Ever since I can remember, I haven’t been the healthiest person on earth. In fact, my cousin jokingly calls me ‘pathetic possum’ or says how I am ‘un producto fallado’ (which means ‘poorly manufactured product’). I agree. So many times I wish I was a healthy, robust person who would have to worry about losing weight instead of worrying about having enough energy to survive the day.
One of my first health diagnoses came from this slight pain I felt at the chest. I told my mom about it. I told her, “Me duele el corazon (my heart hurts)” quite literally. She took me for a check-up, and it turned out I had something called prolapso leve de la válvula mitral (mild prolapse of the mitral valve). It means that there are times when my valve doesn’t close properly and old blood is mixed with the new one, causing that pain of the chest. It’s usually not fatal or very serious. It just means I will have a slightly annoying life because when I am tired, stressed, or just suddenly, this can happen:
-difficulty breathing after some strenuous activity or after lying down
Thus, it is recommended that I don’t perform activities that cause much stress or accelerates my heartbeat, and that also means it’s better to avoid caffeine. Because when my heart rate does go up, I am more prone to fainting and pain at the chest.
Add to this the fact that I am anemic, with usually very low blood pressure. And I have been underweight since I was about five years old.
Not surprisingly, I got sick quite often as I grew up. Staying home due to illness was common for me. Thankfully, my mom was always a very caring and generous nurse, so my days of sickness always passed with great comfort.
Most (if not all) times I got sick I would end up crying out of frustration. I wanted to stop ailing. I wanted to be healthy. Why couldn’t I perform physical education activities like the rest of my peers? Why did I always get tired more easily? Why did I suddenly feel dizzy?
My cousin, the one who teases me by calling me a pathetic possum, was also one of the best in understanding my health situation. She didn’t make a big deal out of it yet was extremely considerate of my condition. When we went out together, she knew how even a small bag could become a huge weight for me and carried all my things herself. When she noticed I was lagging behind, she would stop, make me sit somewhere, and buy me a bottle of Coke. Then she would sit next to me and joke about this whole situation. This made me feel comfortable and thankful at the same time.
Also, the day my mom and I found out about my diagnosis of mild prolapse, when we told my brother, he nonchalantly made small jokes about it. But I distinctly noticed that after that, he tried to upset me a lot less than before (and that’s saying a lot about a brother!).
I consider myself lucky to have such a great family that didn’t make my health infirmities a weird thing, but just dealt with it naturally.
Now I am almost 28 years old and my health problems have gotten more diverse. My right knee has been bothering me since the end of 2015 and no doctor seems to know what’s the problem with it. It can swell up every now and then, palpitate, and hurt a lot if I walk more than ten blocks. And for about 3 weeks, my ears have been ringing and I can’t hear properly. I have had acute bronchitis twice, had severe nosebleed for a whole semester (in 2011), and the list goes on.
One big improvement, though, is that I get sick big-time only once or twice a year (usually with fever, vomiting, body-ache, coughing involved). Also, it’s been about a year since I don’t feel like fainting. My heart hurt every now and then, and I know that’s an indication for me to take a chill pill.
I believe my body being so pathetically easy to get sick has been a way to stop me from doing all the things I wanted to do, think about, and accomplish. Because all of the above mentioned health problems have always brought with them a new resolution for taking a new kind of chill pill.
Case Study 1: The Nose-bleeding Semester of 2011
At that time I was making my documentary Welcome to My Life, so I was filming a lot and thinking a lot.
In addition, I was the T.A. for two professors, I babysat, I was a part of three life groups, I was in charge of my church’s Children’s Ministry, I made videos for my church and my dorm hall, and I took 19 credits.
Thus, every day, I would wake up to a nose-bleed. The first ones lasted one to five minutes. But as the semester passed, the nosebleeds got increasingly longer.
