Most people who know me well know that I have chronic health issues. I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis when I was 25, nearly half a lifetime ago. Although my condition is relatively well controlled with medication, I live with a certain constant level of background pain, and every now and then I suffer a flare-up of my symptoms or occasionally some weird related condition or side effect to some drug. One of the most frustrating parts of having RA is that, since it is an autoimmune condition that is treated with immunosuppressive drugs, I am highly susceptible to every kind of germ or infection, and I tend to get sick more frequently, more easily, and more severely than most people. This means that I need to be very careful any time I have any kind of injury or any damage to my skin that could allow bacteria to get into my system.
My doctor once informed me that I am a “minimizer;” in other words, I tend to downplay any pain or annoying symptoms I am experiencing. In my relationship to the people in my life, this is a good thing. If I complained every day that my joints ached or that I was fatigued, the people around me would soon get tired of my constant complaining. More importantly, complaining would keep me focused on my pain instead of moving past it and focusing on other things. So I consciously try to ignore those minor irritants that are out of my control and focus on the parts of my life that I can control.
But there are some days when some medical issue knocks me down nearly beyond what I can bear. Sometimes it’s a truly severe, painful episode. Having given birth to two children, I can honestly say that RA flare-ups can be worse than labor pains. But sometimes the straw that breaks the camel’s back is something stupid and relatively minor. Like not being able to straighten out my fingers. Like ugly bunions and nodules on my feet. Like a rash all over my face.
I’m not particularly vain. I’m aware that I’m not a conventionally beautiful woman, and I’m honestly okay with that. But being in my 40s and having breakouts all over my face is still a bit of a blow to my ego. Not to mention an itchiness that makes me want to claw my own face off, just like that scene in Poltergeist. (I won’t include a clip, but if you’ve ever seen the movie, you know the scene I mean. I’ve seriously considered re-enacting it lately.) Much like the apostle Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” (2 Corinthians 12:17), the “messenger of Satan” is buffeting me. Unlike Paul, however, I am certainly not feeling “exalted above measure.” I am merely feeling buffeted, and torn down, and tired.
God, am I tired.
I am feeling much sympathy for Paul, with his occasionally prickliness and short-temperedness and irritability, because I am feeling much the same right now. My thorn may not be quite the same as Paul’s, but the result certainly is. Neither one of us is a real picnic to be around right now.
So if you run into me in real life these days and I’m not quite as pleasant as you were hoping, please forgive me. Because I’ve got this thorn, you see.