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Tag: Chronic Illness

God Gave Me Breast Cancer Because He Loves Me

calvin and hobbes god

Repost from 2015. Edited, updated, and corrected.

Joni Eareckson Tada was severely injured in a diving accident in 1967. For the past fifty-three years, she has been a quadriplegic. Tada’s life story was popularized in a best-selling book titled Joni: An Unforgettable Story (1976) and the movie Joni (1979).

In the Friday, June 25, 2010 edition of the Defiance Crescent-News, there was a story about Tada undergoing treatment for breast cancer (behind paywall).

As I read the article, what astounded me was Tada’s comment about God’s involvement in her breast cancer.

Tada said:

I’ve often said that our afflictions come from the hand of our all-wise and sovereign God, who loves us and wants what’s best for us. So, although cancer is something new, I am content to receive from God, what ever he deems fit for me. Yes, it’s alarming, but rest assured Ken and I are utterly convinced that God is going to use this to stretch our faith, brighten our hope and strengthen of our witness to others.

In other words, God gave Tada breast cancer because he loved her and deemed it best for her. God gave her cancer so that she and her husband would have more faith and be a stronger witness to others.

Tada’s God is best described as a know-it-all deity who afflicts humans with sickness, disease, suffering, and death because he loves them and wants to increase their faith in him. He then wants them to use the afflictions he gave them to tell others what a wonderful God he is.

Crazy, isn’t it? I doubt if Sigmund Freud could even figure this out. How is this any different from a violent sadist expecting his victims to praise him for not killing them. “Hey, I cooked them awesome dinners while they were hanging in my basement!”

The Christian interpretation of the Bible presents God as a father and the Christian as a child (a son). Good fathers love, protect, and nurture their children. They don’t beat them, abuse them, or afflict them with pain and suffering. Every right-minded human being knows what qualities make for a good father. We also know what qualities make for a bad father.

In his best-selling book, The God Delusion, Dr. Richard Dawkins described the Bible God this way:

The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.

Anyone who has read the Bible knows that this is an accurate description of God, the “father.” If God was Santa Claus, he would definitely be played by Billy Bob Thornton, of Bad Santa fame.

A father who has the power to heal and doesn’t is a bad father. A father who causes suffering, sickness, and disease when he could do otherwise is a bad father. A father who afflicts his child with breast cancer is a bad father. A father who gives his child breast cancer so she can tell everyone what a wonderful father he is, is a bad father. From my seat in the pew, this God-the-father, as presented by modern Christianity, is a bad father.

Tada’s argument for a breast cancer-giving God is one of the reasons I left Christianity. I could no longer believe in a loving God that willingly afflicts and kills his children because he has determined that it is best for them. This God demands the Christian bear whatever affliction he brings upon them, and in true narcissistic fashion, he also demands that they love him while he is afflicting them. I want nothing to do with such a capricious, vindictive, warped God.

Disease, sickness, suffering, and death are all around us. If God could do something about these things and doesn’t, what are we to make of such a God? What are we to make of a God who is seemingly involved in the intimate details of life — helping Granny find her car keys — yet when things really matter, he is absent without leave (AWOL)?

Christians sing a song that says “what a mighty God we serve.” A mighty God? In what way is the Christian God mighty? Batman and Superman were mighty gods. They used their powers for good. They were always on call, ready at a moment’s notice, to swoop in and help those in need. But the Christian God? It seems the bigger the need the harder he is to find. As I noted in another post, God seems to involve himself in trivial matters like getting a woman a $200 refund on her plane ticket, but he seemingly can’t be found when an environmentally catastrophic oil leak needs plugging or forest fires are destroying lives and property. Perhaps we need to forget about this God and turn on the Bat-signal.

I am saddened by Joni Eareckson Tada’s affliction with breast cancer. Being a quadriplegic for over fifty years is enough suffering for one lifetime. But I know just because you have one health problem in life doesn’t mean you won’t be afflicted again. As I have learned in my own life, just because I have fibromyalgia doesn’t mean I won’t get some other disease. Life isn’t fair. Life can be cruel. I’ve known Christians whose lives were devastated by one tragedy or sickness after another. I know one Christian woman whose oldest son recently committed suicide, her middle son is in prison for murder, and her youngest child died of Non-Hodgkins lymphoma at age 23. Yet, she still devotedly praises God for his manifold blessings. If God is the one dumping all this on them, it would seem proper to ask God to move on to someone else. “Please God afflict sister so-and-so. She is in perfect health.”

Christians often quote the verse that says God will never give anyone more than they can bear. In other words, no matter what you face in life, God has determined you can bear it. This verse always leaves God off the hook. God, who is sovereign over all things, determines that you can bear to have cancer, AIDS, fibromyalgia, ALS, MS, emphysema, or any other dreaded disease, so he afflicts you. You are expected to bear whatever he brings your way. If you don’t, it is your fault. Your failure to bear your burden shows that you lack faith or you have secret sins in your life.

Reality paints us a far different picture. Many Christians, if not most, do not bear their burdens as the Bible says they should. I have counseled hundreds of Christians over the years who were weighed down by the burdens allegedly given to them by God. At the time, I encouraged them to have more faith, but rarely did the faith of the afflicted rise to the weight of the burden. Most often, the burden broke their back. Sadly, many of these people continue to walk around, stooped over and crippled, all the while singing “what a mighty God we serve.”

There is a hypocritical vein in this line of thinking. The theory is this: God afflicts his children with suffering for their good because he loves them and wants to increase their faith. I would ask then, why do Christians go to the doctor and take prescription medications? It seems to me that not seeing the doctor and not taking medication would result in a greater increase in faith. Surely a sovereign, omnipotent God is bigger than high blood pressure or diabetes, and surely a sovereign, omnipotent God is bigger than any pain a Christian might have, right?

There are Christian sects that do have this kind of faith. They don’t go to doctors, and they refuse to take medication of any kind. And every few years we have the privilege of reading about them in the newspaper when they are charged with manslaughter or child abuse for failing to get proper medical care for one of their children.

For me personally, it is more palatable for there to be no God, or a deistic God that is not involved in his creation, than there is a God that afflicts people because he loves them and wants to increase their faith. Such a God is a monster of vast proportions, a deity unworthy of worship.

I recognize that sickness, suffering, and disease can be instrumental in shaping us and changing us, and making us better people. But this is far different from a loving God-the-father afflicting us so that we will love him, have more faith, and be better witnesses. Such thinking is barbaric and best relegated to the ancient past it came from.

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.

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Bruce, What Can I Do to Help?

helping bruce

Yesterday, I wrote a post titled, Depression: It’s the Little Things. In this post, I detailed my present physical and psychological struggles. I mentioned a few of the things aggravate my depression. Sgl asked:

Is there a corresponding list of little things that make you feel better? Particularly ones that we, your reading audience, can do?

What a thoughtful question. Let me see if I can give this question the answer it deserves.

As any depressive will tell you, battling depression is a lonely journey, one in which, for the most part, you are on your own. The same can be said for chronic illness and chronic pain. People want to say and do something — anything — to help their suffering family member or friend. However, people who want to help often make matters worse. It’s far better to say few words, and just let the person know you are there for them, if need be. Unfortunately, well-wishers wrongly think depressives just need positive mental reinforcement — think good thoughts, and all will be well. I know, for me personally, when I see clap-happy seals coming my way, I want to hide. I am, by nature, a pessimist and a realist. I usually accept things as they are, so I don’t need to hear “happy” words to make me feel better. That said, I don’t have a problem with observant people saying, “what can I do to help?”