On a day that was supposed to be a holiday, I was getting ready to film something for my dorm hall, and again, the nosebleed happened. Except this time it wouldn’t stop. So I grabbed a big piece of tissue, stuck it to my nose, grabbed my camera, and met the person who had asked me to make the video. I explained to him how to use the camera and told him to film it himself because my nosebleed wouldn’t stop. So I stayed in my room for about thirty minutes and since it wouldn’t stop, I went out in the hall to see if there was a friend that could help me. By this time, I felt very light-headed and couldn’t think straight. My friend was fortunately in her room and tried helping me with whatever she knew to do. She prayed for me, and since it wouldn’t stop, she decided it was time to go to the nurse. We went to her, and she was a very sweet lady who sympathized with me for being a foreigner with no parents in Korea, and told me to hold my nose in a certain way for quite some time. Thus, after an hour and thirty minutes, my nosebleed stopped. The nurse said that I should drink a lot of grape juice to help with this.
I tried being more careful for the rest of the semester, but since my schedule was so crazy, I still had my daily nosebleed. Still, now I knew how to hold my nose to stop the flow and started drinking lots of grape juice. I vowed to take a chill pill in the number of activities I did the next semester.
After some kind of health incident, I always vouch to take a chill pill. But it seems like every time I thought I took a chill pill, I could have taken a bigger chill pill. And my life’s journey so far has been about learning to take chill pills because of my body’s malfunctioning. And I admit that was it not for my physical infirmities, I would have been a much more merciless person to myself and others. My initial and natural responses to the different times I was ailing was to rebuke myself or tell myself to suck it up and move on.
However, due to the nature of things like low-blood pressure, which doesn’t really allow for much energy, I couldn’t pick myself up and I couldn’t perform the feats I wanted to. And thus many inner battles ensued. I found out, in these battles, that a constant idol that pops up inside of me is that of Efficiency. I want to be an efficient person who is useful and productive (And I want and expect everyone to be efficient too, ahem). Even my free time must be productive. For those who know me closely, you know what I mean.
Now we come to 2016, when I really felt like I was taking chill pills right and left. I only stayed working in school until late at night around ten times this whole year. That, for me, was a great accomplishment. When I left school, I left school-related thoughts there. This differed greatly from the Eli who was consumed with how to improve her teaching night and day from 2013 to 2015. Not only this, but I gave up on being “efficient” for Kingdom of God work. I asked God to send me people and circumstances, and I would be faithful to that; I would not seek to make something work by my own power. And fair enough, God filled up my week with meaningful encounters. I was a part of different life groups and it was in a non-intense way. This was good, right? I was a good girl who didn’t over-do things, right?
But the end of the year came, and my ears started ringing, my knee kept hurting, and I became frustrated. What did I do wrong that made me ill? Did I not take enough chill pills this year? I mean, I knew I was being stretched socially because literally every day was filled with people to meet, listen and talk to, and to teach. Could it be that this stressed me to the point that my ears were malfunctioning? But it is terrible timing to hurt! I need this time to totally focus on applying for grad school, something I couldn’t focus on wholeheartedly because of the above-mentioned reasons.
But I believe it was perfect timing to get ill (not that the illness itself is good). Because once again I needed to take a chill pill and even do my grad school application one day at a time; layering off the inner fears of not being good enough for the schools I applied for, centering my heart and mind on my Creator. Had I been super healthy right now, I would have been off my chill pill medication and gone off on an intense I-need-to-get-to-grad-school mode.
As much as I don’t enjoy being a ‘pathetic possum’, I know even this is God’s grace for me to learn to enjoy the life He freely gives one step at a time. It gives me time to pause and acknowledge that I depend on Him for sustenance. It makes me humble in realizing that just as I constantly struggle with physical weakness, there are others who suffer a psychological, emotional, spiritual weakness which I might not understand fully. And we can all seek the same Father who wants to heal us and comfort us with confidence that He will bring us to greater realizations than the ones we have today. Because more of Him means more freedom, truth, and love.