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Tag: Chronic Illness

Short Stories: A Man and His Wife

polly gerencser 2013
Polly Gerencser, 35th Wedding Anniversary, 2013

Repost from July 2013, edited and corrected

It is a warm summer day in Manistee, Michigan. A man and his wife of thirty-five years get out of their black Ford Fusion to view Lake Michigan. They love the water, and if their life’s journey had taken them on another path, perhaps they would live in a cottage on the shore of one of the Great Lakes or in a small fishing village on the Atlantic coast.

But as fate would have it, Ohio has been their home for most of their marriage. No matter where they moved, be it Texas, Michigan, or Arizona, they always came back, like the proverbial bad penny, to Ohio.

For the past six years they have lived in rural northwest Ohio, in a small community with one stoplight, two bars, two churches, a grain elevator, gas station and 345 people. They live in a town where nothing happens, and the safety and stillness that “nothing” affords is fine by them.

They have made their peace with Ohio. After all, it is where their children and grandchildren live. This is home, and it is here that they will die some moment beyond their next breath.

But from time to time, the desire to dip their feet in a vast expanse of water, to hear the waves crashing on a shore and to walk barefooted on the beach calls out to them, and off they go.

They can no longer travel great distances; four to six hours away is the limit.  The man’s body is used up and broken, most days he needs a cane and some days a wheelchair to get from point to point. Long trips in the car extract a painful price from his body, a toll that is paid weeks after they have returned home.

But today, the water calls, and on a warm July day they travel to South Haven, Michigan and then up the eastern shore of Lake Michigan to Manistee. Their travels will later take them to Sault Ste Marie before they return home to Ohio.

Few people are at the Manistee beach, so unlike South Haven, where the beaches and streets are filled with pushy, bustling, impatient tourists. The man and his wife have been to South Haven many times, but as they see the scarcity of people and the quietness of Manistee they say, I think we have found a new place to stay when we vacation.

plovers manistee michigan 2013

The beach is owned by thousands of Plovers. It is an amazing sight to behold. The man and his wife are mesmerized by the birds, and the man, ever possessed of his camera, begins to take pictures.

Soon the serenity of the place is ruined by a stupid boy who sees the birds as worthy of his scorn and derision. The birds are covering the landscape of HIS beach, and he will have none of that. So he runs through the mass of birds screaming and waving his arms. This put the birds into flight, complaining loudly about the stupid boy.

The man and his wife turn their attention to the pier and lighthouse in the distance. She asks, Do you think you can make it? He replies, Sure. So off they go.

As they begin their slow, faltering stroll on the pier, they notice a sign that says, No Jumping or Swimming off the Pier. The man smiles quietly to himself as he sees four teenage boys doing what the sign prohibits.  He remembers long ago when he, too, would have looked at the sign and proceeded to do exactly what the sign prohibited. He thinks, the folly, wonder, and joy of youth.

As the man and his wife pass the boys in the water, one of them calls out and says, How are you today, sir? The man thought, Sir? Am I really that old?  He knows the answer to the question before he asks. For a few moments the man talks with the boys, then haltingly continues to walk down the pier with his wife.

Not far from the boys, the man, and his wife come upon a pair of ducks: a male, his female, and their brood of ten young ducklings. New life. The man wonders: How many of the ducklings will survive their youth? He knows the answer and this troubles him a bit. A reminder, that, for all its beauty, life is harsh, filled with pain, suffering, and death.

The man and his wife turn back to where the boys are swimming. The man thinks, as he looks at the shallow water with its rock-filled bottom, this is a dangerous place to be diving into the water.

But the boys are oblivious to the danger. The man’s mind races back to the days of his youth, remembering a time when he too lived without fear, enjoying the freedom of living in the moment.

One of the boys climbs back up on the pier and prepares to jump into the water. The man, a hundred feet or so from the boy, points his camera toward him. The man quickly adjusts the shutter speed, focuses the lens, and begins to shoot.

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The man and his wife laugh as they watch the boy. Collectively, their minds wander back to a hot summer day in July when they joined their hands together and said, I do. Thirty-five years ago, they embraced one another and jumped off into the rock-strewn water of life, and survived.

Together they turn to walk back to the car. As they pass the boys, the man shouts, I am going to make you famous. The boys laugh and continue on with the horseplay that dominates their day.

The boys will never know that their innocence, their sign-defying plunges off a pier in Manistee, Michigan, warmed the heart of the man and his wife.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so. Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Your God is Not Here

barbara ehrenreich god quote

Several years ago, I watched the movie Dark Places. Based on Gillian Flynn’s novel with the same name, Dark Places tells the story of a girl who survived the murder of her mother and sisters. After the killings, the murderer scrawled a message in blood on the bedroom wall. The message said: YOUR GOD IS NOT HERE

Your God is not here . . . five little words, yet they succinctly summarize one of the reasons many people walk away from Evangelical Christianity. Evangelicals believe that God hears and answers prayers, and is intimately involved with the day-to-day machinations of life. This God is all-knowing, all-seeing, and all-powerful. For Evangelicals, they “see” God everywhere, even going so far as to say that God lives inside of them. He walks with me, and he talks with me, and he tells me I am his own, Evangelicals sing, rarely considering how often in their lives God is nowhere to be found.

