bad day, after weeks of trying to push past anything negative I felt, I realized what this was: I’m stressed.
It’s so simple that I felt stupid. But recounting major life changes in the past year, it suddenly made sense. I’m stressed. And I have legitimate reasons to be stressed. And I’m not crazy, I’m not going insane, I’m just reacting to the fact that almost every major aspect and many important relationships in my life have changed in big ways over the past year. I’m stressed, and it’s going to be okay.
Giving my stress a name and seeing what caused it might seem like a simple obvious act, but it didn’t feel simple when I was constantly trying to push aside negative reactions and just be better. Giving stress a name, however, has made it easier to react well under pressure and easier to see when I need to clear out some time to rest, to not work on something, to not answer an email or go over some to-do lists in my head.
Being a Christian has made me so much better at giving so many different things their proper names. That ugly thing I feel? Jealousy, pride, envy. That thing that defines me? Forgiven, loved, redeemed. But there’s still room to grow and it’s moments like finally naming “stress” that I realize I’m not as self-aware as I sometimes like to think.
So my prayer for myself, in this moment, is not to be free of stress. Rather, I pray to see myself as I am, to see my needs, and to understand how to have them met, all while growing in generosity, compassion, and love.