Writing My Own Lyrics

This year so far has been a year of loss for me. And that’s been hard. The grief of losing things that held a lot of significance or hope for me has been a long road. But this morning I realized that around the same time my grandmother passed away, a new life came into my life — in the form of a nephew.

Before anyone has a heart attack, he’s not a biological nephew. One of my good friends had a baby in April, and I’ve become Auntie Abigail to her toddler and to her new baby. This new baby, Henrik, has reminded me that with each end comes a new beginning.

I was trying to get little Henrik to get to sleep today, so I sang this new nursery rhyme that I wrote. It’s to the tune of “Mary had a little lamb.” The new words: “Henrik had a teddy bear, teddy bear, teddy bear,/ Henrik had a teddy bear whose fur was white as snow./ And everywhere that Henrik went, Henrik went, Henrik went,/ And everywhere that Henrik went, the bear was sure to go.” It was so much fun.

Baby Henrik has a white teddy bear that’s pretty much as big as he is. And he likes it when I sing the song and bounce the teddy along with it.

Sometimes it’s the little things that take our breath away. They make for some great memories. Something I don’t want to forget, no matter how silly it is.


Being Charlotte, Or, Why My Relationship Status is Not #WaitingforMrDarcy

nothing like putting your new status in writing

Breakups are a fantastic time to think about relationship status. How soon are you ready to be back on the dating market? Have you revised your list of qualities you’re looking for in a mate? Are you more picky? Less? On the sliding scale between the worst-date-ever and prince-charming, where would you be content to land? At one point is a relationship not worth further investment? Ever ponder those thoughts?

Oddly enough, sometimes I turn to fiction to solve these questions for myself. And it’s an interesting conclusion I’ve landed for myself. I’ve discovered that unlike most single girls who are desiring marriage, I am not #waitingforMrDarcy. Surprised? Allow me to explain.

“Why should you be surprised, my dear Eliza?—Do you think it incredible that Mr. Collins should be able to procure any woman’s good opinion, because he was not so happy as to succeed with you?”
— Charlotte Lucas, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, chapter 12

Elizabeth Bennet is astonished to learn of the engagement of her best friend, Charlotte Lucas, particularly because the fiance in question had asked her — Elizabeth — for her hand only the day before. That would be astonishing for any woman. No one likes to feel that they can be easily passed over, even if they so chose the rejection.

“Certainly not,” said Anne, who had no desire whatever to publish abroad the fact that Billy Andrews wanted to marry her, preferring her, when all was said and done, to Nettie Blewett. Nettie Blewett!”
— Anne Shirley, Anne of the Island by L.M. Montgomery, chapter 8

But Elizabeth’s reaction to Charlotte’s news is not merely the insult that Anne felt when she realizes she could be easily replaced with Nettie Blewett. Elizabeth’s shock comes from the notion that Charlotte could accept Mr. Collins’ proposal, particularly because she views Mr. Collins as insensible, arrogant, and a bore. How could Charlotte settle for that?

“When you have had time to think it all over, I hope you will be satisfied with what I have done. I am not romantic you know. I never was. I ask only a comfortable home; and considering Mr. Collins’s character, connections, and situation in life, I am convinced that my chance of happiness with him is as fair, as most people can boast on entering the marriage state.”
— Charlotte Lucas, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, chapter 12

I’ve thought about Elizabeth & Charlotte’s situation a lot… particularly when it’s come to the world of exchanging tales of dating with my close friends. It’s easy to view this conversation between Elizabeth and Charlotte as a straightforward dichotomy. Elizabeth had a higher standard and refused to compromise; in the end, she got Mr. Darcy, the man with the money, the love, and the intellect — the modern equivalent of Prince Charming, the man of our dreams. Charlotte was a desperate spinster who jumped at the opportunity to get married; she settled, and therefore, she had only herself to blame when she found her husband annoying and insipid.

But I think there’s a lot more depth to Austen’s characters. I don’t think Charlotte settled. I believe that Charlotte got exactly what she was looking for. Mr. Collins was the man who Charlotte needed. If she had married Mr. Darcy’s twin, she would have been incredibly unhappy. And that’s an important possibility to consider.

So what was Charlotte looking for? And what kind of person did she need?

