Latter-day Jane

A happy diversion of life, love and sisterly advice for Jane Austen fans everywhere. [There is no charm equal to tenderness of heart. -Jane Austen]


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Instead of casting stones, pave pathways of hope

casting stones, paving pathways final

I’ve been giving some thought to the peaks and valleys that make up this landscape called life.

At times, the mountains we are tasked with climbing seem impossibly high, while the valleys into which we descend seem far from the sun’s light. We traverse raging rapids, as well as enjoy the occasional respite of a gentle stream; we feel the burn of blistering heat, and the cooling waves of a much-needed breeze. This landscape translates into joy, sorrow, pleasure, pain, and a myriad of other experiences and emotions.

There are obstacles. Some, we experience for a few passing moments, while others, we battle or endure for the better part of a lifetime. Some, we choose. Others are chosen for us, by environment, by circumstance, maybe even by our genes.

We each have a deeply personal experience while we are here on this earth. No two lives are exactly alike. We each fight battles that at times, are very difficult to understand.

But here’s something we can understand:

Casting stones is a choice. Further, casting stones can be cast aside. 

It’s understandable that we want to explain the difficulties of life. As humans, we have an innate need to explain what’s going on around us. ‘What’s the root cause?’ we want to know. Why is someone dealing with disease, disability, illness, cancer, depression, divorce, abuse, violence, or some other trial?

In some cases, answers are readily available. Other times, there are no answers – or at least, no satisfactory answers. Regardless of the answers or lack of them, regardless of how the obstacle came about, we have a choice in how we respond to those who are suffering. We have a choice in how we educate, teach, and spread awareness about these things that trouble us.

Whether we lift and encourage, or diminish and discourage – it’s a choice.

This doesn’t mean that we can’t share our deeply personal journeys of pain and heartache. It doesn’t mean that we have to turn a blind eye to injustice, burying painful experiences deep within ourselves, for fear of inadvertently casting a stone. It also doesn’t mean that we have to agree with everything and everyone.

It does mean that we should be less judgmental of the heartache and suffering of others.

Vincent van Gogh, The Parable of the Good Samaritan

Vincent van Gogh, The Parable of the Good Samaritan

It means when we see others suffering, robbed, stripped, and dying along the proverbial highway of life, rather than haughtily distancing ourselves while wondering how they brought about such misfortune, we choose to follow the example of the Good Samaritan.

We show compassion.

We bind wounds.

We give shelter.

We treat them as we would want to be treated. 

Instead of casting stones, we can choose to pave pathways of hope.

Our struggles here on this earth are part of the reason we’re here. They bring about learning and growth. They give us the chance to lift each other, share our experiences, and ultimately, to choose whom we will serve and how we will live our lives.

Our loving Heavenly Father has far more compassion for our broken spirits and bodies than we can fully comprehend. Only He truly knows our minds and our hearts.

 

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Robin Williams is more than ‘one battle lost’

Robin Williams

Robin Williams was a warrior. A brave warrior on a field of battle. He was one of many–soldiers, standing shoulder to shoulder, stretching out towards the horizon–and yet, he was so very alone.

Yes, he was also a husband, father, and friend. A beloved actor and comedian. An innovator. A visionary. An unassuming funnyman whose dyed-in-the-wool dedication to his craft made us laugh, made us cry, and made us think.

Yes, the characters he played helped us experience life through the eyes of modern day pioneers: teachers, mentors, doctors, fathers–real people–trying to make a difference as they worked to shape the world while navigating life’s complexities.

And yes, all of these things aside, he was a warrior. Ultimately, this war-weary soldier put his weapons down on the field of battle, raised a tattered white flag as far as his arms could lift it in the heat of a scorching sun, and surrendered to a crushing battle with depression, in an apparent suicide.

When a precious life ends in this way, there are so many questions, with an infinite combination of possible answers. In that endless loop of hypotheses we form, we sometimes allow ourselves to come to overly simplistic conclusions. We focus on one battle lost, ignoring the preceding years, months, days, even hours, where so very many battles were valiantly won.