Evangelicals are taught that God is everywhere, yet it seems — oh, so often — that the everywhere-God is AWOL. In 1 Kings 18, we find the story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal. Elijah challenged the prophets to an Old Testament cook-off.  Verses 20-24 state:

So Ahab sent unto all the children of Israel, and gathered the prophets together unto mount Carmel. And Elijah came unto all the people, and said, How long halt ye between two opinions? if the Lord be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him. And the people answered him not a word. Then said Elijah unto the people, I, even I only, remain a prophet of the Lord; but Baal’s prophets are four hundred and fifty men. Let them therefore give us two bullocks; and let them choose one bullock for themselves, and cut it in pieces, and lay it on wood, and put no fire under: and I will dress the other bullock, and lay it on wood, and put no fire under: And call ye on the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of the Lord: and the God that answereth by fire, let him be God.

The prophets of Baal went first. As expected, their God was silent and no fire fell from Heaven. Then it was Elijah’s turn, and sure enough, God heard the prophet’s prayer and sent fire to burn up the sacrifice. Not only did God burn up Elijah’s ground chuck offering, but he also totally consumed the stone altar (imagine how hot the fire must have been to melt rock). Afterward, Elijah had the prophets of Baal restrained and taken to a nearby brook so he could murder them. All told, Elijah slaughtered 450 men.

I want to focus on one specific element of this story: Elijah’s mockery of the prophets of Baal. As these prophets called out to their God, Elijah began to mock them:

And it came to pass at noon, that Elijah mocked them, and said, Cry aloud: for he is a god; either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is in a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth, and must be awaked.

The Living Bible puts it this way:

“You’ll have to shout louder than that,” he scoffed, “to catch the attention of your god! Perhaps he is talking to someone, or is out sitting on the toilet, or maybe he is away on a trip, or is asleep and needs to be wakened!”

Every time I read these words I think about the Evangelical God, a deity who is supposedly on the job 24/7. If this God is so intimately involved with his creation, why does it seem that he is nowhere to be found? This God is supposedly the Great Physician, yet Christians and atheists alike suffer and die. Where, oh where, is the God who heals? This God supposedly controls the weather, yet tornadoes, hurricanes, tsunamis, floods, avalanches, and mudslides maim and kill countless people, leaving those who survive without homes, food, and potable water. This God supposedly causes plants to grow, yet countless children will starve due to droughts and crop failures. This God is supposedly the God of Peace, yet hundreds of thousands of innocent men, women, and children are maimed and slaughtered in wars and terrorist attacks. This God is supposedly the Giver of Life, yet everywhere people look they see death — both human and animal.

Perhaps it is the Evangelical God that is — to quote the Living Bible — “talking to someone, or is out sitting on the toilet, or maybe he is away on a trip, or is asleep and needs to be wakened!” Taking a big-picture view of life leads many of us to conclude that either the Evangelical God is a heartless, indifferent son of a bitch or he doesn’t exist. For atheists such as myself, our honest, rational observations make one thing clear: there is no God. Perhaps — throwing a bone to deists and universalists — there is a hand-off God, but is he worthy of worship? This God created the universe, yet he chooses, in the midst of our suffering, to do nothing. What good is such a God as this? Warm “feelings” will not suffice when there is so much pain, suffering, and death.

Imagine how different the world would be if the Evangelical God fed the hungry, gave water to thirsty, healed the sick, brought an end to violence and war, and made sure everyone had a roof over their head, clothes on their back, shoes in their feet, and an iPhone (the Devil uses Android) in their pockets. Imagine if this God tore the pages of the book of Revelation from the Bible and said, my perfect, eternal kingdom is now!

Christians have been promising for centuries that someday their God will make all things new. Evangelicals warn sinners that the second coming of Christ is nigh, after which God will make a new Heaven and a new Earth. In Revelation 21:3-5 we find these words:

I heard a loud shout from the throne saying, “Look, the home of God is now among men, and he will live with them and they will be his people; yes, God himself will be among them. He will wipe away all tears from their eyes, and there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying, nor pain. All of that has gone forever.” And the one sitting on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new!”

Yet, despite the promises of better days ahead, the world remains just as it always has been, an admixture of love, joy, kindness, hatred, heartache, and loss. I ask, where is God? 

I think the murderer was right when he scrawled on the bedroom wall, YOUR GOD IS NOT HERE. Surely, the cold reality and honesty of atheism is preferred to begging and pleading with a God who never answers. I spend each and every day of my life battling chronic pain and illness.  Gastroparesis, fibromyalgia, and osteoarthritis dominate every waking moment.  My health problems started fifteen years before I walked away from Christianity. Countless prayers were uttered on my behalf. I pleaded with God, Help me, Lord. Heal my broken body. Take away my pain. God uttered not a word, nor did he lift a finger to help. As a pastor, I prayed for numerous dying Christians. I asked the churches I pastored to pray for the sick and the dying. Yet, despite our earnest petitions, all those we prayed for died.

