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Irritable Life Syndrome

Irritable Life Syndrome

I saw my GI doctor yesterday for my regular visit to check up on the fiasco that is my insides. We celebrated the fact that I haven’t had an extended hospital stay in just over two years. We lamented the fact that I still have SOD and IBS and GERD—pretty much all the letters.

As he poked around on my furious innards, he asked what I’ve been up to. I told him we just finished the longest and shortest summer EVER, and I’m getting ready to start my busy travel season for work.

“Remind me how many kids do you have?”

“Five, between my husband and me.”

“FIVE? And you work full time? And you travel? My dear, you don’t just have irritable bowel syndrome. You have irritable LIFE syndrome.”

We proceeded to talk about how your brain and your digestive system are tightly connected (please refrain from any head vs. rear end jokes, thank you very much). You can lie to your brain sometimes, but you can’t lie to your gut. The gut knows. The gut sees. The gut reacts…like a boss.

As usual, he implored me to take a vacation, reduce my work hours, create something called “free time” for this thing called “more sleep.” So many magical unicorns. I only rolled my eyes twice. Maybe three times.

I left the office with a shiny new drug to placate my angry insides. It’s a pill roughly the size of a ping-pong ball, and it tastes like dryer lint and old potatoes. I have high hopes.

Irritable Life Syndrome. I don’t feel like that’s the case, but my GI bills say otherwise. How can it be that when my brain’s glass is half-empty, and my tummy’s glass is fizzing with Alka-Seltzer, my heart is full to the brim? Because God nourishes my heart with the peace that passes all understanding. The peace that keeps you from completely losing your junk when you find the bathtub full of chocolate milk. The peace that stubbornly replaces your resentment with compassion when life isn’t “fair.” Stoically bridging the gap between my southern and northern hemispheres, my heart makes peace with what should be an “irritable life” to the casual observer–one desperate prayer at a time.

Admittedly, sometimes my brain tackles my heart like a 300-pound freshman linebacker who just got put in the championship game. Sometimes there’s no stopping it, and my heart gets clobbered.

More often than not, my heart is there to gently pat my frazzled, pulsating brain and say “there, there” when it threatens to revolt. Heart can talk Brain down from the ledge 9 times out of 10. It runs interference between my pragmatic gut and my idealistic thoughts of how things should “really be.” It reminds me that my life is GOOD. On my worst day, my life is so good.

Heart gently nudges me to look when my kids are playing some imaginative, albeit horribly messy game. It softly shushes Brain when it starts to calculate how long it will take to clean up after whatever creative display of childhood has just taken place.

On the occasions when Brain sneaks an angry outburst past it, Heart marches me in to meekly apologize to my children. It reminds Brain that they will only be little for such a short time.

I don’t have Irritable Life Syndrome. I have everything I’ve ever wanted. It doesn’t always look exactly the way I thought it would, but as long as I continually ask God to keep my heart soft and full, my brain will be just fine.

Now, Gut…that guy’s always going to be a jerk, but I’d rather have Heart than all the Guts in the world anyway.

God, please make my heart soft for You and for my beautiful, crazy life.

 

What’s Your Number?

What’s Your Number?

My son said something to me recently that stopped me dead in my tracks. I laughed at some funny comment he made, and he threw his arms around me and said “You laughed! You don’t laugh very much anymore.”

Ouch.

I started to protest, but I realized that he’s right. I used to be silly and goofy and joyful with my kids. That has shifted in the last few years, little by little. The incremental change might be imperceptible, but the overall effect is apparently pretty noticeable.

I guess I know why I’ve changed, but knowing doesn’t help. After I had my gallbladder removed in 2010, I developed a condition called “Sphincter of Oddi Dysfunction.” I’ll give you a second to giggle at the name…

…okay, ready?

Basically, my digestive fluids are held hostage by this little creeper called the Sphincter of Oddi. He doesn’t let pancreatic juice and bile in and out, and the result is pain, extreme nausea, and fatigue. I’ve had two surgical procedures, 2 endoscopies, 3 colonoscopies and about 2 weeks in the hospital as a result. Imagine having the stomach flu nearly every day to varying degrees.

 

We’ve also had our share of major life events since we’ve been married. You know how you take those quizzes that tell you how stressed you should be based on which life events you’ve experienced? Divorce, marriage, moving/selling your house, death in the family, illness, job changes–it’s a daunting list. Overachievers that we are, we checked a whole bunch off in the span of a few short years.

In all sincerity, I guess I didn’t realize how much I let the weight of my circumstances affect the lightness of my life.

Since my son made that comment, I have made a concerted effort to rid myself of the thoughts and worry that are stealing my joy. It is not easy. I have literally had to tell my friends and family that certain topics are off-limits and replace triggering thoughts with prayer when they try to sneak in. The stomach stuff is a little trickier, but the longer I live with it, the easier it gets to cope with it. Definitely a work in progress.

I’m trying to be present with my family, letting myself laugh and loosen up a little.  I ask the kids every night, on a scale between 1 and 10, what my “Happy Mommy” number is for the day. I joke (in my used-car salesman voice) that “I aim for a 10!” but I want their honest assessment. Since I’ve started consciously trying to find my lost joy and laugh with them the way I used to, I’ve scored pretty high. In fact, I got a unanimous rating of 10 two nights ago. *fist pump*  It’s a silly way to keep tabs on a serious concern, but it’s working, and to my surprise, I’m not faking it. I truly feel lighter and more joyful. It feels good.

 

So what’s your number? Summers can be especially tough with the extra messes, busier schedules and lack of alone time. As you strive to be present and joyful for your family, ask God to remove the triggering thoughts and worries that steal your laughter and to replace them with joy. Praying 10’s for you!

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit, you may abound in hope. –Romans 15:13