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Tag: Chronic Illness

Learning to Say “No”

no

I was the type of pastor who could never say no. Over the course of twenty-five years in the ministry, numerous pastors extended invitations to me to preach at their churches. I never said no, even when doing so would cause economic hardship. Church members knew that they could always count on me to say yes to whatever they needed me to do, even if it was an inconvenience for me or my family. If someone needed a loan, I always gave it to them, even when I knew it was unlikely they would pay me back. Need someone to watch your six kids? Just ask Pastor Bruce and Polly– they will do it. Need transportation to the doctor’s office, work, or the hospital? The Pastor Bruce Taxi Company provided a ride, free of charge. Need tools to fix your car or do a home repair? Borrow Pastor Bruce’s tools, and then fail to return them. The stories are endless. I recognize by telling these stories that a few readers might think that I am trying to paint myself as some sort of super saint, but I think anyone who knows me well would testify to the fact that I have always had a hard time saying no. Several years ago, my mother-in-law chided me for being so willing to give things to others. Quickly realizing how her comment might be interpreted, she said, “I suppose there are worst habits to have.” Why is it that I have such a hard time saying no?

My mother taught me always to be polite and respectful. My father was a salesman and business owner, so he taught me to always give the customers what they wanted. Generally, politeness and respectfulness are good things. Polly and I both taught our children to never be cross or disrespectful towards others. Doing so has served them well as adults. There are times, though, when I wonder if being taught always to be polite and respectful keeps us from properly responding to people who are assholes. Assholes tend to be narcissistic bullies who love to attack people who go through life trying to be decent and kind. I have learned — rather late in life — that sometimes it is okay to be impolite or disrespectful. Some people do not deserve politeness or respect. Over the years, I allowed countless church members to bully and berate me. I could spend the next hour writing about members who stormed in my office to give me a piece of their mind — what little of it they had. They would rant and rave, attacking my preaching, leadership, family, and even how I dressed. One church member was upset over the way Polly crinkled up her nose at him (I kid you not). Most often, I would try to appease them, not wanting to lose church members. Looking back on it now, I wish I had been more willing to tell them to get the hell out of my office and out of the church. These kinds of members rarely stayed in the church for the long term. Sooner or later I did something that so offended them that they picked up their toys and moved on to a new religious playground. Through the grapevine, I would hear that they blamed me for them having to leave the church. Rarely do such people accept responsibility for their own behavior.

I think my view of Jesus also impeded my ability to say no. I saw Jesus as a kind, compassionate, lover of people. Feeding the hungry, healing the sick, and compassionately helping those who crossed his path, Jesus seemed to have had a hard time with saying no too. Like Jesus, I was driven by the fact that there was a deadline that awaited me — death. Knowing that after death I would be judged by God for what I had done in this life, I feared that by saying no I might miss doing something that God wanted me to do. So, I never said no. Well, I never said no to anyone but Polly and our children. They heard the word no all the time. Church members and the demands of the ministry got the best of their husband and father, so when it came time for him to spend time with them or help them with their needs, he far too often said no. I will always regret not putting the needs of my family first. Perhaps this is why I rarely tell my grandchildren no. They have become my do-over of sorts, and they know it. Nana is harder to manipulate than I am, so when the grandkids really want something they come running to Grandpa.

I suspect that my inability to say no will always be with me. Having watched Polly suffer through decades-long economic deprivation, I am determined to make the rest of her life one of comfort. If she wants something, I do everything I can to make sure she gets it. Fortunately, Polly does not abuse my willingness to give her what she wants/needs/desires. I know that life is short and there is no eternal reward beyond the grave, so why not enjoy the fruits of our labor? I know that I will be dead sooner than later. Ecclesiastes says we should enjoy life and the fruits of our labor. Why? Because tomorrow we die. Certainly, we must live life within the parameters of our financial and physical abilities, but there is no award for waiting to live life until you are too old or too sick to enjoy it. I know there is coming a day when physically, I will likely be unable to walk or ride in a car. Knowing this motivates me to walk and ride while I can. I am grateful that I have a partner who is willing to drive me where I want to go and walk with me, even if it means pushing my big ass in a wheelchair.

I am slowly beginning to recognize that it is in my best interest — psychologically and physically — to say no. I now have five grandchildren who are playing competitive sports. I have no doubt that someday eight or nine of them could easily be involved in school activities that I would like to attend. If I had my way, I would attend every one of their games. I thoroughly enjoy watching them play. But, I know that I cannot attend each and every game, especially in the COVID era. If I did so, I would be so physically worn out that I would not be able to do anything else. So, I have to say no when my heart says yes. It is the same with birthday parties and other family gatherings. I ALWAYS want to spend time with my family. We are very close and I want to spend as much time as possible with them, knowing that there is coming a day when all I will be is a memory in their minds and a photograph hanging on the wall. But, I also know that I cannot do everything, and there are times for the sake of my health that I have to say no. Polly’s mom is in declining health. While we have made several trips to Newark — a seven-hour round-trip — I feel guilty over not going to visit her more often. These trips are physically excruciating, and by the time we get home I often feel like I met Mike Tyson in an alley fight and lost. As much as I want to visit Mom every weekend, as we did years ago, I know I can’t. This is perhaps the best example of my physical limitations forcing me to say no.

Bit by bit I am learning that is okay to tell people no. It is not narcissistic to put self first. I am the only one who knows what it feels like to walk in my skin. Outwardly, I look like a typical overweight old man, one who certainly should not need to park in handicapped spaces. But inwardly, virtually every joint and muscle in my body hurts. Some days the pain medications work well, other days they don’t. These days no usually means I can’t. To quote the Bible, “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.”

