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Tag: Chronic Pain

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 54, 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 11, 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. She 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 14. 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 16 different houses by the time I left for college at the age of 19.

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 18 and pregnant. I learned later in life that it is doubtful that Dad was actually my biological father. There is more to the story of who might be my father, but I have never, for his sake, publicly told the story. 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 time I was five until I was 14, 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 with various mental maladies. For the most part, those who were sick in the head were ignored or marginalized.

Two decades ago, 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 5-year-old Down Syndrome daughter. 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 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 the victory over it immediately. A lot of Christians think just like this (former) pastor friend of mine.  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 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 15 years (my days are counted as less pain, normal pain, more pain, and off the fucking charts pain). The constant pain and debility certainly fuels my depression. My counselor says he 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 with 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.

Note

This post is not a cry for help. This is just me talking out loud with my friends.

Chronic Illness: Convincing Yourself Things Are Not as They Seem

i am fine thanks

Regular readers know that I battle chronic illness and unrelenting pain from the moment I get up until the time I fitfully fall asleep in the wee hours of the morning. For those of you who are new readers, let me give you the short version of my medical resume:

I have Fibromyalgia, which causes pervasive fatigue and muscle pain. I also have nerve pain in my face, hands, and thighs, loss of motor function and strength, osteoarthritis in every joint, including my back, frequent loss of bladder control, diabetes, and high blood pressure. Since late last year I’ve gone through numerous tests in an attempt to figure out why I am losing weight and frequently don’t feel like eating. An endoscopic ultrasound found a lesion on my pancreas and enlarged lymph glands. So far, they have not turned cancerous. I’ve been treated twice this year for squamous cell carcinoma (hip and lip) and several years ago I had a basal cell carcinoma removed from my nose. I have a labrum tear in my right shoulder and joint damage in my left shoulder, feet, and knees.  I require the use of a wheelchair and/or a cane to get around.

This is my life. There’s little I can do to change it. I hunker down and try to live the best way I know how. It’s been a decade since I’ve had what I call a good day. These days, a good day is one where the pain is manageable and I can work in the office for a few hours and maybe go to a football game with my sons. A bad day is one where narcotic pain medications do little to ameliorate my pain and I am left curled up in bed wishing I were dead. Depression is the dark passenger in my life, and there are times when I fight the desire to end the suffering and pain.

I know there is no cure on the horizon, no magical drug that will make everything better. I’ve been tested, retested, and tested again, so much so that I glow in the dark. I have blood work at least six times a year.  My last blood draw required seven vials of blood, and that was after the phlebotomist stuck me three times trying to find one of my deep veins that would give enough flow to fill seven tubes. Despite all these tests, I remain, to some degree, an enigma to doctors, a patient with symptoms that don’t neatly fit into a specific diagnosis box.

As a skeptic, atheist, and humanist, I accept that life is what it is. I know that a deity isn’t going to magically heal me, and I’ve concluded neither are doctors. I have two choices in life; either endure whatever life bring my way or roll over and die. So far, I’ve chosen to endure, Yes, I hope for better days and I certainly desire for the good days to outnumber the bad days. But, regardless of my thoughts and desires, the die of my life is cast. In eighteen months I’ll be 60 years old. I’ve lived a decade longer than my father, who died of a stroke at age 49, and five years longer than my mother, who killed herself 23 years ago. I’ve watched death rob me of those I love, and I have little doubt that death is lurking in the shadow of my life, ready to claim me for its own. Death, like life, is certain, and as anyone who is chronically ill can tell you, the prospect of death is an ever-present reality.

Yet, I can have delusional moments where I pretend I’m not sick. There are times I become quite depressed as Polly goes off to work each day. As a man who was taught that the husband is supposed to be the breadwinner, I find it emotionally and mentally  painful to watch the most important person in my life go to work every day so we can have a roof over our head, food to eat, and all the trappings of a typical Midwestern lifestyle. I tell myself that Polly was a stay-at-home mom for many years and now our roles are reversed, but I still wish I could be the one kissing my spouse goodbye and saying I love you as I walk out the door for work. I know this will never be the case, but I can, at times, trick myself into believing that I can once again be Bruce Before Illness and Pain.

