Late last Lent an Orthodox friend and I were whining about how much we hate fasting. There are people in this world who don’t have much appetite, and he and I are not those people. Furthermore, at his parish he knows these guys who fast for days and days during Holy Week, and hold up just fine. We’re not talking St. Starvicus of the Empty, Empty Desert who lived on a weekly mouthful of bitter herbs in the second century. We’re talking about flesh-and-blood normal guys with day jobs in modern America.
How do they do it? We had a number of theories, and mine were all wrong.
Not too long into Easter (happy happy feast feast) I stumbled on a website run by a physician whose practice includes overseeing a lot of clients who fast extensively for health reasons (primarily in the treatment of Type 2 diabetes, as it happens). Dr. Jason Fung is a normal (secular, slightly potty-mouthed) Canadian-guy MD with normal-people clients and a lot to say on how fasting affects your body, and why our non-eating Orthodox friends are experiencing something radically different when they fast than that misery you feel on Ash Wednesday when you eat one regular meal and two small snacks.
–> I have no opinion on whether or how you should fast, other than that you should mind the Precepts of the Church and also common sense regarding your own health and state of life. But if you are bored, here’s a site with the answer to the question of What’s with those people who don’t eat for days on end?
I mention it now during Advent because if you want to run pre-Lent experiments on yourself, now’s the time.
Link #2 Vader Did You Know?
A profound thank you to Jane Lebak for sharing this link. Sometimes a song is so bad that the only good use for it is turning it into a Star Wars plot summary.
#3: Not a link, just a PSA
Dear Adults Who Edit Hymnals,
Did you know that young people are linguistically competent? You might have noticed the way they are constantly making up words and phrases that confound you to pieces. This is because they are able to learn languages, even English.
Therefore, it is not necessary to wipe every use of the word “Thou” from your hymnal. People under the age of 150 are able to learn new words, just like people in previous eras were able to learn new words like “telegraph” and “wireless” and eventually even “social security check.”
Also, you look very stupid when you “fix” a hymn for us by making it grammatically incoherent in the effort to remove verbs ending in “est.” So perhaps you are not able to master the English language. But the rest of us can pick it up pretty well, thanks.
Jennifer <– So done with offering it up. Just done. Get me to confession, please.
Link #4: My Classic Collection of Advent Links
When I moved the blog to the new location, I didn’t pull over the entire old sidebar. FYI the new sidebar has lots of good stuff, including a freshly-harvested crop of internet reading now that I’m back to goofing off on the internet. But if you’re looking for the annual collection of Old Reliable Advent Links, here they are:
They look like men shaking hands at a funeral. And I mean that in a good way.
It is possible to undertake an unpleasant task with both seriousness and good grace.
Here’s another photo that is public domain, from the same meeting. If President Obama can be cheerful, surely we can put off our gloom?
Erin Arlinghaus writes here about the difficulty of making the post-election adjustment after actively campaigning against Trump. Readers will recall that I was ardently 3rd party (Any party but these!! Please!) and wrote both here and at Patheos about why one should not vote for Donald Trump. I have not changed my mind.
My initial reactions Wednesday morning were threefold, and fourth quickly followed:
I was astonished that Donald Trump had won. Truly astonished.
I felt great relief knowing we would not, therefore, be experiencing a Clinton presidency. I was surprised at how strong my sense of relief was, when I had essentially accepted that reality as what we were going to get.
I was consoled that at least we could now hope for a working fourth estate. Please, ladies and gentlemen of the press, do your work.
I was pleasantly surprised by reports of the sobriety with which Mr. Trump transitioned into office-elect.
It was just at this period that King Stephen died and the young monarch Henry II became unquestioned master of the kingdom. He took “Thomas of London”, as Becket was then most commonly called, for his chancellor, and in that office Thomas at the age of thirty-six became, with the possible exception of the justiciar, the most powerful subject in Henry’s wide dominions.
. . . Archbishop Theobald died in 1161, and in the course of the next year Henry seems to have decided that it would be good policy to prepare the way for further schemes of reform by securing the advancement of his chancellor to the primacy.
. . . A great change took place in the saint’s way of life after his consecration as archbishop. Even as chancellor he had practised secret austerities, but now in view of the struggle he clearly saw before him he gave himself to fastings and disciplines, hair shirts, protracted vigils, and constant prayers. Before the end of the year 1162 he stripped himself of all signs of the lavish display which he had previously affected.
St. Thomas Becket proceeded to exasperate his friend the king at every turn by the unexpected seriousness with which he took on his new office. That exasperation eventually led to the saint’s martyrdom.
Donald Trump could surprise us just as wonderfully. Pray that he will — though without the martyrdom, Lord willing.
But the anti-Trump protests people are having in various cities are annoying me. Are they protests of specific voting injustices? No. The protesters are protesting voting itself. I have no sympathy whatsoever for this. It is, frankly, revolting, as if the United States were some tinpot fresh-from-dictatorship little country, without any sense of due process or the importance of elections, both essential to American honor. Good-faith negotiation is one of the key principles of a free society; and if you have a problem with the fact that you can be outvoted by people whose views are distant from your own, protesting the fact now is a sign that your participation in the election was not in good faith.
In other words, (my interpretation), if we as a people live our lives correctly, the country will be taken care of, including having good choices at the ballot box.
What we had this year is the two major candidates who reflect who we are and how we live as a people. Think on that for a bit. Angry, immoral (or amoral), bigoted, sexually immature, animalistic, liars, and cheaters.
. . . we will go a long way for the future of the country if we as citizens reform our own lives.