Do you have a hard time saying no? Are you a people pleaser? Please share your experiences in the comments section.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Don’t Quit

dont quit
Pain is temporary? Come walk in the shoes of those who haven’t had a pain free day in years.

The late Jack Hyles, pastor of First Baptist Church in Hammond, Indiana, was known for telling preachers DON’T QUIT! Hyles even wrote a poem on the subject:

When the cup is turned to wormwood,
And the wormwood turns to gall;
When your walking turns to stumbling,
And the stumbling to a fall;
When you’ve climbed above the mountains,
Yet the Alps rise rough and tall;
DON’T QUIT.

When the path ahead is crooked,
And the road’s too rough to tread;
When the best upon the table
Is replaced by sorrow’s bread;
When you’ve crossed some troubled waters,
Yet a Marah’s just ahead; (Exodus 15;16)
DON’T QUIT.

When the vultures have descended
And disturbed your downy nest;
When sweet fruit has changed to thistle,
While the thorns disturb your rest;
When a deep to deep is calling,
And when failure seems your best;
DON’T QUIT.

When the Lord has cleansed the table;
Then He takes away the fat;
And the best wine has been taken,
Till you find an empty vat;
When another fills the throne room
Where once you proudly sat;
DON’T QUIT.

When your health is feeling sickly,
And the medicine tastes bad;
When your fellowship is lonely,
And your happiness is sad;
When your warmth is getting colder,
And in clouds your sunshine’s clad;
DON’T QUIT.

When you find your wins are losses,
And that all your gains are lacks;
When ill things never come alone,
And your troubles run in packs;
When your soul is bruised and battered
From the Tempter’s fierce attacks;
DON’T QUIT.

Be not weary in well doing,
For due seasons bring the grain;
He who on the Lord hath waited
Shall never run in vain;
The just man falleth seven times,
Yet riseth up again;
DON’T QUIT.

I heard Jack Hyles many times implore preachers to never, ever quit. Dr. Tom Malone, chancellor of the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) college I attended in the 1970s, Midwestern Baptist College, frequently reminded students that God never blesses quitters. Students who dropped out of school were excoriated and labeled quitters — men who would never, ever be blessed by God. When my wife and I left Midwestern before graduating, a friend of ours told us, “You will never amount to anything for God. God doesn’t use quitters.” Polly and I went on to spend twenty-five years in the ministry. Our friend? He graduated but never spent one day in the ministry.

Certainly having a bulldog never-quit spirit can lead men and women to do great things. Life can be hard, and successfully making it through this life often requires us to fight and refuse to give in. However, when DON’T QUIT becomes the proverbial tail that wags the dog, it can result in people hanging on when they really should be letting go.

I learned that it is okay to quit (walk away from) toxic churches. I learned that it is okay to stop helping people who are sponges that suck the life out of all who come their way. Not everyone deserves my love, compassion, care, and kindness. I have found that it is better to walk away than let people ruin my life.

I have learned that it is okay to give in and give up. Realists understand the lay of life’s topography and refuse to let the demands of wishful thinking cause unnecessary physical and psychological pain. I know first-hand how hard it can be to quit doing things. Chronic pain and illness have forced me to quit doing a number of things. DON’T QUIT still taunts me, but I no longer let it force me to do things I can no longer do. Just this past weekend, I dismantled my office, knowing that I will never sit in my office chair again for any length of time. Too painful, thanks to the herniated discs in my back, a torn labrum in my shoulder, and widespread arthritis and muscle pain. I now do all of my writing for this site on the couch or in a recliner. I shed a few tears as yet another aspect of my life went by the wayside, but it was time. It’s been eighteen months since I used the computer in my office. No amount of wishing was going to restore that which has been lost. Time to metaphorically turn off the lights and lock the door.

Quitting is not failure. It is the admission that I can no longer do something. Quitting is me being honest with myself and not letting the demands of others control what I do with my short life. Several years ago, I wanted to learn woodworking. I foolishly invested several thousand dollars in equipment that went unused. Try as I might, I was unable, because of my physical limitations, to do what I wanted to do. I had no other choice but to quit. I have whittled my life down to three things I greatly value: family, photography, and writing. And photography might be on the cutting board soon. I struggle to hang on, knowing that if I let go of these things, what is left?

I know I am losing the battle against pain, illness, and time. I wonder, what more will I have to quit doing?  I have given up so much, yet my body cares not. It continues to demand that I quit, quit, quit until nothing is left. I continue to fight, holding on to the few things I can still do (safely and skillfully). I know, thanks to osteoarthritis, that there will likely come a day when I can no longer write. Even now, my hands, arms, and shoulders scream in pain as I write. I ignore the screams, but I do know that someday I will be forced to give up. I know that the ravages of arthritis and fibromyalgia will one day force me to use a wheelchair all the time. For now, I push back — often stupidly so — refusing to admit that I am a broken-down old man. Will there come a day when I stop pushing? Maybe. Time will tell. All I know to do, for now, is to accept, adjust, and move foward.

Do you suffer from chronic pain or illness? How have you adjusted to your new reality? Please share your experiences in the comment section.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Does Suffering Make Us Stronger?

suffering and pain

Evangelicals often say that suffering makes us stronger. According to them, their God uses suffering to test, try, chastise, and even “save” people. (What a perverse God this deity is.) The goal of suffering, then, is to bring people into submission to God’s purpose and plan; to humble them before God; to make them stronger. Theology aside, does suffering really make us stronger?

