Embracing Unembraceable Physical Challenges

Embracing physical challenges is one of the aspects or steps of managing expectations, which is one of the keys to learning how to thrive in body, mind and spirit after the age of 50. But what if the physical challenges one faces are so chronic and so severe that it’s nearly impossible to embrace them at all, much less with a positive mindset?

Such is the case with my colleague and very close friend Tina Fox. Tina suffers from Common Variable Immunodeficiency (CVID) — also known as Acquired Hypogammaglobulinemia (say that one five times in rapid succession) —  a group of approximately 150 primary immunodeficiencies which supposedly have a common set of symptoms. I don’t know about you, but any disease that has both “common” and “variable” in its name sounds like trouble to me. That may be the understatement of the century.

CVID is believed to be a family of genetically determined primary immune defects that are produced by variable underlying causes. The result of these defects is that the patient (victim would be a more accurate term if you were to ask me) doesn’t produce sufficient antibodies in response to exposure to pathogens. As a result, the patient’s immune system fails to protect against common bacterial and viral infections. In other words, the patient is susceptible to illness. Another understatement.

The list of symptoms and side effects of CVID is scary long. Just one of a bulleted list of 19 symptoms found on Wikipedia says, “Recurring infections involving the ears, eyes, sinuses, nose, bronchi, lungs, skin, GI tract, joints, bones, CNS, parotid glands, etc.” Et cetera? Really? The list of infections is quite long enough without the et cetera, thank you very much! And note the word recurring. I can’t even begin to imagine what it’s like to deal with this sickness every day of your life.

Tina has Crohn’s disease; she has asthma; she has nerve damage on one side of her face and nerve damage in one elbow that goes down her forearm and into her hand; she has almost constant joint pain; the discs in all of her vertebra are degenerating; she is starting to lose peripheral vision in one eye. She’s had to have surgery on her left shoulder and faces surgery on her right shoulder next month. And she is suffering other symptoms and side effects which I won’t mention here. All because of a genetic disorder she was probably born with, but which didn’t manifest itself in detectable ways until she was an adult.

Tina has to give herself an infusion with three needles and syringes and a mechanical pump once a week that takes two or three hours to administer and which gives her flu-like symptoms for two or three days after. But the manifestations of the side-effects of the infusion vary from week to week. Tina may feel okay one day and horrible the next. She never knows from one day to the next how she’s going to feel or how much energy she’s going to have. She’s a living illustration of the proverb that says, “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth.” (Proverbs 27:1)

Oh, did I mention the last of the 19 bulleted signs and symptoms of CVID? It’s this: “Anxiety and depression, usually as a result of dealing with the other symptoms.” Not surprising considering the other 18 symptoms, all of which are recurring if and when treatment for them stops. How does Tina, or anyone else suffering from CVID at the age of 50+, manage to conquer anxiety and depression and maintain a mindset of “fine after 50?” It’s hard — very hard some days.

One thing that helps is focusing on the conditions and circumstances of others, not on her own problems. Tina is a pastor of a small community of believers, and as such, she is responsible for serving and ministering to others on a daily basis. One family in her congregation in particular has a bright-eyed, gregarious three-year-old boy who was recently diagnosed with a terminal illness. Tina’s mind and heart, and what little energy she has, are being directed toward that little boy and his parents, and toward all the members of her community. When the focus of your life is on other people and their problems and needs, your own problems and needs seemingly become less acute.

Tina also appropriates the comfort of the words of Jesus in Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My load is light.”

The yoke that Jesus was talking about is a yoke designed for two oxen, not a yoke for a single ox. When we take the yoke of Jesus upon ourselves, we are joining forces with Him. We no longer face the burdens of life alone. He actually does the heavy lifting; we pretty much just go along for the ride. That’s how to be fine after 50, no matter what physical challenges and burdens we may be facing today or tomorrow.

P.S. Find articles about Tina’s physical burdens and challenges here and here.

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