The absence of God from the human narrative of life is but one of the reasons I no longer believe in the existence of God. I think Jimmy Stewart summed up my view best with his prayer on the movie Shenandoah:

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There is no God that is coming to deliver us from pain, suffering, and loss. We are on our own, so it is up to us to ease the suffering of humans and animals alike. Knowing that death always wins shouldn’t keep us from attempting to alleviate the misfortunes of others. We shouldn’t need promises of homes in Heaven to motivate us to help others.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so. Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Bruce, You Must be Feeling Better

pain looks good on other people

Yesterday, long-time reader and friend, Charles, complimented me on some of my recent writing, saying:

The several articles you put up today are very timely—-news wise—–and they are some of your best work.

I always appreciate such comments. I have never been a good judge of the quality of my work, so kind, thoughtful comments are always appreciated.

What I want to address in this short post is what else Charles said. Let me be clear, I am NOT taking Charles to task for saying this. I love and appreciate Charles, but there’s a teachable moment here that I think readers might find helpful.

Before complimenting me, Charles said:

You must be feeling better Bruce.

As countless readers, friends, and family members do, Charles sees a connection between “good” writing and how I feel physically. If my writing is perceived as “good,” then I must be feeling better. However, as my editor and my wife can tell you, some of my best work was written on days when I was quite sick, even suicidal.

I no longer have good days. I have no prospect of feeling better. The health problems I struggle with aren’t going away, and, quite frankly, they aren’t, on most days, very well managed. Writing, then, becomes a distraction of sorts, a way to take my mind off my pain and suffering. As I sit here typing this post, my body pulses with pain — and that’s after taking this or that medication. What writing does is direct my mind away from the spectacle of my life. Writing can be, for me anyway, a pain reliever of sorts. Think of it this way: your foot is throbbing with pain. You pick up a hammer and hit your hand. Problem solved. Your foot doesn’t seem so painful. This is exactly what writing does for me; a distraction that, for the time I am clicking away on my IBM keyboard, mentally reduces my pain.

Two weeks ago, I had a procedure done to temporarily lessen or stop the pain I have from gastroparesis. Unfortunately, it did not work. What treatments are left for me? Just do a Google search on “treatments for gastroparesis.” Doing so left me in despair. I have concluded that I must find a way to live with this, or not. Today, I chose to eat lunch, knowing that it would leave me feeling like I had been slugged in the abdomen. I don’t plan to give readers a running commentary on my difficulties. I just don’t have the wherewithal to do so anymore. Know that when you don’t see me post for a few days, it is for one reason alone: I can’t. And when I do post, it’s not because I “feel better,” but I do feel well enough to drag my sorry ass from the couch to the office, turn on Spotify, and write a few words that I hope readers will find helpful.

I know readers such as Charles genuinely want what’s best for me. They want me to feel better or find relief from my pain. I make no judgment on the well-meaning words of others. It beats being told by an Evangelical critic that he hopes I die and burn in Hell for eternity.

There are no more “feeling better” days ahead for me. I have resigned myself to that fact. Unless a revolutionary cure or miraculous healing comes my way, I know what lies ahead for me. And that’s okay. Not really, but hell, what am I going to do about it? Pray? Seek out a faith healer?

When you see another post by me, I hope you will say, “awesome, Bruce, is among the living!” And when the day comes when I can no longer write, please know, I will be forever grateful for your love and support.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so. Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Trials and Adversity: It Doesn’t Always Happen to Someone Else

why me

As an Evangelical Christian, I believed that if I sincerely prayed, God would take care of me, and he would make sure calamity didn’t show up at my doorstep. In those rare instances when it seemed that God wasn’t answering my prayer and I was facing disaster, I thought he was either testing me or chastising me for disobedience.

I was relatively healthy until the early 1990s. I played basketball in the winter and softball in the summer. In the fall, I cut wood, spending hours sawing felled trees into wood stove-sized pieces. I hunted in the fall/winter, walking for miles in the Appalachian foothills. I was, by every measure, a healthy but increasingly overweight man.

Today, I am a disabled old man, worn thin by chronic illness and debilitating pain. Since last August, I have had surgery, been to the emergency room twice, including last night, battled complications from the aforementioned surgery, had numerous tests, and have had way too many medications added to my daily pill-popping regimen. To say that I am tired of being sick and tired would be a gross understatement. I am back to seeing my counselor regularly, if for no other reason than I fear I am getting perilously close to saying, I don’t want to do this anymore.

I am still amazed by how quickly the circumstances of my life have changed. It seems that life is being sucked out of me ever so slowly. Gone are the days of strenuous physical activity. Now I am happy to take a short walk with Polly or tour our yard, looking at the flowers, bushes, and trees. Our home is littered with projects in various stages of completion. I will get to these projects soon, I tell myself. The pile of unread magazines on the end table continues to grow, even though I subscribe to few magazines these days. The same could be said for the unread books that line the shelves in the dining room. A week ago, I developed inflammation in the left side of my ribs and sternum. It is painful for me to even type. I have had this pain in the past, but coupled with abnormally high blood pressure readings (226/110) and a pounding headache, I thought I might be having a heart attack or stroke, thus my trip to the ER last night. Fortunately, after three hours of tests, the doctor concluded that yes, my blood pressure was high, but it was unlikely that I was having a heart attack or stroke.