I have an intimate relationship with suffering (an abusive spouse if there ever was one). There’s not a moment or day in my life that I don’t suffer from unrelenting pain, fatigue, muscle spasms, and, since my diagnosis with gastroparesis in 2020, nausea, lack of appetite, and vomiting. My body hurts from the top of my head to the bottom of my feet — literally. Yes, I take narcotic pain medications and powerful muscle relaxers, along with a drug for sleep. They “help,” but they don’t make the pain magically disappear. The best these drugs do is improve my quality of life. And some days, they don’t even do that. Some days demand I put a stick in my mouth, bite down, and hope, plead, and “pray” that the pain will recede.

Nights are the worst. It takes from 3-5 hours for me to fall asleep once I lie down. I read, watch TV on my iPad Pro, or get up and walk the well-worn path in the carpet of our home, begging and pleading for the pain to go away. On occasion, I will take a hot bath — and “hot” for me is straight hot water. During the night hours, my body pisses off the fluid that has collected in my legs during the day, requiring numerous trips to the bathroom or the use of a portable urinal. Eventually, I will fall asleep (though I typically sleep 2-3 hours at a time), only to wake up the next day and start the process all over again.

Now to the question: does suffering makes us stronger? For me, no. There’s nothing in my experiences with suffering that have made me “stronger.” I am a weak, frail man, prone to thoughts of suicide, knowing that the medical means to my end are but two or three pill bottles away. I hang on for my beautiful wife of forty-three years, my six wonderful children, and thirteen supercalifragilisticexpialidocious grandchildren. I hang on because I still feel I have important work to do through this blog. I hang on because there are still things I want to see and places I want to go. So . . . I endure. Has my suffering made me stronger? Absolutely not. I endure out of a raw, naked desire to live, to see my grandchildren go to college, graduate, and do great things in the world. I want to hold in my arms my first great-grandchild. And I want to see the Bengals win a Super Bowl, the Reds win another World Series, my book published (no I haven’t given up — yet), and Bethany marry Rascal Flatts. 🙂 I still have reasons to get up in the morning. And the day I don’t?

Early in the morning hours, in a weeping moment of despair, I texted Polly:

I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you or worry you. I love you with all my heart. But, I’m tired. I’m in so much pain — head to toe. Mentally, I’m in Pilgrim’s slough of despondency with, seemingly, no way out. I feel very alone. I know you are right here, yet everyone seems so distant. I feel like I’m being sucked under by quicksand while those who love me stand by and say, “Dad/Bruce/Butch [my nickname, only used by my siblings, aunts and uncles] will figure a way out.” And when I don’t or can’t?

Unrelenting chronic pain and suffering bring depression and despair. How could it be otherwise? That’s why I have been seeing counselors for the past ten years. (I recently changed therapists. I am seeing a woman this time.) These counselors have literally saved my life. I wish things were different for me, but “wishing” changes nothing. I am a realist, a pragmatist. Life is what it is. All I know to do is to endure. The Bible says, “he that’s endureth to the end shall be saved.” And what “saves” us, in the end, is death, not Jesus. As a chronic pain sufferer, death is my savior. Until then, I hang on until my savior appears in the sky.

This post is not a cry for help, nor is it a request for unsolicited medical advice. This is just me talking out loud and being real with the readers of this blog. I am sure some of my Evangelical critics will seize on this post as an example of the hopelessness of atheism or some sort of character flaw in my life. All I can say to them is this: fuck off.

Other Posts on Suffering

Bruce, Your “Suffering” is Nothing Compared to Job’s

Quote of the Day: Theological Beliefs Force People to Endure Needless Suffering

Do Evangelical Beliefs Cause Suffering?

An Argument Against the Existence of God: The Suffering of Animals

Quote of the Day: The Kind of Suffering That is a Problem by Bart Ehrman

Quit Complaining, Your Suffering is Nothing Compared to What Jesus Faced

Bart Ehrman on God, the Bible, and the Problem of Suffering

How Fundamentalist Prohibitions Cause Needless Suffering and Pain

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

A Few Thoughts About Mental Illness and Depression

bruce and mom 1957
Bruce and his mom, July 1957

Originally written 2011, edited, corrected.

At the age of fifty-four, my mother turned a .357 magnum Ruger revolver toward her chest and pulled the trigger. The bullet tore a hole in her heart and in a few moments she was dead. Mom had tried to kill herself many times before. This time she succeeded (please see the post Barbara).

When I was eleven, Dad had to call for an emergency squad because Mom had taken several bottles of prescription drugs. They rushed her to the hospital and pumped her stomach, and she survived to die another day. Later in the year, Mom and the neighbor lady were in a serious automobile accident in Lima. I say accident because it is possible that Mom pulled into the other lane of traffic, allowing the truck to hit them.

Mom made a third attempt on her life that same year. I came home from school and found Mom lying unconscious on the floor with blood pooling around her body. She had slit her wrists. Yet again, the emergency squad came, and her life was saved.

As best I can tell, Mom had mental problems her entire life. She was bright, witty, and well-read, but Mom could, in a split second, lapse into angry, incoherent tirades. Twice she was involuntarily committed to the Toledo State Mental Hospital, undergoing shock therapy numerous times. None of the treatments or drugs worked.