It helps to understand the mental make-up of depressives and chronic illness/pain sufferers. I tend to be a self-sufficient, pull-myself-up-by-my own-bootstraps kind of person. If I want help, I will ask for it — but I will rarely, if ever ask. This puts my wife, children, and friends in a difficult spot. They typically stand on the sidelines watching me suffer. They know I NEED help, but knowing that if I wanted help, I’d ask for it, they typically say nothing. There are times when I am silently begging for their help, but too proud to ask. Yes, this is a flaw in my character, I suppose, but this is who I am. I am genuinely unsure as to how people close to me should respond to my needs. They know I likely won’t break down and ask, so there has to be a way to meet my needs while at the same time not destroying what little self-worth I have. I do know that the only thing worse than how things are for me presently, is for me to feel “helpless.” I don’t do “helpless” well, but, of late, I am learning that I can no longer be self-sufficient Bruce. Not if I want to get out of bed, that is.

I am at a place in life where I do need help — often lots of it. My “to-do list” is so long, that I am thinking that it might be better for me to just light a match to the list. While doing so would be cathartic, the things that need to be done would remain undone. From website issues to home remodeling/repairs to yard work to countless other projects, my to-do list gets longer every day. I have on more than a few occasions called my to-do list a tyrant.

Every day, I have a window of time in which to get things done. Sometimes, that window is a few hours, and on rare occasions, I might have a six- to eight-hour window. All praise be to Loki! One pervasive problem that has afflicted me for decades is that I love to work, so once I start, I don’t want to stop. Several weeks, ago, Polly left for work at 5:00 PM, just as I was sitting down to work in the office, to do some writing, pay the bills, and reorganize stuff to align with my OCPD view of the world. Nine hours later, I was still working away. Man, did I get shit done, right? When Polly came home from work, she was upset that I had spent so much time “working.” My feet looked as if I were eight months pregnant, and I hadn’t taken my pain meds. Busyness is a great pain reliever — until you stop, anyway. Polly said nothing, having seen his movie many times before. The next day, I couldn’t even get out of bed, and it took two days before I could sit in the office and work again. Did I learn my lesson? Hell no. This is just how I am, and try as I might, be it working in the office, the garage, or the yard, I tend to push myself too far. Carolyn, my friend and my editor, will remind me when I say am going to do this or that, that I need to take it easy, to pace myself. She truly has my best interest at heart. I usually tell her, “I’ll try,” complete with a few smiley emojis, and she’ll respond, “no you won’t.” You see, she knows me, as do Polly and my children. After I stopped blogging for the nth time years ago, Michael Mock — another person who knows me quite well — told me that I was just one of those people who crash and burn and then rise again from the ashes. He, of course, was right. That this blog will celebrate its sixth anniversary in December is amazing — and unexpected.

I really haven’t answered Sgl’s question, have I? I am not sure I can. I taught my children to pay attention to the needs and circumstances of others. I was never much for praying over helping people in need. Go out to the church parking lot, look at the cars, and see which one needs new tires. Don’t pray, just act on the information you have. In other words, buy the needy family a new set of tires. I proudly watched my children (and Polly) put this into practice over the years, helping countless neighbors and workmates. I believe that what goes around comes around. Pay attention to others. Need is everywhere you look.

For my family, they can see my needs. I know I have pushed them to the sidelines, too proud ask for and accept their help. I am asking them to ignore the old curmudgeon and help anyway. Ask to see the to-do list or walk through our home and make a list of things you think you can help me (us) with. I promise, I won’t say no.

For my digital friends, the faithful readers of this blog, the challenge is different. If I don’t tell you what I need, you won’t know. You have no way of peering into my home and seeing what needs I might have. Sometimes, loving, kind readers make donations or commit to monthly Patreon support. Money is always appreciated. Since March 2020 – fuck you Coronavirus — one-time donations have dropped 90% and I have lost a couple of Patreon supporters. While any financial support provided by readers is greatly appreciated, I’m content with whatever the donations are month to month. I know I am never going to become rich and famous from this blog, but donations do help pay site expenses and provide a small stream of personal monthly income. That said, I am never going to beg for money.

I still haven’t answered Sgl’s question, have I? Damn, Bruce, quit circling the runway and land the plane. Okay, okay, I hear ya.

Most of all, I would ask that you continue to read my writing and comment if you are so inclined. For those of you who have the patience and skill to interact with Evangelical commenters, I would appreciate you answering zealots when they come knocking. I can be a bit short-tempered these days with some Evangelical commenters, knowing I probably cut off discussions that others might find helpful. I am more than happy to let others handle Evangelical commenters (unless they are directly asking me a question). Some of you are already helping with this, and I hope you will continue to wield the sword of reason, skepticism, and intellectual inquiry.

I could use some help on the backside of this site: approving comments, deleting comments, fixing broken links, to name a few. Broken links are a big problem. I currently have over 800 broken links. I “intend” to fix them, but alas the more I “intend” the longer the broken link list becomes.

I still want to start podcasting, whether separate content or audio versions of my writing. Last year, I bought all the necessary equipment to record podcasts. What I need help with is the visual design and formatting. I want to put the podcasts on video sites such as YouTube and audio sites such as Spotify, Apple, etc. I plan on purchasing monthly podcasting hosting service.

If you are interested in fulfilling these technical needs, please email me via the Contact form. I am not lacking skill-wise in being able to do these things. What I have is a time problem. I want focus my time on writing. Any help on the technical, non-writing side of things allows me to devote more time to my writing.

Carolyn has volunteered to help answering some of the emails I receive. I need to make a form design change to make this happen. Carolyn continues to edit my prose, all for the princely sum of $0.00. And readers will be pleased to know, that my book project is finally in its early stages. There’s a bit of pragmatism pushing the book project. I am not well physically, and I could die before I finish my book, so it is in my best interest to “git ‘er done.”

Your email, comments, and texts are always appreciated. I am interested in your lives too, so please stay in touch with me. If you would like to exchange texts with me, please send me your cellphone number via the Contact form. Sometimes, just hearing from someone: a text, an email, a photo, a funny joke, can push my mind into a better place. Don’t underestimate the power of a stupid cat meme.

Your love, kindness, and support are greatly appreciated.

signature

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.

Are you on Social Media?

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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.

Depression: It’s the Little Things

nope

Thank you to everyone who has contacted me in recent months, asking me how I am doing, health-wise. Hopefully, this post will catch everyone up on my current status. Not a cheerful, “ain’t life grand” post, but I do try to be honest and forthright about my health.

I have suffered from depression most of my adult life, especially since being diagnosed with fibromyalgia in1997.

Over the past three decades, not only have I had to contend with fibromyalgia, I’ve had to deal with osteoarthritis and neurological problems (peripheral neuropathy) that are ever so slowly robbing me of my physical strength and ability to walk. My cane and wheelchair are never far away. Some days — most days — are cane days, other days are wheelchair days. Some days are cane and wheelchair days — days when I want to use my cane to club the thoughtless people who walk in front me, try to get in front of me, or just stand there ignoring the fact that I can’t get around them. If illness and debility have taught me anything, it is that some of my fellow humans are narcissistic, self-absorbed assholes who have no time or empathy or time for others.

Every day is a pain day for me. Some days, the pain is manageable and tolerable, and it fades into the background as I write or focus on other things. Other days, the pain is standing with both feet on my neck, threatening to turn me into a weeping, pathetic, suicidal man. Most days, are a balance between these extremes. I take my pain medications and muscle relaxers, try the best I can to function, hoping to live for another day.

Along with fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis. neurological problems, and chronic pain, I’ve had three bouts with skin cancer, my gallbladder removed several months ago, a labrum tear in my shoulder, torn menisci in both of my knees, severe lower back and hip pain, diabetes, and high blood pressure. Oh, and now, my red blood cell counts are low — very low. I have been on iron supplementation for the past month. I had bloodwork done today, and I have two doctors’ appointments tomorrow. One appointment is with the orthopedic doctor to see if the problem with my lower back — the disc space at L5 — has worsened, and then an appointment with my primary care doctor. If my red blood cell counts have not improved, I will have to have a colonoscopy and an endoscopy to check for internal bleeding. Since having surgery, I have had nausea, loss of appetite, and dull headaches. I have my eyes checked, nothing abnormal there. All told, since last Thanksgiving, I have lost 70 pounds. And not because I was trying to do so.

