by Melinda Vergiever Inman
My brain used to be sharp, my prospects thrilling. But then, when my first novel was in production in 2013, I suddenly became very sick.
The year had been difficult, with my mother-in-law’s cancer worsening and my husband traveling back and forth to help. When she passed away, we were grief stricken and heartbroken. Therefore, a couple of months later, when I became sick after passing my manuscript to my publisher, I figured I simply had burnout and scheduled a week off.
This turned into two weeks. And then a third.
I grew worse. I was bedridden. However, I looked entirely fine on the outside, so hardly anyone believed I was sick. Why they would react that way still astonishes me. Finally, I visited a doctor at the clinic. She put me on an anti-depressant, behavioral therapy for whatever was causing my “depression,” and then sent me away for six months and then for a year.
I was told that I’d get over it. However, I didn’t. I had been depressed before, and this certainly wasn’t depression. No one listened.
Pressing on with whatever I could accomplish, I completed the marketing prep and photography for promoting my novel, all while feeling worse than I’d ever felt in my entire life. It’s impossible to detect this, but these photos still remind me of feeling totally depleted and sad that it was happening in this manner, this achieving of a dream.
Because I “looked just fine,” I was often asked if I had simply decided that I didn’t want to do most of my work anymore. I got the side-eye. I felt as if I had let everyone down.
Then I visited a doctor that I had seen regularly for about eight years. Privately, she had wondered for a while what might be going on in my lungs and was already studying my immune system. When I came in, she was stunned by my appearance. Something was wrong. She drew up a requisition of tests and had me take the list back to the clinician, advising me to add any other tests that I wanted, since I knew my body best.
Finally, I felt seen, heard, and empowered.
Back I went. When I handed the clinician the requisition, her brow wrinkled. When the results came back, the guilt and shame on her face were startling as she looked up at me when she came into the examination room. She knew she had let me down.
Obtaining a diagnosis required four more years and a doctor trained at Johns Hopkins. Sadly, it still takes years to get a diagnosis. My diagnosis included several raging autoimmune diseases.
Eighty percent of all autoimmune diseases occur in women. Autoimmune disease is considered an international women’s health crisis by the World Health Organization. As a result, care has improved drastically, and diagnoses are now completed sooner. (Link: https://www.aarda.org/)
Each person has a unique experience. Most autoimmune diseases involve many pieces coming together, often induced by stress or injury. A bad fall that tore my hamstring in 2011, followed by two automobile accidents, all in one year, coupled with our heartbreaking loss, may have been what brought my illness to the forefront.
The first symptoms had begun in 1989, but no one knew it was part of a body-wide, long-term illness. Each piece was minor and manageable, certainly not related to each other, my doctors assumed. In 2013 they all came together. This is a typical autoimmune pattern.
There are over one hundred different autoimmune diseases. Each person’s body attacks itself uniquely, looking like no one else’s disease. Plus, these diseases range from Lupus to Hashimoto’s to Rheumatoid Arthritis to Celiac Disease to Multiple Sclerosis and more, more, more. This is why diagnosis is difficult.
I have four of these awful beasts.
As a sixty-year-old woman, this entire experience felt like so many other things I had gone through while growing up before Title IX. Yes, we wanted to be able to play sports in school, just like the boys. Yes, we wanted our questions to be answered in class, rather than ignored by our teachers. No, I didn’t want to abort my baby when I became pregnant at seventeen—a pro-life choice that no one wanted me to make just four years after Roe v. Wade.
My emotions and my sickness were minimized and not taken seriously, as so many things were ignored concerning young girls and women then. It felt like growing up in the sixties.
When a woman says that she is sick, she is sick. When she says that she wants to keep her baby, she wants to keep her baby. When she has a God-given gift to write or sing or speak, she wants to be taken seriously.
Thank God for sending Jesus, a man who took women seriously. He healed women of hidden diseases. He ate in their homes. Women followed him, he welcomed them, and they trusted him. Women were the first to see him risen, and he sent them out with the most important news ever heard. Women proclaimed the gospel, carried the letter to the Romans, instructed men, and provided for the early church.
If the world treated women like Jesus treats us, diagnoses and cures would come quicker. I’ve never been closer to Jesus than I am now. At first, he was the only One who believed me, who knew what was going on in my body. He led me to doctors who would care for me properly. He helped my family and friends to understand. He is my companion in suffering. His nearness in pain grows increasingly dear. He is precious in this. He never minimizes or ignores.
I don’t understand the timing or the whys. I see glimmers of answers and possibilities, but mostly I see him, Jesus himself, far more clearly through the awful and complicated mess of being chronically ill. In all of this pain, he is good.
Melinda Vergiever Inman is an award-winning author of faith-filled fiction who wrestles with human brokenness, chronic illness, and the storms of life. Find her at https://melindainman.com as well as at https://www.amazon.com/Melinda-Viergever-Inman/e/B00GFYI0RU/ref.