One other (final) point. I have gotten many emails throughout the election season saying I need to vote for Trump because this priest or that priest gave a homily or talk saying so. (“Hilary is evil, Trump is just bad”). The problem is that politics is mostly in the realm of the laity. We should follow guidelines on voting from the Church, but how to play the political game is the laity’s. So many people hid behind the cassocks of clergy to justify a vote for Trump. I still don’t believe there was any justification. I hope I am wrong.
And here’s what I said to my good friend and colleague Kathy Schiffer, who endorsed Trump (So wrong! But I love you anyway!), in discussing the election results:
One thing I *won’t* do is attack a politician for something that’s not actually happening.
It’s one thing to inform yourself in an election based on past behavior. But I won’t be slinging criticisms for the dark joy of it. If he wants my disapproval of his presidency, he’ll have to earn it .
May our president-elect marvel us with unexpected wisdom, diplomacy, and integrity.
My main response to the post-election riots and Calexit is in the form of a bit of satire over at Patheos. It upset some people; if you don’t like dark humor, please read some other blogger. To keep abreast of my list of recommended reading, follow either my @JenFitz_Reads account on Twitter or the corresponding (and essentially identical) JenFitzWrites page on Facebook. I nearly never converse at those locations, but I do feed a lot of interesting reading, both from my feed reader and links other people suggest.
For civilized conversation on all the dark and heated topics I cover on both blogs (and the odd pleasant topic as well), the place to look is my blog discussion group on Facebook. I am not always there, but if I’m active online, I look when in I can. Readers are welcome to post non-spam links of interest and converse without me, that’s the point of the group.
You can find links to all these places in this blog’s sidebar. If you turn off your ad-blocker, you can also find out who sponsors the Catholic Conspiracy and consider giving them a bit of your business this holiday season. We never post annoying pop-up ads, so it’s safe. The mix varies, but at this very moment the three sponsors showing are the Shrine of St. Anthony, Rugged Rosaries, and a service that provides profanity-free movies. Thank you to these and all our supporters who keep this blog on the air!
Among conservative Catholic Republicans on Facebook, there’s a meme being passed around that keeps ending up in front of people like myself and Scott Eric Alt, though neither of us can possibly be the intended target. The argument is that the popularity of novels such as 50 Shades of Grey proves that women don’t, in fact, object to Donald Trump’s lewd behavior; any objections are political calculus.
Oh yes. And I opposed him, and criticized him, at the time. Anyone else who did so must, in order to be morally consistent, do likewise with Trump. If you don’t, it just sends a message that you never really cared about sexual abuse of women, but were just appropriating morality in order to make your opposing team look bad.
Before my next sentence, let me reiterate: I do not think you should vote for Donald Trump.
Next sentence: There is some validity to the observation that Donald Trump’s lewd behavior is indeed representative of the American public at large. I said so here. This is a representative democracy, and our two candidates do in fact represent America.
Dear friends, if Hilary Clinton or Donald Trump represents you? You can change that.
You can’t change the candidates, but you can change yourself. You don’t have to be a person who winks at sin. You don’t have to be a person who creates convoluted defenses of BDSM. You don’t have to be that person who justifies exposing kids to porn.
You can stop that now. You do not have to be enslaved to the person you were yesterday.
Pro-life friends, another minute of politics: When people give sorry mealy-mouthed justifications for voting for a pro-abortion candidate by explaining that solving poverty or immigration or global warming will somehow fix abortion, those people are dangerously deluding themselves. There exists a hierarchy of priorities, and cold-blooded murder is a far graver and more pressing issue than good roads or good tax policy. When someone says I don’t like abortion but I’m voting for the person who advocates tirelessly for abortion, what I hear is: Actually, I’m fine with abortion.
I understand, therefore, the Republican Impulse.
I have grave reservations about Donald Trump’s sincerity on pro-life issues, however, because his life is one long series of promotions of the actual, real-live causes of abortion.
Food stamps don’t cause abortion. Adultery? That causes abortion.
Quick aside on modesty.
When people like me talk about “modesty” we tend to hit a few topics related to girls’ clothing. That matters, of course. But for those who are trying to get their heads around about what immodesty looks like in someone who is neither female nor scantily-clad, Donald Trump is the poster boy. He models immodesty not just with regards to sexuality, but also with regards to wealth, power, and personal accomplishments.
It is easy to excuse his unseemly boastfulness by saying that he needs to prove his leadership potential or share his legitimate accomplishments with voters. Not so. It is possible to communicate one’s ability to lead without behaving immodestly.
Below in the links I include some examples of SC’s governor Nikki Haley in action, for other reasons. But in her hurricane Matthew press conferences, she’s a vivid example of the counterpoint: A leader who is both a strong, decisive, competent leader, but who also conducts herself with modesty.
Link Round-up. Here are all kinds of loosely related links. At the bottom are a few of mine, but first here’s the pile I extracted from my reading list.
Many young conservatives have been disheartened to see the leaders of their movement endorse Donald Trump. I am one of the disheartened ones. Let me explain what these leaders taught me and why their endorsement of Trump betrays those principles.
5 years old – In my own backyard. I was stopped by a man in a car in the alley behind my house who showed me “what (he had) in his pants” and then offered me the opportunity to put my mouth on it. I declined but never told anyone because I had no idea that it was anything but just gross. . . .
12 years old – On my paper route, I was collecting for the monthly bill. An old man who had been very kindly toward me and had several grandchildren that he looked after, grabbed my breasts (which were more impressive than they were when I was 8) and humped me. He told me I was a good girl and he’d take good care of me. I quit carrying papers that month. I never told anyone because I figured that no one would believe me. . . .
