Hey, friend. Ever thrown yourself a pity party? "Ha! No, of course not," you might reply. Pity parties seem reserved for dramatic Hollywood movie scenes where pajama-clad protagonists are splayed out on a kitchen floor eating ice cream out of a carton with a serving spoon. Hysterical meltdowns are not a required part of the sentence structure of a pity party. Today's blog post is not an indictment against feeling sorry for yourself or any other temporary state of self-focused melancholy. Life hands us some genuinely painful situations that warrant times to draw back, reflect, and lick our wounds. Have you faced something really difficult in your life? Depending on your age, demographic factors and luck, stress can come at you in simple scenarios like an unexpected C+ on an important exam or waking up with a giant red pimple on your chin the night before formal photos. Perhaps you've been told that someone you love has cancer, or you’re facing a difficult medical diagnosis yourself. A bona-fide pity party may be in order when we walk through the intense break up of a long-term relationship, the loss of a beloved pet, or the shock of a car accident, leaving you or other passengers seriously injured.
The list of things in life that wound and change us is long. Self-pity can look like carrying a chip on your shoulder, justifying unnecessary shopping because you deserve a reward or because you’re sad. It can show up by tearing other people down to make ourselves feel "higher" or better. Self-pity can show up as jealousy, depression, or even pride. As a regular participant in small-scale "why me?" events, if we’re not careful, these vulnerable times can turn into a mindset, a way of looking at the world where life seems to be targeting us with unfairness. Countless hours can pass while we endlessly ask "why is this happening to me?"
When I was in my 20's, an older and wiser female coworker warned me that asking "why" questions outside of a research project can get us into a lot of trouble. She challenged me not to ask "why is this happening to me?" but rather "WHAT am I going to do about it?" "HOW am I going to use my circumstances to become stronger or to help others?"
While I would prefer to skip providing a brief summary of what led me to write this, in the interest of honesty and transparency, I'm going to share in 231 words why I've been living in and out of a twenty-five year pity party. After years of ulcers and IBS in college, diagnosed with a benign pituitary tumor, I developed permanent cardiac arrhythmia during my first pregnancy. After my second pregnancy, which ended in the second trimester due to poor prenatal prognosis, my sacroiliac joints became unstable causing chronic pain and an inability to run. Bilateral osteoarthritis took a hold of both shoulders, and degenerative arthritis began to deform the disks of my neck and back. Fibromyalgia was postulated but later blamed on thyroid disease which led to thyroid cancer. That same year the doctors added a diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis. Compared to complications from thyroid surgery (25 metal staples in my neck, speech therapy for swallowing issues, and permanent nerve pain), managing chronic GI disease with a limited diet, asthma, hyperparathyroidism and kidney stones felt like a walk in the park! The next chapter ushered in daily chronic migraines with aura and severe light sensitivity causing me to give up reading for pleasure and leading to early medical retirement. Multiple orthopedic surgeries and two decades of physical therapy provided temporary improvement to wide-spread joint instability, and my outlook remained generally positive. A second cancer scare, resulting in a hysterectomy and continued surveillance at the cancer center, proved emotionally devastating on the heels of a hospital-acquired antibiotic resistant C. difficile infection that caused intestinal damage, thirty pounds of weight loss and difficulty leaving the house. Most days I felt like a two decade walking genetic nightmare!
You might imagine that when I hear people complain about their tax refund being too small or their struggles with a painful ingrown toenail, I find myself suppressing the urge to throat chop them on the spot. But I genuinely love people, and I care deeply, so I press in and continue to listen to the understandable whining, which thankfully restrains me from physically assaulting the next person who complains about the weather. A sense of humor is not just a gift but is a powerful coping skill. All kidding aside, have I ever wanted my life to end (different than wanting to end my life)? Yes. Have I been depressed? Yes. Have I cried myself to sleep? Yes. Do I deserve to have a pity party sometimes? Yes. Do you deserve to have a pity party sometimes? Yes. Yes. Yes.
Chronic illness, chronic stress and devastating life circumstances change us. But not all of these changes are bad. Change can look a lot like growth, which includes the powerful tools of wisdom and life experience. We hear it said that "everyone has their cross to bear," and as crazy as this may sound, on any given day, someone’s ingrown toenail is no less insignificant than someone else’s cancer. This may sound harsh, but suffering and pain can be relative to the person walking through it.
People often ask me, how do you keep laughing? How do you maintain joy and the desire to help others in need? How do you stay positive in light of your circumstances? If you're reading this article, I know you didn't ask, but I'm still going to tell you. There is absolutely no way I would be writing this were it not for my faith. My relationship with Jesus Christ started out small and wobbly, but BECAUSE of the struggles, my faith is now miles wide and valleys deep, unwavering and unshakable. I give the glory to God that I am still here walking and talking and breathing in spite of a thesis-worthy list of medical diagnoses. Every time I throw a pity party, which often looks like a trip to Home Goods, Jesus comes along with me. When I can't get out of bed quickly in the morning due to pain, both physical and emotional, Jesus shows up and sits with me. He laughs with me and binge eats with me and cries with me in the night. He understands what it’s like to be human and to hurt. Jesus suffered in unfathomable ways because of His great love for us. His compassion knows no limits. When you've reached your limit and your tears feel endless, He’s not going to tell you to "get over it." If you ask Him for help, He'll show up every time to be present with you. He won't judge how much ice cream you eat or if your pajamas are a pair of old painting shorts and a bleach stained tee-shirt, He just loves you.
As someone who has stopped fighting the reality of mini meltdowns as a regular part of my week, I’m here to give you permission to go ahead and have a pity party. But I challenge you, that when you’re done blowing your nose and eating three extra slices of pizza, you do have to make a decision to go back to your regularly scheduled life. Regularly scheduled doesn't have to be ordinary. Ask Jesus to be a part of your next steps. It’s what you do AFTER the pity party that matters.