Five years ago, I went over to my oldest son’s home to wire their new bedroom and bathroom. My coming over to help quickly turned into me taking extra doses of narcotic pain medication and sitting on a chair while I told others what to do. I was able to get the circuits where they needed to go, and I suppose I could make myself feel good over my son still needing my expertise, but I quietly wept inside as I thought about how much I had lost. Today? Attempts to do something physically strenuous are met with the screaming objections of my body. I sometimes push through the pain, knowing that I will pay a heavy price for ignoring my body’s vociferous objections. I shouldn’t do these things anymore, but the only thing worse than not doing them is feeling that my expertise and help are no longer needed. We all want to feel needed by those we love.

One of the most significant issues that dominate my every-other-week counseling sessions with Dr. Deal is my unwillingness to embrace life as it is. Just last week, we talked about the difficulty I was having taking baths and showers. Polly has to be nearby just in case I fall. Dr. Deal strongly suggested I purchase a shower seat and a tub support rail. I thought I am not going to do that.  Sixteen years ago, I managed the Yuma office of Allegro Medical — a direct medical equipment company. We made deliveries of equipment to the homes of older people or nursing homes. I am not that old, right? Reason eventually prevailed. I ordered a seat and a rail from Amazon.

Even my family doctor has talked to me about the fine line between giving up and being smart about embracing reality. The notion of putting mind over matter is patently false, at least for me. There will be no more days of playing basketball or softball. There will be no more days of feeling the sweat run down my face and back as I cut wood on a crisp fall day. There will be no more days of trudging through the woods playing a game of hide-and-seek with a cottontail rabbit or a fox squirrel. No matter how much I want it to be different, I will never be able to read like I once did. While the voracious appetite for the printed page is still there, the ability to process it is long gone.  This is my life, and there is not one damn thing I can do about it.

As a Christian, I believed that my physical afflictions were the result of God making me more like Jesus. I thought the way to Heaven was paved with pain and suffering. I can confidently say that God never answered one prayer when I cried out to him for physical relief or deliverance. I came to see that I was like the Apostle Paul who prayed for deliverance and God told him no. (2 Corinthians 12:6-9) God seems to always say no.

These days, I realize that the diseases that are ever-so-slowly taking life from me are the result of a combination of genetics, environment, and lifestyle choices, with a topping of “who the hell knows.” When I whine and complain about my lot in life and say “why me?” the universe laughs and says, “why not you?”

Bad things don’t always happen to other people. It is not always another family’s child who gets cancer or is killed in a car accident. It is not always someone else who has a brain tumor, goes through a divorce, or loses a job. It’s not always someone else who gets infected with COVID-19. It is not always someone else who loses everything in a fire, tornado, hurricane, or flood. The truth is that life is a big crapshoot: good luck, bad luck, at the right place, at the wrong place, good genetics, bad genetics, growing up on the right side of the tracks, growing up on the wrong side of the tracks, marrying the right person, marrying the wrong person. The list is endless.

As I peruse humankind’s ways, it is clear to me that very few people live to be old without facing trial and adversity. It is just how life is. If there really is a God, I might find some pleasure and satisfaction in saying DAMN you, God, but since there is no God, I am left to shout at a universe that yawns at my death-defying struggle. If the universe could speak, it surely would say, this movie always ends the same way. Death. Next.

It is futile to see life other than as it is. Wishing for days that are long since gone only results in depression and despair. We must embrace life as it is while we go kicking and screaming into the night. We have two choices in life: fight or roll over and die. Yes, life is unfair and bad things happen to good people. Shit happens, and it doesn’t always happen to someone else.

Let me end this post with a poem by Dylan Thomas, an early 20th-century poet who died at the age of 39:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieve it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so. Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Living with Fibromyalgia

fibromyalgia 2

I thought I would share with my readers a bit about living with fibromyalgia. In 1995, I started feeling fatigued and had a lot of muscle aches and pains — not from overwork or any of the daily physical activities I engaged in. I just felt tired all the time, and my body ached from head to toe. After months of feeling this away, I sought help from doctors; a two-year exercise in frustration and futility. One doctor suggested that it was all in my head; that I was still grieving for my mother who died in 1991. I blew up at this “esteemed” physician, shouting at him in no uncertain terms, IT’S NOT IN MY HEAD!

I was a thirty-five-year-old pastor who, up until that time, could physically do whatever he wanted to do; from playing sports to cutting wood to car repairs to construction work. Why was I fatigued? Why did I hurt all the time? Those are the questions I wanted answered.

