Rachel sent me a message on Instagram a couple weeks ago telling me she found my blog and kept thinking she should ask if she could share her story. I love messages like this! I am so glad she found this blog and was willing to share her story. I cannot imagine what it must be like to live with what she does, but am so amazed by her strength and faith.
Rachel Duncan Standing is 20 and she has a major passion for baking and cooking. She also enjoys watching TV, programming, eating, and making spreadsheets. She was homeschooled from Kindergarten-12th grade and she completed 2 ½ semesters at LDS Business College, which is where she met her husband, Austin. They met when they were asked to be part of a group singing in the New Student Orientation devotional. Despite her terrible singing skills, he decided he liked her and she was all for it. They got married in August 2016 in the Bountiful Temple.
Since I can remember, I have always based my self worth on my intelligence and ability to accomplish things. As a child, I dreamed of going to college, getting multiple advanced degrees, and going on to be a great scholar and published author. As the years went on, my dreams took lots of different shapes, but they were all very ambitious. One year, I wanted to be a Marketing Executive, then there were a few years where I wanted to be a dentist. I also thought about becoming a Physician’s Assistant, a sociological research scientist, a lawyer, or an epidemiologist. In my mind, I was invincible. I truly believed that there was nothing I couldn’t accomplish.
Fast forward to my senior year of high school. It was a really rough year for me. The anxiety that in the past had mostly fueled me to be extremely on top of things (in retrospect, it was still very unhealthy) became extremely difficult to deal with. I wondered if my plans to go to a state college and major in Public Health were the best option for me, and after feeling a prompting to attend LDS Business College, I decided to switch my life plans and go to LDSBC while I figured out what I really wanted. I wish I could tell myself then just how much my life was about to change, but I had no idea. My first two semesters of college were great. I lived with girls who I loved and I spent every spare second either at one of my two jobs or with friends. I got good grades, I went on dates, and I eventually met my husband. The summer that Austin and I were engaged was when things changed. I had started treatment for Depression and Anxiety and it was helping a lot. I was super happy and I was working a full-time job and a part-time job. My life looked exactly the way I wanted it to. I was working and succeeding at my jobs while having a happy relationship. However, I started to notice that I was more dizzy than usual. It was just annoying enough to get in the way of some everyday things but minor enough that I assumed it was a side effect of my medication.
About two months after we got married, my physical health began to spiral. I was overwhelmed and extremely unhappy. Between working a high-stress part-time job and going to school full time for a major I had very little interest in, I assumed that my life was just in a weird place and maybe I was just physically manifesting my stress. I had just gotten married, so I felt ashamed of the fact that I was so miserable. Wasn’t this supposed to be the greatest part of my life? After missing too many classes to makeup, I went to my doctor to see if I had mono or something similar. Honestly what I wanted was just a confirmation that I wasn’t “crazy”. I believed that I was a failure and that I was just going to flunk out of college. I pushed friends away because I felt like I wasn’t worthy of happiness and love. When I went to see my doctor, he told me that something was clearly wrong and he insisted that I follow proper procedure to obtain a medical release from school. That was a light in the darkness for me.
Unfortunately, we learned that my nausea, dizziness, and fatigue were not caused by Mono. For the next few months, my life consisted of constant doctors appointments, bed rest in a dark room, and complete despair. One of the hardest things was the feeling that maybe I was just imagining the whole thing. Looking back, I can’t imagine why I would ever have thought such a thing. I was so ill! After starting medication to mask the symptoms we didn’t understand, I insisted on going back to work full time. I take full responsibility for this. I thought that if I went to therapy and tried to get my life as close to “normal” as I could, that I would be able to restart my life the way it was before I got sick. Unfortunately, although therapy was incredible and life changing, working was a very bad decision. I became increasingly ill as I tried to ignore my symptoms and push past them. After missing work for several days because I was too exhausted to get out of bed, I quit my job and dropped all the classes I had planned to take the next semester. I really want to stress something here. This could have been the beginning of a very dangerous downward spiral, but because I was in therapy and because I was starting to believe again that God loved me no matter what, I chose to believe that I was worthwhile whether or not I was proving myself to be a good employee and intelligent person. This was a huge shift for me. I had never ever believed that about myself, ever. My self esteem was completely tied up in a version of me that ceased to exist when my body decided it couldn’t keep up anymore. Realizing that God didn’t just love workaholic Rachel- He honestly loved me even if I sat at home and cried every day about why I was sick and didn’t go to school- that was life-changing. In fact, I even began to love myself.
After leaving my job, I continued to go to doctors appointments, seeking answers about what was wrong. I very distinctly remember reading an article around a year after dropping out of school. The article was written by a woman who was also dealing with chronic illness, and she talked about how lonely and awful she felt when it took her 6 months to get a diagnosis. I related so much to what she said, but I bawled my eyes out over the fact that it had been twice that time and I still had no idea what was wrong. A few weeks later, my doctor referred me to a specialty clinic. In February of this year, I was finally given a concrete diagnosis. I have Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome and Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, which is known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome in the U.S. Ever since I learned exactly what is wrong with me, I have felt a lot more hope in my life. However, having chronic illnesses is really hard. It is alienating to not be able to do basic things. Before I got sick, I had never considered what it would be like to not have the energy to walk two blocks. I couldn’t have imagined how much it takes out of me to shower or go downstairs to pour a bowl of cereal. However, I also couldn’t have imagined how much love I would gain for everyone in the world who is struggling. I don’t want to say that being sick has made me a better person. In some ways, it has made me bitter and jaded, but it has also made me much more empathetic. I feel so much love and sympathy for people who are hurting. I truly believe that God has put love in my heart for other people who are going through what I have gone through. It used to be really hard for me to accept God’s hand in my life. I often hear people say that everything happens for a reason and that God wants everything that happens to us to happen. I know that that comes from a place of faith, but I don’t believe that. We live in a fallen world, and something things are just plain hard. Sometimes things happen to us for no other reason than that our genes didn’t quite turn out the way they weren’t supposed to! I want everyone dealing chronic illnesses or other types of heartbreak and loss to know that God loves you no matter what. He loves you even if you never go back to college! He loves you if you never work again. He loves you if you never have the energy to date or if you can’t physically or mentally handle going to church. He will love you even if no one else believes in you.
To those of you in the church who aren’t dealing with mental or physical illness, please understand that sometimes the things that people who are mentally or physically ill do will not make sense to you. Please don’t label us as “less active” or “not committed”. Please think about the way that someone with a chronic illness might feel when you call people who don’t go to the temple often “lazy”. Please understand that the kind of Christian that a person is cannot be changed by their physical or mental ability to complete the things that allow them to outwardly look like a good member of the church.
I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.