Healthwise, my plate is full. That said, I accept my life as it is. I am a realist. I don’t try to delude myself into thinking I am a young buck running through the forest in pursuit of a doe. I am a loving, kind, passionate man who, due to genetics, luck, environmental exposure, and personal lifestyle choices, has a body that is dying at a faster rate than others my age. I am a high mileage automobile that from a distance looks good, but closer inspection reveals a lot of wear and tear.

All of this I embrace and own. It’s my life, I have to live my life on the terms dictated to me by my body. Thinking happy thoughts, putting mind over matter, pretending things are different from what they are, provide no help for me. Even when I was a young man — a healthy, strapping, strong man who hunted, hiked, cut wood, and could bend the world to my will — I tried to see things as they are.

Having my father die at age forty-nine and my mother commit suicide at age fifty-four tend to give me a particular perspective. Visiting sick and dying church members in the hospital reminded me that life is short. My experiences with the sick and dead have certainly shaped my understanding of life, and I know the path I am on, healthwise, leads to a fiery furnace. No not Hell, silly. I am going to be cremated after I die.

My counselor has told me several times that it would be unusual for a person with the health problems I have to not be depressed. He knows I struggle with suicidal thoughts, but he also knows that these thoughts are driven by the chronic, unrelenting physical pain. Through kindness, compassion, friendship, and support, he keeps me from falling down the rabbit hole, never to be seen again (though thanks to the Coronavirus Pandemic, I have not seen him in nine months).

As many depressives will tell you, it is often little things that worsen their depression. For me, it’s not the chronic illness and unrelenting pain . . . it’s the little, unexpected things that push me towards the abyss. Things such as:

  • Falling and wrenching the shoulder that has the labrum tear
  • Constipation
  • Getting out of the house so I can take photographs, only to find out I left the SD card in the card reader
  • Emails and texts to friends who never respond
  • Health advice from people I have repeatedly asked to stop pretending they are doctors
  • People asking me, have you tried this, that, this, that, this, that, this, that, this, that, this, that . . .
  • Dropping a dish on my foot
  • Stubbing my toe in the dark on something that is not where it is supposed to be; something left on the floor by one of my grandchildren
  • Nothing in the refrigerator I want to eat
  • No Internet
  • The printers running out of ink or toner
  • Microsoft screwing my desktop computer with an update, and now I have to spend precious time “fixing” it
  • Needing a quarter for a shopping cart at Aldi and not having one
  • The batteries in the remote dying just as I get comfortable in my recliner or bed
  • Making an error in the checkbook
  • Store clerks who treat me as if I have a disease, or worse yet, treat me as if I don’t exist
  • Finding out last night’s dinner stained my favorite shirt
  • The DVR not recording a show I wanted to watch
  • No milk and I want to eat a bowl of cereal
  • People not wearing face masks
  • One of my children borrowing my tools one month, one year, five years ago, not returning them, and NOW that I need them, they are nowhere to be found
  • Looking out the back window at our wild, overgrown yard, hearing the taunts of the trees, bushes, and weeds, saying, WE WIN!

Silly stuff, I know. But, here’s what you need to understand: for those who live with chronic illness and pain, there’s a cumulative effect. Their lives are already filled to the brim with the struggles that come from their illnesses. It’s often all they can do to just get out of bed and live another day. So, when small insignificant things are thrown on top of their overload, it can and does bring them crashing down.

Try to remember this the next time you think your suffering friend is overreacting to a small matter: it’s not that one thing that is the problem; it’s the accumulation of numerous small things that have left your friend or loved one curled up on the bed wanting to die.

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.

Are you on Social Media?

Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

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.

Nerve Pain: Please, Don’t Touch Me

dont touch me

Many Fibromyalgia sufferers have days where they can’t bear to have someone touch them. The other day, Polly came into my office and started to put her hand on my shoulder. I barked, DON’T! Polly knows when I say this that I am having a “please don’t touch me” day.

Most days, the nerves in my skin are quite sensitive. This sensitivity is part of the problem I have with chronic pain. I hurt everywhere, from head to toe. It has been over a decade since I have had a day where I could say, I feel pretty good today. Fibromyalgia primarily affects the muscles. I also have osteoarthritis, along with chronic low back pain. Fibromyalgia+osteoarthritis+back pain+nerve pain=unrelenting chronic pain. Fibromyalgia+osteoarthritis+back pain+nerve pain+narcotic pain medication+muscle relaxers=less unrelenting chronic pain.

garfield pain

As anyone who lives with chronic pain can tell you, pain medications do not make the pain go away. They lessen the pain spikes and provide a break in the pain cycle. When normally healthy people take narcotics to alleviate pain, they often feel a buzz from the drug. Some people become quite loopy. That’s not how it is for people who are on a long-term pain management regimen (as I have been for over fifteen years). Unless the chronic pain sufferer takes narcotics like Dr. House — by the handfuls — it is unlikely that they will feel a buzz or become loopy. They will feel a lessening of the pain, a break in the pain cycle, but otherwise, they will be as normal as normal is for them.

On “please, don’t touch me” days, the pain medications don’t work like they normally do. I am unsure as to the physical reason for this, but I know that I can double my pain medication on a “don’t touch me” day and it has little effect. I just have to tough it out, knowing that the next day will be maybe, I hope so, likely better.

This past Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, I worked in the office, took care of some remodeling projects, cleaned house, and trimmed trees and bushes. I worked far longer and harder than I should have, but since I am unwilling or unable to stop doing so, I must live with the consequences. And, boy, oh boy, do the consequences roll in like a freight train! Today, and probably several more days thereafter, I will have to contened with pervasive, unrelenting nerve pain. I am definitely in a “don’t touch me” phase of life.

Why I am telling you this? Perhaps you know someone who lives with chronic pain. If so, perhaps this post will give you a little insight into what they might be going through. Perhaps you have seen them grimace when someone touches or bumps into them. They might be having a “please, don’t touch me” day. If they are anything like me, they will endure the pain for the sake of not appearing crabby or difficult. Chronic pain sufferers want to be seen as “normal”, and often they will silently endure the pain unintentionally inflicted on them by others.

People who know me well will generally ask how I am doing before hugging me or shaking my hand. (COVID-19 has lessened such close encounters.) Some friends and family members know how to read my face. As much as I try to hide the pain, it reveals itself in my face and eyes. I normally have sparkling blue eyes, but when I am in a lot of pain, depressed, or physically having a difficult day, my eyes will turn gray. I don’t know WHY my eye color changes, I just know it does.

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.

Are you on Social Media?

Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

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.

Fireworks and Medical Marijuana in Ohio

seniors smoke pot
Cartoon by David Granlund

Ohio has some strange laws when it comes to fireworks and medical marijuana. Ohio’s neighbor to the north, Michigan, is much more friendly towards fireworks and marijuana than the Buckeye state. Can’t beat Ohio State in football to save their lives, but Michiganders love smoking dope and shooting off fireworks.

Ohioans are not permitted to use fireworks, even though this law is routinely ignored or rarely enforced. We can buy fireworks in Ohio, we just can’t use them. The Ohio border with Michigan is littered with fireworks stores. Ohioans frequent these stores, buying large quantities of fireworks for their Fourth of July celebrations. Purchasers have to state that they will transport the fireworks out of state within forty-eight hours (Ohio Revised Code 3743.65). Wink, wink, sure. 🙂

The Dayton Daily News reports that Ohio might be entering the nineteenth century when it comes to fireworks:

Ohioans would be allowed to discharge consumer grade fireworks — firecrackers, Roman candles, bottle rockets and more — anytime, any day on their own property, according to legislation approved Thursday by the Ohio House.

The House voted 77-17 in favor of the measure, which now moves to the Senate for consideration. A similar bill is also pending in the Senate.

