The Fragile Strength of Hope


       Looking forward in your life, making plans for the future, or working and sacrificing to realize a dream takes a great deal of

courage. Why, because one has to hope and that is a terribly fragile concept. Hope causes us to take a step into the unknown holding

tightly to the desire for a good outcome. We are willing to face whatever pain lies ahead as long as our hopes can be realized in the

future. This, hope, can have enduring longevity due to its stubborn trans-generational characteristic. Hope is said to keep the “idea”

alive. What that idea is matters little except to the person or persons possessing it or offering it as a “truth”. Some put their hope in

their own abilities, intelligence, or talents certain they can secure their future thru hard work and diligence. While many others put their

hopes in another human being, which is a very dangerous endeavor because there are no knights in shining armor waiting to rescue

you and you shouldn’t expect there to be. Humans are increasingly and perfectly fallible; therefore, to put one’s hope in a person is to

set oneself up for disappointment and pain. That does not negate the need to hope and pray the person can work with you to achieve

a common goal. Yet the key to success is your active and vigorous participation in finding or creating the solution to your problem.

         Hope is a word thrown around in casual conversation by people from all walks of life. It may be uttered by a person hoping to get

the new upgraded phone gadget or another wondering if they should dare hope that they can find food for their children today. The

devout of any religion put their hope in a higher being, God, which provides something they hunger for with profound desperation. We

must find purpose and meaning for our lives and for our role on Earth. The stockbroker hopes his or her market predictions will

become reality so they can evolve into an invaluable commodity to all who have money to dabble or invest heavily. Millions of teens

hope they will get to meet, date, or even marry the current pop idol of the decade while others hope they are making the right decision

to give their child up for adoption or abort him or her.

       I  dreamed of “making it”, using the world’s definition, one day hoping that my hard work and perseverance would bring my hopes

to fruition but I am almost back to where I started when it comes to my socioeconomic standing. Unfortunately, I have felt the

reverberation of too many doors being slammed in my face. In fact, every good thing I have ever attempted in my life has soured.

Leaving behind an acrid taste of failure coupled with an overwhelming degree of injustices. Life is difficult for everyone in many

different ways even if it appears otherwise. We all carry scars that we have accumulated along the way and the baggage we drag

around with us filters our view of life and our relationships with others. Some have an abundance of resources to ride over, plow

through, or avoid most obstacles in their path but they must all be traversed in some manner at one time or another. These folks with

worldly wealth and/or fame will feel profound emptiness at some point because material gain means very little when your soul is empty

and all you have become is a commodity.

      We have choices and the one that is by far the most difficult is the one requiring the traveler to continue to hope. Nothing less than

a Herculean effort is needed to get back up and try again after the hundredth, thousandth, or even the millionth time of being knocked

off the path by hardships, sickness, or heartaches. We have a choice to get up each time we land in a ditch or we can passively allow

their foot falls to crush us. Oh, I know how incredibly appealing it is to permit that to happen and be done with the pain but I guarantee

you that no one’s purpose is to be trod upon by another. Alternatively, we can claw our way back up and try navigating over the next

chasm or climb the next mountain. If we choose, we can sit upon the precipice of that chasm or at the base of that next mountain and

weep in despair. I’ve done both many times and I am certain I will do so again. There does exist a time to mourn, to suffer the loss of a

dream, a person, our health even and that is okay as long as we do not stay stuck there in that misery. I’ve even contemplated

throwing myself into the gaping chasm of despair allowing the pain and heartache to consume my being so as not to feel again.

      Pain is a certainty. Everyone will have it and whether it is emotional, spiritual, physical, or psychological holds no relevance

whatsoever. You see, the playing field is leveled when it comes to this factor because no one can escape it regardless of wealth of

spirit, character, or resources. Some of us choose to bury ourselves in whatever numbing agent we fancy while others make it their life

mission to make the world pay for their pain. The only decision that really matters during these moments in life is what you do with it

and how you allow it to shape you, your present and your future. It is so attractive to let your heart harden and begin blocking

everyone and everything out when you are enduring the pain. We either dash the fragile strands of hope unto the rocks or we nurture

it by refusing to let go of it. Hope can be terribly fragile and yet we set it up against impossible odds expecting it to withstand the

onslaught of mankind’s cruelty, disdain and apathy. The biggest mistake we make in those moments is to hope for a positive change

but then do little or nothing to help facilitate it. Hope is not a passive idea. Indeed, hope must be fed in order for it to grow strong and

infectious. In a creation that is full of imperfect people, including yours truly, it is guaranteed we are going to make little and big

mistakes causing ourselves and others to stumble and fall. Yes, hope is a fragile strength when we do not feed it but make that move,

take that step, reach out to help another up out of despair and you will be amazed at how quickly hope will become impenetrable. Hope

is not a concept meant for trivialities, no, hope is meant to become your armor against the onslaughts that will come. The moment you

stop accepting the world’s definition of success, is the beginning of your understanding of the hidden strength of hope. Although, my

life has not turned out how I hoped it would I am exactly where I am meant to be and my hope today is to make a difference in

someone’s life so they can make a positive difference in another’s life and so on. Hope may be fragile but it holds innate power waiting

for fertile ground. Examine your life then define your hopes and dreams making certain that they are inclusive of others because your

goal may not be the one you are meant to reach; instead, put your energies into reaching the one you were always meant to have.