The chronically ill are known for convincing themselves that things are not as they seem. Put mind over matter, well-wishers tell the sick person. I’ve tried just such an approach many times over the years. Sickness be gone, pain depart, I say to myself. I can do anything I want to do. The only thing standing my way is me! Try as I might to convince myself that a wonderful new day has dawned, it’s not long before reality slaps me up the side of the head and asserts its rule over my life.

I continue to scan the help wanted ads, looking for the perfect job for a broken down, incapacitated old man. Every once in awhile, I’ll apply for this or that job, thinking that the prospective employer will be sure to call. Rarely does the phone ring. Recently, I applied for a job that required 2-5 hours every other week stocking display counters at the local Meijer. I sent the company my resume, and a week or so later they contacted me for an interview. On the day of my interview, I made sure I looked my best, donning a crisply pressed shirt and dockers. Not wanting to give off the cripple vibe, I left my cane at home and uprightly walked into Meijer for the interview. I was sure that this was the perfect job for me. Just enough work to restore a bit of my self-esteem and provide added income for our household budget.

The interview went well. I generally interview well. Having hired hundreds of people in my day, I know what an interviewer is looking for. I was pleasant, made eye contact, and asked the interviewer questions about herself, the company, and the job. She seemed to be excited about the prospect of hiring someone like me. Or perhaps, I just thought she was excited. Regardless, I left the interview thinking I would soon be stocking batteries at the local Meijer. A few days later I learned the company chose someone else for the job.

Not being chosen for an inconsequential, low paying job resulted in a weeks of depression and thoughts of suicide. Try as she might, Polly couldn’t rescue me and all my counselor could do was keep me holding on to the proverbial knot at the end of life’s rope. In time, the dark clouds lifted and I was able to put the rejection behind me.

I can convince myself that I can still work like I did before 1997, the year I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia. I’ll convince myself that I can stand on my feet for hours at a time, even though I can rarely stand for more than an hour. Just shopping for groceries requires me leaning on a shopping cart, and by the time I leave the store my body is screaming in pain.

My body never lies, but I do. I lie to myself, and I often lie to Polly. I’ll tell Polly that I want to apply for a job at this or that store and she’ll give that look I’ve see uncounted times before. But I can do it, I tell her. I won’t know until I try, right?  The love of my life lets me drift on the sea of my delusion, knowing that I will sooner or later realize I can’t do what the job requires me to do. She never looks down on me or chides me for trying the impossible. She knows, based on almost 40 years of loving me, that I am a proud man, a man who has a hard time embracing his life as it now is.

Sometimes, I will inflict greater pain on myself, refusing to give in to what my body demands of me. Last Friday, my sons and I attended a local high school football game. The night before I got about 4 hours of sleep, and wisdom dictated that I cancel my plans to go to the game. So much for wisdom. I went to the game and endured three hours of being battered by people walking up and down the aisle. A man in back of me, thinking he still was in high school, spent the night cheering loudly and stomping his feet. Every time he stomped his feet my body rippled with painful shock waves. By the time the last touchdown was scored, I was ready to murder the man where he stood.

After the game was over, I haltingly made my way down to the ground. This particular school decided to build its football stadium a long distance from the parking lot, and I wondered if I was going to be able to make it back to the car. With head down, teeth gritted, I walked toward the car. My sons, still in their prime, quickly, even with grandchildren in tow, outdistanced me, and soon they were yards ahead of me. They stopped, allowing me to catch up, only to find me straggling behind a few minutes later.

During the game, we had been talking about Polly’s parents, her Dad’s upcoming hip replacement, and their unwillingness to change their way of life. Pride was their problem, we decided.  As I walked towards the car, a woman in a golf cart stopped and asked if I would like a ride to the car. Everything in my being said YES, but pride turned her offer of help away with a, no, I’m fine. Thank you. A few minutes later another woman in a golf cart stopped and  again asked if I needed a ride. I gave her the same answer I gave the first good Samaritan. My oldest son, watching my obstinate denial of reality, laughed and reminded me of my own pride. I chuckled, and then continued on my way to the car.