Williams’s life was not perfect. No person’s life is. He struggled mightily with his demons. So do we all, at one time or another. As millions of others do, I desperately wish he had continued his fight. I wish his journey had ended differently, peacefully, in some faraway future. It didn’t.

Even so, Robin Williams is more than one battle lost. This final fall on the field does not mean his life has been somehow stripped of dignity. It is not suddenly void of eloquent meaning. The medals he earned are not tarnished and unrecognizable. His life mattered. His life still matters. He gave it his all.

O Captain! My Captain! rise up and hear the bells;

Rise up—for you the flag is flung—for you the bugle trills;

For you bouquets and ribbon’d wreaths—for you the shores a-crowding;

For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;

                                                  -Walt Whitman, 1865

Depression, suicide, and mental illness as a whole, is something we fail to fully understand. Sometimes, it is something we choose to fail to understand, which is a far more serious thing. We understand breast cancer. We understand diabetes. We understand heart disease and high blood pressure. We pin on our awareness ribbons, as we don appropriately colored attire for support walks, taking part in an honorable wave of community awareness.

But depression? Depression is another thing altogether. It is sometimes dismissed as a weakness, or a flaw in character, rather than the illness it truly is. And rather than colorful ribbons and community events, we sometimes draw into ourselves, hoping an ounce of compassion shown from an arm’s length away will somehow be enough.

It is not enough.

We can do more. We can take away the stigma. We can stretch forth our hands. We can offer a shoulder. We can seek to better understand.

I think Jeffrey R. Holland expressed it well when he said, “While God is at work…the rest of us can help by being merciful, nonjudgmental, and kind.

“Whatever your struggle…do not vote against the preciousness of life by ending it! Trust in God. Hold on in His love. Know that one day the dawn will break brightly and all shadows of mortality will flee. Though we may feel we are “like a broken vessel,” as the Psalmist says, we must remember, that vessel is in the hands of the divine potter.”

For those still on the field of battle: shoulder to shoulder, the march goes on. In other words, Carpe Diem. Live. Live one minute, one hour, one day at a time. But live!

 


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I pooped my pants: the story continues

i pooped my pants: the day Merida was born

The day she was born, I would not touch her. I found it hard to even look at her. She was rather small, bright pink, a little scrunched, and angry-looking. I didn’t feel a connection – didn’t feel she was mine. I didn’t want her.

I was so wrapped up in my own pain, I begged the nurses to tend her. I just couldn’t do it. And although I did not rejoice in her, I instinctively knew that she deserved a name. So a name I gave her.

Merida.

I had seen the animated film Brave before her birth, and felt I could relate to this courageous heroine with the unruly red hair. The Princess of DunBroch stood as a reminder of strength, hope, and stalwart resolve in the face of adversity. Those were the attributes I needed – Merida needed – to move forward.

Disney/Pixar's Princess Merida

Disney/Pixar’s Princess Merida

Merida was my stoma – a section of my small intestine that had been brought out through a hole made in the right side of my abdomen, and sutured all around. There was nothing in my stomach when she first started doing her job, other than the occasional sip of water. Still, she spat droplets of yellowish clear liquid into the protective plastic bag that was stuck with adhesive putty to the skin all around her. I’m here, she wanted me to know.

I’m here, and I’m doing exactly what you need me to do.

There would be no more pooping. Rather, my waste wouldn’t come from my rectum anymore. It would come through Merida. Everything I ate would be vetted and funneled right through her, a pencil-width opening in my side.

stoma body

I hadn’t planned to have my entire large intestine removed so soon, or at all, if I could help it. I was a fighter. I had fought for three years already, and I was determined that something out there could turn this around. On any given day, they could find a cure for the debilitating Ulcerative Colitis from which I suffered.

But my options were thinning. I had tried less-invasive medications, taken both orally and by enema. I had been prescribed immunosuppressive drugs – basically an attempt to put a muzzle on my rogue soldier of an immune system. I had tried month after month of Prednisone, which turned me into a jittery beach ball of a woman who suffered from hot flashes. I had shared treatment wings with cancer patients, and as they were given their chemo, I was given infusions of a biologic drug called Remicade. I had tried Humira. I had altered my diet – several times. Obstinately, I had even tried not eating our drinking at all, which quickly got me into a dehydrated mess. Still, I didn’t want to give up.

