In March of 2015, I, Hannah Mason, got tendonitis pulling weeds from the garden. It is not the most exciting start to the story of a lifetime. For most, that is where the story ends. For me, a 14-year-old girl from New Zealand living in Redding, that was only the beginning of a long and winding tale.
In case you are unaware, this post is a part of a series of blog posts about my own life (a challenge if you will). The schedule for the challenge is at the bottom of the page. Yesterday, I posted an outline for the story I am about to tell. Today I will be following the outline. If you prefer (if you know certain parts of the story already, for example), you may use the following links to jump to the corresponding portions of the story.
2017 - 2019 - Hannah loses all but a few friends in high school, is evacuated from her home due to a wildfire in her senior year, and continues to suffer through medical problem after medical problem. She still doesn't know what to do.
2020 - 2022- Hannah enters college seeking a Biblical ministries degree. COVID hits. She publishes an anthology of poetry that tells her story. Finally, after a COVID vaccine allows her back into her community, in communication with God, she begins to figure out the path she should be on and knows God has been with her the whole time.
March 2015 - When I received that first diagnosis of tendonitis, we thought little of it. I wore the brace for months and though I felt the searing pain in my right wrist, I felt the frustration of having to ask for help more. I could do nothing alone: from chopping vegetables to doing homework to opening a plastic bag. Throughout most of elementary school, I failed to follow through on my homework. Now I had an excuse. I was a bright kid with the intelligence to get all As but because I never asked for help, I fell behind in my classes and failed to learn important lessons about pushing myself and giving my all. But the tendonitis was laying the groundwork for lessons I would learn throughout my medical journey.
I had been a terrible child. Once, my mother told the testimony of my medical journey at her conference. "Hannah was an awful child," she said, "And the medical challenges she faced groomed her to be the person God wanted her to be." This is exactly what happened. As a result of being dependent on others, I was forced to learn kindness. I began to think of others and not just of myself. Slowly, I became a better person, if only slightly.
My entire medical journey is a story of bad timing and frustrating occurrences. For most, tendonitis heals after 4-6 weeks in a brace. For a few 1-3 shots of cortisone deals with the problem. My tendonitis did not respond to the brace. It did respond to cortisone but when a bone was knocked out of place in P.E. it required physical therapy. On the last session of physical therapy, the tendonitis returned and when it didn't respond to cortisone the following two times, surgery was scheduled.
August 2015 - Tendonitis didn't put an end to our family vacation that year. Many of our family vacations were spent in houses lent to us by Dad's contacts and this year was no different. One day, we traveled into Chico and spent some time in an arcade. My sister and I played air hockey and despite my disadvantage (playing left-handed) I was winning. Until I pulled something in my shoulder and my sister took the win from me. It was when we returned to Redding and had my shoulder checked out for the first time that we took this picture:
I completed a total of eight days of school that year. One day, when I reached down to get my computer to do my schoolwork, something in my shoulder audibly clicked. Then the pain rushed in. My shoulder cramped and screamed with pain like I had never had before. Later, I would be prescribed the touch of a makeup brush which caused me agony. School was an insurmountable obstacle.
August 2015 - In the 2015-2016 school year, I completed only my Latin class. For a few months, I attempted to complete AP World History until I could no longer stand sitting upright for two class periods a day and not crying out in pain.
The two friends I had abandoned me. I heard nothing from them even after months of not seeing them. One day, I went to the school to pick up some homework and saw one of them.
"Hi Hannah!" she said brightly. "Did you hear, I twisted my ankle? It hurts terribly. Oh, and my step-brother has come to live with me and he is really annoying. Oh and my mum won't let me go to this party, can you believe that?"
Later that day, I struggled with my worth. Did I mean anything to her? Did I mean anything to anyone? What was I worth except an ear to listen to other people's problems? I had never had a close friend before and had nothing to compare these friends to. I didn't understand that this wasn't a true friendship. I couldn't compute that a true friend would be asking why I wasn't at school and what struggles I was facing.
For the rest of the year, I did only three things:
Latin class. For 50 minutes a day, I pretended I wasn't in pain, sat up straight in class, ignored the paper-eating teacher who would go on to become a WANTED criminal, and focused on my classwork.
Doctors appointments. For the first half of the year I had no idea what my pain was. I was constantly attending doctor's appointments to work out what was causing the pain. MRIs, CTs, X-rays, blood tests, and any other manner of tests were my daily life.