Charlotte admitted right off the bat that she wanted a person who was settled in a career. She wanted someone who could provide her with financial stability, with an honorable reputation, with security in her social rank, and with a home of her own. She wanted to be able to raise a family in a stable environment, have a name to be proud of, and to be in a position to serve her community (rather than be served by them.) She wanted someone who was honest and attentive but also someone who let her be herself. She wanted someone who worshiped her without trying to change her and without drawing attention to herself.

Mr. Collins offered her all of these things in a partner. He had a respectable career in the clergy with a (nearly) guaranteed position for the rest of his life. He had a very eligible patron who would continue to provide for him. At some point, he would inherit the Bennett estate of Longbourne, which would provide a reasonable income for their family and would place her close to her own family in retirement. A clergyman’s wife would give her a position of respectability and allow her to visit the villagers and attend to people’s needs without attention being drawn to herself. Mr. Collins would always hold her in the highest esteem and praise her without end, but he would never pay too careful attention to exactly what she was doing or how she did it, which meant that she could run her own household freely. He would certainly always be proud of her accomplishments and their family.

Any person who married Mr. Collins would have to put up with his pompous attitude and his incessant need to hear the sound of his own voice. And certainly his wife would always be subservient to his patron since that was the source of their livelihood. But all relationships come with compromise, and Charlotte demonstrates an agility in this regard that is remarkable.

Just imagine that scenario if Charlotte had married Mr. Darcy’s identical twin (we’ll call him D’ for short): The wife of D’ would need to be well-read and engage with witty conversation with D’ and his friends on a regular basis. She would need to be able to challenge him and his long-held ideas. She would travel on a regular basis as D’ would own a substantial estate as well as a house in town; besides D’ would also visit his friends regularly, including the Darcys and the Bingleys. Furthermore, as the wife of the richest man in the county, Mrs. D’ would not only be the center of attention for D’, but she would also be admired by all the villagefolk who she no doubt visited on a regular basis to give alms and counsel. (Mrs. Collins the clergy’s wife could do this as a humble servant of God or a loving pastor’s wife who was a busybody or an unusually helpful soul. Mrs. D’ would be the wealthy mistress coming as the judgment police or as the wealthy benefactor bestowing her riches on the populace.) Mrs. D’ would have to entertain some groups of people on a regular basis, including but not limited to family members, friends, and business partners of D’. D’ would also expect his wife to have a working knowledge of his business and be able to converse with his business contacts’ spouses. Furthermore, as a collector of art and a lover of music and the theater, D’ and his wife would shop in the finest establishments and continue to build their fine collection of fine art to complete their exquisite and ever-growing library. Mrs. D’ would spend much quality time with her husband, following him in his travels and business affairs and engaging in deep intellectual conversations, leisure time made possible by the servants who would cook their meals, keep their house, clean their laundry, and look after their children.

All of the above would be work and a burden for Charlotte. Charlotte didn’t want a husband who would follow her every move and want to be involved in her daily living. She wanted to be able to send him outdoors to garden and for him to think that was a splendid idea without questioning her. She wanted to be able to entertain whoever she wanted in whatever way she felt possible. As the wife of Mr. Collins, she likely had a lot of freedom in how she raised her children. No need to consult the wisest of physicians or the latest baby-raising fad. Of course, Lady Catherine would always be present to give her own advice, but without servants, Mrs. Collins could no doubt stay home more often with her children and just roll her eyes at the rest of Lady Catherine’s advice/commands. Charlotte wouldn’t have been happy to spend her life collecting antiques or looking at fine sculpture. She wasn’t a showy person and didn’t like attention on herself. That’s why she was always analyzing Lizzie’s life rather than talking about her own.

I do believe that Charlotte settled in one critical area: she married a man who didn’t love her. If Mr. Collins had actually loved her, he would have been a more perfect spouse for her. She knew that he didn’t love her and that he probably never would, but she also knew that he thought that he loved her. Which counts for something. At least he wouldn’t be looking to replace her. She might not have loved him and might never love him, but she liked him and the opportunities that he gave her. And that was sufficient. It would sustain her.