But when one of my doctors suggested I meet with a colorectal surgeon to prepare myself for the possibility of a worst-case-scenario, I knew it was the responsible thing to do. And although I was wary as I entered the surgeon’s office a couple of weeks later, something she said reached me.

“How’s your quality of life?” she asked.

I thought about the hours spent in the bathroom, the fear of leaving home on particularly bad days, the excruciating 16 trips to the toilet each day, where, despite the diarrhea, the searing pain made me feel as though I was digesting and processing a large quantity of jagged shards, in preparation for giving birth to some kind of blown-glass-masterpiece through my anus. Sometimes, I would sit there and no stool would come out at all. Instead, I clenched my fists, my face a mess of pain, as blood rained in the toilet.

“Not great,” I admitted.

“How’s your pain?” she pressed.

I thought of the times when I curled up on the bathroom floor, trying to pick out patterns in the linoleum as though searching the skies for shapes in the clouds. I thought of the times I sat on the toilet crying, begging my body for a reprieve so I could save up strength for the next episode. I thought of hot water baths and my daily use of a heating pad, draped over my abdomen.

“On a scale of ten?” I offered. “I’m not even sure. It’s painful. Sometimes, it’s very painful. I get through it, though. I’m here.”

My explanation was weak. The surgeon gave me a look that said she had heard this speech before.

“We really have to watch out for our IBD patients,” she said, “because you acclimate yourselves to high levels of pain, and you convince yourself each new increment is your new normall. If I picked a random, healthy person and gave that person your symptoms and your pain, they wouldn’t be sitting here talking with me right now. They would be lying in bed, unable to move. More than likely, they would be in the hospital. It’s doubtful they’d be able to function much at all.”

I thought about that. Never had my pain been put in perspective in such a real way. And by the end of that appointment, I knew.

My time had come. Merida’s time was soon approaching.

{This story will continue…}

Looking for the first in the “i pooped my pants” series? Here it is. 


 Like Downton Abbey? Jane Austen? Then you’ll love Longbourn. I’m giving away an autographed copy. Enter here.

Longbourn contest promo


This is the second in a series about my struggle with autoimmune disease.

Worldwide, an estimated five million people live with Inflammatory Bowel Disease. In the United States, approximately four people out of every thousand suffer from Ulcerative Colitis or Crohn’s. Millions more suffer from other autoimmune diseases. Whether you realize it or not, you likely know someone fighting in the trenches.

For more information about IBD, visit:

The Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America

The Mayo Clinic

 


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I pooped my pants in Hobby Lobby

hobby lobby final

I wish I could think of a classier way to say this, but I’m not sure such a way exists.

I pooped my pants in Hobby Lobby.

Yes, actually pooped. In my pants. Inside Hobby Lobby.

And because once wasn’t enough, I repeated the offense the very same day.

As I drove to the store, the gears in my guts seemed to be happily at rest. No rusty clanking. No threats of throwing a sprocket. But something about getting out of the car and standing up caused a monumental shift in my gastrointestinal tract. The moment I walked through the doors of Hobby Lobby, I knew I was in trouble. I frantically scanned the aisles ahead, the walls — anything — for a restroom sign. I had made it only a few steps past the front registers when it happened.

I pooped.

Rather, a molten eruption of excrement-infused lava came flowing out of my diseased large intestine. Thankfully, it wasn’t enough to spill outside the legs of my underwear. (When you go to the bathroom 16 times a day, bowel movements are sometimes modest in quantity.) I took careful strides, gliding quickly towards the exit. I made it to the car, with everything contained. Then I sat down in my own waste and drove back home, with hot tears of frustration coursing down my cheeks.

After scrubbing my entire body under a hot spray of water, putting my clothes in a sudsy wash, and disinfecting the leather seats in my car, I took a few deep breaths, and started fresh. This time, I put on ladies’ protective, disposable briefs, a dignified euphemism for diaper. Despite the disposable briefs, the result was the same. I again left the store empty-handed, and drove home, defeated.

It seems funny to me now, but for a time, it wasn’t.