My son,of course, was right. It’s pride, the desire to rise above my illness and pain, that often brings more pain and debility. Try as I might to see my life as it is and embrace my new reality, I continue to have times when I attempt to conjure up the Bruce that existed before illness and pain took from me much of what made me a man. I look at old photographs and weep, lamenting a life that once was. And then I dry my eyes and remind myself that nothing I do can bring back that which is lost. The best I can do is embrace life as it is. I have a beautiful wife, six wonderful children, and ten awesome grandchildren. Surely, I’m blessed with that which many people would give anything for, I remind myself. I can choose to lament what’s been lost or rejoice over what I still have.

Today, I rejoice. Now, where’s the employment section of the paper?

[signoff]

How Fundamentalist Prohibitions Cause Needless Suffering and Pain

sin can make you sick

Polly’s father is almost 80 years old. In poor health, suffering from severe spinal deterioration and arthritis, Dad has decided to have a total hip replacement. While Polly and I are absolutely against him having the surgery, it’s his life and he is free to do what he wants. Dad is in constant pain and he hopes that having the hip replaced will lessen his pain. The doctor gave no guarantees and, having worked with many hip replacement patients when I worked for Allegro Medical, a Phoenix based direct medical equipment supply company, I’m worried that the surgery could make his pain worse or land him in a nursing home. It’s hard to stand by and do nothing as parents make decisions like this, but Dad and Mom are competent to make this decision, so we will do all we can to love and support them. We remind ourselves that someday we will be where they are.

By now, you are probably trying figure out how the title of this post, How Fundamentalist Prohibitions Cause Needless Suffering and Pain, fits with what I have written so far. Let me explain. Dad was always a hard worker, often able to work circles around men half his age. He and I got along well because we both had that workaholic drive, the need to constantly be busy and get things done. However, at the age of 65, Dad was in an industrial accident that injured his back and required immediate surgery.

Soon, pain became an ever-present reality. Dad, having been taught that taking narcotics could lead to addiction, refused to take anything more than Tylenol or aspirin. Later in life, Naproxen was added to the mix as was Darvocet, a drug that was later removed from the market due to serious side effects. Dad would do his best to only take what he thought he needed, often only taking half a pill or going without taking anything for several days. No matter how often I reminded him that it would be better if he took the drugs regularly and on schedule, he continued to endure the pain rather than take the drugs as the doctor ordered.  A year or so ago, Dad’s doctor gave him a prescription for Tramadol and a few weeks ago he gave him a script for Oxycontin. Finally, I thought, he will find some relief for his pain and suffering. Sadly, that was not to be the case.

You see, Dad is afraid of becoming addicted and this is one of the reasons he is having a total hip replacement. In his mind, if he has the hip replaced, perhaps the pain will lessen and he won’t need to take the Oxycontin. No addiction, and God will be happy.  I would try to explain to him the difference between addiction and dependence, but I don’t think he’d hear me. Having been a narcotic user for over a decade, I know that I am dependent; I’m not an addict. I take the drugs as prescribed. I wish that Dad could see that being dependent is no big deal and that regularly taking Oxycontin will reduce his pain and improve his quality of life.  Unfortunately, thinking drug dependence is a sin keeps Dad from getting the full benefit of the drug.

This is a perfect example of how fundamentalist prohibitions cause unneeded suffering and pain. From preaching that says addiction (dependence) is a sin to viewing pain and suffering as some sort of test from God, many fundamentalists eschew drugs and treatments that would likely improve their quality of life. Better to suffer for Jesus, the thought goes, than to become dependent on narcotics. In just a little while, Jesus is coming again…so endure until you see your Savior’s smiling face.

As an atheist, I am deeply troubled by this kind of thinking. Since I think this life is the only one we have, we should do all we can to eliminate not only our own pain and suffering, but the pain and suffering of others. Since there is no heaven and no reward in the sweet by and by, why needlessly suffer? Better to become dependent on narcotics and have some sort of pain relief and improved quality of life than to go through life suffering, only to die in the end.  While I certainly think having a chronic illness and living with unrelenting pain has made me more compassionate, I don’t wish such a life on anyone, especially those I love.