In the early 1960s, my parents found Jesus. Jesus, according to the Bible, healed the mentally ill, but, for whatever reason, he didn’t heal Mom. The mental health crises I have shared in this post, and others that I haven’t shared, all occurred after Mom put her faith and trust in the loving Jesus who supposedly had a wonderful plan for her life. Mom died believing Jesus was her Savior. To this day, I lament the fact that I didn’t do more to help her. Sadly, I saw her mental illness as an inconvenience and an embarrassment. If she just got right with God, I thought at the time, all would be well. If she would just kick her drug habit, I told her, God would be there to help her. What she really needed was for her eldest son to pick her up, hold her close, and love her. I will go to my grave wishing I had been a better son, that I had loved Mom and my family more than I loved Jesus and the church.

findlay ohio 1971-1974
Mom, Bruce, and friend, Findlay, Ohio, summer 1971

Mom was quite talented. She played the piano and loved to do ceramics. Her real passion was reading, a habit she happily passed on to me. (Mom taught me to read.) She was active in politics. Mom was a member of the John Birch Society, and actively campaigned, first for Barry Goldwater, and later for George Wallace.

My parents divorced when I was fourteen. Not long after the divorce, Mom married her first cousin, a recent parolee from a Texas prison (he was serving time for armed robbery). He later died of a drug overdose. Mom would marry two more times before she died. She was quite passionate about anything she fixed her mind upon, a trait that I, for good or ill, share with her. In the early 1970s, Mom was an aide at Winebrenner Nursing Home in Findlay, Ohio. Winebrenner paid men more than they paid women for the same work. Mom, ever the crusader, sued Winebrenner under the Equal Pay Act and the Civil Rights Act. The Federal Court decided in her favor.

We moved quite often, and I have no doubt this contributed greatly to Mom’s mental illness. She never knew what it was to have a place to call home. Our family lived in one rental after another, never stopping long enough to buy a home. I lived in sixteen different houses by the time I left for college at the age of nineteen.

I have always wondered if my parents were ever happily married. Mom and Dad were married by an Indiana Justice of the Peace in November 1956. At the time of their marriage, Mom was eighteen and pregnant. I learned a year ago that Dad was not actually my biological father. Dad meant well, but the instability of their marriage, coupled with us moving all the time, caused my siblings and me great harm. Dad thought moving was a great experience. Little did he know that I hated him for moving us around. New schools (seven different school districts). New friends. Never having a place to call home. No child should have to live this way.

From the time I was five until I was fourteen, my parents were faithful members of a Baptist church in whatever community we lived in. The Gerencser family attended church every time the doors were open (I have attended over 8,000 church services in my lifetime). Mom would play the piano from time to time, though she found it quite stressful to do so. One time, much to my embarrassment, she had a mental meltdown in front of the whole church. She never played again. For a time, Dad was a deacon, but he stopped being one because he couldn’t kick his smoking habit. I suspect the real reason was that he was having an affair.

No matter where we lived or what church we went to, one thing was certain: Mom was mentally ill and everyone pretended her illness didn’t exist. Evangelical churches such as the ones we attended had plenty of members who suffered from various mental maladies. For the most part, those who were sick in the head were ignored, marginalized, or told to repent.

In 1994, I co-pastored a Sovereign Grace Baptist church in San Antonio, Texas. (See the I am a Publican and a Heathen series.) One day we were at a church fellowship and my wife came around the corner just in time to hear one of the esteemed ladies of the church say to her daughter, you stay away from that girl, she is mentally retarded. “That girl” was our then five-year-old daughter with Down syndrome. This outstanding church member’s words pretty well sum up how many churches treat those with mental handicaps or illness. STAY AWAY from them!

Many Christians think mental illness is a sign of demonic oppression or possession. No need for doctors, drugs, or hospitals. Just come to Jesus, the great physician, and he will heal you. After all, the Bible does say in 2 Timothy 1:7: For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. If someone is mentally unsound, it’s the person’s fault, not God’s. Get right with God and all will be well.

I have suffered with depression for most of my adult life. I am on the mountaintop one moment and in the valley the next. Plagued with a Type A personality, and being a consummate workaholic, I am often driven to despair. Work, Work, Work. Go, Go, Go. Do, Do, Do. I have no doubt that the way I lived my life as a Christian contributed to the health problems that now plague me. While I was busy burning the candle at both ends for Jesus, my body was screaming STOP! But I didn’t listen. I had no time for family, rest, or pleasure. Work for the night is coming, the Bible says. Better to burn out for Jesus than rust out, I told myself. And now, thanks to living this way for much of my adult life, I am a rusting 1957 Chevrolet, sitting on blocks, awaiting the day when the junkyard comes to tow me away.

For many years, I hid my depression from the outside world. While Polly and my children witnessed depression’s effect on their husband and father, church members never had a clue. I have often wondered how parishioners might have responded had I told them the truth. I suspect some church members would have seen me as a fellow depressive, but others would likely have questioned whether I was “fit” to be a pastor.

In 2008, a few months before I deconverted, I told a pastor friend that I was really depressed. Instead of lending me a helping hand or encouraging me, he rebuked me for giving in to the attack of Satan. He told me I needed to confess my sin and get victory over it immediately. A lot of Christians think just like this (former) pastor friend of mine. (Please see Dear Friend.)  Depression is a sign of weakness, and God only wants warriors and winners.

barbara gerencser 1956
Barbara Gerencser, 1956

Going to see a counselor was the single most important thing I have done in the last ten years. It took me leaving the ministry and departing from Christianity before I was willing to find someone to talk to. Several times, while I was still a Christian, I made appointments with counselors only to cancel them at the last minute. I feared that someone would see me going into the counselor’s office or they would drive by and see my car in the parking lot. I thought, My God, I am a pastor. I am supposed to have my life together.