(Tip: If you skim ahead to the Q&A’s with the whole executive branch team, a few of the press conferences contain striking examples of the linguistic diversity among educated, standard-English speaking southerners. And that’s just a beginning. Armchair linguists, this place is a treasure trove.)
A friend of mine attempted to defend Trump by pointing to his daughter’s respect for him and saying that he must be a good father. I don’t care what she says. I don’t care how marvelous he was every single time he was with her. Owning strip clubs makes you a bad father. Being a serial adulterer makes you a bad father. Treating women like objects for your sexual gratification makes you a bad father. And it will make him a bad president.
But 2016 is a year in which two prominent Catholics – a sitting vice president, and the next vice presidential nominee of his party — both seem to publicly ignore or invent the content of their Catholic faith as they go along. And meanwhile, both candidates for the nation’s top residence, the White House, have astonishing flaws.
This is depressing and liberating at the same time. Depressing, because it’s proof of how polarized the nation has become. Liberating, because for the honest voter, it’s much easier this year to ignore the routine tribal loyalty chants of both the Democratic and Republican camps. I’ve been a registered independent for a long time and never more happily so than in this election season. Both major candidates are – what’s the right word? so problematic – that neither is clearly better than the other.
And to close, here’s my report from the field on how our Trump-Clinton society plays out among middle schoolers. In Sexual Bravado vs. Sexual Maturity, I share some of the real-world evidence parents like to ignore, then discuss the underlying issue:
In our popular culture, sex-status is the big thing. The kids have learned from their parents that the purpose of sex is to gratify one’s desires, and that a girl’s worth is measured in sexiness. The kids have adopted that philosophy wholesale. . . .
. . . Why is there such a market for teenage girls in a sleepy Bible Belt town, to the point that pimps are willing to risk kidnapping charges and worse in order to abduct upper class girls and sell them locally?
You can almost hear the eighth grade boys scoffing at those pathetic men who have to pay for what they can get the girls to give them for free.
There is no magic remedy that will guarantee your teens will live chastely and stay out of harm’s way. But you can be certain that if your understanding of human sexuality is all about the quest for gratification and sexual status, your children are going to learn that from you.
A little living history: You can see the I-26 lane reversal in action by going to http://www.511sc.org/ and selecting the traffic camera you’d like to view. Each camera icon will pull up a list of nearby camera locations. Click on the location you’d like to see, then hit the “play” and “fullscreen” icons.
I’ve noticed some of the locations are a little glitchy — I assume everyone and their brother wants to see I-26 westbound at I-526 (except, of course, the people who have to be driving there), so that one’s not functioning at this writing. But there are other locations of interest.
Admit it: It’s pretty crazy seeing the westbound traffic on the eastbound side of the interstate. Quit acting all nonchalant. Just because we make it look easy doesn’t mean it isn’t epic.
SC State Flag courtesy of Wikimedia, Public Domain.
And in that moment, I can tell by her face that no one has updated the chart. It still says Conversion on the line for diagnosis. Nobody has put in the test results and new diagnosis from last October. I can see it as plainly as I can see that her eyes are brown. We’re still suspect, and this still isn’t over.
Feeling proud about what I had accomplished through daily exercise, I shared my marathon story with one of the intern doctors who was assigned to me. Rather than congratulating me, he basically accused me of faking my asthma. His words were ” There’s no way you could’ve walked a marathon if you have severe asthma.” I found out later that in my chart he actually wrote, “patient presents with factitious asthma, claims he walked a marathon“. That probably explains why some of the nurses were treating me so strange during the hospitalization. A rumor had spread that my asthma was very mild and probably psychosomatic in nature. I remember some of the medical staff trying to convince me that my breathing difficulties were all in my head and that I had some kind of generalized anxiety disorder. Are you freaking kidding me! And even scarier, this happened at a well respected teaching hospital.
That incident caused me a lot of grief and took over 3 years with lots of letter writing by my pulmonologists to have that false information removed from my medical record. The reality is that these are the kinds of screwy preconceived generalizations that people have about the way sick people should look and behave. And if I want to be completely honest here, there have been times when I’ve guilty of the same.
For background: Gaudet is a respiratory therapist who is treated by one of the top pulmonologists in the nation.
Just about every Dysautonomia patient with whom I’ve spoken over the last few years has, at one time or another, been told that the symptoms they were experiencing were all in their head. Diagnoses such as Anxiety disorders, Depression, Conversion or Somatoform disorders, and even Bipolar disorder are haphazardly applied to patients when no clear aetiology can be discovered to explain their symptoms. Normal reactions to abnormal situations, and purely medical/physiological symptoms are over-pathologised or misdiagnosed with alarming regularity, and to the detriment of the patient.
When unfounded these diagnoses leave a mark on the patient, a wound which if left untended will follow and influence all future relationships with the medical professionals. It also leaves a glaring mark on medical records that will be incorporated into future investigations and the overall diagnostic process. Even when unsubstantiated or proven to be untrue following psychological assessment, it can prove extremely difficult to remove such diagnoses from a patient’s medical file.
It is possible that what may be interpreted as “red flags” of Munchausen’s may alternatively be attributed to the demands and anxiety related to care of a very sick child. For example, anxious parents may not give a good history, or may “doctor shop” because they are unsatisfied and may be unhappy with the care their child is getting, especially when they feel that no one can actually diagnose, treat or understand the problem. Certain conditions, especially mitochondrial disease, will present with intermittent symptoms, and it will take a skilled and patient clinician to arrive at the right diagnosis – one that is an illness not Munchausen’s by proxy.