How about you? Were you taught that taking narcotics and becoming dependent on them was a sin? Please share your story in the comment section.

Note

I pastored numerous people over the years who thought taking pain medications was a sign of weakness or lack of dependence on God. I watched one man horrifically suffer from bowel cancer, unwilling to take drugs for the pain. I’ve come to see that this is the Evangelical version of the Catholic self-flagellation.

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[signoff]

Have You Tried (blank)?

chronic illness

Because I am forthcoming about the health problems I have, well-meaning people often give me unsolicited medical advice. Sometimes, they don’t know what to say so have you tried ________________ becomes the secular version of I’ll pray for you. Other times, the person refuses to believe that what’s wrong with me can’t be fixed. Surely modern medicine, alternative practitioners, and witch doctors can fix anything, yes? Or so the thinking goes.

Many people have a simplistic view of health, sickness, and how the body works. They wrongly think that if I just eat right or takes this or that vitamin/supplement that every health problem I have will be cured. Some people think that doctors deliberately keep us sick so they can make money; that there is a grand conspiracy between doctors, hospitals, and pharmaceutical companies to keep people sick so they can profit from their sickness. According to people who think like this, I should see a herbalist, homeopath, reflexologist, acupuncturist, accupressurist, aromatherapist, chiropractor, or irridologist–anyone but a doctor. Armed with anecdotal, subjective stories about miraculous healing, they are certain if I would just get away from Western doctors that all would be well.

I am all for trying anything that is evidence-based and has a proven track record. What I’m not willing to do is waste my time on woo-woo (pseudoscience, quackery). Every week a family member, friend, or reader of this blog sends me an email with a link to a surefire cure for what ails me. They are certain, based on their superficial reading of an article, that if I will just try __________ I will be cured. Again, if there are peer-reviewed, double-blind-studied treatments that hold out the possibility of helping me, then I am all for  them. Sadly, most of the links sent to me are woo-woo.

When you’ve suffered for a long time and have to deal with unrelenting pain each and every day, it is easy to get upset when someone with good intentions says have you tried _______________. I try to be polite, realizing the person just wants me to be better, but the constant unsolicited medical advice does wear on me.  My health problems are very much a part of the fabric of my life and I think it is important for me to write about them, but I find I am less willing to do so because of the unsolicited medical advice that comes when I do.

I am well read on the subject of Fibromyalgia, auto-immune diseases, and arthritis. When I was first diagnosed with Fibromyalgia 17 years ago, I read every book about Fibromyalgia I could get my hands on. When new studies come out I read them and try to look at the methodology the study used to come to its conclusions. Many studies have come and gone, with most of them offering little hope to people with Fibromyalgia. While doctors and researchers continue to study the various diseases that afflict me, so far there are no cures.

Over the years, I’ve tried numerous drugs, supplements, and treatments, all to no avail (along with tens of thousands of dollars of tests). At this point in my life, I am satisfied that I have done all I can do. For someone like me, hope can be a cruel thing. Better to embrace life as it is than to constantly hope for that which will never happen. It’s unlikely that a new drug or a new treatment for Fibromyalgia will be found in my lifetime (and no, Lyrica is not a cure for Fibromyalgia). Researchers are a long way from definitively understanding what causes Fibromyalgia,  and even further away from coming up with a treatment for it. And even if a cure for Fibromyalgia is found, I would still be left to deal with arthritis, a disease that can be managed but not cured.

I appreciate every one of you who has supported me over the years. Your gentle encouragement and love mean the world to me. While doctors can do no more for me, your support  gives me strength and motivates me to get up in the morning (or early afternoon) and continue to write for this blog.  Thank you for making a real difference in my life.