Indeed, it took me leaving the church, the pastorate, and God to find any semblance of mental peace. I have no doubt some readers will object to the connection I make between religion and mental wellness, but for me, there was indeed a direct correlation between the two.

I still battle with depression, but with regular counseling and a (forced) slower pace of life, I am confident that I can live a meaningful, somewhat peaceful life. As many of you know, I have chronic, unrelenting pain. I have not had a pain-free day in over twenty years (my days are counted as less pain, normal pain, more pain, and off the fucking charts pain). The constant pain and debility (I was diagnosed with gastroparesis, an incurable stomach disease, last year) certainly fuel my depression. My counselor says she would be surprised if I wasn’t depressed from time to time.  Embracing my depression and coming to grips with the pain and debility is absolutely essential to my mental well-being. This is my life. I am who I am. I accept this, and I do what I can to be a loving, kind, and productive human being.

To my Christian readers I say this: sitting near you in church this coming Sunday will be people who are suffering with mental illness. Maybe they are depressed. They hide it because they think they have to. Jesus only wants winners, remember? Pay attention to other people. The signs are there. Listen to those who you claim are your brothers and sisters in the Lord. Embrace them in the midst of their weakness and psychosis. While I don’t think a mythical God is going to heal them, I do think that loving, understanding friends can be just the salvation the mentally ill need.

It is not easy being around those who are mentally ill. Let’s face it, depressed people are not fun to be with. We are not the life of the party. When I am in the midst of mental and emotional darkness, I am not the kind of person most people want to be around. I become withdrawn, cynical, and dark. These attributes, coupled with the physical pain I endure, can, at times, make me unbearable to be around. It is at these moments when I need the help of others. Sadly, most people, including my family and friends, tend to pull away from me when I need them the most. I understand why they do so, but the loneliest place on earth is sitting alone in the darkness of night wishing you were dead.

How do you respond to people who are mentally ill? How do you respond to those who are depressed?  Perhaps you suffer from mental illness or depression. Do you hide it? How are you treated by others? If you are a Christian, how are you treated by your church and pastor? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Four Things I Learned About Shitting After Being Diagnosed with Gastroparesis

santa on toilet

A year ago, I was diagnosed with gastroparesis — an incurable stomach disease. I have battled chronic illness and pain for years, thanks to fibromyalgia and osteoarthritis, along with herniated discs in my upper back and neck. Every day is a painful struggle for me. Gastroparesis is what I call a value-added disease. I was already sick enough before my gastroparesis diagnosis, and now every waking moment is a challenge.

I have lost 110 pounds over the past 18 months, primarily due to constant nausea, vomiting, and loss of appetite. (My weight loss has leveled off in recent months.) Eating food is one of the few joys I still have, yet gastroparesis is doing its damnedest to rob of my love for food. I feel so sorry for my wife. She will cook a wonderful meal which I either can’t eat or throw up after I eat it. Imagine going out to a fancy restaurant with your hot wife, only to not be able to eat or, if I do eat, feeling immediately nauseous — regardless of what type of food I am eating. I have developed coping skills to deal with nausea. Medicine helps too — sometimes. And . . . sometimes, no matter what I do, I end up with my face in a porcelain throne. I do my best to make it home before vomiting. I HATE having to use a public restroom.

For some people with gastroparesis, the symptoms become so severe that they decide to have a feeding tube installed. A drastic choice, to be sure. I know several people in their 20s who have feeding tubes — and will likely have them the rest of their lives.

Gastroparesis, also called stomach paralysis, causes all sorts of bowel problems. What should be a normal, daily activity becomes an adventure — and not a good one either.

What follows are four things I learned about shitting after being diagnosed with gastroparesis.

Trips outside of the home require knowing exactly where store/restaurant restrooms are located

You never know when you are going to have to shit. This past summer, we took a trip to Findlay to eat and hang out at Riverside Park. As we were walking in the park, I told Polly I need to find a bathroom — now. I mean right now. I made it to the bathroom and took care of business. As I walked out of the restroom, I had the most terrible feeling I have bowl-wise: the mother of all shits is coming. I quickly turned, saying no! no! no! Halfway into the restroom, I realized I wasn’t doing to make it. I quickly pulled my suspenders and pants down and boom! shit went everywhere. On the floor, on my shoes, on my pants, on my underwear, on my suspenders — everywhere. After I was done, I cleaned up the floor the best I could, silently saying sorry to the janitor who would later have to clean up after me. I rinsed out my clothes and wiped off my shoes and suspenders. I then walked out of the restroom, underwear in hand. I looked at Polly, handed her the underwear to put in a bag. No words were needed.

Several months ago, I had a similar experience at a Whole Foods store in Toledo. This time, I made it to the toilet, splattering shit all over the stool. I cleaned up my mess the best I could, once again saying sorry to the janitor who would later have to clean up after me.

I can have multiple bowel movements a day and then be constipated for a week

It should be IMPOSSIBLE for me to be constipated. I eat a fiber-rich diet. I take fiber twice a day and use stool softeners every night. Despite all of this, I can have diarrhea one day and then be constipated for a week. After two or three days of constipation, I typically resort to enemas (and cursing) to get things moving. Prior to being diagnosed with gastroparesis, I had normal, daily bowel movements.

I have learned farting can result in shitting

Earlier this week, Polly woke up in the dead of the night to find me cleaning the bed. What should have been an ordinary, routine fart turned into a shit. Insert jokes about shitting the bed here. At least I didn’t stumble and dump my urinal all over myself or on the bed.

