Monday, August 31, 2015

Extraordinary Ordinary Journeys by TLC Nielsen

As I travel through life, I meet the most interesting folks who happen to share their incredible adventures with me when our paths cross. I met Elizabeth Sargis at a writing conference I attended this year and she shared her extraordinary journey of health. Attending this conference has been a key turning point in her life. I’ve been blessed by her story and can't wait for her to share more of it here at 

Welcome Elizabeth!

Q) Here's an easy first question for you - do people call you Elizabeth or do you have a nickname or two?
A) I’ve never had a nickname. My dad wanted me to be named after a great grandmother whose given first and middle names were “Lizzie Bell.” My mother insisted I get the full “Elizabeth.”

Q) How did your health journey start and how long before you knew what was happening?
A) On a Palm Sunday, I was standing in church and suddenly felt very tired and slightly ill. I went straight home, thinking a nice nap would put things back in order. Within hours, I was crying out from blasts of pain deep in my legs, like my bones were being squeezed in a vice, and my skin felt really weird. Creepy crawly sensations spread over my body, like I was lying in an ant hill, and the skin hurt to the touch like a sunburn. I was also more exhausted than I thought humanly possible, yet I could not sleep. When I described the symptoms to my doctor, she ordered lots of tests to rule out MS and other autoimmune issues. When I tested negative for all the known neurological causes, she focused on the fatigue and lack of sleep. She suspected Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, but the symptoms have to persist for six months before that is officially diagnosed. I thank God that my doctor decided to start treating me as if I had that diagnosis after about six weeks of unrelenting symptoms. It took almost a year before I was also diagnosed with fibromyalgia.

Q) As a writer, how did your health impact you?
A) Most of my career writing was in the corporate world, as a communications director for large not-for-profits. When I became totally disabled, friends and co-workers tried to encourage me to keep writing, but I just did not have the energy or focus to do it.

Q) What were some of the lessons you learned through all the medical issues you faced?
A) This illness made me have to spend a lot of time at home alone, resting and waiting to be healed. It felt like a cruel joke. “Lord,” I thought, “I’m already the most patient person I know!” Ha, ha! Now I think God allowed Satan to test my patience like He allowed the Accuser to test Job’s faith. He knew the test would produce even more fruit. Now, I am not only patient but also deeply compassionate toward others who struggle with complex chronic illnesses.

Another great thing I learned was how much my husband loves me. He encouraged and helped me so respectfully, and when I would question my worth, he would say, “You are the heart of our family!” I also saw how wonderfully God provided for my son. He was a toddler when I became sick. He couldn’t even crawl up in my lap because it hurt too much. God led us to hire Christian college students to help around the house, and we enrolled our boy in Montessori preschool. We ended up loving the educational philosophy and kept him at the school for elementary and junior high. I learned that I didn’t have to be self-reliant to be a good mother.

My son and I also grew very close during the many hours we snuggled side by side on the couch. He enjoyed having me all to himself. When I started feeling well enough to do the dishes now and then, he could not understand why I was up. I said, “Honey, this is what healthy mommies do every day!”

Q) What were some of the hardest and easier points in this process?
A) A few of the hardest things:
  • When I ran out of good stuff to watch on TV (which didn’t take long)
  • When I couldn’t read good books because my brain couldn’t keep the characters and plot points straight
  • When people behind me in lines at the store or the airport would yell at me for taking too long. 
  • Sometimes I thought seriously about wearing a sign asking people to “please be patient!”
  • When I couldn’t tell if a new medication was working or not because the side-effect list included the same symptoms that the medication was supposed to help with
  • Learning that I have value to God even when I can’t do much of anything

I don’t know if anything was really easy, but I can remember one thing that was really fun. After being sick and pretty useless for three long years, I discovered that I could crochet lying down. I became a crochet fiend. I wore hand braces to help with the pain, but I loved being productive. In the first two months, I made twenty-seven different stuffed animals—one for each of my son’s classmates for Valentine’s Day. I still count that as one of my greatest accomplishments.

Q) What kept you and your family going through this?
A) God was faithful. About halfway through my illness, he challenged me with the words of a song based on Romans 8:28: “He makes all things work together for my good.” I kept thinking, “If it doesn’t feel good and it doesn’t look good, can it really be good?” I went through many dark moments questioning whether I could take it anymore. Then God would surprise me with something simple and beautiful like a flower or a kind word or a good laugh with my family, and the faith would come roaring back stronger than ever. 

Q) Job-wise, what were some of the fallout effects?
A) I had always been a successful, effective person. I loved bringing all that to bear in ministry. For the last four years before my son was born, I was employed full-time doing communications for a big church that got things done. I went from doing all that to being challenged by basic personal hygiene. I fell through the cracks socially because my closest friends had been the most active go-getters. People like that got frustrated when I didn’t return their phone calls or emails. I understood what was happening, but it still hurt to be “out of the loop.” I wondered if God was trying to tell me that I was doing something wrong, and I desperately wanted to figure out what it was and change it right away so that I could get back to work. Instead, God showed me that he could love me and use me even when my life looked like a total wreck. He saw me, heard me, loved me and valued me when almost no one else could.

Q) What did you wish you knew in the middle that you now know?
A) That it’s okay to let someone else do your laundry. Seriously! I felt like such a failure for not cleaning and cooking and all that. Now I cheer myself on like an Olympic athlete when I am able to fold a load of clothes. I take a lot more joy in the littlest abilities. 

Thank you for visiting the Extraordinary Ordinary here at If you'd like to suggest someone with an extraordinary journey, please email me at soulfixer 1 3 (no spaces) at yahoo.

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