Lawmakers have long sought to clean up Ohio’s convoluted consumer fireworks law. Currently, Ohioans may purchase consumer grade fireworks but they aren’t allowed to possess or use them in Ohio. There is a long-standing moratorium on the number of fireworks licensed manufacturers and dealers.

The bill would eliminate the prohibition on possession and ignition of consumer grade fireworks and earmark a portion of taxes collected on sales for firefighter training programs.

Despite illogical existing law, safety advocates say lifting restrictions is the wrong way to go. The Ohio Fireworks Safety Coalition says there is no safe way to use fireworks and often it’s innocent bystanders, including children, who suffer injuries from amateur pyrotechnics.

….

House Bill 253 and Senate Bill 72, both pending in the Ohio Legislature, would lift the ban on consumers discharging such consumer fireworks. The bills would legalize “backyard” fireworks on private property year-round unless local governments pass restrictions.

Based on what Ohioans hear in their neighborhoods during the 4th of July, plenty of people are violating the current law. That could be a first degree misdemeanor with a $1,000 fine and up to six months in jail, but it rarely is enforced.

In 2016, medical marijuana was legalized in Ohio, albeit with numerous onerous, costly restrictions. (Please see Is Medical Marijuana Legal in Ohio?) Four years later, the program is largely seen as a failure, primarily due to the exorbitant prices charged for marijuana. Here in rural northwest Ohio, there are no medical marijuana dispensaries. Many local communities have enacted laws prohibiting dispensaries, and I don’t know of one local doctor who is willing to prescribe the drug. I had ONE conversation with my primary care doctor about the matter, and I learned quickly not to broach the subject again. I could get a doctor outside of this area to prescribe me medical marijuana, but I fear a random drug test by my primary care doctor — mandated by his practice — would throw my pain management into disarray. As it stands now, I have to jump through hoops just to get the Schedule Two drugs I am currently taking. I dare not risk having those drugs stopped, all because a drug test found marijuana in my system. Yes, this sucks. Welcome to the land of God, Guns, and Republicans. (Yes, religion, not science drives the anti-marijuana sentiments of many local physicians.)

I recently read a news story that reported that Ohio medical marijuana users were driving to Michigan to fill their prescriptions. Michigan marijuana is 50-90 percent cheaper than that which is sold at Ohio dispensaries. Even if I could get a medical marijuana prescription, I couldn’t afford it, and my health insurance does not cover marijuana.

I have thought about driving to Michigan to buy marijuana, but it remains a federal and state crime to transport it from Michigan back to Ohio. Some Ohioans have learned this the hard way. Nearby Fulton County sits on the border of Michigan and Ohio. The sheriff in Fulton County has been arresting people who bring marijuana across the state line, charging them with possession. That’s right. People with chronic illnesses and chronic pain are being arrested for trying to affordably alleviate their suffering.

The Columbus Dispatch reported two weeks ago:

Officials in Ohio’s medical marijuana industry have repeatedly said prices will fall once the state’s industry matures, and state figures tracking consumer costs support that notion.

But that state up north has a big jump on Ohio, having legalized medical marijuana more than a decade ago. In 2018, Michigan legalized recreational pot for residents over 21. (Sales began in December 2019.)

“Lots of people are crossing the border because Michigan is a mature market of 10 years,” said Jim Rice, a cardholder who lives near Cleveland and owns KAYA.IO, a cannabis transport company.

Bringing marijuana, even legal marijuana, across state lines is illegal. Ohioans can purchase the drug at a Michigan dispensary but are required to consume it before crossing back into their home state.

The two states are working on an agreement to let Ohio marijuana cardholders buy medicinal cannabis in Michigan and bring it back to their home state, but nothing is final.

Ohio provided a letter to medical marijuana cardholders that let them bring products from Michigan for 60 days after Ohio established a patient registry in December 2018 (the first dispensary opened a month later).

However, there was confusion among patients as to how long those letters lasted, said Tim Johnson, co-founder of the Ohio Cannabis Chamber of Commerce advocacy group.

It’s unclear how many Ohioans actually go to Michigan to buy marijuana, but in the spring a Michigan State University research group estimated that roughly 9% of the state’s legal cannabis is sold to out-of-state buyers, particularly those from Indiana and Ohio.

Ohio medical pot users risk arrest by shopping across the state line, and some card holders have said police in Fulton County, on the state line, were targeting them after they shopped in Michigan dispensaries and brought marijuana back into Ohio.

When questioned about high prices, Ohio’s medical marijuana industry officials point to a litany of regulations they must follow to comply with state law, and note that costs have fallen.

One unit of a marijuana product in Ohio was roughly $131 in the second week of July, down from nearly $800 per unit in June of 2019. The costs of specific products were not available.

A direct comparison between Ohio and Michigan prices is difficult because Michigan doesn’t track sales in the same way and prices for individual products vary, but patients say it’s clear.

“Things that cost $20 dollars here cost $5 there,” Rice said.

I love living in Ohio, but I wish Republican legislators — Republicans control virtually every major state political office — would put the interests of suffering Ohioans first. But, the overwhelming majority of these legislators worship Jesus, and if Jesus can suffer on the cross, what’s a little suffering for people with cancer, chronic pain, fibromyalgia, arthritis, and other illnesses? Just pray your pain away, right?

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.

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Please Do Not Offer or Send Me Unsolicited Medical Advice

chronic illness

My health is very much a part of my story. It is impossible for readers to understand where I have come from and where I am today without me telling them about my struggles with chronic pain, fibromyalgia, and osteoarthritis. Over the past decade, I’ve not been shy about sharing with readers my health history. Unfortunately, in doing so, I have opened myself up to unsolicited medical advice from people who have diagnosed me from afar. In recent years, I have received emails, letters, telephone calls, texts, packages, and personal visits from people who are certain they know the cure for what ails me.

One woman — a former church member — would stop by my house every few weeks hoping to sell me super-duper, cure-all shakes that she was certain would return me to perfect health. I had to hide in my bedroom and have Polly lie to her about my availability. After months of attempts to evangelize me, the woman finally took the hint and stopped. At the time, she was on the shakes. Today? She has abandoned this miracle cure and continues to face debilitating health problems.

Well-meaning people have told me that this or that drug, this or that supplement, reiki, spinal adjustment, surgery, acupuncture, iridology, yoga, chakra alignment, mindfulness, homeopathic concoctions, essential oils, Native American rituals, magnets, diets — need I go on? — would infallibly cure me. Today, I received in the mail a list of books from a blog reader — some of which I have read — that, if followed, would supposedly put an end to my chronic pain. The gist of the books is this: your pain is all in your head.

I go out of my way to avoid interaction with readers when they put on lab coats and play doctors. I either ignore them altogether or I quickly say “thank you” and change the conversation. Yet, it seems no matter how many times I say, PLEASE DO NOT OFFER OR SEND ME UNSOLICITED MEDICAL ADVICE, people continue to ignore my request and offer advice anyway. What is it that says to some readers that they are free to disrespect me as a person? Is there anything ambiguous or unclear in PLEASE DO NOT OFFER OR SEND ME UNSOLICITED MEDICAL ADVICE? Do some readers think I am stupid or ignorant or lacking competent medical care?

I get it. I am the kind of writer who has swung open the door of his life, inviting such advice. However, I have politely asked that people not give me unsolicited medical advice. How hard can it be for readers (and family members) to respect my wishes and leave me alone? Can they not see that their tactics are no different from those used by Jehovah’s Witnesses or evangelizers from Independent Fundamentalist Baptist churches? “Sir, we are here today to offer you something that will change and transform your life!” Never mind the fact, that I am not ignorant about what they are peddling, be it Jesus or a “cure” for Fibromyalgia.