Bruce

Note

Last night, Polly and I watched the first episode of The Daily Show with Trevor Noah. (It was awesome, BTW.) Comedian Kevin Hart was Noah’s guest. Noah asked Hart about his commitment to physical fitness and Hart told him that running was the most important part of his fitness regime. He then went on to say that he sees himself as an evangelist of all sorts for running.  Hart said, everyone can run!  I hollered, no, dumb shit, they can’t. I can’t run, nor can I walk long distances. I know I will never run again and I have no doubt that I will someday be wheelchair bound. As it is, I can walk or stand on my feet for, at most, an hour. When we go to the grocery, I must hold on to the cart so I can stand upright (it also keeps me from falling).  Fifteen to thirty minutes into our shopping, I will feel warm, stabbing pain in my upper thighs, face, and lower back. A few minutes later, these areas will burn and feel as your foot does  when it  falls asleep. Doctors theorize this has to do with my back and the numerous narrow disk spaces I have, especially in the lower back. So, run? Not a chance. I’m just happy to walk through Meijer without having to bend over the cart or sit down to relieve the pain.

One thing that would help is medical marijuana, but it is not legalized in Ohio.

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Why Are Some Evangelicals Obsessed With My Weight?

bruce gerencser 2015-002
Bruce Gerencser, 2015

Some Evangelicals who stumble upon this blog or find my page on Facebook take a look at my profile picture and, based on what they see, personally attack me by making derogatory comments about my weight or physical features. (see Did You Atheism Will Make You Fat?) Let me give you a good example of this. Several years ago, I received an email from a man named Bill Higgins. Higgins came to this blog via a Google search for “David Hyles Scandal.” His search gives away his religious preference; he is likely a Fundamentalist Baptist, the meanest and nastiest of the Christian species. Here’s what Higgins had to say:

I’m not that good of a Christian so I don’t mind saying this.

Why would you put a picture of you fat face on your website. I don’t respect fat people unless they have an excuse. I think you are just fat because you are lazy and spend to much time on your computer.

I don’t dare respond via email to people like Bill Higgins. To do so means I am giving a low-life like Higgins my email address and once I do that the emails never end.

I want to be clear about a few things. I know I am overweight, I am fat, obese, a lard-ass, whatever term people want to use for people like me. On most days, I am not ashamed of this fact. I don’t try to hide who I really am by using a picture of me taken 35 years ago. I am quite comfortable in my own skin, even if I have a lot more of it these days.

I wasn’t always overweight. When  I was 18 I was 6 foot tall and weighed 160 pounds. I played competitive sports all through school and continued to do so until I was in my early 30s. When Polly and I married in 1978 I weighed 180 pounds. After a few years of marriage, my weight reached 225 pounds and as long as I was physically active my weight stayed in the 225-250 pound range.

I have what people call a fire-plug build. My weight is pretty well-distributed from top to bottom. I don’t have a huge pot-gut like many men my size do. Ironically, because of my physical build, people often underestimate my weight. When I stopped playing competitive sports and started spending more time in the study, my weight began to climb. As I reached middle age, it became harder and harder to lose weight.

24 years ago, I came down with mononucleosis. My doctor treated me for months before he decided to do a mono test. By then, I was in big trouble and I ended up in the hospital. My liver and spleen were swollen, my tonsils and adenoids were white from the infection that was overrunning my body, and the internist told me there was nothing he could do for me. Unless my immune system kicked in and started fighting the infection, I would likely die. Well, it’s 2015, so it looks like I made it.

Mononucleosis in older adults is a serious matter. It can kill you. While I survived, the mono did a number on my body.  Mono left me with a severely compromised immune system and oddly it altered my  normal body temperature from 98.6  to 97.0. A few years later, I began to have widespread muscle and joint pain and I was fatigued all the time.  After a few years of seeing  specialists, they determined I have Fibromyalgia.  I was officially diagnosed with Fibromyalgia 18 years ago.

In 2006, I began to develop neurological problems; numbness in my thighs, face, arms and hands; loss of motor skills; memory problems. After tens of thousands of dollars of tests, several brain scans, MRI’s, CT scans,  and multiple specialists, it was determined that I have “we don’t know what the hell is wrong with you.”   While many of my symptoms point to multiple sclerosis, no doctor has been willing to say I have MS.