It’s easy to read a story like Pride and Prejudice and walk away as an idealist, looking for the perfect fairy-tale romance where the princess always has blonde hair and the prince is always mounted on a white stallion. In that fantasy world, we know that the princess needs to keep waiting for the guy to ride up on that white stallion. Perfectly good guy on a brown horse? Pass. Perfectly adequate prince with long fancy title who twirls his mustache? Forget it. Parched and fatigued traveler on a white horse? Hmmmm, give him some soup and see if he sits and the table and eats like well-educated royalty. Yes? Marry him, no questions asked.

Real life isn’t like that. Marriage is not a one-size fits all package. We aren’t all looking for the same thing. The same way people go to college for different reasons. And pick different careers. And do different things on spring break. And have different priorities.

And you know what? It’s a good thing. Otherwise, there would be 10,000 girls all competing for the one man on the one white stallion. And, in that scenario, odds are that you’re going to be one of the 9,999 girls left behind. And no one needs to see that in their future.

Charlotte isn’t happy because she makes the best of a bad situation. This isn’t the lemonade out of lemons scenario that Elizabeth convinces herself has to be in place. (Remember that P&P is told in third-person limited narration from Elizabeth’s point of view. How do I know? Eleventh grade English class, and the fact that the narrator only visits the scenes that Elizabeth is in but also knows what she is thinking. E.g. We don’t get to witness Collins’ proposal to Charlotte but we do know what goes through Lizzie’s head when she finds out about it.) Charlotte is happy because she is where she’s meant to be. She wants a symbiotic relationship where someone finally values her and she can run her own home and boss someone around for a change without being the center of attention. As Mrs. Collins, she finally gets to host people for a change and manage someone else’s life for once. No one gives her any credit for it to be sure, but she doesn’t want credit; she just wants the space and the resources to do so. Which Lizzie doesn’t understand because Lizzie needs that verbalization; she needs Darcy to appreciate her intellect and to acknowledge it to himself, to her, and to his friends and relations. Because Lizzie doesn’t recognize that in Charlotte, she cannot understand that Charlotte’s engagement is an opportunity seized for Charlotte. Charlotte’s disappointment is less in Lizzie’s shock at the proposal but more in Lizzie’s insistence to understand Charlotte as someone who has needs just like Lizzie. For all his faults, Mr. Collins has very few expectations of anyone, mostly because he never looks to see if his expectations match real life. And that’s what Charlotte needs in order to flourish — someone who believes in her and in her potential and can give her the resources to flourish. And that’s beautiful. Even if Lizzie never has the capacity to understand it.

not for Abigail

I’m just like the next girl in thinking that Mr. Darcy is pretty dreamy. He’s smart, he’s well-read, he’s wealthy, and he’s romantic. But I don’t think he’s meant for everyone. Certainly not for Charlotte and definitely not for Jane nor Lydia. And so that as why I am so bold to counter the tread and say that I’m #NOTwaitingforMrDarcy. I’m waiting for #MrAbigail and I’m not ashamed to say it.