Let me be clear. I am under the care of a team of competent medical professionals. I am well-educated concerning my afflictions. Unless researchers come up with new treatments, I am going to die “Just as I am.” I have resigned myself to the fact that a combination of what ails me will eventually lead to my demise. And I am okay with that. I do what I can to manage my symptoms. If I read of something that “might” be helpful, I bring it up to my primary care doctor. In the twenty-three years he has cared for me, he has NEVER said no to me; never refused an off-label drug or treatment that “might” alleviate my pain and suffering. “Let’s try it and see if it works.”  My orthopedic doctor treats me in a similar manner. He knows, based on x-rays, CT scans, and MRIs, that I have arthritis from head to toe. He knows that surgery is not a good option for me, so he does what he can to alleviate my pain. The scans tell him that the pain is not in my head.

unsolicited medical adviceI know that writing this post and making it prominently available will do little to stop certain readers offering unsolicited medical advice. It is not like I can ban them or anything. As long as I have a widely read blog and make it easy for people to contact me, I am going to receive emails, letters, telephone calls, texts, packages, and personal visits from pretend doctors. That doesn’t mean, however, that I can’t bitch about it. Praise Loki for the power of bitching, amen? Amen!

Let me conclude this post with several excerpts from articles that address the issue of unsolicited medical advice. The first article is titled, Your Unsolicited Health Advice Isn’t Just Irritating. It’s Damaging. Sarah Blahovec writes:

You may be thinking, “These people [people who offer unsolicited medical advice] sound irritating, sure, but why are you making such a big fuss? They’re just trying to help!”

Of course, I get that they’re trying to help, and in some cases, it really is just a pet peeve that I’ll politely accept or decline and move on. But the thing is that constant unsolicited advice, questioning, and imploring to try something different becomes very invalidating. You don’t just hear a helpful tip to try, you hear that you aren’t trying hard enough, that using medication to treat your condition means that you’re giving up or aren’t willing to seek out a non-medicinal alternative. You hear that all of the work that you and your doctors have done, the tests, the procedures, the trial and error of different combinations of medications and treatments aren’t enough, and that you need to try a different path. You hear that if you did give these suggestions a shot in the past, you didn’t try long or hard enough, you weren’t following it correctly, or you bailed and took “the easy way out.”

It is frustrating to constantly hear the message that not only are you not trying hard enough to improve your own health, but that you and your doctors are not the most knowledgeable about your medical and lifestyle needs. A stranger or acquaintance took it upon themselves to say that they know more about your condition from a bit of Googling and a few books than your doctor with their experience and education, and you with your everyday, lived experience of actually having the medical condition. It is emotionally damaging to not only hear that you aren’t living with your disease correctly, but to always have to educate others on why their unsolicited advice is unwanted and harmful. Unfortunately, they usually just they reply that you’re overreacting and become offended that you won’t take their suggestion. This only adds to the emotional pain, and very often, the physical pain of a medical condition that can be triggered by stressful situations.

My message is this: please, please do not give advice when it is not specifically requested. If someone wants information about your lifestyle, your choice, or your product, they will ask you and they will do the research. If you do give advice and somebody says that they aren’t interested or asks you to stop, just respect their wishes. Nobody should be coerced into trying something they don’t want to try, and if you push forward with your advice, not only would they not listen, but they may become stressed, hurt, and invalidated by your inability to respect their wishes.

Trust that disabled and chronically ill people and their medical teams are the most knowledgeable about their own health and their medical and lifestyle needs. Trust that they will seek out you or the proper sources if they’re interested in what you have to offer. And out of respect for disabled and chronically ill people everywhere, please stop forcing your unsolicited advice upon those who don’t want it.

In an article titled, Please Give Me Your Support, Not Unsolicited Medical Advice, Megan Klenke writes:

I would rather spend the rest of my days banging my head against a wall than to continue trying to explain to people that their essential oils and kale will not cure me. OK, I’m being dramatic, but not as much as you might think!

If you’re anything like me, when you first became chronically ill (if you’re reading this as someone who’s sick), you possibly went through a naive stage early on in your illness. The stage where you believed the random person in an elevator who’s known you for two whole minutes who said that snake oil was God’s gift to the ill, or your aunt’s cousin’s brother’s half-sister who swears by this new detox where you only eat eggs for a month and every illness ever will be reversed, or some crap like that.

But seriously, there was a period of time at the beginning of me being sick that I desperately held onto the belief that I had control and would get better, so I tried anything and everything anyone presented to me. The worst was this “joint juice” concoction my dad ordered off an infomercial that tasted worse than words can describe. Yuck.

After awhile, it became something I did out of spite. Eventually there were few things left that I hadn’t tried, but when someone offered me something new, I would try it to prove to them how wrong they were.

When people constantly offer up these things, especially after I’ve spent time telling them my story, it doesn’t come off as helpful. I know, I know. People generally mean well. Sure. I’d like to say I believe that. But there’s condescension there almost always. And disbelief. And disrespect. It’s a smack in the face. It’s basically people saying to me that I just must not be doing enough or else I’d be better.

We as humans don’t like to lose control. We don’t. I certainly don’t. It’s not fun. We try to control every aspect of our lives. We love to plan out how every minute of everyday is meant to be spent and we think we can control that.

But the truth is, we can’t control everything. We cannot always control our bodies and our health. I know it’s scary to realize this, but it’s true. And I think that’s a big reason why one of the most common reactions people have to finding out that I’m chronically ill is to give me advice (that I didn’t ask for) on how to get better (from my incurable diseases). They want to help, but they want even more to keep up the illusion of control in their world. They’d rather believe that it’s essentially my fault that I’m not better because I’m not doing something right, because I don’t have the proper self-control, than to acknowledge the lack of control we have over our lives.

So what all of this unsolicited advice says to me is, “I didn’t listen to anything you just said because I’m scared of facing our lack of control and my mortality. I think you just don’t know what you’re talking about. I know better.”

That’s the truth of it. So the next time you’re thinking about offering up unsolicited advice to someone who’s chronically ill, it’s probably best to just…not.

Thank you for your love, kindness, and support. Many of you have come alongside me and brought understanding and encouragement during difficult times. It is enough for me to know that people care.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve 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.

Are you on Social Media? Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

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.

Contentment

contentment“Bruce, your problem is that you lack contentment.” I was stunned when my counselor told me this. I have been seeing him for years. I am beginning to wonder if it is time for a change. His words seemed sharp and judgmental. I felt as if he was ignoring me as a person and making a character judgment instead. Two weeks later, I am still talking about whether this judgment was correct. Polly would say, I’m sure, “Bruce, you are discontented over contentment.” :) Maybe.

Last week, I wrote a post titled, Living with Unrelenting Chronic Pain: Just Another Day in Paradise. I intended to write about contentment then, but the post, as is often the case, went in a different direction from that which I had intended. As that Spirit moves, right? It’s impossible to determine if I am content without first understanding the primary issues that drive my life: chronic illness, chronic pain, loss of career, loss of faith, OCPD, past emotional trauma. Pulling a singular event out of my life and rendering judgment based on it is sure to lead to a faulty conclusion. Think of all the clichés we use about understanding people: walk a mile in their shoes, see things through their eyes, judge not, lest you be judged. If we truly want to understand someone, we must take the time to see, listen, and observe — not something we do much of these days. We live in the social media era, a time when instant judgments are the norm. As a writer, I find it frustrating when people read a post or two and then sit in judgment of my life. In 2,000 or fewer words, I have, supposedly, told them all they need to know about Bruce Gerencser. Of course, I have done no such thing. Want to really get to know me? Sit down, pull up a chair, and let’s break bread and talk. Truly understanding someone requires time, commitment, and effort. I have been married for forty-one years. It took years for Polly and me to really get to know each other. And even today, I wonder, do I really know all there is to know about my lover and friend? I doubt it.