In 1997, I saw a new doctor in Montpelier, Ohio. For the first time, I had a physician who actually listened to me. Twenty-five years later, this man is still my primary care doctor, and most all, my friend. Doc wasn’t a miracle worker. He found my symptoms troubling, yet tests came back normal. Of course, the reason for this is that fibromyalgia is a diagnosis of exclusion. Other diseases such as multiple sclerosis and polymyalgia must be ruled out before a doctor can determine whether a patient has fibromyalgia.

For several years, I sponsored and moderated a Christian email discussion list called CHARIS (the Greek word for grace). One of the list participants was a sickly man who was an invalid. After mentioning my health problems to list members, this man contacted me and suggested that I talk to my doctor about fibromyalgia. This “providential” conversation resulted in my doctor diagnosing me with fibromyalgia. Nothing changed for me, per se. Just because you have a diagnosis doesn’t mean that all of a sudden you are on the path to healing. What the diagnosis did say to me is that my pain was not in my head; that what I was dealing with was real.

There’s no cure for fibromyalgia. Symptoms vary widely, and most fibromyalgia sufferers are women. Twenty or so years ago, I drove to the Williams County Fairgrounds to attend a fibromyalgia support group. I felt, at the time, very alone. Few people seemed to understand what I was going through. Even my family was perplexed. What happened to Bruce, to Dad?

I arrived at the support group meeting thirty minutes early. Typical Bruce Gerencser behavior — always early. My children (and Polly) have oh-so-fond memories about my lectures on being on time; that you should always be early. As I sat in the fairground parking lot, I watched as people filed into the meeting. I quickly noticed that there were NO men, I mean none. Every group member was a woman. I thought, “these women will never understand what I am going through.” So, I decided to not attend the meeting and drove home. Years later, I started blogging, and my readers became my support group. I learned that woman with fibromyalgia did, in fact, have a lot to offer me, namely understanding.

No two fibromyalgia sufferers have the same symptoms. On a scale of 1-10, I am on the 10 side of the spectrum. Fibromyalgia has affected every aspect of my life, bit by bit robbing me of the man I once was. People in my life have a hard time accepting that fibromyalgia is an incurable disease; that all that can be done is to manage the symptoms. And yes, I have read the books that suggest otherwise. Just don’t . . . whatever book title you are going to suggest or website you think will really help me, trust me, I know about it. Twenty-five years of dealing with fibromyalgia have helped make me an expert on the disease. I have read numerous books, websites, and studies about fibromyalgia. I have had to deal with well-meaning fools who email me or send me stuff in the mail they believe will cure me. Even when I beg people NOT to do this, they do it anyway. “Just take this or that supplement, Bruce, and your fibromyalgia will go away!” “Have you tried __________?” The ill-informed judgment is that I have not, when, in fact, my primary care doctor and I have tried numerous medications, supplements, off-label drugs, treatments, etc. When I came into the office and said, “Doc, I read about this new fibromyalgia treatment, what do you think?” he always said, “let’s give it a try.” His goal today remains what it was twenty-five years ago: reduce my pain and improve the quality of my life.

Over the years, I developed other health problems, namely osteoarthritis that rages through my body like a wildfire, and peripheral neuropathy that causes numbness and pain in my legs and feet. The unholy trinity of fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, and neuropathy have so afflicted me that I hurt from the crown of my head to the bottom of my feet. There are no pain-free days, just manageable pain days, and raging pain days that make me ponder killing myself (no this is not a cry for help). Throw in a degenerative lower back problem, a tear in my shoulder labrum, and bum knees thanks to abusing them playing basketball for twenty years, and I can safely say that I am a walking, talking train wreck of a man. I wish things were different for me, but all the wishing in the world won’t cure me. So, I accept and embrace what I call my “new normal.” And my “new normal” continues to change over time. I know Doc sees it. There are those times I have heard a brief sigh from Doc as I share a new problem. Not a sigh of exasperation or impatience, but one that says he knows that I am struggling for my life. I have told him numerous times, “I don’t expect you to fix what can’t be fixed.” “All I ask is that you do what you can for me.” And he has done just that over the past two and a half decades.

My treatment has settled into a rhythm of sorts: pain medications, potent muscle relaxers, sleep medications, light aerobic exercises and walking when I am able, and hot — and I mean hot — baths. The goal is decent sleep and the reduction of my pain to a tolerable level. Some days, it’s mission accomplished. Other days, not so much. And then there are those days when the meds don’t seem to work and muscle and joint pain batter me from head to toe for hours on end. The latter leave me in tears, wishing something, anything would make it stop. In these moments, I feel very alone, even though the love of my life is right next to me.

I am sixty-three-years-old. Thanks to the issues mentioned in this post and other health problems I won’t mention lest I sound like Granny Sue at church cataloging her afflictions, what I can do in life is limited. For years, my well-intentioned mother-in-law would ask Polly if I was “feeling better,” as if I had a temporary sickness that would soon disappear. She finally understands that I don’t have days when I “feel better.” Mom used to be a big proponent of “putting mind over matter.” That is until she had her own health problems; diseases that can’t be magically wished or prayed away.

