Something wasn't right...
From the time I was born, prematurely no less, until now, I've had a complicated relationship with my health. The first nights of my life were spent in the hospital while I tried to put on weight (three pounds and fourteen ounces was just a little bit too small for a newborn). I missed school frequently in elementary school because I seemed to catch every single bug. I saw lots of doctors and therapists and specialists throughout my childhood for one problem or another, and now more recently, most of you have known about my digestive issues.
Way back in 2014/2015, I started suffering from very violent "attacks" that would send me to the ER every few months like clockwork (that was when the picture above was taken). They were miserable, and no doctors could give me conclusive answers or results. My regular doctor couldn't find anything wrong, since the attacks couldn't be replicated or predicted and my body showed no symptoms when I wasn't having an attack. My doctor would tell me to just keep going to the ER, and the ER would tell me I needed to talk to my doctor. It took years to finally see a specialist, and up until that point, the running diagnosis had just been "well, you might just have a weak stomach." When we finally saw a specialist, we described all the symptoms. The fainting, the dizziness, the bouts of unconsciousness, the stomach upset, the dehydration, the way I couldn't speak or communicate during these attacks, the intense pain... I'd had multiple different kinds of scans and tests, and nothing ever came back with any red flags. In 2019, after four years of suffering, the doctor agreed to take out my appendix on the very, very slim chance that the problem was there. He said he believed it to be highly unlikely, but it would be a good idea just in case to rule it out and give the ER less options to consider, making its easier to narrow down the actual problem.
You can imagine my surprise when I woke up after the surgery to hear the doctor telling me that the problem WAS my appendix after all, and I'd been carrying around appendix stones for some time. From that point on, I was healed, and I haven't had any attacks since then. I had never felt so happy, so free, so excited to live my life.
But... something else still wasn't right, and not even I knew it.
In the months following my surgery, I didn't expect to see any doctors for a very long time. I was looking forward to living life in a "normal" way (hint: I'm not sure normal really even exists). I went in for a regular appointment with my normal doctor, just to do some routine bloodwork and checks. A day or two later, I received a very blunt e-mail that read:
"Jenna, your bloodwork shows that you have hypothyroidism/Hashimoto's disease. Please schedule an appointment immediately and let me know what symptoms you've been struggling with."
My world started to spin out of control. I hadn't felt any symptoms; I thought I was fine. So what was this diagnosis? Some kind of cruel joke or twist of fate? Why did God give me healing, only to put this on me almost immediately after?
Feelings of hopelessness overtook me, and I never told you about any of it. Why? Because I felt embarrassed—not embarrassed because of the diagnosis, but because I felt so foolish. I had shared my surgery journey with you so openly, and had publicly rejoiced on the internet about being healed. If I told you I had a new medical problem, would you care? I just felt like I was being punished for being happy, if that makes sense. It was as though in order to "bring me back down to reality," I was given another medical issue, and this one would be a life-long battle with chronic illness (because that's what hypothyroidism is... a life-long chronic illness. A treatable chronic illness, but not one without its highs and lows and ups and downs in between).
Please note the use of past tense verbs in this story. I am not embarrassed now. I do not feel hopeless now (although I still have my bad days). But this was a very traumatic journey for me. I was given some medication to take, a list of symptoms, a couple of bits of vague advice on how I might manage my illness, and from then on, I felt quite alone.
I wanted to tell you. Really, I did. But in that moment, it felt too soon. I wanted to wait a month, maybe two, then six, then a year, and then I thought... Well, I'll wait until I have it under control, and then I can tell you another hope-filled, inspiring story of victory and God's goodness.
It's been two years, and it's still not under control, but my perspective has changed, and that's the story I want to start telling.
I recently announced my diagnosis in a public instagram post just before Christmas, and with that came a flurry of supportive messages, prayers, words of encouragement, and an outpouring of love. I was surprised at how it made me feel. A lot of you shared reminders about hope, and I appreciated every single one of you who took time out of your day to write and share. I feel that hope you spoke of so firmly now, but I know that when I received my diagnosis two years ago that my feelings were quite the opposite. I smiled when I read your messages because I knew how much they would have helped me during that first year of struggling with my health, fighting those dark feelings of despair, and wrestling with God. I also smiled because, although I feel so close to God right now, I know that as in everyone's spiritual journeys, there may come a time when He feels so far away and my heart feels downtrodden again. That said, I am grateful that I will have your messages to look back on when that time comes, and I am grateful for those of you who have said that you are praying for me (more on that later, but I truly believe in the power of prayer).
Here's what I want to share with you now, in the hopes that you too can be reminded of the hope we hold as Christians: God is still good. Whether I have a chronic illness or not, He has always been good. That was just something I struggled to see in the beginning, and it may be something I struggle with again, but right now while I have this strength of faith I want to use it to remind you (And maybe myself later on) that God's ways are not our ways, but He does have a purpose in mind for you and for me in whatever we're going through. When we put our hope in Him and His plans instead of our plans and things of this world, we will not be disappointed.
"Many plans are in a person’s heart, but the Lord’s decree will prevail." — Proverbs 19:21 CSB
As a reminder of the hope we have, I want to do something special to start off 2022. Did you know that January is Thyroid Awareness month? An estimated twenty million people in the United States suffer from some form of thyroid disease. Because the thyroid gland is shaped like a butterfly, a butterfly is often used as the symbol for awareness (Other symbols include a blue paisley ribbon). You know what else a butterfly represents? Hope.
"Therefore we do not give up. Even though our outer person is being destroyed, our inner person is being renewed day by day. For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory. So we do not focus on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal." — 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 CSB
Butterflies start out as humble caterpillars, but they have to undergo a period of being wrapped inside of a dark cocoon before their beautiful colors and brilliant wings can be revealed. In the same way, when we are enduring dark times, we can be reminded from the butterfly of how God is working in us and in our lives to make something new in us. Whether you're struggling from a chronic illness, a thyroid disease, or just struggling, the message of the butterfly applies to you too.
In honor of that, I created this merch design. The concept is particularly special to me, as a creative and a writer, because to me, the butterfly not only represents hope and growth, but the pen that makes up the body of the butterfly reminds me of how I can still create even through that growth period. Everything I am going through now is preparing me for the next thing God has in mind. The design is called "Writing Butterfly (Thyroid Awareness)" in my shop, but it is made for everyone, whether you want to show support for those with thyroid diseases, or you just appreciate the symbolism of the butterfly!
There is a second version of the design, pictured above, that features the text "Writing Warrior — #ThyroidDiseaseAwareness" and is listed in the store as "Writing Warrior (Thyroid Awareness)." Because of the text on the design, you can wear this item to show your support for fellow writing warriors or in honor of a writer you know who struggles with a Thyroid Disease. It's available in light blue (the color for Thyroid Awareness month), but you can purchase it and show your support in any color.
These designs are available as stickers, shirts, hoodies, tote bags, and mugs. In honor of Thyroid Disease Awareness month, I am also running a SALE on all items in my merch store. Use code: AWARENESS to get 15% off of any qualifying order. This code will be active through January and February.
Shop the "Writing Butterfly (Thyroid Awareness)" NO TEXT design HERE.
Shop the "Writing Warrior (Thyroid Awareness)" WITH TEXT design HERE.
Keep checking back here all month long and on my Instagram, because I intend to do a few more things before the month is over to continue to spread awareness for Thyroid Disease and other warriors and writing warriors like myself (including giveaways).
Now, in the spirit of the butterfly, I'd like to close out this blog post with one last Bible verse:
"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, and see, the new has come!" — 2 Corinthians 5:17 CSB