It’s National Grief Awareness Day. I’m all too familiar with the feelings of grief. Are you? If we’re truthful, each of us has had our own journey that includes personal pain. You may have met someone who looked like they had everything going for them, only to learn about their insurmountable challenges. Truthfully, I have felt like I am that poster child.
I’m Heather. I’m an author, speaker, and Bible teacher too. Whether you consider yourself not religious or deeply spiritual, I suspect heartache is our commonality. If you’ve experienced grief, you understand that it causes anxiety, sleepless nights, fear, shock, and even a lack of motivation.
What do you do when thrown into the life of a story you wouldn’t have chosen? Is it possible to find hope within your situation? I believe it is. My goal is to lend you some of the hope I have stored up and encourage you to stand with those grieving to offer hope, not platitudes.
Grief initially met me at my doorstep at the age of 11. I had suddenly lost my 37-year-old mother to a Splenic Artery Aneurysm. As if it weren’t enough to lose her, I would eventually find out the inheritance she gave me was the genetic disorder that caused her aneurysm.
It wasn’t until about seven years ago that I learned more about my condition while experiencing major medical events. Within a short period, I had a miscarriage, suffered two aneurysm flares which caused me to lose 10% of my kidney, and had a carotid artery rupture. After my carotid artery was repaired, my doctor decided to investigate my medical history further. She learned that before these episodes, I also perforated my colon, and my firstborn was premature due to a membrane rupture.
My doctor suggested I undergo genetic testing. She believed that I had Vascular Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (vEDS), and later it was confirmed that I did inherit this genetic disorder from my mother.
I honestly did not know what to do with my diagnosis. I had always considered myself a healthy individual. After all, I was a fitness instructor; this wasn’t supposed to happen to me! What would this mean practically?
Armed with questions, my husband and I met with my geneticist. “What’s the treatment plan?” we asked. Reluctantly, though compassionately, my doctor informed me that vEDS is an incurable condition and that this connective tissue disorder can suddenly rupture arteries, blood vessels, and organs.
My heart grew heavy as I learned the average lifespan for someone with vEDS is roughly 48 years. Then, I heard the words I will never forget, “Prepare your bucket list and live your life well.”
Overwhelmed to hear this news and the life changes I would have to make, my family rallied around me with their support as I began to recognize I would have to make some modifications to my lifestyle. My grandmother reminded me, “At least you can still write, Heather. You better get to it.” She knew I would need a new mission as well as a perspective shift to keep me going.
It’s taken me a long time to come to grips with my medical condition, and there have been many dark days. While this is a story I don’t like, nor would I have chosen, I am learning to manage grief and anxiety despite being told that I have an incurable condition.
Whether your grief is your own battle with health, a significant life change for you or a loved one, or a dream that hasn’t yet been realized, I recognize it’s not always easy to wake up and embrace the unknown. If you know someone who may be suffering from a chronic condition like Vascular Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, or if you are interested in receiving faith-based encouragement, I invite you to visit therescuedletters.com.
Heartache can hit when you least expect it. It can deliver memories of a painful situation or cause anxiety around a current challenge. In those moments, sometimes all you can do is sit with your grief. In acknowledging the discomfort of it all, I have found you can begin to muster the strength to better manage your situation.
I’ve often wondered, “Will this be my last day?” While, thankfully, I don’t know the answer, I can control my responses and outlook to lessen my anxiety. Here are a few tips I’ve picked up along the way that might be helpful in your journey:
Be Patient with Yourself
Remember that whatever you are going through did not happen overnight. You will likely need time to process your thoughts in this season. It is reasonable to ask for help and authentically explain, “I’m just not doing well right now.” If your body is telling you to slow down, pay attention and make room for the rest you likely need.
Trade a Victim Mentality for an Advocacy Mindset
I’ve learned it’s better to practice kindness to myself than drown in self-pity. One of the ways you can do this is to focus on building your self-care toolbox. Ask yourself, “What are the things I can do to bring me peace?” Consider writing them out. You may recognize the need to speak with a doctor, counselor, or trusted friend. You might find comfort in journaling, attending church, or praying. Maybe you need to determine what practical steps you need to take before an anxiety attack comes on or plan out a different nightly routine to get better rest. Trust yourself and remember that grief takes courage; saying no to protect your peace is also acceptable.
Big Wins Start with Small Steps
Once you have begun to arm yourself with resources, it’s easy to feel the need to push through grief quickly. The goal is to go at your own pace and not exhaust yourself. You don’t have to know every step to move forward; those small steps will lead you to higher ground. Also, guard against exhaustion that can make you feel paralyzed or hopeless.
Part of moving forward is embracing your story for what it is. While my diagnosis of vEDS is not something I would wish on anyone, it helps me adopt a “live a full life” mentality. That has been a gift to me. It’s also cultivated a heart for others who may be going through a similar situation and has provided me with many opportunities to lend support. Begin to look at your story in hindsight and recognize those people and circumstances that have helped pull you through. In time, you might find that you’ve also gleaned an unexpected perspective shift.
My mission is to help women find the courage to live by faith, even when they don’t like their story. And I would be honored to be a voice of hope alongside your precious journey.
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