You will likely be surprised by the goal you eventually reach because it will have morphed into something more than you could have

imagined. However, you must be malleable, you must be open, and you must have the strength to accept that you will be knocked off

your path, repeatedly, but you have the resolve to get up every time and find another way. Hope is always there even if you have only

slender threads of it holding you together. There have been times in which I have felt myself grasping in desperation to the frayed

edges of hope but I never let go even though every atom in my body and mind told me it was folly to hold unto it but I did and now it

and my faith has grown stronger and deeper. Each time you choose not to stay down your armor of hope gets stronger. Make the

choice; get up because your purpose here has not yet been fulfilled.

 

Tina Blackledge

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F.L.A.R.E (Finding Life lessons Amidst Repugnant Experiences)


If you endure or love someone who suffers from one of the chronic and largely invisible diseases which attack the body, then you will be familiar with the concept of a flare. Working on the premise that some may be unaware of this term and the details assigned to it I will attempt to shed some light on the topic. With many chronic destructive diseases there exists a pattern of destruction, which the disease is likely to follow. Many exceptions and variations could apply to the specifics of the disease and to the individual living with the ailment. However, I am offering a general explanation that could be applied across the board noting that there will be exceptions to some of the conclusions offered here.

A chronic disease can be compared to a long expansive road devoid of a recognizable termination point. The person in possession of the disease walks upon this road throughout his life not looking to the right or left but intently concentrating on the vague horizon hoping to define the end point. Each step moves him ever forward upon his journey hoping and praying that his efforts will bring him to the fulfillment of his purpose and a day where pain is not recognized. Each carries with him a pack representing the level of pain, dysfunction, loneliness, happiness, contentment, and joy that he has accepted as his normal level of functioning. When he had first received the news of his disease he had great difficulty finding, adjusting, and then accepting his new norm. Interestingly, those born with a disease develop stronger coping mechanisms because they quickly learn that their norm is in a constant state of flux and that if they want to be functional then they must overcome and adapt to the progression of the disease.  These folks also understand that there is purpose to their suffering and are more likely to find hope and acceptance. He who has been diagnosed later in life struggles mightily against acceptance and adjustment because he has tasted what the world considers a “normal” functioning life. These folks go through an intense mourning period while their lives are systematically dismantled requiring them to initiate reconstruction within the new parameters. This takes enormous effort and fortitude, which cannot be achieved in a brief time frame. Essentially, the “later-in- life” folks are starting their lives over again with much uncertainty and that fills them with great fear.  Those who have never inhaled the air of a normal life adjust and adapt more readily when challenges, such as flares, rear their ugly heads.   Yet, that is not to say that either group suffers more than the other, they just suffer differently.

One of the most disconcerting characteristics of a chronic disease is its persistent progressive element. The very nature of a disease being progressive indicates two sure things, 1. The disease is going to change and, 2. The change will not be for the better. This point of change is usually kicked off by a FLARE, which encompasses an overactive stimulation of the disease. A flare pushes the individual beyond the norm to a point of distress. The elements of the disease are in overdrive and there is little to be done except for the individual to hold on and wait for the frantic ride to end. The type of ailment, the individual, and the trigger of the flare will give designation to its length and destructive force. During this time of flare, the individual is at the mercy of the disease with little or no recourse. A flare pushes the person so far beyond the norm with which they had reconciled themselves to endure that the battle plan holding the disease at bay, fails. All previous treatments, coping mechanisms, and resolve are useless in the face of a flare. A flare can last hours, days, weeks, or even months lacking both rhyme and reason.  Flares put the person in crisis because their entire perspective must be altered in order to survive. When the flare comes to an end, the disease has taken residence upon a higher plateau requiring the individual to accept or reject the new norm of functionality, pain, and overall dysfunction. The road to which they had become familiar and had accepted as the norm no longer exists. The path is now shrouded by a thick fog of uncertainty and includes more inclines, pitfalls, crumbled sections, and toll booths making the journey ever more arduous and seemingly impossible. Additionally, there are several more critics and “well-meaning friends or family” crowding the shoulders of the road eager to offer advice, criticism, or farewells. Yes, because it is difficult to bear witness to the suffering of those we love, some former supporters will choose to walk away reinforcing the solitude and loneliness that accompanies such a journey.

