Asking for Help

Pros and Cons of Summer 2017

Pros: I think I’m overall doing really well! The effectiveness of the shoulder surgery I had is heavily dependent on physical therapy. Although it was torture all last semester, I’m finally at a place where I can use my left arm to function like a[n almost] normal human being! But then I’ve also adjusted my normal routine; why blow-dry or straighten your hair when surgery made it curlier anyways? Why use arms to open doors when you can discreetly kick open doors and fake that you opened them like a normal person? (Okay I only do that occasionally.)

And now that it’s been two months since I was discharged from PT, I’ve established a regular weekly workout routine to maintain strength. Good news- I can successfully lift a 1-pound dumbbell! You may think it’s pathetic, but honestly I’m thrilled! I have no doubt that my shoulder is in place, and if it dislocates in the next decade, I will be very surprised.

I’m happy to be where I am. I didn’t think that would be the case. The peace of mind I now have, from knowing that my shoulder is securely in place, makes the past seven months worth it.

But the fun never stops!

Con: I have another surgery to decide on. LOL.

This time it’s my hand. If you’ve kept up with me for the past year and a half: Remember that dislocation I had last spring? I’m definitely remembering it now.

Well that dislocation may have been the cause of some pretty serious damage. I now have a cyst in one of my hand bones, which is probably off-setting the placement of my other hand bones. The cyst would have to be surgically removed from the bone, and it doesn’t sound easy. Since my bones are rubbing together, I now have arthritis.

L.O.L.

Not exactly what I was expecting to hear. (I found this out the SAME DAY that I got released from my shoulder surgeon. Kind of an emotional day.) But at this point, I’m not surprised that something else went wrong requiring another major surgery.

Part of me is asking, “How long, O Lord?”

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?

How long must I take counsel in my soul
    and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?”

Psalm 13:1-2 (ESV)

I love the Psalms for including such honest questions like “How long do I have to put up with this, God?” But until recently, I thought this question was only located in the Psalms.

It turns out that Jesus asked the same question:

17 And someone from the crowd answered him, “Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a spirit that makes him mute. 18 And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able.” 19 And he answered them, “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me.”

Mark 9:17-19 (ESV)

I love my sarcastic Savior. I love that He expressed His frustration over the faithlessness of people around Him. Our God is Holy and yet relatable. I love that.

20 And they brought the boy to him. And when the spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. 21 And Jesus asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. 22 And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.”

Mark 9:20-22

I love my caring Savior. He took the time to understand a hurting family’s story. He didn’t just see a need; He saw His wonderfully-made creation, for whom He had planned out all of their days before they came to be (Psalm 139). I love that too.

23 And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” 24 Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!”

Mark 9:23-24

I love my powerful Savior. I love that, in the remainder of this passage in Mark, Jesus is able to heal the boy like only He could. But these two verses have dominated my focus for a while now: the honest prayer of a hurting father–“Help my unbelief!”

This plea for help immediately follows declaration of God’s abilities. I feel like this father claimed he believed in Jesus’ ability for his own sake; it seems like he needed help actually believing it. And he admitted it to Jesus!

I love that I can admit my failures to the One whom I fail.

For several months now, I’ve been learning to ask people for help. (It doesn’t come naturally.) I finally realized the significance of asking God for help, since He is the source of my only hope.

On the day I found out about inevitable tough times ahead with my hand, the Holy Spirit reminded me of this passage in Mark, specifically the father’s prayer, “Help my unbelief!” I began to think about characteristics of God that I did not, at that moment, believe to be true. I had trouble admitting that God is good, faithful, caring, sovereign, etc.

So I decided to ask for help.

God, You are in control of this situation. Help my unbelief.

God, You are working this out for my good. Help my unbelief.

God, You are always good. Help my unbelief.

God, You are faithful to strengthen me. Help my unbelief.

God, You will not abandon me. Help my unbelief.

I so desperately needed to remind myself of God’s reliable character, and it was so freeing to admit my struggle in believing.

I don’t know what tomorrow holds for me or for you. But I know that God is with us to walk with us even through “the valley of the shadow of death” (Psalm 23:4). God, help our unbelief.

Why I Welcome Jokes About My Pain

The “chronic” part of chronic pain means that things get old pretty quickly. “Things” meaning thought processes, daily routines, joints, etc. And over time, you’ll need to experience a variety of emotional responses.