Most days, I walk with a cane, but when we take trips or I am really fatigued, I have to use a wheelchair. I still refuse to use the motorized carts at the grocery. Irrational pride, to be sure, but I would rather slowly go through the store bent over the handle of a cart than ride around the store as an advertisement for infirmity. You see, people with fibromyalgia (and osteoarthritis) often look “normal.” I can’t tell you the times I’ve gotten glares when we pull into a handicapped parking space. I get out of the car and look “normal” so people think I am taking a parking space away from someone who could really use it.

I still struggle with self-worth as a result of fibromyalgia. In my mind, I am supposed to be the breadwinner instead of my wife. I am the one who is supposed to be taking care of everything. Having OCPD doesn’t help either. Fibromyalgia is a cruel oppressor. In my mind, I tell myself, “Bruce, you can do everything and anything you want to do!” Remember the line from the Waterboy? “You can do it!” And then I hear fibromyalgia and his sister osteoarthritis laughing and mocking me. “Sure, Bruce, go ahead and try.” And try I do, often working myself into bed for days on end from relentless pain and overwhelming fatigue. Fibromyalgia snickers and says, “See, Bruce, I told you! I am the boss in this story.”

One of the hardest things I have had to come to terms with is my physical and emotional limitations. When you spend most of your life as a workaholic, a man driven to perfection, it’s hard to admit that you are no longer in control of your storyline. I certainly haven’t mastered dealing with the realities of my life. I can, all too often, overwork, and this frustrates those who love me. I have never been good at finding balance in my life. I am more of an all-in kind of person, charging hell with a squirt gun, only to find out there’s no water in the gun. I want to think I have gotten better, but I suspect what’s really changed is that Polly is now willing to put her foot down and tell me no or suggest that I take off a day or two or four and rest. I also have friends such as Carolyn, my editor, who recognize my character flaws and try to keep me from self-destructive behavior. Carolyn can recount many times that I texted to tell her that I was going to go do this or that. She wisely encourages me to take it easy; to live for another day. And sometimes Carolyn sends see several smile emojis with a message that says, “you are going to do this anyway, aren’t you?” And sure enough, I do, and the next text she gets from me is one saying I won’t be doing any writing for a few days.

I haven’t worked a W-2 job since 2005. In recent years, I have done some web design and site management work for my sister’s trade school in Arizona. This provides me a bit of income, even though I feel guilty about taking her money. This blog, after expenses, also provides me a thousand or two dollars of income. And now that I am drawing social security, I feel as if I am contributing in some small way to our material well-being. That said, I can’t help but think when I see my wife of forty-two years walk out the door to go to work that I should be the one, pick in hand, heading for the coal mine.

This is the first comprehensive post I have written about my struggles with fibromyalgia. I hope you found it helpful, and it gave you a bit of knowledge and understanding about a disease that affects millions of people.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so. Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

I Refuse to Accept This

accepting things as they are

Several years ago, I watched a sports documentary about a boxer who had brain damage from his last fight. No matter what doctors did, his condition continued to deteriorate. Finally, doctors told his wife that they had done all they could do. Both the boxer and his wife would have to accept that he was not going to get better. In fact, his health would likely get worse. The wife said, “I refuse to accept this. Surely, there is something else that can be done. A new drug, treatment, or therapy, surely there is something that can be done.”

While I understand the wife’s unwillingness to accept that her husband was never going to recover, her statement reflects a common misconception about life and the tragedies that come our way. Things don’t always get better. Sometimes, there’s nothing more that can be done. Sometimes, there’s not an answer or a cure.

I have been criticized, often behind my back, for the stoic attitude I have about my health. Since 1997, when I was first diagnosed with Fibromyalgia, I’ve seen numerous doctors, had more blood tests than I can count, and have had repeated scans, procedures, and surgeries.

My orthopedic doctor told me my osteoarthritis is like numerous wildfires burning out of control. Put one fire out and others pop up. He gathered up my x-rays and MRI scans and we looked at them. He was quite blunt, telling me that I have arthritis in EVERY joint, and that some of the damage is severe. Knees, shoulders, feet, hands, and back, all have arthritis that is causing joint damage. The why is unknown. Some days, the pain from the arthritis is severe, some days it is tolerable. Added to this is the muscle pain I have from Fibromyalgia. Every day is a pain day, with some days worse than others. I haven’t had a pain-free day in twenty-five years.

We talked about options. He was quite frank with me, saying that because the arthritis is so pervasive that I was not a good candidate for surgery. Even with my knees and shoulders, scoping them could actually make things worse, resulting in more pain. I like this doctor because he doesn’t bullshit me. His advice? Live with it. Unless I want to have total joint replacements, surgeries that have a huge risk of complications for someone like me who has a compromised immune system, I must learn to live with the pain, debility, and the ever-so-slow loss of function. All that he and other doctors can do for me is help manage the pain and try to improve my quality of life.