Psychologists have described that the population of patients and parents of children with Mitochondrial Disease are much more vulnerable to a false Munchausen’s by proxy accusation simply due to the nature of the disease. In fact, a hallmark characteristic of mitochondrial disease is the presentation of several unrelated symptoms that together, “don’t make sense”. Clinicians who feel that a parent is intentionally making symptoms appear, is behaving to insure that the illness continues, and consults multiple physicians may suspect Munchausen’s – but should still “trust, then verify.” In other words, believe the parents, run appropriate diagnostic tests, seek the input of every part of the child’s team, and take very seriously the responsibility to the child to act as an advocate and do no harm.
Non-psychiatric misdiagnoses happen, too, of course. It is frustrating when a physician (or team of physcians) flubs a diagnosis through honest error — we humans aren’t ominiscient, so it’s bound to happen. It’s galling when the misdiagnosis involves dismissing serious serious symptoms as some much more benign illness that doesn’t fit with the case history. But pushing off a poorly-substantiated mental health label on a patient with an atypical presentation is both physically and emotionally harmful to the patient.
Unfortunately, this dangerous habit is actually enshrined in medical practice.
I Guess You’re Just Nuts, Then?
Many misdiagnoses are just idiocy. Some popular lazy-diagnoses include fibromyalgia, depression, and anxiety disorders. All of these disorders have specific criteria you can use to evaluate yourself (or your patient) and see if they apply. It’s almost helpful when a physician throws out with confidence, “I think it’s probably just ________” and inserts some illness utterly outside his or her specialty, and which a quick Google search would immediately rule out. Then you know you have a stupid doctor, done. It’s wearying, and can put you off the medical profession for a while, but it’s possible to come to a definitive conclusion one way or another.
There’s at least one mental health diagnosis, however, that can’t be ruled out by logic and good medicine.
Conversion Disorder, which is what Ella Frech was persistently misdiagnosed with (despite presenting with symptoms of a known side effect of one of the medications she was taking), is where modern medical practice bares its hubris.
Many of you would argue that I didn’t go nearly far enough- that there should be no ‘Somatic Symptom Disorder’ at all in DSM 5 because there is no substantial body of evidence to support either its reliability or its validity.
. . . I am sympathetic to this view, but realized that it would have no traction with the work group and chose instead to lobby for what seemed to be clearly essential and relatively easy changes that would solve most, if not all, of the problem.
. . . My letter cautioned DSM 5 that it was invading dangerous territory. Here was my warning to the DSM 5 work group:
• ‘Clearly you have paid close attention only to the need to reduce false negatives, but have not protected sufficiently against the serious problem of creating false positives. You are not alone in this blind spot—in my experience, inattention to false positive risk is an endemic problem for all experts in any field. But your prior oversight needs urgent correction before you go to press with a criteria set that is so unbalanced that it will cause grave harms.’
• ‘When psychiatric problems are misdiagnosed in the medically ill, the patients are stigmatized as ‘crocks’ and the possible underlying medical causes of their problems are much more likely to be missed.’
• ‘Continuing with your current loose wording will be bad for the patients who are mislabeled and will also be extremely harmful to DSM 5, to APA, and to your own professional reputations.’
I also raised the point that this could lead to a boycott of DSM 5. Pretty strong stuff, I thought. But totally ineffective.
Somatic Symptom Disorder (which is the umbrella term in the current terminology under which Conversion Disorder falls) is thus a particularly hazardous diagnosis because it has no symptoms of its own.
It is literally a disorder whose defining symptom is, “We the physicians don’t know what you have. Therefore, it must be psychological.” This is an awkward assertion for a profession that has evolved more in the past century than any other field of human endeavor. The developments in medical research just in the past twenty years are astonishing and marvelous. My children’s high school biology textbooks are utterly different than mine, because the depth and scope of our knowledge about human cells and the chemistry of the human body is orders of magnitude past what we knew a generation ago.
It seems, therefore, ludicrous that any sane person could hold that our knowledge of medicine is now perfectly complete. But this is the implicit assertion of somatic symptom disorders.
I sometimes joke that idiopathic means that you and your doctor both agree the other person is an idiot. But really it just means we don’t know. That happens. Humans aren’t all-knowing. What is the sane response to ignorance? It isn’t to fabricate some fanciful explanation to cover over your lapse. The sane response is to humbly admit, “I’m sorry I don’t know.” And, where the stakes are high, the sane person adds, “And we should keep investigating until we get a solid answer.”
Twice in the past month men I know, good solid Catholic men who run circles around me in the holiness business, have mentioned in passing that they’re not so sure about this “Personal Relationship with Jesus” stuff. Larry Peterson did it here, and Tom McDonald did it here. Both articles are worth reading on their own merits. These are not wishy-washy lukewarm Catholics. These are men who have counted the cost of discipleship and have stepped up to pay it.
Because the question is still being asked, I’d like to answer it as well.
What kind of relationship do you have with a person?
To be human is to have a relationship of some nature with three divine Persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. One God, three Persons in God.
You might have an antagonistic relationship, a numb relationship, or a sorely neglected relationship, but you’ve got something. To be Catholic is to acknowledge, even if you don’t realize you’re doing so, that God isn’t some vague cosmic force or a misty feeling or a set of good thoughts. God is Personal, period. You literally cannot be baptized without acknowledging the Personhood of God.
Persons, even when it’s a Divine Person and a human person, are made to have relationships with one another. The question I think many Catholics struggle with is partly linguistic and partly practical: What should we call our relationship with God, and what should it be like?
Do Protestants own all the words?