I have learned my body will lie to me

I will have cramps, thinking I need to take a shit. Nothing. The next time I have cramps, I will have the mother of all bowel movements. With gastroparesis, there’s no reliable way to know when you should defecate.

And now you know the rest of the story. If you ever see me running through a local store, just remember this post. And . . . avoid the restroom for an hour or so. 🙂

Coming soon, my latest blockbuster book, Adventures in Shitting. 🙂

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

The War on Chronic Pain Sufferers

vicodin

There’s a war going on in America. Law-abiding chronic pain sufferers are caught in the middle of a battle between federal and state laws governing narcotic prescriptions, pharmacy regulations, and medical clinic practices. The war on opiate addiction has caused untold pain and harm for people who dutifully take their medications, refilling them as prescribed by their doctor.

My primary care doctor writes me three prescriptions for Hydrocodone every time I see him. These scripts are dated, meaning they CANNOT be filled before the date on the script. I am required to see my doctor every three months to get these scripts. Thus, my $25 a month prescription actually costs me $85 — almost $1,000 a year.

My doctor electronically sends these scripts to CVS. They remain on file until I call them and ask for a refill. The pharmacy refuses to refill narcotic prescriptions automatically. Every other drug I take is on automatic refill. What makes matters worse, I must call the pharmacy on the day my doctor wrote on the script. Not the day before, but the day of. This means I must remain at home on the day my prescription is refilled.

Today, Polly called CVS, requesting my September 13, 2021, refill. The pharmacy tech said it would be ready in an hour. We arrived at CVS at our appointed time only to find out that the pharmacy did not fill my prescription. Why? They didn’t have enough Hydrocodone to fill the script. Their order will be in on the 15th!

CVS had some Hydrocodone on hand but couldn’t partially refill my prescription because it is against the law for them to do so. I said, “Fine. Send it over to Walmart.” The twenty-something-year-old pharmacist replied, “we are not permitted to transfer Schedule II prescriptions.” I tried to explain to her what this would to do me (I have NO Hydrocodone at home and have been on pain management drugs since 2005), but it became quickly clear to me that no amount of pleading on my end was going to change the “rules of engagement.” This means I will be without pain medication for 48-72 hours.

A year ago, I was taking three drugs for pain. Thanks to policies instituted by my doctor’s practice (a large physician’s group), I had to stop taking two of those drugs. I am now held hostage to an opiate load number (morphine equivalent dose); not whether my pain is adequately treated. Ninety is the magic number. I am currently at sixty. So, like a feral cat, I take what I can get from my doctor, telling myself, “it could be worse.”

After leaving CVS, I called my doctor’s office, thinking he would send a two or three day prescription to Walmart. Unfortunately, thanks to the medical clinic’s “new and improved” phone system, I could not talk directly to my doctor or his nurse. The woman who answered the phone assured me that she would make sure they got my message. I impressed upon her the importance of getting my prescription problem fixed. I am sure I sounded like a drug-seeking addict. Almost seven hours later, no return call, and now the pharmacies are closed. And so, I am left without pain medication, knowing what is coming next. Just ask any chronic pain sufferer what happens when their medications are suddenly stopped.

Sudden cessation of narcotics brings all sorts of physical problems. Everyone in this story knows this, yet I am the one that bears the consequences. Not them; I do. I snarkily told the pharmacist that I might spend the day drinking booze. “Oh, don’t do that,” she replied. I wanted to ask her, “what should I do, then?” I said nothing, knowing that she likely had no real-world experience with serious pain. There’s only one answer to my question: suffer. Or die.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

The Cart

bruce gerencser august 2021
Front Yard of Our Home, August 31, 2021

The old man and his wife pull into the store parking lot. The ride to Toledo from their home in Ney was excruciating for the old man. Wracked with pain, the old man felt every bump, thump, and bang as they drove down Toledo’s neglected streets. Narcotic pain medication helps, but nothing takes the pain away. Healthy people are often ignorant about how pain meds work. They wrongly think that taking drugs such as Hydrocodone or Oxycontin makes pain go away. Two Vicodin, thirty minutes, and voila! pain magically disappears. Or so people think. People with chronic pain know better; pain meds reduce pain, but don’t make it disappear. The old man had taken extra pain medications, preparing for the hour ride to the Glass City and back.

A recent MRI report said:

  • Disc herniation (T7,T8)
  • Disc herniation (T6,T7)
  • Central spinal canal stenosis (T9/T10, T10/T11)
  • Foraminal stenosis (T5,T6)
  • Disc degeneration/spondylosis (T1/T2 through T10/T11)
  • Facet Arthropathy throughout the spine, particularly at T2/T3, T3/T4, T5/T6, and T7/T8 through the T12/L1 levels.
  • Hypertrophic arthropathy at T9/T10

These diagnoses gave voice to the excruciating pain the old man had in his thoracic spine for months. Yet, this diagnosis drove the old man further into the throes of depression. Fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, gastroparesis, and now serious back problems. “Does it ever end?” the old man wonders, knowing that the answer to his existential question was “no.” No cure. No pain-free days. No better tomorrow. Just pain, suffering, and struggling with death in the hope of living another day.

The old woman parked the car, opening her door, and walking to the raised hatch on the back of their SUV. The old man no longer drives, so it’s up to the old woman to drive them everywhere they go. The old man partially opens his door, pushing it open with his cane. Then, with great difficulty, he stands up and then haltingly walks to the back of the car.

