My long-awaited appointment with my new neurologist finally arrived. I had compiled puzzle pieces from many boxes corresponding to my myriad symptoms. I was prepared to tell my story and discover what could be done to help me feel better.
My doctor asked question after question, which I tried to elaborate on and share the implications and impact I felt. Yet the doctor shut me down each time I tried to add my story. I left that appointment very frustrated, but my husband understood that the doctor was gathering data to uncover my medical narrative, not my personal narrative. After a few more appointments, this doctor miraculously sorted the pieces of six different puzzles into their respective boxes. She then referred me to other doctors who could help me with those symptoms.
Armed with my validated medical narrative, I began sharing this story with friends and family who simply asked how I was feeling. I shared diagnoses, implications, medications, and details that caused their eyes to glaze over. These dear ones were merely asking for my personal narrative and how God was working in my life.
The Bible contains God’s personal and historical story. I struggle to read the genealogies because to me they are simply long lists. (My doctor, however, could read those same facts and discover great insights.) Often speaking in images and similes, the Psalms tell personal, creative stories. Proverbs, chronological histories, and the epistles help me to step into God’s story.
Many of us have devoted a significant amount of time to understanding our medical narratives. Sadly, we don’t often take the same time and effort to ask generous questions of ourselves to discover our story through God’s eyes.
My personal narrative often begins: “I moved fourteen times before I was sixteen.” I’ve said those words hundreds of times, but in recent years, I have started to unravel the implications, not of moving, but of the trauma of not having a single adult or friend who wanted to hear my story or validate my feelings. My emotions were unwelcome, as were my too many words. I had no idea I was desperately trying to be heard, nor that my too many words only widened the chasm. I was regularly instructed that little girls were to be seen and not heard.
As a child, I had no concept that my life was atypical. Layer upon layer of trauma caused deep-rooted fears: I grew afraid of making even a simple mistake, I knew overwhelming anxiety about maintaining a confident façade, and I harbored an ever-vigilant need to feel safe. Carrying these fears caused me to hide my true feelings; eventually, I lost the ability to feel, express, or identify my emotions.
LEARNING TO EXPERIENCE AND EXPRESS EMOTIONS
Losses piled up, and the list of chronic illnesses and anxiety took their toll. When my father died, everyone offered condolences and encouragement to grieve my loss in my own way, to sit with my feelings. Yet I had no idea what it meant to experience those emotions. That little girl inside me was not allowed to express her feelings.
I have learned to equate grief with a deep paper cut. After the initial bleeding or shock, the cut oozes a bit (like the tears I might shed). Eventually, a scab forms that protects the wound, offering a measure of healing and respite from pain. The scab then uncovers soft new skin that allows final healing.
Peeling away the layers of my personal story causes pain and oozing, but it brings a measure of peace as I discover compassion for the little girl I once was. I can be curious about my past without judging my actions. This encourages me to be kinder and gentler to myself about who I am today.
Counseling provides a framework for unpacking the trauma, the hard, and the pain. As my neurologist validated my physical symptoms and developed my medical narrative, therapy validates my experiences, feelings, emotions, and losses allowing me to hold space for curiosity, compassion, kindness, and forgiveness.
My story matters, and so does your story.
SHARING OUR STORIES
Before we share our stories with others and wrestle with how vulnerable we might want to be, it makes sense to really know our stories and do the hard work (like keeping a diary of our medical issues for our medical narratives).
Discovering our personal narratives helps us write in a journal about what we are feeling, exploring our story with God, grieving our losses, and celebrating our victories. Journaling can help us look deeper, discovering our God story. His comfort and compassion for me are the very comforts I can extend to that little girl who struggled to feel loved and heard so long ago – and to others along my journey today.
FREE STORY PRINTABLES
Need a little inspiration to think about your story? Our FREE story printables offer a wide range of ideas and questions to get started. I invite you to choose one and let it guide your thoughts, prayers, and journal notes. May you see the wonder of what God has been doing in and through your life.
Creatively Express Your Story
We can feel isolated and powerless when living with chronic illness, but what if your story begins to bridge the gaps? What if your story offers a glimmer of hope to someone standing at the edge of hopelessness?
Metaphor • The Language of Pain
Chronic illness, mental illness, chronic pain, and disability can be challenging for us to explain and equally difficult for others to understand, but metaphors can help bridge that distance.
Allegory • Symbolic Storytelling
Allegory is a beautiful, artistic form of storytelling that offers us an opportunity to explore difficult, painful, or vulnerable parts of our stories from a safer distance and a fictional character’s perspective.
The Story Told Through Our Scars
Where we’ve been fractured, we can offer empathy and compassion. Where we’ve been wounded, we can speak of hope. And where we have been ground into dust, God’s light shines bright.
Executive Director and Co-Founder of Chronic Joy®
Pamela, a leader and a visionary following God's call to inspire those affected by chronic illness, mental illness, and chronic pain, believes that every precious life impacted by illness is both vital and purposed.
Pamela is a wife of more than 35 years, the mom of three married children, and a grandma of six. She is diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos, chronic migraines, and many other chronic conditions. She enjoys baking sourdough bread, hot tea, being outdoors, and reading (almost always more than one book at a time).