Catholics used to be people who borrowed words shamelessly. Need a word to describe what a “Church” is? Hey, look, there’s a Greek word that we could use to get us started, grab it and run! Large swathes of the Catechism are littered with words that Catholics picked up off the sidewalk and put to work in ways those words weren’t previously used.
Like the Greeks and Romans and even those pagans who lent us the word “Lent,” American Protestants have a few useful expressions of their own. The concept of a Meat-and-Three restaurant, not to mention Macaroni is a vegetable! come to mind, but we’ll stick to theology for today. A “Personal Relationship with Jesus” is a phrase used heavily by American Evangelicals, sometimes beautifully and sometimes in ways that make you suddenly remember there was another county you needed to be in right now.
But they are words that, when used rightly, do in fact sum up Catholic spirituality. They are words that we now find helpful, in this era when many Catholics do not believe in the doctrine of the Trinity. They are words that counteract the pseudo-spirituality that infects the Catholic Church and reduces the reality of the Incarnation to supposedly-edifying legend.
Where do I find this in Catholicism?
Q. Why did God make you? A. God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him for ever in heaven.
When we speak of knowing, loving, and serving God, we aren’t speaking of rendering obeisance to some distant overlord who wants us to pay tribute. We are speaking of Someone who knows us entirely inside and out, and who wants to be known by us. Someone who chose to suffer grievously that we might again be able to walk in the garden together.
The concept of a “Personal Relationship with Jesus” is specifically about owning the Incarnation. Our Lord didn’t appear in the Heavens on His Throne and zap the world clean from a dignified distance. He took on human flesh that we might eat with Him, and care for Him, and lay His body in a grave. God seeks intimacy with us.
This is Catholicism.
Can poetic prayer be personal prayer?
It can be hard to say out loud the things we feel most deeply.
One of the hallmarks of the Catholic liturgy is that the Church gives us the words to express what we would say to God if only we knew how.
When we purchase a greeting card at the grocery store, we don’t have too much trouble with this concept. We look through the racks until we find the right words for the occasion, the words that best fit the relationship between ourselves and the recipient and the event at hand. Yes! That one says what I’d like to say! When we receive a card, we are moved by the sentiments if we know they come from a loved one who is genuine in sharing the humor or well-wishes or tenderness of the ideas in the card.
(And likewise: Nothing is more off-putting than receiving a card from someone who most certainly does not share the sentiment printed on the cardstock.)
But we live in an age with very little poetry, and which often mocks the beauty of previous generations’ rhyme and meter and melody. We can accept the idea that we might be truly expressing ourselves in the greeting card or when we sing along to a pop song on the radio, but somehow many of us have been deceived into believing that we our unworthy of higher art. We’ve been persuaded that too-beautiful words aren’t capable of being our words.
The Incarnation is Everything
The law of prayer is the law of belief, and if we pray the Our Father or the Glory Be convinced that somehow these are words too high for us, too mighty for us, we’ll come to disbelieve the Incarnation.
We’ll persuade ourselves that Bless us O Lord is the herald’s shout to Jesus on His Celestial Throne Who Can’t Be Bothered To Get Any Closer, not the simple few lines of people wishing to pause before eating to say a word of personal thanks to a Person who literally dwelt within our very bodies the last time we received Holy Communion.
This heresy is at the heart of our liturgical wars: It is it only “authentic” prayer if it’s folksy? Or is God so august that we must never approach the throne of grace with anything but fear and trembling? It’s a false dichotomy. In the liturgy I’m a child learning to say grown-up words. God the Father wants to rear me for His Heavenly Kingdom; God the Holy Spirit breathes supernatural life into my feeble attempts at prayer; and the God the Son is both there at table for me to lay my head upon His breast and raised to the great high throne in majesty.
My relationship with Jesus is personal because Jesus is a Person. I grow in that relationship the more completely I embrace the entirety of what Christ is. God humbled, God crucified, God glorified. All of it.
Today’s topic is important enough that I’ll be cross-posting it at Patheos as well. Share from whichever venue you prefer. Per my standard policy on blog posts, parish and diocesan publications have permission to reprint at no charge, please provide a link back to the original in your attribution.
What’s with the radio silence? Let me just tell you.
But first, the reason I’m breaking it: My friend Sarah Reinhard asked me to blog on Theology of the Body stuff in the lead-up to this fall’sTheology of the Body Congress, which you should attend if you have the opportunity. The line-up of speakers is stellar, and yes I would go myself if I possibly could. So put that on your calendar.
The expression Theology of the Body among Catholics is a bit of a code word for, “Let’s talk about sex now.” I usually stick to code on these things. But there’s more to your body than just the parts and processes that make you a boy or a girl, as Susan Windley-Daoust will remind you periodically. I’m going to write not-about-sex today, and come back to racier topics here and over at Patheos in the next few weeks.
Now back on topic. A little Applied Theology and the answer to the question, “Why on earth has Jen Fitz completely dropped off the internet?”
Short answer is: I’m not doing as well, physically, as I would need to be doing in order to both take care of my primary vocation (marriage, parenthood) and this secondary vocation as a writer. So first things get to be first, and the rest has to wait.
The very, very, long answer:
But here is something completely cool, because God is like this: Just in time for me to have something someone really wants me to write about (instead of just me running my mouth off, which is my usual niche), I can totally sit at the computer and not be light-headed! Isn’t that cool?! I keep forgetting this new fact, and thus my e-mail is way behind. June was a pretty long month, computing-wise.