Abigail Cashelle

You know you have a sustained lack of appetite if…

  • you forget what hunger feels like
  • you feel this deep pain in your body and your first response is to stop eating; after three to five days pass, you realize that what you feel is actually hunger and the correct solution is to eat; except now your body can only process small amounts of food at a time
  • after such a realization, you remember that this entire sequence has happened at least once, and one time, you and your psychiatrist just started laughing at the ridiculousness that is the observation that a person forgot what feeling hungry meant
  • you are best friends with your GI doctor whose number one metric is not your blood pressure nor your lab work but your weight, fair and simple
  • the best part about breaking up with the boy is that you no longer have to deal with his annoying habit of forgetting to eat lunch, which had meant that during several dates you had to sit in a cafe and watch him eat lunch while trying not to have a panic attack or throw stuff at him
  • when you were dating the boy, you let him take you out to eat a grand total of ONE time (in a two month period)… and you almost bailed from the ice cream shop because it was so overwhelming
  • your GI doctor found you formula to supplement your diet when you are in so much pain that thinking about food is off limits; it’s marketed for toddlers who suffer from “failure to thrive” (and you think it is a brilliant idea)
  • your GI doctor loves your teenage sister because when you lived at home, her favorite thing to do was knock on your door and ask you if you ate recently
  • your local friends know that you’re going through a hard time so they invite you over for dinner or take you out to eat; they let you ramble while they’re eating but they tell waiters to go away because it still looks like you haven’t eaten anything and part of being your friend means making sure you’re properly nourished
  • you go to church potlucks but half the time you just look at the food and don’t take anything
  • if you eat dinner at someone’s house and actually like the food, your friends hand you leftovers because it’s such a rare occurance
  • people ask you what your favorite dish is and you haven’t the slightest clue
  • eating is a chore like brushing your teeth; you’re supposed to do it on a regular basis, but technically it’s still optional
  • your doctors have categorized ice cream as a healthy food because it has calories and you need them
  • you make dinner but by the time it’s cooked it’s the most disgusting thing you’ve ever seen and there’s no way you’re even eating it
  • you look at the clock and realize that it’s bedtime and you haven’t even thought about dinner
  • sometimes you start to eat dinner and after an hour and a half realize that you’re never going to eat the food in front of you and throw it away; then you realize that while you’ve accomplished something (throwing away the food that you were supposed to eat), you still haven’t accomplished the original thing you set out to do which was to eat dinner
  • when people ask you what kind of cake or food you’re going to serve at your wedding, you tell them that (a) you’re not getting married yet and (b) you would prefer to skip the food altogether
  • when you tell your GI doctor that you have a new boyfriend and that means you need his help because food comes up a LOT when you are dating, he thinks about it and says that while usually he would encourage you to just avoid encounters with food, he could see how figuring out how to deal with it might make social interactions easier so we can brainstorm. He also recommends that I give the boy time to adjust (aka this problem will not just go away.)
  • people feel bad when they learn that you have food sensitivities and can’t eat food with gluten or dairy in them because now nothing they’re serving for the party is friendly; no problem, you think, it wasn’t like you were about to eat anything anyways; plus, eating is a need, not a want
  • Thanksgiving and Christmas are holidays where you listen to older folks tell you their life stories and when you volunteer to do the dishes (not holidays where you cook or eat or otherwise think about food)
  • people ask you what you like to order at a coffee shop and after the longest time you answer: water
  • when people invite you to happy hour, you kindly explain to them that you can’t drink alcohol while in your mind you know that any activity that lasts for an hour and involves food is the opposite of happy and why would you want to spend your free time doing that anyway?
  • people ask you what restaurants are good in the area and you have no idea but can point them to the good gas station, the local library, the best shopping malls, the local bookstore, and even the ideal backdrop for photos
  • the bottom line is that you think about food as little as possible and only as a problem that has to be tackled

So, yeah, I suffer what medical professionals properly term as “anorexia”, that is, a sustained lack of appetite.* My body does not digest food properly (yay! functional GI disorder). Therefore, food often leads to more pain, which leads to an inclination to avoid food altogether. Eating is the opposite of relaxing and is simply something I do only because I have to. I’ve been dealing with this since 2007 at least.

Dr. Leo and I have put our heads together and decided that we can be a little bit more proactive about managing the situation. I’m already on an antispasm medication (dicyclomine) that’s specific to the GI tract. That’s helped a little bit. The formula has been a lifesaver for when I’m really busy or when I’m emotionally exhausted but still need to eat. But like the rest of my disease, there are seasons. Some months I struggle with one thing more than another. And food is currently a big issue for me. I can’t take more medication because I weigh so little to begin with, and my body doesn’t digest medication very well either.

Dr. Leo has given a big thumbs up to all my local friends who have been having me over for dinner and dropping off snacks and just generally making sure that I’m doing okay and that I’m still eating. We’ve resigned ourselves to the fact that sometimes that means that I’m using the formula, which isn’t ideal but will work for now. And he’s also enrolled me in a psychotherapy program specifically targeted to anxiety related to eating and digestion. It won’t make the underlying problem go away, but perhaps there are some techniques that I could learn that would help in those moments when it all gets overwhelming and I hit fight-or-flight mode.

They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I’m still not sure that I believe them. But I do want to gain a semblance of control over my life again. And not panicking because there’s an activity involving food would be a nice change. Dr. Leo calls it better quality of life. And as long as someone else is helping me fight, I can see myself taking this on.

With hope for what the future can bring,
Abigail Cashelle

*In medical parlance, “anorexia” refers to a sustained lack of appetite. A specific type of anorexia known as “anorexia nervosa” is commonly abbreviated as “anorexia” by lay persons. Anorexia nervosa specifically describes an eating disorder characterized by excessive weight loss and unusual concern for body image.

