I decided that I wanted my next tattoo to be something that symbolized the enduring spirit of the Japanese. When spring came and the sakura bloomed, it was perfect: these beautiful and iconic blossoms blooming after the long, cold winter marked a symbol of new life. I also wanted kanji, but could not decide for the life of me what I wanted it to say. It had to be meaningful, but I wasn't quite sure what words could sum up what I was feeling.
Meanwhile, Celiac happened. I gradually started feeling more and more sick all the time. There was no relief from the pain and nausea. After countless family doctor appointments and ER visits with negative results, nobody could give me a clear response as to what was wrong. I got to the point where I felt like I'd never feel well again.
After I went gluten free, I slowly started to feel better. When the reactions came, though, they were exponentially worse and lasted longer. One bite of something with gluten would give me physical and neurological symptoms that lasted weeks, and sometimes even months. Finally, around November, things were getting manageable. We had settled into a routine and things started to feel like they were becoming more...normal. Then the corn allergy manifested itself and it felt like the whole cycle was starting again. Panic attacks and depression seemed to be the norm, which was fitting with the long and constant winter. More than 20 feet of snow, and the storm felt like it would never be over.
I know you're probably thinking, all this because of gluten? All I can say is, until you've dealt with an auto-immune disease, you can't know the ramifications.
My faith was tested, my friendships were tested, and I felt like things would never get better. I was doing everything I could, and still it was not improving.
It was a time of helplessness for both of us. I felt helpless because I felt like nothing I did was helping. I felt so out of control. I felt like I was giving all I had to no avail. Ben felt helpless because he couldn't do much to help, as much as he wanted to. We both had to work and interact as if nothing was wrong, and it was completely exhausting.
During this rough time, Ben and I gathered up verses: verses about suffering and verses about healing. I started the 1,000 gifts project to look for joy in the little things. I played music that spoke to my soul. And these small things kept that little glimmer of light in an otherwise dark time.
One of the songs was After the Storm by Mumford and Sons. I've loved them from the first moment I heard them, ironically, in a tattoo shop in Reno years ago. One night, after a particularly long and draining panic attack, the song came on and it just...spoke to me. I'll admit I sobbed. I listened to it again, sobbed some more, and then made Ben listen to it with me. Over and over again. That same night, I was flipping through random verses and Isaiah 25:8 popped up. It, along with Revelation 21:4, also in my group of gathered verses, spoke the same ideas as the song. That night, I felt a peace I hadn't felt in a long time.
From that moment on, after the storm became my mantra. During rough days, I'd listen to the song and go through the verses. I repeated them to myself. Eventually, I started believing them. This was a passing storm and things would eventually be better.
It's been a few months since then. Spring finally sprang and so did I. I know I already posted a little bit about this in some of my 1,000 gifts posts, but I finally feel like I'm becoming myself again. I feel more happiness than depression.
I haven't had a panic attack in three weeks, which is the longest stretch I've had in over a year. I still have symptoms that will take time to heal (if they ever do) but I'm learning to be okay with that. I am making plans for the future, where before, I was hesitant to do so, knowing I'd probably have to cancel them because of not feeling well. I began taking photography clients again, and am actively planning excursions for our upcoming trip to the states. I have begun to see some good that has come out of having this disease, and have found and bonded with other people who have it as well. I feel like the storm is finally beginning to subside.
That long night, months ago, I found hope and meaning once again. I also found the kanji I had been trying to put my finger on for two years, a phrase that sums up the triumphant spirit of the Japanese after the tsunami as well as my own personal overcoming of the darkest period of my life...
嵐の後, arashi no ato, after the storm