I theorize in part it was positional, which means I probably need to rearrange the workstation. Here’s an interesting link about cartoid sinus hypersensitivity, which might cause you to suspect I’m really an old man just posing as a pleasantly-plump middle-aged housewife, but you’ve seen the photos, so whom do you believe? Sports Illustrated or my cartoid sinus barocepter? Anyway, my parlor-trick for June was that I could drop my pulse twenty points just by, um, taking my pulse. No true cartoid sinus massage needed, just touch the thing.
It quit doing that, though, as far as I can tell.
Some other interesting body-things for this summer:
Dang it I can’t talk anymore again. The speaking-part works fine, don’t panic, it’s the getting light-headed while I do it that is at about 80% of the time. This is pretty common in tachycardia-themed autonomic dysfunction. (POTS people talk about this all the time in conversation, even though it never seems to make any list of medical descriptions, not sure why there’s that disconnect in the medical literature.) 80% isn’t 100%. On a good day I’m completely normal, on a lousy day I’ve given up even lip-syncing at Mass.
–> Autonomic dysfunction creates these weird eddies of backward expectations. Mass is pretty much my least pleasant activity, because it involves sitting still then standing still, with positional head changes (bad — I keep being reminded not to bow the head, just don’t do it), combined with talking. So on a miserable Sunday I can feel extremely overwhelmingly bad by the end of the hour. But because the problem is not at all with my heart’s ability to pump blood or my blood’s ability to hold oxygen, I’m the person who’s desperate to lay down while standing still, but will then escape without difficulty at full speed to the car and feel better as a result of the vigorous activity.
Basically I have this cardiovascular problem that makes being still feel worse and being active feel better.
Patients might be able to muster adequate energy for periods of time but it is usually short-lived and they tire quickly, not unlike a battery that discharges too rapidly. . . . A period of rest or sleep is generally required before energy levels are restored. Following rest a patient may demonstrate apparently normal stamina and a clinician will not detect weakness on examination . . . .
This is me completely: Do something, then flop on the floor utterly exhausted, and then in a bit I’m fine again. Happens hour-by-hour, and then also from day-to-day. More on that below.
I don’t know whether or not I have a mitochondrial disorder (very difficult to diagnose) but I get this, too:
Impaired oxidative phosphorylation [don’t know my cause] not only causes muscle fatigue but also muscle cramping with or without tenderness, or a feeling of extreme heaviness in the muscles. These symptoms are especially severe in those muscle groups being used, and patients often complain of discomfort in the legs or even muscle spasms.The discomfort may be felt immediately following the activity or later on, waking up the patient from sleep.
Funny story: I mentioned to a relatively new acquaintance that I’m prone to decrepitude, and the question she asked was, “So are you basically in pain all the time?”
The answer is that at this writing, no I am not. But I have picked up what is turning out to be mild-but-intractable intermittent pain (in my legs, if you’re curious), and yes it keeps me from sleeping well, and yes, I’ve tried all the things, and the things help quite a lot. (Other than deep breathing to relax, like the kind that works so well for childbirth — used to be my go-to, but now it just gives me a headache. Which stinks, because it’s a good method if your autonomic nervous system functions properly.) But I think it’s very funny because the words “every day” and “intractable” do apply even if the pain itself is not very bad. So if you use those adjectives, it sounds way worse than it is. I think most other people can also use those adjectives.
[By “intractable” I mean “intractable using means that don’t require a prescription.” I haven’t gotten around to being bothered enough to plead for the good drugs. So no, nothing to worry about at this time.]
And this cracked me up, because every receptionist I’ve ever met knows this about me now:
Exercise intolerance is not restricted to the large muscle groups in the body but can also involve the small muscles. Writing can be a challenge; too much writing leads to fatigue and/or cramping or spasms. The quality of penmanship can be observed to deteriorate over the course of a writing assignment with letter formation becoming more erratic and messy.
This is why you don’t want to receive handwritten correspondence from me. Nothing new, story of my life. Interestingly, I always take handwritten notes in classes, and if I don’t have a computer I’ll do my other writing longhand — but the writing degenerates fast into this baseline scrawl that’s just barely legible to me, and only because I already know what’s written there. Once it gets down to worst-level, I can sustain it for a long time.
And one last one which caught my attention, from the same source:
. . . Debilitating fatigue can occur with infectious illnesses, may outlast the other symptoms of the infection, and the recovery time can be very prolonged.
This thing I hate. I never know whether a cold is going to cost me a few days or six weeks. Weirdly, I used to go into nasty bronchitis every few years following a cold, and knock on wood that hasn’t been a problem lately. I just get all the fatigue. (Um, and I always have a cough. So, gosh, I don’t know. Don’t make me laugh and we’re good.)
Exercise does help. The supreme challenge is in figuring out how much to do. Too little, and you sleep poorly and lose conditioning. Too much, unfortunately, is not evident during the exercise. I can work out and feel great and be sure I’ve figured out a great balance between rest and exercise, and then at the end of the week completely collapse and require days and days of recovery before I’m functional again.
–> The convenient thing here is that I can in fact borrow time. If I know I want to be up for something, I can plan ahead, build up reserves, stretch them during the event through the clever use of pharmaceuticals, and plan to pay back afterwards. Difficulty being that the mortgage interest is steep. There’s no getting more out of the body than it has to give.
The inconvenience is that all the things I do are exercise, but some exercises are more valuable than others. So if I want to work on my core muscle strength, which is key to preventing the injuries to which I am prone, then I have to not work on helping you out with that thing you wanted me to do. Your thing is also exercise, but it’s a lower priority exercises, so out it goes.