Where I’ve Been, What’s Up with this Blog, and Other Misc Questions You May Be Asking

Greetings!!! WordPress tells me that it’s been eight months since I’ve posted to this blog. That’s a long time not to write. Maybe you’ve been wondering what I’ve been up to. Maybe you’ve forgotten that I’ve existed. Either way, here’s a quick synopsis of where I’ve been, the new directions my life has taken, and where I see this blog moving.

What I’ve been up to:

Once I got that faculty job in Fall 2014, I stopped writing as frequently on the blog. Why? Blogging for me was always an outlet to figure out my journey with chronic illness. It was a way for me to chronicle how I felt and where I saw myself going. It was a place where I could write down memories I knew I would forget, and a place for me to return to whenever I needed to look at the past and try to ascertain progress. It also served as an amazing way to answer the question of how I got to where I am today. Once I started working that faculty job, things changed for me. Life got a whole lot busier because I was doing a whole lot better. Things were still weird with family, but I had found a good rhythm. Besides, I was working three jobs — teaching, retail, and tutoring — and those took a lot of time and energy.

Then in Fall 2015, I returned to graduate school and moved back to Beaverville. Life was a bit simpler except for the fact that I was trying to cram two semesters into one, including such herculean tasks as reading 60 books in one term, passing comprehensive exams, teaching, and taking three classes. Somehow I survived. And passed all the exams and the classes.

Enter Spring 2016: I was planning to defend my dissertation proposal, which by now was less amorphous than previously. However, life (or the universe) had other plans it seemed. First, my paternal grandmother got diagnosed with late stage ovarian cancer and given only weeks to live. I spent a lot of time on the road and visiting her, particularly because she kept telling people that she used to know me and I was someone special who lived far away but still took the time to come visit her. She passed away in early March which was really rough for me but probably good timing for her.

At the same time as her diagnosis, my new adviser suggested that I take a completely different angle on my dissertation project. He said that it would simply be a reorientation on my existing project. I knew that it would be a completely different project. At first, I was mad, but then I realized that he had identified a very finite, concrete project that I actually understood and knew how to accomplish. Plus I could get more training from him and could finish sooner. So I set aside my first proposal (maybe a second book?) and took on this topic. By now I have a working proposal that I’m planning to defend in the early fall, after I complete several months of research. (It’s a bit out of order, but nothing in this grad program has followed the beaten path, so what’s one more detour?)

Literally a few days before my grandmother passed away, someone new entered my life. The timing, as you could imagine, was not my idea of ideal. However, we started talking online, and he was genuinely supportive of me as I tried to navigate writing an obituary and helping my dad decide whether we were going to have a funeral or a graveside service and cleaning out all my grandmother’s possessions. Shortly after I got back to Beaverville, we had our first in-person conversation. And we’ve been talking (online and on the phone) and taking walks around the neighborhood ever since.

At this point, I’m not really sure what his role in my life will be long-term. I’m still pretty confused about where the Lord is leading me and why He arranged for all these things to happen at the same time. Some of the fellowship I’ve gotten is to just be open to the possibility that this is the Lord’s perfect arrangement even though I know in my head that there are too many things going on all at the same time. In the mean time, I’m praying and trying to just take things one day at a time.

Which brings me to the next point: where this blog is going now. I realized that one way I’ve worked things out in my life before has been to write on this blog. It was a good way to preserve memories without dwelling on them. I’ve been considering it for a while, but I’ve decided that this blog can become a place where I can write about “the boy” (that’s what I’ve decided to call him on the blog), the things that we’ve done, the emotions that I’m feeling, and the crossroads that we’ve come to. Some of the posts will be password protected. At some point, some of those posts may become public; or perhaps, they will only exist for me. Either way, I want a record for myself of how I’m feeling and the situations I’ve run into. Mostly so that I don’t have to hang on to the past and can live in the present. If at some point in the future I need to revisit the past, it will be there. And if life takes yet another turn and I don’t need a written diary any more, I’ll probably disappear again.

Also, dealing with all of these new changes has coincided with some health issues flaring up again. Which, if not anything else, means more scenes playing out in doctor’s offices. So don’t be all that surprised if you see some of those again.