Contentment. What does the word even mean? Happy? Satisfied? Complacent? How do I determine if I am content? Do I even want to be content? Is contentment a desirable human trait? What would the world look like if everyone were content? The Apostle Paul wrote spoke of contentment several times:

  • I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. (Philippians 4:11)
  • But godliness with contentment is great gain. (1 Timothy 6:6)
  • And having food and raiment let us be therewith content. (1 Timothy 6:8)
  • Be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. (Hebrews 13:5)

“Bruce, you are an atheist. What the Bible says is irrelevant.” Tell my mind that. These verses were pounded into my head by my pastors and Sunday school teachers, and then, as a pastor, I pounded them into the heads of congregants. Just because you say, “I’m an atheist,” doesn’t mean that decades of training and indoctrination magically disappear. I spent most of my adult life trying to be the model of a “contented” Christian. Try as I might, I came up short.

My father was the epitome of “contentment.” Dad lived by the maxim que sera sera (whatever will be, will be). He was passive and indifferent towards virtually everything. Dad and I were never close. It’s not that we had a bad relationship; it’s just that he treated his relationship with me the way he treated everything else.

I was much more like my mom. Passionate. Contrary. Opinionated. Everything mattered. It comes as no surprise that I am a perfectionist; that I struggle with Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder; that I have high (and often unreasonable) expectations not only for myself, but for others. Ask my children about what they “fondly” call the Gerencser Work Ethic. Oh, the stories they could share. I am sure a few of you are thinking, “are you not admitting here that you are discontent?” Maybe, but I am not convinced that it’s as simple as that — as I shared with my counselor.

You see, I have always been a restless person. Does this mean that I am discontent? Or, perhaps, I am someone who needs a steady diet of new experiences. I bore easily. In my younger years, this resulted in me working a number of different jobs. My resume is quite diverse. The same could be said of the twenty-five years I spent in the ministry. I loved starting new churches. However, over time, these new churches would become old churches, and when that happened, I was ready to move on. I pastored a church in West Unity, Ohio for seven years. Awesome people. Not a problem in the world. Yet, I resigned and moved on. Why? I was bored. I was tired of the same routine Sunday after Sunday. It wasn’t the fault of people the people I pastored. I was the one with a restless spirit. I was the one looking for matches and gasoline so I could start a new fire.

dogs and contentmentMy counselor asked me if he could wave a magic wand over me and instantly make me content, would I want him to do so? I quickly replied, “absolutely not.” I told him that instant contentment would rob me of my passion and drive. “What kind of writer would I be without restlessness and passion?” I asked. He replied, “ah yes, that which drives creatives.” If being content requires me to surrender my passion and drive, no thanks. I am not interested. Now, I can certainly see where I would be better off if I, at times, let go and let Loki. I have never been good at “be still and know that I am God.” I like being busy. I enjoy “doing.” One of the frustrating problems I face with having fibromyalgia and osteoarthritis is that I can no longer do the things I want to do. My “spirit” is willing, but my “flesh” is weak. Does this lead to discontentment? Maybe, but I am more inclined to think that the inability to do what I want leads to frustration and anger, not discontentment.

I’ll leave it to others to determine if I am content. I will leave it to the people who look at me and “read” my face, thinking my lack of a smile is a sure sign of discontentment; as if there couldn’t be any other explanation for my facial expressions — you know, such as chronic, unrelenting pain. Would it settle the contentment question if I tell people that I am generally happy; that I enjoy writing, shooting photographs, and spending time with my children and grandchildren?  I doubt it. Much like my counselor, people seize on anecdotal stories as evidence for their judgments of my life. I told my counselor about a recent visit to a new upscale pizza place in Defiance. I told him that the waitstaff left a lot to be desired, and our pizzas were burnt on the bottom (the restaurant uses a brick pizza oven). I told our server the pizzas were burnt. The manager gave us a 50 percent discount on our bill. My counselor seized on this story as a good example of my discontentment. Never mind the fact that I rarely complain about the quality of restaurant food. I just don’t do it. I am willing to give a place a pass, having managed restaurants myself. I know how things can get messed up. That said, I always wanted to know when an order didn’t meet customer expectations. No, customers are not always right. Some of them are idiots and assholes. But I couldn’t make things right if complaints never reach my ears.

Am I content? Probably not, but I sure as hell don’t want the kind of contentment preached by the Apostle Paul, modeled by my father, and suggested by my counselor. No thanks . . . I’ll take happiness with a slice of restlessness, and garnished with passion every time.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve 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.

Are you on Social Media? Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

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 Unrelenting Chronic Pain: Just Another Day in Paradise

pain-looks-good-on-other-people

I begin each day with pain. No matter how much medication I take, pain, from the bottom of my feet to the top of my head, is ever with me. There’s never a day when pain is not front and center, demanding attention. Afternoon turns to evening. Hopefully, I have felt strong enough to sit down in my office and write a few words for this blog. As I type this post, my hands remind me that osteoarthritis is my ever-present “friend.” Someday, I will push the keyboard away and say to the pain, “you win.” Not today, but no promise that tomorrow won’t be the end of my run. I fear what happens to me when I quit; when I say, “I have had enough.”

By the time the clock says 10:00 pm in the eastern time zone, my body says, “enough! I shan’t go any farther!” Two decades of struggling with fibromyalgia have taught me to recognize when it’s time to surrender for the day. “Wave the white flag, Bruce, and live for another day,” I tell myself. As I slump into my recliner, turn on Pardon the Interruption, and adjust the sound, tears come to my eyes. “Why live another day, knowing that tomorrow will be no different from today?” No matter how much I try to think happy thoughts and “put mind over matter,” reality reminds me that it is a bitch, a taskmaster with no concern for my suffering and pain. “Tough shit, Bruce. This is your life, deal with it.”

I hear the front door open. It’s Polly coming home from work. The clock strikes 2:30 am. We trade pleasantries, ask questions of one another, eat a snack, and finish the day off with The Daily Show. Now it’s time for the final act of the day, bedtime. I drag my pained, fatigued body to my side of the bed, plug my iPad into the wall charger, put on my Bluetooth headphones, and run one of the video streaming apps — usually Hulu. Of late, I am re-watching the Los Angeles police drama Southland. Polly touches me gently on my back and says, “good night.” I reply, “I love you.” Polly will quickly fall to sleep, but not me. Sleep for me will not come until pain and sleep medications do their work — that is, IF they do their work. Some nights, this process takes an hour. Other nights, it takes two, maybe three hours for sleep to win the victory.

And then, I do this all over again. There’s never a day without pain and fatigue. Never. I am not sure my family and friends understand this. Oh, they try, but for people who have not lived with never-ending, unrelenting chronic pain, there’s no frame of reference for them. How can someone “understand” that which they have not experienced? I photographed a local high school basketball game tonight — the first game of the season. As I entered the building, a school official said to me (and Bethany), “how are you folks doing tonight?” His voice rang with happiness and enthusiasm. He was what I call “chipper.” Before I could “think” of how I wanted to answer him, I blurted out, “do you really want to know?” His face told me that he was not expecting THAT answer. I quickly rescued him from the uncomfortableness of the moment. “Let me give you the standard human answer, “I’m fine. I am always fine!” And with that, I made my way to the gymnasium. Of course, I am not “fine.” I am sure some of you might be thinking, “Bruce, if you are not “fine,” why did you shoot the basketball game? “Why not stay home, rest, and take it easy?” Truth be told, it doesn’t matter where I am or what I do, I can’t escape the pain. Might as well try to do something I love to do than sit around and lose a few more brain cells watching TV. I know of only two “solutions” for my pain: death or pharmaceutical fog, neither of which I am willing to entertain. At least not today, anyway.

Knowing that the pain will never go away does give me a sense of certainty. I can’t escape the pain. All I can do is to choose what to do and where to go. Well-meaning people will say to me, “Bruce, I saw you at the store today. You must be feeling better!” “No, I am not feeling better. I feel like shit. My body feels like it has been hit by a truck — twice,” I have said to no one, ever. Instead, I pretend the well-wisher is oh-so perceptive. That’s the nature of the chronic pain game. Better to live a lie than burden (and bore) people with the truth. Rare is the person who really wants to know and understand how you are feeling. And that’s okay. I really don’t want to know about your hemorrhoids either.