Yes, I tried that thing you suggested.Not being snarky there. I’ve had a number of good friends recommend possible ways to improve the situation, and some of the ideas have been very helpful. (Even if the idea came after I’d already come across that suggestion and tried it, and thus could immediately report, “Yes! Thanks! That does help! Excellent idea, glad you mentioned it!”) Some things people have suggested and that I tried did not help for the reason proposed (I am not, for example, allergic to wheat) but do help for a different reason (minimizing wheat products makes more room in the diet for intensely potassium-rich foods, which help a ton).
So a thing that’s got me occupied this summer is obsessively managing all the micro-factors that can make the situation as better as possible. I think (but can’t be certain) that I’ve got the diet tuned to a spot where I can happily live off the things I seem to do best with, but also get away with deviating from the Ideal Thing at food-themed social events and no disaster ensues. If all that proves to be true, I’ll chat about it later. It might be just lucky coincidence.
Meanwhile, here’s the surprise of the summer:
It took me a long, long time to figure this out. Here’s the difficulty: The heat doesn’t bother me.
I live in a warm climate. I don’t mind being sweaty. I know how to dress for the heat, how to acclimatize as the hot season arrives, and how to get the most use out of a hot day. Since I cultivated these skills, I’ve never had any difficulty with the heat whatsoever, other than some mild irritation about the truly obnoxious portion of sauna-season, which you just have to deal with and move on. I even know the trick about watching for Seasonal Affective Disorder when the heat starts getting so annoying you hide indoors despite yourself. (Same solution as per winter – bright light & vitamin D).
The problem I had in figuring out this one is that (a) I’m still functional above the temperatures when people from up north start whining profusely, (b) I still don’t mind the heat or being hot, and (c) since I have any number of other things that also make me feel terrible, it’s not like I was able to say to myself, “Gee, I feel wonderful all the time except if I’m someplace hot.”
It’s a perfectly manageable problem, it just came as a bit of a surprise. Amusingly, my cold intolerance is getting worse, too.
The hardest thing: Not being able to concentrate. Since I’m a master-complainer, I don’t know that we’d call this my “chief complaint.” But it’s certainly my loudest. As in: If I told you I NEEDED the house to be QUIET so I could do this thing, that’s what I meant so please go OUTSIDE. This is the #1 reason I haven’t been writing. I’m home all day with four kids. There’s noise. There are interruptions. Note that my entire career as a writer has been carried out under these exact same conditions.
What happens therefore is that I drift through the day doing tasks that are super-easy, and then if I find myself in some unexpected situation like trying to cook while other people are in the room, it’s alarming to everyone just how badly things go (until I communicate my distress so emphatically that everyone goes and hides). And then I go back to easy things, and wonder why things that take my full attention just never get done.
So that’s the answer to the perennial, “How’s it going, Jen?” topic on this blog. I’ll emphasize here that as much I just used my crotchety trans-old lady powers to moan about the ailment for very many words, it’s not as bad as all that. But here’s a story that sort of sums up the situation:
Yesterday I was halfway through this post when I had to leave and get ready to go to a social thing at the lake. Sunday had been horrible, Monday was not that great, and Tuesday wasn’t impressing me. I was only going to this thing because (a) I wanted to go to it, and (b) my kids really, really, really wanted to go to it, and they’d done all the things I told them they had to do if they wanted to go.
So we went. And I was fine. Dreamy fine. No problems. Felt completely normal for the full three hours I was there, conversing, walking around, standing around, watching kids, etc. Some of the time, I’m completely, totally fine.
Moments like that can make you think you’re crazy. Maybe I just need to relax at the lake more often? Two reality checks:
Part of being fine was that I aggressively managed as many factors (fluid intake, electrolytes, staying out of the direct sun) as I could.
If it comes as a surprise to you that you went to an enjoyable, relaxing, time-limited social event and had no experience of illness during all three hours, probably the fact that this was an unexpected occurrence tells you something.
So we can add this to my list of signs something is not normal: If you get to where it’s a surprising occurrence when you feel well, we can infer that there’s a problem.
And dang my legs were like lead when I dropped a kid off at VBS this morning. So yeah, CAWOG. I’m rolling with it.
I figured since this was the All About Me post, if you made it this far you’re the type of person who wants to see my new haircut. (Hi Mom!) The third one is me posing in front of the dog’s blanket, which is still hanging up to dry on the screen porch a week after I told a kid to put it there. I guess it’s dry now. But I needed the contrast because I kept getting photos where the new haircut looked exactly like the SI photo shoot.
Meanwhile, on the question of whether life is worth living when it isn’t everything you’d always imagined, reprinted below is what I wrote two years ago today on the horrible expression, “I got my life back!” Let’s just say that most people who use that expression didn’t actually experience the separation of body from soul.
PSA, if you get this blog via e-mail or feed-reader: All these links above I shared in my twitter reading-feed, which you can see easily, and any number of other good links, by clicking to through to jenniferfitz.com and cruising the sidebar.
At this writing, I am the poster child for Better Living Through Chemistry. If we were to rely on a drug-ad cliche to sum up the post-prescription transformation, one might reach for the old reliable, “I got my life back!”
And that would be nonsense.
I’m not ungrateful, I’m tremendously grateful. I’m thoroughly enjoying this dramatic change in circumstance. I certainly don’t mean to squash the happiness of anyone who’s experienced some similar reprieve. Nor would I ever dismiss the genuine suffering — far greater than anything I’ve experienced — that others endure with no such relief.
But here’s what: My life has been here all along.
