Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Out of Darkness

You are my lamp, O LORD!
My God brightens the darkness about me.   
2 Samuel 22:29

I think it is quite appropriate this blog post is coming right after Easter since I can say that looking back this whole thing feels to me like a longer version of the Easter Vigil Mass.  How when you enter the church there is such a deep darkness, it almost seems impenetrable, and then one by one as the candles are lit by the Easter candle the darkness lifts.  I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, and can say this whole process from symptoms to diagnosis to treatment to now has felt exactly like that, like the darkness has been lifting and the brightness of the hope and possibilities seems endless.
Often in the past I have told my friends that God is my heart, because He has blessed me with such an amazing ability to love people, that is until I was diagnosed with Hashi’s, I began to ponder if He isn’t more like the thyroid instead.  To be honest, up until November of last year I didn’t really even know what the thyroid was, or much more about it other than that we have one and they test it to see if it is working every now and then.  Over the last few months I have read so much about it, and now know this is incredibly so much more than a simple diagnosis.  Hashi’s is an auto immune disease where my body’s natural immune system that normally protects me from invading germs or illnesses, starts attacking itself, and in my case specifically my thyroid.  I have to admit, maybe partially due to my overactive imagination and partially due to the timing of my diagnosis that went right along with the release of the latest Star Wars movie, I envisioned an epic battle going on complete with light sabers and storm troopers, unfortunately it wasn’t in some galaxy far far away though, it was inside of me.

So, now that I have shared what Hashimoto’s is, why don’t I tell you a little about what your thyroid actually does and how it has given me a better picture of God’s ways of working in my life.  The thyroid is a small gland in the lower neck that helps control mood, metabolism, temperature, energy, sleep, and even your heartbeat.  Among others, the symptoms for Hashimoto’s in particular are you can get depressed, gain weight, feel extremely cold all the time, have no energy to do simple tasks even, are exhausted even after you just wake up, have a brain fog where you can’t remember or comprehend simple things and it can even slow your heart beat.  I can’t say I noticed the extent of how really awful I was feeling until the medicine began to make me feel better again, it was like I was in this dark cloud that had come on gradually enough I didn’t notice it until the cloud began to lift and the brightness returned.  It felt like things that were always so much fun for me and brought me such joy and happiness just didn’t anymore, and maybe even like there was no hope they would ever again.  When I found out about the diagnosis, I remember being so happy that I wasn’t just “losing my mind” because I had become so tired and forgetful and actually right before I began treatment had a day that I felt so disoriented to almost feeling drunk, and I hadn’t had anything to drink. 

Since there was no denial possible, my test results were clear, and not outside of Divine providence, my boss is an Endocrinologist who specialized in Hashimoto’s, I understood pretty quickly that I did indeed have this disease.  Then my problem solving skills kicked in and the questions began.  So, what do we do about it?  The only answer I got was to just take a pill in the morning with a full glass of water an hour before eating for the rest of your life, and with regular blood tests we could determine if the dosage would need to be increased.  Would this medicine stop this battle inside of me?  The short answer from my doctor, no, it would only give me a synthetic version of the hormone my thyroid was not making enough of because of this attack, eventually though the antibodies (storm troopers) would succeed in destroying my thyroid.  Another problem with auto immune diseases is once you have one, there is a significantly increased chance on developing others, and this one is not nearly as bad as some of the others in my opinion.  

I really wasn’t happy with this being the only solution so I joined an online support group and found out about several people who had successfully reversed their Hashimoto’s with dietary adjustments.  I was amazed by the incredible abilities God has given our bodies to heal. These people didn't just mask symptoms but actually got their antibody levels to drop and normal thyroid function to return.  It required a lot of work on my part, I would have to go gluten, grain, dairy, soy, nut, legume and nightshade free for the next 31 days at least, and give up some things like caffeine and sugar probably forever.   Also I would have to make all of my food from scratch, not eat out, and have to learn what a whole list of things were in order to even begin to figure out how to prepare them.  It seemed overwhelming to say the least, but my faith really helped me to know this was the right answer for me.  

Going gluten free also meant no longer receiving the Eucharist in the form of the host, which as someone who attends daily Mass, is a Eucharistic minister and who brings the Eucharist to the hospital once a month was honestly one of my greatest challenges.  I tend to be a “don’t really want to stand out” kind of woman, and this meant that every Mass I was asked to serve at I would have to go to the sacristy before Mass to talk to the priest about this.  For at least 31 days I had to commit to this or walk away all together.  I chose to commit and it has taught me so much about my faith as well as made me feel better than I have in a long time, maybe even ever.

Like any illness, this gave me lots to reflect on, where was God in all of this, what did this mean for the rest of my life?  One day in particular when I was praying before Mass I began to think how much God is like my thyroid, aside from the malfunctioning of course.  I know He is there and that He is important to my life but how?  What was His functioning like in my life?

I thought about how He can help us control our mood by allowing us to see the positive sides of things and filling us with such Joy and Hope that we can’t even contain it-- or when necessary, such sorrow and contrition for the things we have done that we seek reconciliation.  How He can be in control of our spiritual metabolism and help us to hunger and thirst for His presence in our lives, something I think I have to fight the temptation not to try to quickly alleviate by filling it with something else.  How He helps us to not become too cold and indifferent to our own needs as well as the needs of those around us and how He can set us on fire with love of Him and others.  How without Him it can be nearly impossible to find the energy to do things as simple as washing the dishes-- but with His support we can somehow participate in 5 or 10 ministries in the same day and yet feel ready for more.  How He helps us to really rest, not just physically, but even when we can’t get the sleep our bodies crave-- a few moments with Him and we feel energized and renewed.  And lastly How He regulates our ability to feel His Divine Love and how much we are able to share that Love with the world.

I have completed the 31 days and have begun the reintroduction phase of my diet where over a period of 5 day increments I try reintroducing a food back from the restricted section, looking for symptoms of a bad reaction.  The order is supposed to go nightshades, nuts…….. Gluten, but I didn’t want to wait to try to receive the Eucharist until all those other things.  Seeing the host is not a complex mixture of many different things on the list, I decided to reintroduce it earlier.  I am happy to say this reintroduction went perfectly, and honestly although I would like to have some other things back, it has given me a whole new appreciation for others who can't receive the Eucharist this way at all.  I had decided that even if this was the only thing that could return, I can’t complain.  God is good.

How blessed we are to have a God Who for the most part is willing to go unnoticed but is Always present, loving us, strengthening us, and guiding us.  How thankful I am knowing that no matter what lies ahead and what might happen, just as in Star Wars, the Force is always with us, but better than an inner energy source we have an all Loving all Just and all Forgiving Trinity.  We have a God Who loved us so much He chose to lower Himself and become one of us, just so we could spend eternity with Him.  I can tell you I look forward to that day, with no more illnesses and no more special diets. How eager this makes me to take the light that I have been given and bring it to the darkness in the world, helping others then also come into His Light.

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints.  Ephesians 1:18


Christine Dufresne has been a Pauline Cooperator since 2014. Originally from New Bedford, MA, she served at a mission in Kentucky for 14 months before settling in Waltham, MA. In addition to being a foster parent, she has been working with children in various ways for the past 20 years and is currently a nanny for several families. She serves as a Eucharistic minister in her home parish of St. Mary’s in Waltham as well as visiting the patients at Boston Children's Hospital at Waltham on both the eating disorder as well as behavior management wards once a month.

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