Yes, chronic pain can be daily frustrating and exhausting and disappointing. But it can be other things too. Even in seasons of chronic pain flareups, joy can and should be found. One way I try to look for joy in my situation is through humor, whether that’s my own jokes about my pain or laughing at others’ jokes about my pain or their own. Here’s why.

  1. Humor cuts the tension of not knowing what to say. When multiple of my extremities have on noticeable braces, and when I can see your look of confusion about what to say, I feel more sorry for you than you do for me. Cue the jokes. Pain-related humor opens the door to talking about the obvious. You may be afraid of phrasing questions about my situation the wrong way. Jokes are sometimes my way of helping you out.
  2. My situation actually is humorous. Maybe in the moment, it can be difficult to see the humor. But sometimes my life is so ironic that I have to laugh in the moment. Like that one time I was trying to finish a paper two hours before it was due, and my shoulder dislocated–while wearing a sling that was supposed to keep that from happening. In that moment, it was kinda hard to breathe from the pain, but I was still able to send out a PSA that school is dangerous. The fact that I can injure myself doing the most mundane tasks makes my life so much more interesting. Sometimes I imagine my life being livestreamed in Heaven with God as the “heavenly host” [not the punchline], complete with questions for the audience such as “Will she be able to take out the trash without further injuring her arms? Let’s find out!” My life is never boring anymore, so I try to take advantage of it through humor.
  3. When chronic pain limits my abilities, I know that I still have the ability to make myself (and hopefully other people too) laugh. My use of the phrase “I can’t” seems to outweigh my use of the phrase “I can,” as of late. Especially since I’ve lost my ability to perform music, I’ve been trying to remind myself that my life isn’t over, even if my performing career is. Sometimes my self-pep talk consists of a mere “I can do things!” My goal in making jokes about my pain is not always to get other people to laugh. If I make a joke, I think it’s funny. And that’s good enough for me.
  4. I can either laugh or cry. Confession: I do need to cry over my situation every once in a while. It can relieve tension and make me tired enough to get some sleep. But the benefits of crying don’t outweigh the benefits of laughter. Laughter takes away the sting of the moment and replaces worry with peace. Proverbs 17:22 says, “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” I choose the medicine of a joyful heart over dried-up bones. I’m having enough problems with my skeletal system as it is.
  5. Making light of my situation reminds me not to take this life too seriously. If this present life is all that I am guaranteed, then I would definitely take my health (or lack thereof) seriously all the time. Thank the Lord that this is not the only life I will live or the only body I will possess! Philippians 3:20-21 says, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.” Paul is reminding the Philippians that, although this present life matters, the next is what we’re living for. Hope for tomorrow makes today not only bearable, but also enjoyable, in that it provides a greater end goal than immediate health.
  6. Jesus is better. Paul understands me. I relate on a spiritual level. When God told Paul that His grace was enough to sustain him, despite his thorn in the flesh, Paul responds in a way that can’t make sense to non-believers: “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so 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 12:9b-10). I looked up some definitions for verse 9. The Greek word for “boast” means “to glory on account of.” To “glory” means to “take great pride or pleasure in.” Paul found pleasure in his weaknesses as opportunities to magnify the power of Christ. Chronic pain as an opportunity–what a thought! I can be content with my pain. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

12 Strategies to Balance College and Chronic Pain

Dear Hurting College Student,

Good for you!

Good for you for realizing that you are more than your pain and daring to enter the world of academia to become more than your pain.

What a daunting task. Not only are trying to get a degree and form relationships like everyone else, but you’re also trying to function. It’s a difficult place to be: You’re on survival mode, while the normal students are on party mode.

But to you, the work you put in day in and day out is a big deal. Endeavoring to better yourself through education is a challenging task for anyone brave enough to try. Chronic pain makes it all the more difficult.

If you’re not already doing these things, here are some ways to attend to both yourself and your GPA.