Last month, I wrote:

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

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

bruce 2015
Bruce Gerencser, 2015

Earlier this year I had an endoscopic ultrasound and a colonoscopy done in the hope that doctors could pinpoint why I have no appetite and why I am losing weight. (I’ve lost 50 pounds since Christmas 2014). While the weight loss has leveled off, I still have days where I have no appetite.  The tests found a lesion on my pancreas, and stones in my gallbladder. Good news? No cancer, though the lesion on my pancreas must be carefully monitored.

And then there’s my battle with skin cancer. Two months ago, I had a squamous cell carcinoma removed from my hip. In 2007, I had a basal cell carcinoma removed from my nose. I am currently going through topical chemotherapy treatment for cancer and precancer on my lower lip. My lower lip is a bloody, ugly mess, but it beats having to have invasive, disfiguring surgery done on my lip. Thanks to being a fair-skinned redhead  and repeated blistering burns as a child and young adult, I suspect I will be battling skin cancer the rest of my life.

As you can see, my health plate is full. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that unless someone comes up with a cure things won’t get better for me. I choose to embrace my life as it is. Wishing things were different doesn’t change how things are. The pervasive pain, muscle problems, and neurological problems, have debilitated me to such a degree that, on most days, it is all I can do to get up, do a little work in the office, and then spend the rest of the day in the recliner.

On the days when I think I am feeling better, I try to do some of the projects that need to be done around the house or yard. These activities tend to wear me out quickly and I often pay a heavy price for overdoing it. A few hours of work in the garage or yard often results in me having to spend a couple of days in bed or sitting in my recliner. Part of my problem is that I have never been good at doing anything halfway. Moderation? Not in my dictionary. Unfortunately, my inability or unwillingness to pace myself often extracts a hefty physical price from me. Like my friend Michael Mock told me, Bruce you are just one of those kind of people who just have to crash and burn. Out of the ashes I rise again only to start the process all over again.

An inability to do much of anything physically means I don’t burn off a lot of calories. I am not a glutton and Polly and I, for the most part, eat healthily. Because I am quite sedentary, it’s hard to have meaningful weight loss. It is not that I don’t do anything physically, but due to the physical problems I have I simply cannot do the physical things I want or need to do. It doesn’t help that I have to use a wheelchair or a cane to get around. I have turned into a slow-moving vehicle. I do what I can, but there are days and weeks that the pain is so severe that all the mind over matter pep talks in the world won’t help me move.

karah and bruce gerencser 2015
Karah and Bruce Gerencser, 2015

Some days, I can’t even bear to have anyone touch me. It just hurts too much. I love it when the grand kids come over, but by the time they are done tramping by my recliner, bumping into me, and jumping in my lap, I feel like the day after a bruising football game. I love having my grand kids around and they are one of the big reasons I get up in the morning and face another day. When they are here I grin, grit, and bear it, giving praise to the gods, of Vicodin, Tramadol, Naproxen, and Zanaflex. I would rather die than not be able to have my grandchildren sit on my lap. (see Please, Don’t Touch Me)

Back to Bill Higgins and his comments about my weight. Yes, I am overweight and there is little I can do about it. I try to watch what I eat, limit my carbohydrate intake, and eat my veggies. Yes, I do spend a lot of time in front of the computer and I watch a lot of TV. I also spend hours a day blogging, answering email, and reading. I would probably do less of these things if I could, but I can’t, so I am grateful for being able to read, write, watch TV, and search the internet.

Of course, Higgins, and others like him, don’t care about any of these things. In their mind, I am a fat, lazy, worthless human being and they enjoy trying to destroy me with their words. Do Higgins’s words hurt? Sure. Like most people, I want to be liked and respected. No one like being verbally assaulted. The internet protects people like Higgins from being held accountable for what they say. There is nothing I can do about this. As long as I am a public figure and write about the things I do, I know I am going to attract people who take great pleasure in demeaning me. Little do they know that their hateful words say more about them than they do me.

Thanks for reading. This is not a plea for understanding or support or a request for links to the latest, greatest cure-all or diet. This is me talking out loud. Maybe someone will find a bit of encouragement or understanding from what I have written.

Bruce Gerencser