The old man and woman knew this day would come, the day when the old man finally gave in and gave up, resigning himself to using a wheelchair full-time. The old man’s pain and debility is such that walking is difficult and dangerous (risking falls and injuries). Unable to pick up more than a pound or two, the old man cannot remove his wheelchair from the trunk of their car. The old woman carries so much of the old man’s weight these days, yet she never says a word. Forty-three years ago, she stood before God and man and said to her husband:

I, Polly Shope, take thee, Bruce Gerencser, to be my wedded Husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love, cherish, and to obey, till death us do part, according to God’s holy ordinance; and thereto I give thee my troth.

Little did she know what these words would mean in the years to come.

The old woman has her own health problems. Two major bowel surgeries, A-fib, knee problems, all in the past three years. She needs to retire, but she can’t. The old man needs health insurance. Without it, medical bills would bankrupt them. Even with insurance, they paid over $40,000 over the past five years for health care.

The old woman pulled the wheelchair from the car, pushing on the wheelchair’s arms to expand its seat. She puts a gel cushion on the seat and a bedroom pillow she brought from home where the old man will soon put his back. “Where are the feet?” the old woman says to her thirty-one-year-old daughter with Down syndrome. She already knows the answer to her question. The feet for the wheelchair are sitting on the dining room floor, fifty miles away.

Without the feet, the old man can’t use the wheelchair. “I’ll just walk,” he tells the old woman. “I can do it,” he says, seeing the doubt and worry in the old woman’s eyes.

Sure enough, by the time the old man reaches the front door of the store, he knows he will be unable to walk its aisles. “Fuck,” the old man says in the way only the old woman understands. Not far from the couple is the answer to the old man’s inability to walk. “Nope. I am not going to do it. Goddammit, no! What will people think of me? I’m not a cripple. Dammit! I’m just as strong as I was in my athletic days.” The old man struggles in his mind with accepting things as they are, and not as he wishes they were. He lives according to the mantra, “it is what it is.” The old man knows he is facing yet another “it is what it is” moment.

Finally, the old man walks over to the battery-powered carts. The old woman had begged him to use one of the carts when they were shopping for several years. He refused, too prideful to ride around the store in a beeping advertisement that screamed he was a cripple. Today, it was the old man’s Waterloo. Either the old man will sit in the car while the old woman shops, or he will swallow his pride and use a cart.

The old man sits down on the cart, and soon he’s driving the store’s aisles. While using a cart solved the old man’s “walking” problem, its sudden starting and stopping only increased his pain. The wheelchair with its feet attached will be his chariot the next time he and the old woman go shopping. What changed this day was how the old man viewed and understood his future. Sometimes, giving in is the only thing you can do. The old man learned that he would have to sacrifice his pride if he wanted to “live.”

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Bruce, Have You Tried . . .?

unsolicited medical advice

Every time I mention my health in a blog post — as sure as the sun comes up in the morning — I will receive emails and social media comments from readers offering me unsolicited, unwanted medical advice. These people mean well, but their “advice” is not welcome or helpful. Their advice says I am not doing something right; it is my fault I am sick and in pain. If I would just follow their “advice,” I would no longer be sick, nor would I be in pain.

Often, the “advice” I receive comes from proponents of alternative treatments — unproven treatments purveyors promise really, really, really work (for a price). There seems to be an assumption by the people who send me unsolicited medical advice that I am ignorant; that I have not investigated other treatments for gastroparesis, fibromyalgia, and osteoarthritis.

Last Saturday, I published a post titled, Health Update: I’m F**ked. In this article, I mentioned the results from an MRI I had last week:

I had X-rays. Normal. CT scan. Normal. And now an MRI of my thoracic spine. NOT normal. I have:

Disc herniation (T7,T8)

Disc herniation (T6,T7)

Central spinal canal stenosis (T9/T10, T10/T11)

Foraminal stenosis (T5,T6)

Disc degeneration/spondylosis (T1/T2 through T10/T11)

Facet Arthropathy throughout the spine, particularly at T2/T3, T3/T4, T5/T6, and T7/T8 through the T12/L1 levels.

Hypertrophic arthropathy at T9/T10

I quickly received several emails and comments telling me that I need to try this or that diet or supplement. These people have no idea about what my diet is or what, if any, supplements I take. They assume that because I am sick and in pain, that I must not be doing what they suggest I do. One long-time reader sent me a link to a video and suggested I go on the KETO diet. I tersely replied that I was on the no-food diet (gastroparesis); that I have lost 120 pounds; that my A1c is 5.3. She means well, but her emails and comments are NOT helpful. The same can be said for emails from people saying that if I just became a vegan, all would be well.

Let me be clear: I think Reiki, chiropractic treatment (with a few exceptions), homeopathy, supplementation, essential oils, acupuncture, magnets, faith healers, etc., are unproven, unscientific modalities. The same goes for diets that advocate unbalanced, unhealthy eating. There’s nothing wrong with my diet. I eat lots of vegetables, seafood, and other “healthy foods. Yet, I am still sick. Why? My problems are not diet related. There’s no diet or supplement known to man that will “cure” the structural damage in my back. Go to a chiropractor? Are you fucking kidding me? Think about that for a moment: a chiropractor pushing on my herniated discs. What could go wrong? The only solution is to treat and manage my pain.

I am a proponent of science-based medicine (SBM). I have confidence that my doctors are providing me the best possible treatment. I keep myself informed about the latest treatments and studies for my various maladies. I suspect I am better educated on gastroparesis, fibromyalgia, and osteoarthritis than are any of the people who offer me unsolicited medical advice. I have friends I trust who will send me links to reports or studies they have read. I have no problem with them doing this. What irritates the hell out of me is the unsolicited medical advice that subtly suggests that I am at fault; that if I would just do _______, my decades-long illnesses and pain would magically go away.