Tomorrow begins the holiday season for the Gerencser family. Polly, along with our daughters, daughters-in-law, and granddaughters, will gather at our home to make pies — pumpkin, cherry, apple, and pecan — for Thanksgiving. If anything can temper my pain, it’s food, family, and football. If anything can give me a reason to punch the time clock for another day, it’s Polly, my children, and grandchildren. For them, I’m thankful.

Addendum:

The girls popped the first four pumpkins pies in the oven today and started cooking them. Fifteen minutes into the process, the power went out! We were without electricity for eight hours. We’ve had high winds today, and this led to an outage. Pie day was moved to our youngest daughter’s home. Just another story to add to Gerencser family Thanksgiving lore.

I hope you and yours have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve 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.

Are you on Social Media? Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

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.

Local Southern Baptist Pastor Steve Eyers Opposes Helping People Suffering From Chronic Pain

medical marijuana suffering new jersey
Cartoon by Drew Sheneman, featuring anti-marijuana crusader Chris Christie

Yesterday, the Village of Hicksville banned the establishment of medical marijuana facilities within its borders. The Defiance Crescent-News reports:

On Monday evening the Hicksville Village Council passed an ordinance prohibiting the establishment and operation of medical marijuana facilities within the village limits.

This is in response to previous sessions in which the possibility of such facilities coming to town was addressed, although no definite plans had been revealed to council by any such entities. Council had received strong support against these facilities by Police Chief Mark Denning and pastor Steve Eyers; no one has spoken out in their favor at any recent council sessions.

In February 2019, Hicksville village council held a hearing on the matter. The Crescent-News reported at the time:

Pastor Steve Eyers of Lifeline Connect Church stated he has done sizeable research on medical marijuana since the last meeting and believed the jury to still be out, with no solid documentation existing substantiating positive claims about such facilities; he did observe that medical marijuana is not on the “approved” list of the Food and Drug Administration.

Eyers suggested council speak to state lawmakers and those in other municipalities which have approved medical marijuana production facilities about the results of such places, noting, “Once you open the door it will be difficult to close.”

As readers will note, the main objector to medical marijuana was Steve Eyers, pastor of Lifeline Connect Church. At a previous council meeting, Eyers, a Fundamentalist Southern Baptist, used the “slippery slope” canard to argue against medical marijuana. In Eyers’ world, every perceived negative (sinful) behavior is a step farther down the slippery slope that leads to Hell. I am sure Eyers believes that marijuana is a gateway drug, and once people start toking mary jane they will soon be hooked on crack, cocaine, heroin, or other highly addictive drugs. Funny how Eyers’ “sizeable research” didn’t turn up any evidence to the contrary:

The “gateway hypothesis” or theory refers to the idea that one substance — marijuana, in this case — leads to subsequently use and/or abuse other drugs. If [Governor Chris] Christie’s point is simply that the use of marijuana tends to precede the use of other drugs, then he is correct — but that’s not the whole story.

Though studies of large populations of people have indeed found that those who smoke marijuana are more likely to use other drugs, these studies show a correlation without showing causation — a commonly misunderstood phenomenon in science. In short, just because marijuana smokers might be more likely to later use, say, cocaine, does not imply that using marijuana causes one to use cocaine.

A 1999 report from the Institute of Medicine, which is part of the National Academy of Sciences, laid out this issue clearly (see pages 100-101): “In the sense that marijuana use typically precedes rather than follows initiation into the use of other illicit drugs, it is indeed a gateway drug. However, it does not appear to be a gateway drug to the extent that it is the cause or even that it is the most significant predictor of serious drug abuse; that is, care must be taken not to attribute cause to association.”

We spoke with several experts and reviewed the available scientific literature on gateway theory. Christie’s definitive statement is unsupported by evidence — there is some evidence in favor of a gateway effect, but the scientific community shares no consensus on the issue and there is little evidence on the underlying cause of that effect. — Factcheck.org.

Evidently, the good pastor was absent the day his teacher covered correlation and causation in science class.

There is no question that medical marijuana can and does help with many medical maladies, including chronic pain. Numerous readers of this blog can testify to medical marijuana’s efficacy and how it has improved their quality of life. It is absurd to oppose any drug (or treatment) that will reduce pain and suffering. But, Bruce, people might get “addicted’ if they start using medical marijuana. So what? Should it matter that a drug is “addictive” IF it’s helpful? Shouldn’t the goal be reducing pain and improving quality of life? Besides, moral crusaders such as Eyers usually confuse addiction with dependency. Addicts misuse drugs, using them for the sole purpose of getting high. Most people who use medical marijuana (and opioids such a Hydrocodone and Oxycontin) are not addicts. They use the drugs as prescribed to relieve pain and improve the quality of their lives. Long-term users can become dependent on such drugs, but, again, why does that matter? I have been on narcotic pain management drugs for fifteen years. Does this make me an addict? Of course not. I take the medications as prescribed by my family doctor. I have taken a variety of pain relievers over the years, but I have not, one time, abused them. Using these drugs for long periods have certainly made me physically dependent on them. If I were to stop taking Hydrocodone, for example, I would go through withdrawal. And believe me, that’s not fun. Last year, I stopped taking Tramadol. I had been using Tramadol on and off for managing mild pain for over a decade. It took months of suffering to successfully wean myself off of the drug. The withdrawal symptoms were so severe that I had to sleep in the living room so my thrashing and crying wouldn’t keep my wife awake. Yes, I survived, but at no time was I addicted to Tramadol. Dependent, yes. Addicted, no.

Count me as one person who is fucking tired of moralizing preachers such as Steve Eyers. First, they are hypocrites. Why did Eyers decide to take a stand against medical marijuana and not the drugs that are widely abused by Hicksville residents, including nicotine, caffeine, alcohol, and religion? Alcohol, in particular, causes all sorts of physical and social problems. Yet, crusading preachers are eerily silent on the subject — outside of an occasional anti-booze sermon. Why is that? Second, they attempt to force their personal or sectarian moral codes on others. There are times I wish that the Steve Eyerses of the world would come down with a debilitating, painful disease; one where relief could only be found through using narcotics or marijuana. Then, and only then, would they understand why chronic pain sufferers need drugs. Of course, I wouldn’t actually wish that on anyone, but there’s nothing like first-hand experience for revealing ignorant beliefs.

If Eyers and others like him want to live in pain, have at it. Taken literally as a moral prescription for living, the Bible encourages enduring pain and suffering. Just pray to God and trust that Jesus will be with you every step of the way, right? No thanks. As a humanist, my goal is to reduce suffering and pain, not only for humans, but all living animals. The greater goal is happiness and well-being for all. While suffering and pain can and do teach us valuable lessons, only Evangelical/Catholic sadomasochists think pain is desirable or necessary. Of course, when you believe the world is a shit hole ruined by sin, that all humans are born sinners/haters of God, that life is to be endured until the rapture, and that the grand goal is eternal life in Heaven, it should come as no surprise, then, that you don’t put much emphasis on the here and now.

Medical marijuana sale and use is legal in Ohio, and there’s movement towards making all use of weed legal. All praise be to Shiva. However, Republican state legislators — who are overwhelmingly Christians — and regulators have gone out of their way to impede the opening of medical marijuana growers, processors, and sellers. Currently, there are only a handful of facilities open, and the cost of the medical marijuana is astronomical — putting it out of reach financially for most Ohioans. Illegal street marijuana is far cheaper, but people such as myself refrain from purchasing it this way out of fear of arrest and prosecution. Further, here in the Land of God, Guns, and Republicans, most doctors refuse to write prescriptions for medical marijuana. The insane government war against opioids has scared the shit out of medical professionals — fearing the loss of their licenses — so they refuse to act in the best interest of their patients. Ohioans can go to one of the few doctors approved to write medical marijuana prescriptions, but this could cause them all sorts of problems with their primary care doctors — including the refusal to treat in the future. (Please see How the War on Opioids Hurts People With Chronic PainPlease Stop the War on Chronic Pain SufferersMedical Marijuana and Relieving Pain and SufferingHow Fundamentalist Prohibitions Cause Needless Suffering and Pain,  and Understanding and Helping Those Who Live With Chronic Pain.)