And I am fine with this. As I told the doctor, sucks to be me, but it is what it is. Unlike the boxer’s wife, I know there is nothing more that can be done. All the whining, complaining, praying, wishing, and hoping won’t change the fact that I have a body that is failing. All I can do is make the most of what life I have left.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so. Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Understanding and Helping Those Who Live With Chronic Pain

garfield pain

Regular readers know that I live with chronic, unrelenting pain. There’s never a day that pain is not my close, personal friend. The last time I can remember a pain-free day was somewhere in the mid-1990s (I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia in 1997). Every day, like the sun coming up in the morning, I have pain. Some days are less painful, other days are more painful, and then there are what I call the please let me die days where the pain, no matter what narcotics I take, is off the charts. From the top of my head to the bottom of my feet, I hurt. New pains come and go, often returning months or years later. Some pains move in and stay, just like an adult child who says, “I just need to live here until I get back on my feet.” This is my life. I accept it as it is, doing what I can, and embracing what I can’t.

Friends and family often have a hard time figuring out how to interact with me. Some avoid me — out of sight out of mind, I suppose. Some stand on the periphery of my life watching as chronic pain and illness destroy the man they love. Some dare to venture a little closer, perhaps even offering to help, but I often push them away, not wanting to burden them with my problems. They have a life, I tell them, no need to be burdened with a dying old man.

The last two years have been record-setting, and not in a good way either. Not only do I continue to struggle with fibromyalgia and osteoarthritis, but after I had my gall bladder removed in August, I am dealing with bile reflux and gastritis (bile is pooling in my stomach, not draining down my intestine as it should). I have lost 105 pounds in twelve months, don’t feel like eating, and now I am having a problem with super lower blood pressure (and this is after stopping ALL of my blood pressure medications). And then there are my low blood cell counts that no doctor, so far, has been able to figure out.

I know family and friends love me and want to be “there” for me, wherever “there” is. Some of the readers of this blog — dear folks who have over the years become my friends — offer up their love and support and I deeply appreciate their kindness and compassion. I know, as people watch the spectacle of my life, they are frustrated and discouraged, knowing that this may not have a good outcome. I resigned myself to this fact a long time ago. If not today, it will be some other day, sooner rather than later, that will be my last. Like you, I want to live until I die. While I may have moments when I contemplate suicide, most days I try to live the best life possible.

Several years ago, I read a wikihow.com article titled How to Understand Someone With Chronic Pain. I thought the points in the article might be helpful for my family and friends and for others who are intimately connected to someone with chronic pain. Here are some of the points and a highlight quote from each. I encourage you to read the entire article.

Remember that being sick does not mean that the sufferer is no longer a human being.

Chronic pain sufferers spend the majority of their day in considerable pain. If one visits or lives with a chronic pain sufferer, the chronic pain sufferer may be unable to enjoy things they used to enjoy. The chronic pain sufferer remains aware, and desires to do what they used to perform. The chronic pain sufferer feels as if they are stuck inside a body in which they have little or no control. They still want to enjoy work, family, friends and leisure activities, however much pain puts that enjoyment out of reach.

Learn the code.

Chronic pain sufferers will often talk differently from people free of constant pain. A numeric pain scale is used as a quantitative measure for identification of intensity for pain so the health care providers can measure effects of treatments. The measure describes pain on a scale from 1 to 10; the 1 is “no pain at all, feel wonderful” and 10 is the “worst pain ever felt.” Do not assume the chronic pain sufferer is not experiencing pain when they say that they are fine. The chronic pain sufferer attempts to hide the pain due to lack of understanding in others.

 Recognize the difference between “happiness” and “healthy.”

When you have the flu, you probably have felt miserable. Chronic pain sufferers have experienced pain from 6 months to many years. Pain has caused them to adopt coping mechanisms that are not necessarily reflecting the real level of pain they feel.

 Listen.

The previous two steps made it clear that chronic pain sufferers can speak in code or make their pain seem lighter than the reality. The next best thing that you can do is to listen to them properly, and to make it clear that you both want to hear what they have to say and that you really have heard it. Use your listening skills to decode what they’re hiding or minimizing.

 Understand and respect the chronic pain sufferer’s physical limitations.

Being able to stand up for ten minutes doesn’t necessarily mean that the sufferer can stand up for twenty minutes, or an hour, or give you a repeat performance whenever. Just because the person managed to stand up for thirty minutes yesterday doesn’t imply that they will be able to do the same today…With chronic pain however, it is confusing to both the sufferer and the onlooker, and their ability to cope with movement can be like a yo-yo. The sufferer may not know, from day-to-day, how they are going to feel when they wake up, and each day has to be taken as it comes.

 Leave your “pep talk” for your kids and your gym buddies.

Realizing that chronic pain is variable, keep in mind that a pep talk can be aggravating and demoralizing for the chronic pain sufferer. As already noted, it’s quite possible (for many, it’s common) that one day they’re able to walk to the park and back, while the next day they’ll have trouble getting to the next room. Therefore, it’s vital that you don’t fall into the trap of saying: “But you did it before!” or “Oh, come on, I know you can do this!”

 Never use throwaway lines.

Assuming you know best by making such statements as “Ah well, that’s life, you’ll just have to deal with it”, or “You’ll get over it eventually. Until then, you’ll just have to do your best”, or worst of all, “Well, you look well enough,” etc., are lines that might make you feel done and dusted with the topic but they are both a form of distancing yourself from the person and making the sufferer feel worse and out of hope.