Home school. When I pulled out of most of my classes, I did enroll in a local home school. I had a teacher who helped me through a very basic math course and English course as well as my P.E. requirement. Some of the poems in my published anthology were written for her course including the anthology's namesake Imagine This.
December 2015 - Over months I had what felt like hundreds of tests and I tried what felt like hundreds of methods of treatment. When you are in pain or uncomfortable, a negative test feels depressing. It is the lack of answers that steals your hope. A broken bone can be healed. Certain medical conditions have surgeries or medications that fix them or manage them. If you have no answer, you have no fix. You have no hope for recovery or for feeling even the tiniest bit better.
In December of 2015, I was diagnosed with Chronic Regional Pain Syndrome. Later, a more experienced doctor would change that diagnosis to Central Neural Sensitization Syndrome. Both diagnoses mean the same thing: my nerves tell me I am in pain, nauseous, or uncomfortable when my physical body has nothing wrong with it. The syndrome is nicknamed the suicide syndrome because there is no cure and there is no answer. With this syndrome, you are in pain 24/7 but you shouldn't be. If you start to experience a new symptom, you have no idea if it's real or not. Should you be afraid? Should you tell the doctor? Or is it just your nerves lying to you? You'll never know.
January 2016 - With my diagnosis, we began to think of solutions. I was still in agonizing pain and couldn't attend school or do anything. My doctor (who had diagnosed me) prescribed the touch of a makeup brush. The only solution to Chronic Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) or Central Neural Sensitization Syndrome (CNSS) is to touch/move/use the area/body part that hurts and distract yourself from the pain. Essentially, you must train your brain and nerves to understand that there is nothing wrong with you and thus the signals of pain and discomfort are unnecessary. My mother was told to touch my shoulder with a makeup brush as many times a day as I could manage. I couldn't manage it at all. Instead, we organized for me to be sent to New Zealand for in-patient therapy. Our travel insurance (which we had been on since 2008) paid for business class seats given my condition but would stop providing us insurance after my therapy.
On my first day in New Zealand, I had a meeting with an expert on my condition. To ensure the medications he was prescribing me were safe, he tested my heart. Thanks to testing done there, he found my enlarged aorta. Most people with enlarged aortas never learn of their condition until after death. It is only thanks to God's great timing that I am able to manage my condition now and keep an eye on it.
January-March 2016 - For two and a half months in the beginning of 2016, I was able to complete my in-patient therapy in Aukland, New Zealand. The center was near a beach and covered in gardens and I spent plenty of my time on the beach or wandering through the gardens, identifying flowers with my mother.
On my first day of therapy, I spent the early morning down on the beach. Mum and I went for a walk along the shore. I didn't realize the danger of doing so until I climbed over some rocks and fell. My right wrist took the brunt of the fall and I was sure I had broken it, the pain was so terrible. I spent most of the day in the hospital, waiting for my scans to come back while nervously looking around the empty ward. After all, we had seen a felon come into the hospital in chains. Was there a reason the ward was empty?
The wrist wasn't broken and by the time I got to therapy, I realized the miracle God had done. The pain in my shoulder was gone. My wrist was in a lot of pain but God had made it ten times easier to deal with. Since I was starting from scratch, I was able to desensitize the wrist to touch quickly, and learning the tricks to distract myself from the pain and train my brain didn't take long. I was back in Redding by March 2016.
May-June 2016 - I thank the Lord for the health He gave me in April, 2016. In May, however, I began to experience debilitating nausea and headaches which I still experience to this day. Nausea landed me in the hospital on more than one occasion where the doctors would rehydrate me and attempt to feed me before dumping me back out for my doctors to treat long-term. No one had the answers. No one would ever have the answers. In my final trip to the hospital, a family friend visited us with a gift for me, a bracelet that I still wear to this day. The bracelet says "God's got this." From that day forward, I began to realize not only that God had been with me the whole time and would be with me in any struggles I faced from that point forward but that He was using me and my trials for His good.
God never (ever) causes us pain. DO NOT misunderstand me in this. He will never give your Father cancer or kill your dog. But he does use your painful experiences to bring you closer to Him, to bring others closer to Him, and to bring about His kingdom.
Rom. 8:28 "In all things, God works for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose."