  1. Register with your school’s disability services. I went two years without accommodations from my school. It was miserable. The attendance policies for my classes were the biggest burden; just about every semester, I was one absence away from getting an FA (Failure due to Absence) in many of my classes. Once I registered with Disability Resources, my professors were held responsible to work with me regarding absences. I don’t know how I managed without accommodations for so long. I recommend doing this before your first semester in college.
  2. Get to know your professors. Whether or not you have accommodations, meeting with your professors one-on-one allows them to identify who you are, and they can know what symptoms to look for while you’re in their class. Meeting face-to-face can also show your professors your genuineness in reaching out for help. Over email, it’s easier to assume that someone doesn’t really need extra help. I remember the look on my professors faces when they realized that I am actually dealing with difficult circumstances both inside and outside the classroom. It’s extremely beneficial to reach a level of understanding between you and your professor early on in the semester.
  3. Look over your syllabus ASAP. If a class seems to much to handle from Day 1 (or whenever you see the syllabus), it won’t get any easier. Drop it if you feel the need.
  4. Fill out your planner ASAP. As soon as you get your syllabus, fill all dates in your planner. Every date your professor gives you: test dates, quiz dates, project due dates, paper due dates. Write it all down. After you’ve done this for each class, highlight the days you really can’t afford to miss. By planning it out now, you can do whatever is necessary to make that class. If that means skipping the class before so you can be fully prepared to stand for your speech, skip. Strategically skip so that you can attend more classes long-term.
  5. Find multiple study locations where you can be comfortable. Your pain is probably your biggest enemy while you study. Having more than one location that will minimize the pain can optimize your study time. If that means mostly studying in your room, do it. It’s better for you to be comfortable than sociable while studying.
  6. Realize that you will have to take more study breaks. And that is okay. I’ve found that, for this reason, it’s more difficult to study in groups than individually. I face enough distractions studying on my own. If you’re the same way, it might help to keep a tally of what causes your distractions. Categorizing by specific areas of pain or various emotional or spiritual needs can indicate how best to care yourself. For example, if you take tallies for an hour and are most distracted by neck pain, find a better way to support your neck before continuing to study. If you can’t concentrate because you’re stressed about life in general, take a coloring break.
  7. Exercise during study breaks. Not only is this something you’ve probably heard from multiple doctors. (Probably so often that you roll your eyes at the thought.) But it also gives you energy to continue studying. I know it’s difficult to find ways to exercise without pain. For me, one thing that actually helps raise my heart rate without raising my pain rate is a pedal bike. I have it on the floor beside my desk, so I sit in my desk chair while I pedal. That way I can avoid back pain/shoulder pain from riding a normal bike. Find what does the trick, and do that exercise in small increments between studying.
  8. Make food/sleep a priority. School stress is fun because it can make you forget to do what you need the most. Have a regular eating/sleeping schedule that you work studying around. I definitely get less productive when I’m hungry and need protein. So if I’m not planning to eat dinner at 5:00, then I stop trying to work until after I eat. And my quality of work drastically declines after 9:30. So at 10:00, I stop what I’m doing and go to bed.
  9. Schedule times to meet up with people a weekend in advance. Chronic pain doesn’t have to debilitate your social life. It helps to plan in advance, so you don’t get caught in the unknowns of “Hey let’s hang out!” By making the plans yourself, you can make sure you’re only doing things that you’re physically capable of. Of course, all of this can get thrown out the window with a bad pain day. But as with classes, you can try to skip the less important activities to rest up for the more important ones.
  10. Be content with genuinely doing your best. Fellow perfectionists: It’s really okay to stop at “good enough.” There will always be ways to improve your paper. There will always be more information that you can try to master before the test. Sometimes you have to draw the line so that you don’t exhaust yourself unnecessarily. This doesn’t mean that not trying is an option. This means that you know what you are capable of accomplishing, and you shouldn’t punish yourself for not accomplishing more.
  11. Don’t compare your successes to others’. Contentment with doing your best will keep you from holding yourself to the same standard as other people. Your abilities are not the same as everyone else’s; you have different abilities, different ways to express your uniqueness. You can’t (or at least shouldn’t) pull all-nighters to study, but that probably helps your grades overall. Other people may not experience brain fog like you do. Give yourself some grace. You know how much you’re having to manage on a daily basis. You should create standards for your academic success accordingly.
  12. Focus on the big picture goal. Balancing chronic pain and college will seem pointless if you do not remind yourself why you’re in school. I want to become a counselor so that I can help others process the struggles of their lives and move forward. Therefore, I have a reason to go to class every day that I am able. The little things of today give meaning to the big things of tomorrow. “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much” (Luke 16:10). Be honest with yourself and with other people about why you do what you do. Keep fighting through the pain because one day someone will benefit from your efforts.

7 Reasons Why I’m Thankful for a Rolling Backpack

College is difficult. College is difficult when you have to carry a heavy backpack. College is difficult when you have to carry a heavy backpack, and your shoulders don’t cooperate. But there is a solution to this challenge–one that I dreaded at first but now enjoy.

