“How you choose to respond when your life is put on pause will determine how you manage that season. Though it was a long and difficult journey and many tears were shed, I kept trusting God and relied on His promises. Is anything too difficult for our God? Not at all!”
“Mom, I can’t blink my eye!” I had been feeling off all day. I woke up that morning with tremendous pain in my jaw and ear and was confused as to why. It was May 13, 2017, graduation day at the university where I taught. I had been correcting assignments for four days with poor sleep and unmanaged chronic stress.
The winter and spring had been very busy between teaching my first university course and speaking at a conference while continuing as a youth and young adults pastor in Montreal.
I was rushed to the ER and diagnosed with Ramsay Hunt Syndrome (RHS), which is shingles in one ear and facial paralysis. The pain was unbearable as the paralysis got worse. Fear and anxiety were difficult to manage. It was the end of August before I could fully close my eye. Then I developed neuralgia (nerve pain), hearing hypersensitivity, and other symptoms that did not fit the symptoms of RHS.
September 1, 2017: I was tired and uneasy. My body felt like it had never felt before. I went to take a nap and as I laid down to rest, my throat suddenly contracted. It felt like there was this invisible hand trying to choke me. As my mother was on the phone with 911 trying to explain my symptoms, I thought, OK. This is it. I'm going to die! And the question I kept asking myself during those few seconds was: Have I left anything of impact?
I was hospitalized for a week. A neurologist examined me a day before I was discharged and told me I had Functional Neurological Disorder (FND) and was cautiously optimistic that I would be better in three to six months. FND happens when the brain communicates incorrectly with the nervous system, causing involuntary symptoms. I experienced hand tremors, walking difficulties, and was easily startled. My brain was on high alert all the time. I had speech issues, facial contortions, throat spasms, chronic fatigue, and increased sensitivity to sound.
I was hit with another illness with no options for recovery. I felt stuck, alone and confused.
With COVID-19, it’s easier to imagine being housebound. However, imagine that reality for two and a half years. I spent a lot of time isolated, grieving, crying myself to sleep, wondering if this was going to be my life for the next 40 years. Were things ever going to get better? Was this my new existence?
I asked myself difficult and challenging questions. I realized I had to accept God at His word and believe His promises for my life whether I was healed or not. While enduring many sleepless nights, God and I had countless 3 a.m. conversations. He understood my pain, my frustration, my longing for something different. I identified with David, who wrote: “I cry out to God Most High, to God, who fulfills his purpose for me” (Psalm 57:2). I knew my life still had purpose and meaning regardless of how I felt.
I was forced to reassess and re-evaluate my entire life and left no stone unturned. I ended up housebound because of chronic fatigue, unable to process sound from the outside world. My body was hypervigilant and even saw the cold weather as a threat.
In order to give people hope, I started a YouTube channel in April 2018 to discuss my experience with chronic illness. Despite my limitations, in November 2018 I opened a private counselling practice utilizing the gifts that God has given me. This gave me purpose.
In the fall of 2019, my symptoms got worse. I was tired of treading water and of fighting just to survive.
Then, in late September, one of my YouTube subscribers messaged me, stating she had been helped by a doctor at a centre called Ottawa Performance Care. A month later, I went for five days of treatment. After two days, I did not have to wear my noise-cancelling headphones anymore. By the end of the week, my tremors were gone. My walking issues disappeared along with the majority of my other symptoms. I experienced a 90 per cent improvement.
I now had a new lease on life and asked myself some different questions: What now? How do I reinvent myself following such an ordeal?
As of July 2020, I can confidently state that I am 95 per cent recovered with only minor issues related to sound. I cannot help but thank God that I was able to find treatment that worked. I did not give up in the midst of the battle but trusted God to see me through. I did what I could, knowing that God still had a purpose for my life. He put the pieces together that enabled me to find treatment.
Here are a few things I have learned while suffering from chronic illness:
- Health and wellness have to be the number one priority in your life. It is easy to disregard how your body is feeling when under stress or pressure. Taking time to decompress is so important.
Never underestimate the strength you have. Confess confidently: “I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13). God is there to strengthen and uphold you in all situations.
- Take time to sit with your emotions. Practise self-awareness and be compassionate toward yourself. Journaling, mindfulness, Bible reading, and prayer became great resources for me.
How you choose to respond when your life is put on pause will determine how you manage that season. Though it was a long and difficult journey and many tears were shed, I kept trusting God and relied on His promises. Is anything too difficult for our God? Not at all! “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20).
Tanya Rust is a mental health therapist who is currently based out of Montreal, Que. She is also the communications pastor at Trinity Pentecostal Church.
This article appeared in the April/May/June 2021 issue of testimony/Enrich, a quarterly publication of The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. © 2021 The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. Photo © istockphoto.com.