 Check your own patience.

If you’re impatient and want them to “just get on with it,” you risk laying a guilt trip on the person who is suffering from pain and undermining their determination to cope. They probably have the will to comply with your requests to go out and about with them but have neither the strength nor the coping capacity as a result of the pain.

 Be sensitive when suggesting medicines or alternative treatments.

Some may not appreciate suggestions, and it’s not because they don’t want to get well. They may have heard of it or tried it already or some may not be ready to cope with new treatment that can create an additional burden on their already over-burdened lives. Treatments that haven’t worked carry the emotional pain of failure, which in and of itself can make the person feel even lower.

 Don’t be put off if the chronic pain sufferer seems touchy.

If that’s the appearance, it’s probably because they are. It’s not how they try to be. As a matter of fact, they try very hard to be normal. Just try to understand. They have been going through a lot. Chronic pain is hard to understand unless you have had it. It wreaks havoc on the body and the mind. It is exhausting and exasperating. Almost all the time, they do their best to cope with this, and live their lives to the best of their ability. Just accept them as they are.

 Be helpful.

The chronic pain sufferer depends a great deal on people who are not sick to support them at home or visit them when they’re too sick to go out. Sometimes they need help with shopping, cooking, or cleaning. Others may need help with their kids. They may need help getting to the doctor, or to the store. You can be their link to the “normality” of life.

Is there anything you would add to this list? Please leave your astute observations in the comment section.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so. Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Evangelical Pastor Rick Warren Says Only God Can Kill Us

calvin and hobbes death

Repost from 2015-2016. Edited, updated, and corrected.

Several years ago, Southern Baptist Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church, came out in opposition to California Senate Bill 128. If passed, the bill would have given terminally ill Californians the right to terminate their own lives. Warren, whose son committed suicide in 2013, thinks that none of us should have the right to determine when we die. According to the Purpose Driven pastor:

“I oppose this law as a theologian and as the father of a son who took his life after struggling with mental illness for 27 years.”

“The prospect of dying can be frightening, but we belong to God, and death and life are in God’s hands…We need to make a radical commitment to be there for those who are dying in our lives.”

According to the Death with Dignity National Center:

SB 128 would allow patients who are mentally competent and have fewer than six months to live, as determined by two physicians, to obtain prescriptions for medication to end their lives in a humane and peaceful manner, while protecting the vulnerable with strict guidelines and procedures.

Warren’s comments illustrate, once again, why there must be a strict separation between church and state. While Warren might find some vicarious purpose and meaning in suffering, many Americans do not. In Warren’s world, the Christian God is sovereign over all, including life and death. Warren tries to frame his objection as “wanting to be there for those who are dying,” but I suspect there are many Californians who have no need of Pastor Warren or any other pastor or priest “being there” for them during the last days of their life.

While the government certainly has an interest in protecting those who are vulnerable, mentally ill, or unable to make a rational decision, I see no compelling reason for government to forbid the terminally ill from ending their lives through drugs provided by their physician. Warren is free to suffer until the bitter end. He is certainly free to let cancer eat away at his organs or allow ALS to turn him into a vegetable. If that’s what his God demands of him, far be it from me to deny him the right. However, millions of Californians do not worship Warren’s God, nor do they have such a “Biblical” view of suffering, death, and pain.

right to die

Chronic illness and pain are my “dark passengers,” to quote Dexter, the serial killer. I fully expect that I will continue, health-wise, to decline. I see no cure on the horizon, and I highly doubt God is going to send Benny Hinn to fake heal me. There could come a day when I no longer desire to live in what Christians call this “house of clay.” I am sound of mind — okay, mostly sound of mind. Since God is not my co-pilot and I have no desire to be a poster child for suffering, shouldn’t I be allowed to determine, on my own terms, how and when I end my life?

Perhaps I will never reach the place where the reasons for living are no longer enough to keep me alive. There are days when my pain is unbearable and I ponder what death will be like. THE END. Lights out. I have the means of death at my disposal. I take medications that would surely do the trick, but maybe not. Perhaps they wouldn’t quite send me and Toto to the other side. Then Polly would be left with a brain-dead vegetable of a husband. Wouldn’t it better for a doctor to prescribe drugs that are sure to do the trick? If we can execute murderers (against their will), surely we can help the terminally ill die when they want to call it a night. Wouldn’t this be the compassionate thing to do?

Many people are opposed to assisted suicide for religious or philosophical reasons. By all means, suffer to your heart’s content, but you have no right to demand that others play by the rules of your religion or philosophy. I hope the California legislature will not allow Evangelicals and Catholics to pressure them into not giving the terminally ill a death with dignity option. The dying should have the right to determine when and where the show ends. (Please read Dying with Dignity.)

This post was originally written in 2015. The California legislature and then-governor Jerry Brown, after legal challenges by religious zealots, successfully enacted and put into effect the California End of Life Option Act. God loses again.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so. Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.