Here are seven reasons why I’m enjoying my use of a rolling backpack on a college campus:

  1. It reminds me of a simpler time–2004. Back in the day when Hilary Duff was everyone’s role model, rolling backpacks were on everyone’s Christmas list. They were a mark of cool-kid status. Using my rolling backpack helps me imagine college as Lizzie McGuire would.
  2. It reminds me of 2004, when my joints were for me, not against me. The glory days of the early 2000s were filled with gymnastics, tumbling, strength training. My rolling backpack carries along with it nostalgia of the ability to use my shoulders to do flips. But in addition to nostalgia, it brings back good memories of the days when I was actually an athlete. LOL.
  3. It allows one of the most soft-spoken students on campus to become the loudest. God’s sense of humor is evident in this situation. The sidewalk outside my dorm and the bridge to the rest of campus give me more volume than I ever could muster while performing flute or piano. My rolling backpack is now a megaphone that shouts “GOOOOOOOD MORNING, BEESON WOODS!” I’m probably someone’s alarm to wake up for class.
  4. It allows me to relate to the hipsters. The great thing about going to school that embraces hipster culture is that I’ve actually gotten compliments on my backpack–something I was not expecting at all. I’ve even had people tell me that they wished they had one. Guess I’m just a trendsetter. (In terms of joint pain, I’m also way ahead of the curve for people my age.)
  5. It helps me understand that I overanalyze the possibility of criticism. Before I got to the point of needing a rolling backpack, I imagined people I pass on the way to class pointing and laughing at it. In reality, no one cares. I thought that everyone would make a huge deal about it. Literally no one cares. I’ve realized that people don’t care as much about the things I do as I thought, which is a huge relief for overthinkers like me. Since no one is pointing and laughing at my use of a rolling backpack (at least within my line of vision), I can rest in the fact that my pain, along with its implications, is not my identity.
  6. It keeps me focused on why I’m in college. When people walking ahead of me turn back to see what could possibly be so loud behind them, I remind myself, “I’m here for my education. I’m not here for people to like me.” Not that they don’t like me. But my overanalyzing brain thinks that when people are curious about the noise my backpack causes, they are looking back in judgment. Most likely not true. Like I said, no one cares (in the best sense). Even still, the reminder of why I continue to push through the daily pain serves as great motivation.
  7. It takes the weight of the world off my shoulders. You’d be surprised how heavy a 3-pound backpack feels when your muscles are already overworked, trying to pick up the slack of loose tendons and ligaments. Since I’ve started using the rolling backpack, my life is 25% easier. (To me, that’s a lot.) I can now begin class without major fatigue, which only gets worse as my class goes on. The significant relief I’ve experienced as a result of my rolling backpack makes me think of the light load that Jesus calls us to bear:

    “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30

Ultimately, my rolling backpack is a reminder that I don’t have to carry everything myself. It’s God’s way of telling me, “I’ve got this. Relax.”

Paradoxical Lessons

As I was deciding on a concise description of this past semester, I tried to think of my most frequently used word. My roommate would tell you that my most frequently used phrase is “Wait, what?” (That’s also a fairly good summary of my semester.) But a word I don’t remember using until this semester is “bizarre.” Many circumstances of this semester were pretty bizarre and unprecedented in my life. When I searched for synonyms of “ironic,” which is another descriptive word for some situations this semester, I found the word “paradoxical.” Dictionary.com gives two definitions of paradoxical:

  1. having the nature of a paradox; self-contradictory.
  2. Medicine/Medical. not being the normal or usual kind
I would definitely say that circumstances of this semester weren’t “the normal or usual kind.” Even my takeaways from this semester are paradoxical, seemingly contradictory. But since God typically doesn’t use “normal” situations to reveal His extraordinary truths, I’m going to share my takeaways anyways.

How to Embrace My Inner SJ

I’d never taken the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator personality assessment before this semester. Being surrounded by huge Myers-Briggs fans helped me become proficient in (or at least somewhat knowledgeable about) the personality types. I am an ISFJ and, thus, an SJ temperament. This means that I’m very detail-oriented and like things to go according to set plans. I very much prefer my Sensing nature over my Intuitive nature, especially in stressful situations. My proudest SJ moment of the semester was the weekend following the first week of class. On that Saturday morning, I woke up with a burning, 9 out of 10 pain in my right foot with every step I took. This pain really came out of nowhere–the only other times I had felt a 9 or above had been following invasive procedures. The SJ in me got to work immediately, determining that I would continue with as many commitments as possible, until I could see a doctor for a steroid injection. Since this occurred over the weekend, I knew that the earliest I could see my doctor would be the following Tuesday. I made plans to save my skips (which definitely came in handy at the end of the semester), since I would likely need to miss classes following the injection. Everything actually went according to this plan, when I found out that I had an inflamed nerve. I had saved my skips for just the right time; being able to rest after the injection allowed it to actually work. I’m glad that I planned to push through the high intensity of pain to get a lasting result afterwards.