August 2016 - It was a mix of things that helped me to fight. The doctors told me my headaches were the syndrome. I had no choice but to fight and I was tired of living on the couch participating in only Latin and doctor's appointments. In July, my family went to New Zealand and my family rallied behind me, helping me to fight (plus the food was better there). I felt God on my side more than ever before and knew that He had something good coming for me and for His people and I wanted to see it. I don't know what it was that pushed me to give it my all and make it out of the hospital and into the life of a normal person but I did it and I made it to high school in August. I retook my sophomore year and for the first time in my life, found true friends.
It was at this time that I saw a hint of the good that God was doing through the pain I experienced. In my new class (which I was a part of only because I retook my sophomore year) I met a girl who took me to her youth group. In that youth group, I met all my friends who have stood by my side all these years. I learned to be a leader and a woman of Christ. I discovered a passion for youth ministry and grew in my ability to lead youth. I even decided to study Biblical Ministries at BIOLA. I am not thankful for my pain and I do not believe that God would want me to be thankful for my pain but I am thankful for the work that He has done through my pain.
2017 - 2019 - Choosing to fight my syndrome was not a single choice I made one day in the hospital. It is a choice I make each day. Since returning to school in August 2016, I have made friends and lost friends. I found myself alone in a class I didn't know. I faced wildfire after moving into a new home and was evacuated for three months in the beginning of my senior year. I constantly struggle with pain and nausea and every now and then, find myself facing off with a new problem I don't know how to deal with: tailbone pain, sinusitis, dizziness, chest pain, and excessive burping just to list a few. In the years of high school that remained after choosing to fight my syndrome, I struggled with feelings of doubt, as I tried to understand my worth, and purpose. Who was I? What was I meant to do? Did I have the strength to do it?
2020 - 2022- My poetry anthology Imagine This: From Pain to Possibility was published in December of 2020. I had worked on the book throughout the year of 2020 after deciding in late 2019 to begin the anthology. It was from my feelings of defeat that the desire to publish the book was born. It was from my fear that I chose to study Biblical Ministries at BIOLA starting in January 2020.
I was afraid to study writing and pursue a career as an author. I was afraid of opening a bookstore in a time when bookstores are becoming unnecessary. I felt defeated when my book was turned down again and again and I didn't know how to improve it. It was a time of doubt and loneliness when COVID took over the world and emptiness took over my heart.
"But we know..." Rom. 8:28
He was still working all things together for my good in my dark time. I was struggling again with pain. When I am stressed and emotional, my pain strikes the hardest and I was incredibly stressed and emotional during 2020. Still, He drew near and had a plan. Since my book has been published, I have had many people tell me how much it meant to them and others have bought multiple copies just so they could pass it on to their friends and keep a copy for themselves. God used my hard time to impact others' lives. And my own.
"Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy. Those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves" - Ps. 126:5-6
In 2021, when the vaccine rolled out, I received my doses and finally was able to re-enter society. I had been away from friends for so long, and, more importantly, I had been unable to serve my church. I thought serving my church would be my lifelong career but the break from service along with my internship over the summer helped me to see something was missing. God spoke to me over my summer internship.
"Hannah," He said. "What are you doing? I put a call on your heart for writing. I gave you a love for books and a desire to open a bookstore. Why do you want to do youth ministry?"
"You love the youth, Lord," I responded, "And I do too. I want to serve you and the youth."
"And you cannot do that through the passions I gave you? The dreams I set in your heart when you were in your mother's womb?"
He was right (as he always is). I could serve youth and Him through my dreams. I shouldn't be afraid. I should be going after who He made me to be.
You can read more about my ministry and heart for youth, writing, and books on the My Ministry page. To purchase a copy of my poetry anthology, click the link below.
The 31-Made-7-Day Blog Post Challenge Schedule:
Day One: Intro to the Challenge
An introduction to the thirty-one-day challenge
20 fun-facts about me
Day Two: All About Me
My earliest childhood memory
An old photo of me
3 personality traits I am proud to have
My deepest fears
My first celeb crush
My guilty pleasure
A weird quirk I have
Day Three: My Favorites
10 of my favorite foods
My favorite comfort food
My favorite quote
A favorite childhood book
My most proud moment
10 of my favorite songs
My favorite physical features
5 of my favorite blog posts
Day Four: Daily Life
What's in my handbag?
A timeline of my average day
My worst habits
My pet peeves
Day Five: My Past (part 1)
Something I miss
The last time I cried
Something that always makes me feel better
A difficult time in my life
Day Six: A Difficult Time in my Life (part 2)
Day Seven: The Future
What would I do if I won the lottery?
My dream job
Where do I want to be in 10 years?
My top bucket list items