As with all events upon one’s life journey, there exists both positive and negative elements. The negative characteristics and outcomes of a flare are obvious; however, positives do exist and can be identified if the individual is ready to see them. It is these positives that will enable the person to continue their journey. Through a  readjustment of their parameters and assumptions they can form a new norm. Just as some friends and family choose to flee, others will dig in deeper and help you prepare for the coming storms. Some will not only stay by your side but also lend you their strength. In the face crisis, some will leave while others will become your champion. Just knowing they are there offering support and prayers can be the difference between success and ruin. Crisis reveals the very worst and the very best of you and all others who share your journey. It is during these times where wisdom or ignorance can be earned and spread. Of course, during the flare the only thing on your mind is survival but it is in the aftermath where growth can happen, if you are open to it.

Finding Life lessons Amidst Repugnant Experiences becomes critically necessary if you are to move forward. A person with a chronic progressive disease walks a razors edge using their precious energy to cope with the day to day aspects of the disease. The onset, duration, and level of ferocity of the flare have the potential to jettison him or her from their precarious perch of functionality. The available choices are few, yet offer us the foundation of who we really are and the person we want to be. You can give up or become ever more resolved. You can become the embodiment of rage and bitterness or gird yourself in faith and perseverance. You can wallow in self-pity or find the purpose in your pain.  You can listen to the critics or find the truths within yourself.  Or, you can accept the world’s view of you and become disabled. Otherwise, you can work hard to define yourself on your own terms.

After arriving on the other side of a massive flare, you are likely to be floundering for purchase and the best way to gain it is to begin identifying the positives that followed you through the black hole of suffering. There are a multitude of positives but identifying them can prove to be a herculean task. Everything we see, hear, or feel is filtered through the lens of pain and suffering. Additionally, our psyches will be vulnerable to the concept of injustice within our own lives and throughout creation giving opportunity for resentment and discontent to take root. If allowed, these concepts will fester to the point of rot injecting us with acrid bitterness.  If you allow this to occur then your loneliness and self-loathing will become unbearable creating a toxic environment in which happiness and joy cannot exist. This is a very dark environment in which you do not want to dwell lest it consume you. What should you do then? How can this experience be survived with more positive outcomes than negative?

First, identify any new problems resultant from the flare then concentrate on creating a strategy that can be used to combat the new quirks and demands of the disease. Next, formulate a mental tally of everything that you can still do and make any necessary adjustments that will aid you in the pursuit of that which you have set as your life goal. Thank God that the flare was not as bad as it could have been because a flare can ALWAYS be worse. Unfortunately, something is always stolen from you after a flare. The disease can steal a portion of your energy necessitating a recalibration of the things you can accomplish during a given day.    It is also wise to perform a self-inventory of physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual changes that possess the potential to complicate or aid your journey. A plausible game plan must be formulated and implemented. A deeper appreciation of the costly expense of time and the limits lying therein must be considered and reconciled. Most importantly, appreciate those in your life who cherish you and let go of the ones who need to leave without allowing resentment or dependence to claim a foothold. These examples of give and take, loss and gain, pain and perseverance barely scratch the surface of the complex amalgamation that is chronic suffering.

In the throes of a full-blown flare there is nothing you can do but hold on with every fiber in your being until it subsides. Yet, it is your choices and actions in the aftermath that will define who you are and who you will become. Anyone can be angry, hateful, and bitter but it takes a hero to choose to become more.

Tina Blackledge, MS

4-30-2013

What is this blog all about?


Have you ever had the flu, injury, or ailment that you thought would never go away? Have you ever suffered to the degree that you earnestly believed that you would be better off dead?  Just when you thought you could not take it anymore, relief came in the form of medication or with your immune system kicking in and fixing the imbalance. Well, think of that time just before you experienced the hope giving relief and you may understand the life of someone who is disabled and/or in chronic pain. Whether you are that person yourself or you know someone who suffers to this degree then this blog might appeal to you. The purpose of this blog is too offer insights I have learned along the way, share stories of faith and hardship, or just to swap positive coping mechanisms.

I have an abundance of experience, knowledge, and education that will help me offer you a compassionate, if virtual, ear. I will offer whimsical stories as well as serious information that will aid you in a various topics. I have been a high school history teacher, a care-taker for a disabled parent (37years) and a therapist (non-licensed). I am a person of great strength of character and resolve , which has helped me overcome a learning disability (dyslexia), physical disability (rheumatoid arthritis from age 5), a person who suffers with chronic pain, and who is a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. I have earned a BA in history and an MS in human services with a self-concentrated study in childhood abuse and violent sexual predators.

I love painting landscapes with acrylics. I also love animals, children and writing. I am currently writing three books in different genres and for different audiences; however, that takes time and I wanted a more direct and immediate way to help people. As a result, I thought I might try the blogging venue and attempt to help as many people as I can for as long as I am able. So, if you are experiencing any kind of pain (emotional, spiritual, or physical) or know someone who is  then my fervent prayer is to be able to offer you the possibility of understanding and hope.