It didn’t go anywhere when I was at my sickest. I was living my life. And don’t understand me to mean, “I was finding happiness in small things!” or “I realized that time with my children was such a treasure!” Oh please. I’ve always been easily amused, and I have the bunny ears to prove it. I wouldn’t choose to spend all day every day with my children if I hadn’t treasured them from the get-go.*
My life is bigger than a collection of accomplishments and abilities and happy moments. Laying very still in a big machine in a cold room, praying abbreviated rosaries to pass the time because I can’t keep track of ten Hail Mary’s without beads or fingers, but I can keep track of three? That’s my life. Part of it, anyhow. Doing routine tasks with no music, no singing, because I needed every ounce of concentration to get the work done? Life. My life. Walking oh-so-slowly 1/16th of a mile around the indoor walking track because the little girls want to go run during their sister’s volleyball practice, but no going up on the track without an adult? Mine. All mine.
When you divide your life into the parts that you’ll claim ownership to and the parts that you reject, you steal from yourself. You miss out on a chance to be everything that you could be. Some of the parts no sane man would choose, but there they are, unchosen but endowed all the same. Are you going to live them, or are you going to waste them?
Bigger on the Inside than the Outside
It matters because we are formed by what we do and what we choose. Given our fallen world, what our bodies do reflects our inner lives imperfectly. The effort to pray, poorly, comes out like so much failure when your body is not cooperating. The effort to work, to think, to love, all of it looks like so much worthlessness. And then one day — in this life or the next — suddenly your body behaves itself, and you discover your soul was growing stronger through all that effort. Effort that seemed, like walking uphill on a too-fast treadmill, to be getting you nowhere but miserable.
The paradox of redemption is that every good is to be sought, but no evil is to be wasted. We work, diligently, for what is good. For healing. For an end to poverty. For peace. For the good of souls everywhere. We become more like Christ the more we work for that good. And yet, like Christ, an integral part of our life on earth is making even the evil be good.
*No aspersions being cast on parents who find their children are best treasured as they get on and off the school bus. Lots of ways to treasure those darlings. Mine do well at home. Except when they don’t.
I’m still holding down the 16th of the Month Gospel reflections at CatholicMom.com through the end of 2015, so look for those. Or read them all in the 2015 devotional collection, which you can find by checking out my publications page.
I check my e-mail sporadically and don’t open anything that looks like spam, so if you write (see sidebar), make that subject line a good one. Ditto friend requests on Facebook, if yours is languishing, it’s because I don’t know who you are, and either didn’t have time to check out your profile and determine we have something in common, or I checked out your profile and couldn’t tell you apart from Sir Spam-a-lot.
I am a hermit, I live in a cave, but I like people. So don’t be shy, just be patient and forthcoming.
The answer to, “How’s it going, Jen?” remains, “Pretty well, thanks!” I resurrected the Nine Annoying Things Novena over at the blorg last week, and the pray-ers did well. Hence today’s story:
So I go see Dr. Maybe yesterday, and they did the dreaded Six Minute Walk. And here is the very, very, What is wrong with people? situation: I did almost as well as predicted.
Seriously? Is this really all they expect out of pleasantly-plump 40-somethings? You’re kidding me.
You do the walk with a pulse oximeter, which means you can cheat and watch your heart rate. This is handy if you are the kind of person who knows at about what heart rate the gasping kicks in (see archives below for the secret), and thus you can maximize your distance by walking right at that special speed where you’re coughing a bit and your head feels like you just tossed back two glasses of champagne on an empty stomach, but hey, you aren’t going to faint, and even though death feels like the perfect next step, you can do it for six minutes. Or at least, you can do it that long if a stern nurse in pink scrubs gives you a face like she’ll spank you if you quit early.
It appears the pulmonologists aren’t big believers in pedestrian transportation.
Anyhow, I like the new guy, whose brain jumps around so much I finally pulled out a notebook and made a list of all the tests and appointments he was rattling off, because I had a feeling one or two might get lost in the shuffle if no one wrote them down, stat.
Ruled out again this morning — for good, this time? — pulmonary embolisms. Sent away three vials of blood — I’m not sure he’s quite to the point of looking for tropical diseases (I’ve never been to the tropics), but he’s almost there. More interesting tests coming along soon, looking for weird variants on regular asthma and exercise-induced asthma, and also he’s going to see if he can get my heart rate up high enough (on a treadmill, not with those evil chemicals) that the O2 levels drop, or something else interesting happens that gives us a clue.
We’re having real problems with finding clues. The trouble we’re having is that I’m dreadfully healthy for someone who’s sucking wind and coughing while ambling at grocery-store pace, minus the cart.
Blorging over the past couple weeks, for those who don’t subscribe:
May 3, 2014 Guns in Church: The Divide Boils Down to Subsidiarity – I don’t much write about gun stuff. But when the Archbishop of Gunlandia does something to tick off all his redneck parishioners, someone has to get out some catechism quotes, right? FYI – post includes a link to my A/C article where I say there, concisely, what I’ve said here, verbosely: This is a topic on which Catholics of good will can disagree, and catechists need to leave their agendas at home.
April 29, 2014 Heart Rate Training for Fitness in Chronic Illness – This is actually a useful post. It’s how I managed to nearly pass the 6-minute walk, despite being seriously seriously not well. And if I’d taken the walk two days earlier, I would’ve aced it out of sheer racing-preparation common sense.
April 24, 2014 A Deadly Faith – Gospel Reflection @CatholicMom.com – I had forgotten all about writing this, but then I read it, and it was really good. Surprisingly good. Follow this to get the link to the CMom piece, and yes pastors, you may run it as a reprint in your bulletin next time Holy Week comes around. Or whenever.