How to Become Less SJ

On the other hand, detailed planning can only get you so far. I began this school year with a concentration in flute. With increased difficulty of supporting my flute with my weakest (yet dominant) hand, I decided to switch my concentration to piano for the spring semester. While there were other reasons for this change, I was convinced to make the switch at the thought of making my life easier. Plot twist: Being a piano major is not easy. The good news about switching my principal instrument is that I’m 99% sure that I don’t have tendinitis in my hand anymore. The bad news came with the unexpected subluxation (partial dislocation) of my dominant hand. Didn’t see that one coming. This increased laxity in my hand joints made the rest of the semester not impossible but incredibly difficult. My muscles began to go into overdrive, since my joints were less dependable. Preparing for a technique jury (scales and arpeggios–which I hadn’t played the entire time I was a flute major) led to muscular fatigue and dramatic collapses onto the floor of practice rooms. However, I survived and will be continuing as a piano concentration.

As my Myers-Briggs temperament will suggest, I’m not very Intuitive, and I’m not much of a Perceiver. I tend to get wrapped up in what’s directly in front of me and become paralyzed when things don’t go according to plan. Especially on the day of the subluxation, I became mad at God for this new symptom, for this new interruption to my plans for success. Dietrich Bonhoeffer states in his book Life Together that “we must be ready to allow ourselves to be interrupted by God…we do not assume that our schedule is our own to manage, but allow it to be arranged by God.” It takes an Intuitive mindset to see how our good God interrupts us for our own good, and this definitely isn’t my first instinct. But after some time, I realized that, no matter how hard I try, I can’t hold myself together: I completely fall apart without Him, in whom “all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17).

How to Live Without Comfort

This semester promoted the obliteration of my comfort zones, musically, physically, and spiritually. Musically, this semester held many “firsts,” especially as a piano major. The most musically uncomfortable situation in which I found myself was an assignment of improvisation. “Just play something” stressed out the diehard SJ in me. But I survived the many “firsts” of piano and composition studies, as I learned to embrace the awkward.

I also had to emBRACE my physical pain, as I learned to persevere through more discomfort than ever before. In addition the new symptoms I mentioned above, all of my previous symptoms (except tendinitis) remain and have maintained the role of thorns in the flesh. This semester was different in that I didn’t have any planned appointments during the semester. Especially in the fall of this past year, I was able to look forward to the hope of new diagnoses or treatment options while still persevering through school. I didn’t have THAT hope this semester because I am still waiting on new appointments in the coming days and weeks. I had to learn to live without the comfort of situational hope and, instead, to rest in eternal hope.

In my journaling Bible, I have written next to James 5:16 (“Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed…”), “If you have it all together, why do you need Jesus?” Over the past year, I’ve been attempting to be more vulnerable about my struggles because His “power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). In the context of biblical community, I have learned to experience the beauty of brokenness, despite the discomfort it may bring.

How to be Comforted

Through the experience of vulnerability, God has provided more comfort than I could have imagined. I’ve learned that people are searching for God’s truth about the hardships of life, but most are not willing to voice their concerns. Through the discomfort of speaking up (because I’m unapologetically an introvert), I have found comfort in finding others who struggle in similar ways. Voice cracks can be the most melodious sound to the ears of those hurting and can inspire others to use their broken voices.

Fear of the future has been a running theme in my life for a while now, and I’m just now realizing how prevalent it is in my life. But 1 John 4:18 says, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” I have to admit that I used to worry about circumstantially being punished for my sins. But this fear is irrelevant with the presence of God’s perfect love. My biggest relief of this semester was the realization that God is not out to get me. The pain I experience is evidence that the enemy is out to get me, but by taking a step back and looking at the big picture, I can now see all the ways that God is working on my behalf. His goodness is evident in every situation He placed me in this semester. While I might not have immediately responded to these situations as He would have me respond, His faithful grace remained and will continue to sustain me.