Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Illness, Suffering, and St. Gemma Galgani

Wasn't St. Gemma Galgani absolutely gorgeous? If you didn't know that this is an authentic picture of her, you do now. ;)

I will be the first to admit that I don't actually know much about St. Gemma Galgani though I've had a very strong urge to learn more about her since the first time I knew her name. I still don't know as much as I'd like but I am going to make her my first saint during Lent. What I mean about that is that I will learn as much as I can about her until St. Therese of Lisieux's autobiography makes it into my hands (she was my planned first saint during Lent.) I think it's entirely appropriate that I focus on learning as much as I can from St. Gemma because of what I've been going through lately.

It seems like my health is going downhill again, and I pray that it's just the anxiety symptoms playing tricks on my mind. I've always hated going to the doctor's but ever since I started spending a lot of my time in and out of emergencies rooms (starting around summer 2006), I've loathed it even more. I always seem to dread it even more when I'm actually feeling sick... mostly because I'm scared to find out what's wrong with me. Tomorrow's doctor appointment will be one of those days where I wish it was just a routine check-up... and I'm honestly nervous.

Ever since my father was diagnosed with cancer the first time (summer 2002), I've been VERY nervous when I go in for my appointments or test results. Before, not so much. I was a healthy child and wasn't at the doctor's often, but as I got older and the anxiety appeared, it's gotten worse. I've had three big scares in the past 2-3 years in which I needed a thyroid biopsy (for enlarged lymph node), an echo cardiogram (to check my heart), and an ultra sound to make sure that a bump found was not a tumor. Luckily, all have turned out well -- the lymph node was benign and thyroid levels were normal, my heart is healthy and has a great structure, and news of a no big deal cyst that washed away fears of early breast cancer. Last month when I went to the emergency room for an allergic reaction, the doctor said she felt like my lymph node had enlarged and that I should ask my regular physician to have a look at it. I'd been given the "okay" not to get it checked out until next (this) year but they might have to check again because a lot of things have been "off" with me since the end of December.

I hope the lymph node hasn't enlarged or gotten worse, though thyroid problems could explain some of my symptoms. I hope that all the symptoms I've been experiencing lately (everything from really bad nausea and bad hot flashes to rapid heartbeats and the feeling like I can't breathe, etc.) are all anxiety related. A good friend of mine said that it may be that all the stress and anxiety that came with my dad's death might've finally caught up with me, physically, because I had little to no symptoms most of last year. I hope she is right.

My anxiety HAS been worse lately, too. Like I said, I feel like I can't breathe... and it gets really scary sometimes. I had a particularly bad experience yesterday while I was going all over L.A. trying to get my final grade transcripts sent from various campuses/schools. I was just sitting on the bus and then I couldn't breathe. I felt a sort of crushing pressure in my chest... I couldn't catch my breath... I just wanted to bolt out of the bus and cry. That's how bad anxiety is, and it wasn't my worst attack. Panic attacks hard to explain because they always feel worse than how they can be described. All I kept thinking is "God, I am putting myself in your hands at this moment. I won't lament whatever happens to me... just take care of my mom."

I think that that's why I'm most scared that something is wrong with me -- because of mom. I don't want her to have to suffer along with me, and I know seeing the anxiety attack me lately has starting taking a toll on her. As much as I say that it's all up to God and that His will won't be fought (at least I won't fight it), the possibility of something being wrong with me still wigs me out. If I am sick (and it isn't anxiety related), will I have the strength to endure it? If it's just anxiety, I will sigh a huge sigh of relief because I've been stressed for the past two months (when these symptoms appeared).

As I think about everything I just wrote, I have two major thoughts that kind to mind. First, I keep thinking about the time I was called a victim soul. Though (when I say I'm sick I usually mean that it's anxiety/panic related) everyone seems to think I'm always sick (physically), I don't think I am. I do know that I deal with a lot of things that aren't too common, but I still can't see myself as a victim soul. I have accepted that I will suffer from anxiety for as long as I have to, but I don't look at it was a curse. As I've always said, I was look at these experiences as blessings from God because it's when I feel nearest to Him. A quote from St. Gemma that I found on this site has stuck out for me... especially when I think about my appointment tomorrow and the possible news I could get.

“I am happy in every way that Jesus wills, and if Jesus wants the sacrifice of my life, I give it to Him at once. If He wants anything else, I am ready. One thing alone is enough for me; to be his victim, in order to atone for my innumerable sins, and if possible, for those of the whole world.” - St. Gemma Galgani

I will keep St. Gemma and her words in my mind as I wait for the doctor to see me because I agree with her. I say the same thing, only I think I may be more selfish because I ask God to help me whenever I'm really sick and I feel like I can no longer endure it.

The second thought is one that my friend (and former Ethics course classmate) Elizabeth said when she visited me last week when I was having a really bad sick day (anxiety, pain, and other symptoms). She said that whoever God sends me (for our vocation of marriage) is going to have to be a strong man because of what I go through. She's right. I am not saying that I will always be sick (I haven't always been), but I do get what she meant. I haven't had an easy life (but, really, who has?) and I'm going to need someone who is strong and secure to deal with someone like me. There is a reason I say this, but it will have to wait until tomorrow's entry. :)

I think I've written quite a bit tonight so I am going to stop. I still have a list of all the symptoms I've experienced so I can help my doctor narrow down the possible causes. I am lucky I have a good doctor who will tell me to things thoroughly, especially when she knows it'll ease my anxiety. I will remain optimistic (hoping and praying everything is either anxiety related or not too bad), but I am ready for whatever God has in store for me. :D Whatever the outcome, I will make sure to pick up something on St. Gemma Galgani when I go to either St. Peter's Pier or Pauline Books and Media later this week (if they have anything on her).

For those of you who are checking this blog daily (even though I have not been announcing the new entries up on twitter), thank you! And thank you for your prayers for mom. Hopefully we can all help alleviate some of her depression. :)

'Til next time, thanks for reading and God Bless!


Epiphany said...

St. Gemma is amazing. I read her biography by Ven. Fr. Germanus (her spiritual director), and it was very inspiring. I bet God led you to Gemma because she'll be a powerful intercessor for you and your mom.



Emmy Cecilia said...

Thanks, Epiphany! I truly hope she intercedes for us. :)

Sarah said...

So glad I came across this entry! I, too, am fascinated with St. Gemma. I have serious back/spine problems that leave me immobile for days, so I was overjoyed to find out that there is a patron saint of back pain and spinal problems.

Though Fr. Germanus' Life is a good starting point, I HIGHLY recommend supplementing his book with The Voices of Gemma Galgani: The Life and Afterlife of a Modern Saint by Rudolph M. Bell and Cristina Mazzoni. Personally, I found Fr. Germanus' book irritating because he presents St. Gemma less as a person than as an ideal. He wrote his biography as part of his effort to have Gemma beatified, so I can understand why he wrote it the way he did at the time, but Gemma's own words are much more interesting. Fr. Germanus presents her as a well-behaved child, leaving out the testimony of her teachers who thought otherwise. Mazzoni and Bell's book includes translations of Gemma's diary and letters, which allow you to see Gemma as a complex person plagued with self-doubt.