Thanks for tagging along for the ride. Feel free to read selectively. I may post some retroactive posts before this one just to keep things in order (since I am a historian after all.)

See you around,
Abigail Cashelle

I Hear Hope

It was another visit with Dr. Mark. That pesky breast inflammation had come back to haunt me. It was so painful that I was desperate for a solution, not so much for the pain, but for the fact that the inflammation was getting out of control. I also wanted to make sure that my heart was doing okay.

We had the typical exam and talked about options. What about this medication for pain? no. What about exploring an anti-inflammatory medication? maybe. What about something topical for pain? no.

Finally, I asked him. I know you listened to my heart with a stethoscope. Did it sound healthy? I don’t think I’ll forget what he said:

Dr. Mark: Abigail, your heart sounds happy. And… what’s the word? Hopeful.

Abigail: You can hear hope with your stethoscope?

Dr. Mark: I don’t need my stethoscope for that. I can hear hope in your voice.

And that’s a moment I never want to forget. Even though my life is more crazy than I would prefer, I am hopeful, and he heard it.

Operation Gratitude

Working three jobs has been exhausting but also illuminating. This blog has been silent because my life has been full!!

At my retail job, we’ve been writing cards to anonymous members of the armed services as part of our contribution to Operation Gratitude. I’ve been racking my brain for a good extra credit project to give my students, not only so they can earn a few more points to their final grade but also so that they can learn to be productive members of society. That’s when I realized that Operation Gratitude was the perfect fit!!!

My pitch to the students:

Boost your grade, build community, be part of America, and do a good deed: all at the same time!!

I’ve asked my students to turn in a handwritten card thanking an anonymous member of the armed services for their service & to wish them well this holiday season. If they do so, they earn 0.5 points added to their final grade. If they can get >95% of the class to participate, there’s an additional 1.0 point bonus.

It’s been exciting to watch them take on the challenge of collective action. I’ve been really impressed and encouraged by my students’ responses. Some of them are one sentence thank-you-for-letting-me-get-extra-credit-in-this-class but most of them are heartfelt letters of gratitude and admiration. A lot of my students pour their hearts out into these letters, and I can see that they’ve taken to heart the cost of the freedom and liberty we enjoy and the degree to which we are all part of a community. These men and women need our support and encouragement as much as we need their work overseas. It’s always exciting to see people applying what they learn in class to real life situations.

I’m a big believer that if you have high expectations, your students will rise to the challenge. My favorite comment by Amy Sherman-Palladino about her series Gilmore Girls was that it was so successful because she crammed so many pop references into each episode and so much dialogue into each scene. There’s no way that you can catch everything on the first watch, but you’re so intrigued by each episode that you want to watch again. She has commented that people often assume that people who watch TV are stupid and that TV shows need to be dumbed down for people to appreciate them. Instead, she challenges her viewers to have a higher standard. And it works. That’s why we love her shows.

So far, about 1/3 of my class has participated in the challenge. They have a week left, so there’s still a lot of time for them to get their act together. We’ll see how things progress.

I’ve challenged myself to also write at least one card a day for every day of the drive. I’ve written 9 cards so far (with one week to go). It’s getting more challenging to find something different to say each time, but it’s a good challenge, one that’s appropriately achievable for me.

I’m excited that I’m feeling well enough these days to do things for other people. I’m also really excited that I’ve been able to rally my students together to do something for others and to show them that it doesn’t take much to make a difference in someone else’s life.

That’s all for now,


I thought I did a good deed today

As I was driving to work today, I passed a man on the street holding a sign that read “I am very hungry. Bad. God Bless. Homeless.” or something to that effect. I try to keep change in my car for these occasions, but I didn’t have anything on me today. But I keep reading that sign: “I am very hungry. Bad.” And I wanted to do something. So I did the nicest thing I could think of. I rolled down my window and gave him my work snack. It was a bag of sweet potato chips. Delicious. I love them. But I can definitely live without them.

You could tell that he really appreciated the gesture. But he was really reluctant to take it. He said that the last time someone gave him food, he got really, really sick from it. How was he supposed to know that I wasn’t trying to poison him?