Years ago, I helplessly watched a devout Evangelical man suffer horrific pain as he slowly died of bowel cancer. He refused to take pain medications because he believed Jesus was better than morphine; that his suffering had some sort of redemptive value. My eighty-three-year-old father-in-law often goes without pain relief because he believes drug “addiction” — in vain I tried to explain to him the difference between addiction and dependence — is sinful. He would rather writhe in pain than risk pissing off God. As a pastor, I watched countless dying congregants forgo narcotic pain management because they wanted to be clear-headed when they entered the pearly gates. They needlessly suffered, and for what? Remove God and the afterlife from the equation, and I suspect most people will say YES to anything that reduces their pain.

If Steve Eyers wants to suffer for Jesus, have at it. All that I ask that he not stand in the way of other people getting the help they need. Jesus is called the Great Physician. The gospels detail the many of the healing miracles the Son of God purportedly performed while walking the dusty roads of Palestine. Be like Jesus, Steve, Be like Jesus. If you can’t heal people Steve, at least let the sick and hurting among you have access to people who can.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve 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.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

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Important News

blogging

My wife, Polly, was hospitalized at Community Hospital and Wellness Center in Bryan, Ohio yesterday due to problems with her bowels. A CT scan revealed several serious problems, and her bloodwork shows problems with liver function. Currently, they are trying to hydrate her and battle the bacterial infection in her bowel. On Friday, the surgeon plans to do an endoscopy and a colonoscopy. As of today, he says her symptoms remain a mystery, and he hopes these tests will give him a better picture of exactly what is going on.

I am having my own problems pain-wise, but the focus is on Polly for now. Polly has worked for 20 years at Sauder Woodworking. She will miss her first day ever this week once her vacation days (4) are used up. Polly will be in the hospital at least until Monday, and longer if surgery is required.

I’ve said all that to say, I may not get much writing done over the next few days. I hope you’ll understand.

Bruce

I Wish Christians Would be Honest About Jesus’ Three Day Weekend

pain and suffering

Kirsten Ryken, a writer for the Fundamentalist website The Gospel Coalition, recently wrote a post titled, Why I Thank God for Chronic Pain. Ryken’s article was part personal story and part justification for God allowing her to painfully suffer. Ryken concluded her post with this:

With the eye of faith, I saw Christ on the cross. God, in a human body, taking on physical pain far greater than my own. Thorns in his head, blood dripping down his face, nails in his hands and feet, love in his face. I felt his pain in my own body, the fire in my spine intensifying as I looked at him. But I also felt him holding me like a child.

I knew in my heart in that moment that nothing can separate me from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:39). I was completely overwhelmed with the knowledge that my God not only knows what’s wrong with my body even when no human doctor does, he also knows my physical pain more intimately than anyone else ever could. The loneliness of suffering and the frustration of not having answers were taken away in an instant. I felt a physical burden lifted from my body and my heart.

Until that moment, I had never understood the relevance of Christ’s death on the cross to the details of my daily life, my pains and my joys. It was only in the light of the cross that I could make sense of my own suffering. This reminder is the positive result of my pain. In moments when I feel overwhelmed, I remember Calvary. I thank God for the precious gift of my salvation, because on some (very small!) level I have begun to understand the cost of my salvation.

Chronic pain is a constant reminder that my life is not my own; it has been bought with a price.

The narrative Ryken spins is one often heard when Evangelicals try to explain pain and suffering: my suffering is next to nothing compared to the pain and agony Jesus suffered on the cross. In the minds of Christians such as Ryken, there’s no human suffering that can be compared to what Jesus faced on Calvary. This worn-out, tiresome trope gets repeated over and again by Evangelicals who never THINK about what they are actually saying. Jesus is the bad-ass suffering servant, Evangelicals would have us believe; but in fact Jesus’ suffering was minuscule compared to what countless people face every day.

Yes, Jesus was beaten and his beard was plucked from face. Yes, he was nailed to a Roman cross and suffered great indignity (that is assuming the gospel narratives are true). But how long did Jesus actually suffer? Days? Weeks? Months? Years? Nope. How about less than a day? Then he died, descended to hell and hung out with its inhabitants, and then he resurrected from the dead good as new save the nail prints in his hands and feet. Pray tell, based on what the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God says about Jesus’ suffering, how was his pain in any way worse than that which any human has ever experienced? By all means, compare Christ’s suffering to what children face when having radiation and chemotherapy treatments to eradicate cancer from their bodies. Go ahead, compare his suffering to that of people in burn units with third degree burns over most their bodies. Jesus may have faced intense levels of pain for a short amount of time, but how does his suffering compare to the pain of people who suffer with debilitating, chronic illnesses for years?

Jesus knew that his time of suffering would be short and sweet, and then he would die. Imagine a body wracked with pain day in and day out, years on end, with no relief in sight. I suspect such people might be willing to suffer what Jesus did if they knew afterward their bodies would be free from pain. I know I would. I would trade places in a heartbeat with the “suffering” Son of God if it meant come Sunday morning my body was no longer wracked with pain. And I suspect I am not alone in my blasphemy.

I don’t think for a moment that my short post will change Christian thinking on this subject. Ryken desperately needs a suffering Jesus to make sense of her own pain. Without Jesus, she is left with what? Shit happens? And to that I say “yes.” None of us is guaranteed a pain-free life. Genetics, environmental factors, personal choices, and yet-unknown factors go into what diseases we contract and what pain we suffer. The late Christopher Hitchens was right when he said in his book Mortality, ” . . . To the dumb question ‘Why me?’ the cosmos barely bothers to return the reply: Why not? . . .”  Why me, indeed.

Christians invoke the suffering Jesus because it covers up the fact they suffer just like the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world, and that their God, much like the cosmos, yawns with indifference. Jesus, then, becomes the hospice nurse who holds their hands as they face cruelties, indignities, and sufferings beyond imagination. Jesus has promised Christians that he will never leave or forsake them, and he will never allow them to suffer more than they are able. Thus, whatever pain and suffering comes their way, God means it for their good, either to chastise them or teach them a lesson. If Christians will but endure what comes their way, words in an ancient religious text promise that they will be given pain-free bodies after death. Better to think this, many Evangelicals say, than to believe we live in a cold, heartless universe. Why, such a belief leads to despair! Christians say. To that, I reply, maybe for you it does, but it doesn’t have to.

I find comfort in the fact that shit happens, and chronic illness and intractable pain afflict rich and poor, young and old, religious or not. I know that I am not special, and that countless other people are going through pain and suffering as bad as mine and worse. I am not owed a pain-free existence. I have been given life — just one — and it is incumbent upon me to live life to its fullest. I embrace my suffering, not looking to a mythical deity for inspiration or help. I find comfort in the fact that my wife, children, and friends deeply care about me and do what they can to lessen my pain. And I try to do the same when dealing with others who are facing troubles and trials, physical or not. Is there any more any of us can do for each other?  A kind word, a thoughtful action, a tender embrace, these are enough. It is humanism, with its goal of lessening suffering, that shines the brightest. Christianity says endure, promising a divine payoff in the sweet by-and-by. Humanism says we only have one life, let’s do all we can to lessen pain and suffering. Christianity says pain and suffering have a higher purpose, be it correction or testing. Humanism says alleviating pain allows people to live happy lives, and in this cold universe of ours, that’s the best any of us can expect. Despite my pain, or perhaps because of it, I choose Humanism.