If you want to help me, continue to read my writing, leave pithy comments, and support my work financially. Leave my medical care to my doctors and me. Trust me, we have it under control. I know the limitations of modern medicine. I know that no magic treatment that will “cure” me is lurking around the next corner. I expect my doctors to do what they can, but I have never expected them to be miracle workers. Sometimes, life sucks. I am a realist. I know that I will battle chronic illness and pain until I die. Friends, family, and blog readers, genuinely wish I weren’t in pain. They tell me that things will get better in time. “Surely, better days lie ahead for me.” They think I need encouragement or happy visions of a seal bouncing a beach ball on his nose. I don’t. Sure, there are things people can do to help me, but how about asking me what help I need instead of assuming I need ______________?

Let me kindly ask again that readers do NOT send me unsolicited medical advice. And that includes leaving comments on this site, making comments on social media, or sending me private Facebook/Twitter messages. If you truly love and respect me, PLEASE stop.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Giving In When It’s The Only Thing You Can Do

If you are a sports fan, you have likely heard the late Jim Valvano’s speech at the 1993 Espy Awards. Valvano had terminal cancer. He died six weeks after giving his speech at the Espy’s. Valvano started The V Foundation for Cancer Research. Its motto is “Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.” The idea behind this motto is that life is always to be valued above death, that we must keep fighting until the very end, that we must never give in or give up. This sort of thinking is on prominent display on social media and in countless books; a sentiment I can’t embrace.

Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America, had this to say about the positive thinking culture that permeates our society:

In other words, it [positive thinking] requires deliberate self-deception, including a constant effort to repress or block out unpleasant possibilities and ‘negative’ thoughts. The truly self-confident, or those who have in some way made their peace with the world and their destiny within it, do not need to expend effort censoring or otherwise controlling their thoughts.

Speaking of having breast cancer, Ehrenreich wrote:

Breast cancer, I can now report, did not make me prettier or stronger, more feminine or spiritual. What it gave me, if you want to call this a “gift,” was a very personal, agonizing encounter with an ideological force in American culture that I had not been aware of before—one that encourages us to deny reality, submit cheerfully to misfortune, and blame only ourselves for our fate.

Read your local newspaper’s obituaries, and you will find references to the dead battling, fighting, and persevering to the end. We know differently. Most people die with a whimper; the life sucked out of them by the diseases that afflict the human race.

I am dying. Maybe not today or tomorrow, but I am nearing the end of my life. Well-wishers tell me to keep fighting. Preachers of positive thinking tell me that I need to think good thoughts. It seems that people want me to deny reality and construct a false narrative, one of rainbows, puppy dogs, and happiness. People mean well, but as I become sicker, I find their cheerful, syrupy words unhelpful. In fact, I often find their words irritating and depressing. I find myself thinking, “can’t you see me?” Perhaps they can’t bear the thought of me dying. They can’t imagine their world without me. And so, the mass delusion continues.

Even if I were a healthy sixty-four, I am still nearing the time when I join Toto over the rainbow. If I lived to be 70, my life is 91% over; if I live to 80, 80% of my life is in the rearview mirror. I am not, however, healthy, and I never will be. I see no magical treatment on the horizon, no drug that cures me of what ails me. All my doctors can do is treat my symptoms and try to reduce my pain. Yesterday, I saw my primary care doctor. I had an EKG, a chest X-ray, and blood work. I will likely have a CT scan soon.

Four months ago, I started having pain in my left side. Typically, when I have such pains, I think “fibromyalgia.” However, such pains typically ebb and flow. This excruciating pain has, instead, spread to the middle of my back and under my arm. I spend most of my waking hours on the couch, trying to lie just right to lessen the pain. Pain medications are not effective with this pain, so I endure.

As you may know, I was diagnosed with gastroparesis — an incurable disease — earlier this year. I have lost 115 pounds, have little appetite, and frequent bouts of vomiting. I take medications that “help” to some degree with the symptoms, but there’s no cure for gastroparesis, so this is my life.

And then there’s Uncle Arthur — osteoarthritis. The X-rays I had done yesterday showed more arthritis in the spine. I am beginning to wonder if it would be simpler to list the places where I DON’T have arthritis.

I write this post, not to solicit sympathy, but to make a point about why it is okay to give in when it is all you can do. A week or so ago, we went to Whole Foods in Toledo. As I haltingly walked in the door, I veered to the left, away from Polly to the motorized carts. Polly watched as I stood there for what seemed the longest time. She came over to me and asked, “what are you doing?” I replied, “I am thinking about using a cart.” You see, I have never used a motorized cart or my wheelchair in a store. Whether due to pride or some sort of warrior complex, I refuse to use a cart.

I know that the no-cart/no-wheelchair days are over. No amount of positive mental thinking will change the fact that my body is broken beyond repair. IF I want to go to the store with Polly, I must use a cart. The battle, then, is psychological, not physical. I must embrace life as it is. I must be willing to give in.

I choose to embrace my life as it is, not how I might want it to be or how others want it to be. I choose to be a realist and a pragmatist. Bruce, this post is so damn depressing. Yep, and so is life. All I know to do is accept what comes my way. Unlike Jim Valvano, I have come to see that it is okay to give in; that I am not weak or a failure if I do so. In the end, Valvano and I will end up in the same place.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen 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.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Bruce Gerencser