Maybe it’s because it’s hard talk about what comes out of our bodies. In our foodie culture, we tend to talk a lot about what goes in. We talk about the locally sourced, organic smoothies we drink and the carefully-plated dinners we consume during a night out on the town. We talk about the street vendors at farmers’ markets, the deep-fried-something-or-other at the fair — we even talk about take-out, be it bacon-topped cheeseburgers or golden-fried wontons with teriyaki-flavored fried rice. Whether the gastronomic interests lie in haute cuisine, hole-in-the-wall dives, or something in between, we take pride in what we eat. For the love of liberty, we even take photographs of our food. We show them around, text them, post them and forward them. For good or ill, this is our level of devotion.

But once the meal is finished?

Nothing. Game over.

We don’t talk about what goes on once the food disappears into the elusive black hole that leads to our intestines. Unfortunately, for people like me, that’s when the real game begins. And sometimes, it’s a dark and twisted one, not unlike J.K. Rowling’s Wizard’s Chess, a magical game in the Harry Potter series in which the players battle not for sport — but for their very lives.

This game is called Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD). It’s an umbrella that shelters two maniacal siblings: Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn’s Disease. They are considered chronic, lifelong, and incurable. There are flares, usually followed by periods of remission. It is a vicious cycle that repeats.

No, it’s not the same thing as eating bad sushi and running to the toilet for 12 hours straight. It’s not like the time you got the stomach flu and were in agony for a full weekend. It’s not even in the same class as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), which is admittedly inconvenient, but not a disease.

IBS_IBD-Venn-Diagrams

IBD is an autoimmune disease that attacks the body’s gastrointestinal tract, producing a wide range of symptoms that can include gut-wrenching pain, swelling and inflammation, painful ulcerations in the GI tract, rectal bleeding, anemia, fevers and extreme fatigue, strictures and obstructions — all in addition to an unpredictable cycle of diarrhea.

There are others in the autoimmune family: Lupus, Multiple Sclerosis, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Celiac, Graves, Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, and Type I Diabetes all come to mind. These are only a few of the estimated 80 or more cousins that have places at a king-sized banquet table, all sharing the same root menu — a struggling immune system that in confusion, attacks the body.

Although our symptoms are often different, the severity of our disease covering a wide range, there’s one thing we all have in common. We are fighters. You cannot always see our scars or the determination with which we arm ourselves. The daily battles we win are often fought on the inside. But we are fighters, still. We wake up and realize through the struggle that each day is a gift.

We live.

We love.

And we laugh, if only to prevent tears.

As I look back at that day in Hobby Lobby, I can smile at the memory. It’s not because that was the pinnacle of my experience with IBD. It wasn’t. When compared with the multiple hospitalizations and surgeries I’ve experienced in the two years since, it seems nothing more than an inconvenience. No, the reason I smile is because it is part of my life experience, and I proudly claim it.

We put some of the most beautiful things on our bucket lists, because we want to look back at the end of our lives and know that ours was a life well-lived. We dream of exotic vacations with loved ones, reading classic literature, and recreating the desserts of internationally-trained pastry chefs. We dream of writing novels, attending sold-out shows on Broadway, and working a little less so that we might enjoy a little more. These are things we consider hallmarks of interesting lives.

But sometimes, the most poignant hallmarks of humanity aren’t things we think about putting on a bucket list. They are things that can’t always be planned, which makes them all the more beautiful. They are things like helping little hands catch lightning bugs on a summer evening, sharing our innermost thoughts with a friend, or helping to lighten the load of someone experiencing grief or pain. And sometimes, just sometimes, they are things like having a messy life experience right in the middle of a busy store.

My friends, I’m proud to say that I’ve added a few of these beautiful, unplanned experiences to my life’s bucket. I’m proud to say ‘I pooped my pants in Hobby Lobby’.


 

This is the first in a series about my struggle with autoimmune disease.

Worldwide, an estimated five million people live with IBD. In the United States, approximately four people out of every thousand suffer from Colitis or Crohn’s. Millions more suffer from other autoimmune diseases. Whether you realize it or not, you likely know someone fighting in the trenches.

For more information about IBD, visit:

The Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America

The Mayo Clinic