And I realized that it requires a lot of trust and faith to survive as a homeless person. You never know what the future holds, good or bad. In a sense, it’s you against the world, but in another sense, you rely on the generosity of others. Few trust you because of your status in the world, but your only way out is for someone to trust you even in a little, even just recognizing that you’re a human with needs.

So to the man on the road, I hope that my small bag of chips didn’t make you sick and actually brought you some nourishment. But if you threw it away or gave it someone else or to your dog, please know that I meant it for good. And that you touched my heart as well. I realized that even in what I share with others, I judge. And next time, instead of wondering what you’d use the money to buy, I’d be open to the possibility that you’re just as human as I am and are skeptical about the inherent goodness of the other people who inhabit this world.


PFAM: Holiday Wishes

Merry Christmas readers!! This month, I asked my fellow spoonies what their thoughts were on the holiday season. If they could ask for anything (without being worried about offending someone), here’s what they came up with:

Leslie at Getting Closer to Myself came up with a Christmas wish list of items that she’d love for Christmas. Like my own virtual shopping lists, these include both things that she’s admiring and things that help her as a chronically ill woman, reminding us that while someone is ill, that isn’t their entire identity, so not all their holiday wishes are illness-related!!

Rachel at Fluted Cups and Ampersands reminds us that just because thinking about illness makes you uncomfortable or feel guilty or anything else, it’s okay to talk about it. Part of coping with illness is helping other people around us cope with it. We need people to lean on, and we also understand that you are not superwoman. (That’s part of the miracle of illness; we learn our own mortality but we also become sympathetic with others’ mortality.) Let us help you; allow us to make this a two-way street where you give but you also receive.

Duncan of Duncan Cross points out that holidays can be stressful for those with chronic illnesses. Just because we recognize our mortality doesn’t make us immune to the stress of the holidays. Duncan says that holidays (1) destroy routine, (2) require (physical & emotional) work, and (3) are in the winter. All of these are especially taxing on the ill. So please cut us a little slack. (And Duncan: I didn’t beg; I inspired.)

Elizabeth of The Girl with Arthritis gives a tutorial on how to hug someone with a chronic illness, particularly one with inflammatory arthritis. If we somehow summoned the strength to make it to a holiday event or even to crash on your couch, we’d prefer that your gratitude not make our condition worse. Learn from Rachel on how to safely hug someone who’s physically hurting. And think about waving or shaking forearms (instead of hands) to reduce the amount of germ-spreading. We’d be eternally grateful.

Ms. Rainbow of RARainbow quotes the Dalai Lama saying: “Our prime purpose in life is to help others. If you can’t help them, then at least don’t hurt them.” Instead of bullying someone whose life is different than yours, learn more about their situation or just smile. Even the smallest act of kindness can mean the world. (Ms. Rainbow, great quote by the Dalai Lama; I’ll have to file that away with my memory of meeting him!!)

Rihann Louise of My Brain Lesion and Me notes that “Christmas allows us the opportunity to give back to those who are there for us everyday of the rest of the year. The presents we give, of course, do not have to be expensive, but they are simple small token of thanks for everything that they do for us.” It’s so true. I’ve started writing holiday cards to the people who have been the most supportive. Just writing a note saying why they’re so valuable to me as friends has been profoundly therapeutic to me and also fits right into the spirit of the holiday. Because really that’s what we need the most: your support. (At least that’s my holiday wish.)

That’s all, folks, for this month’s round of Patients for a Moment. Look for some new and exciting things happening in the new year. Among them, Duncan Cross, founder of PFAM, is starting an online book club for patients. Every three months, the book club will read, review, and discuss a book about illness and disability. If you would like to participate, or suggest a book, get in touch with Duncan at dx@duncancross.net. (Note that both I and Leslie already have book lists, so if you’re looking for some “light” holiday reading, here are some suggestions.)

Best wishes and happy holidays,

A Few Words of Encouragement

From last night’s Evening Prayers:

Nevertheless I am continually with thee: thou hast holden me by my right hand.
Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory.
Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee.
My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever.
(Psalm 73:23-26)

This Psalm speaks much of the hardship and unfairness of life. But I was impressed by how it ends. It ends with the psalmist’s trust in Jehovah and in His promise. Even when our flesh & our heart fail, God is the strength of our heart. In the end, His people are vindicated and receive the blessing. In the meantime, He holds us by our right hands.