By Jacki Wood, Nodaway News Leader
“Look beneath the surface; let not the several quality of a thing nor its worth escape thee” – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 167 AD
Karin Yarnell doesn’t have the energy to play with her kids. Or do house projects. Or be involved with her church or help others or spend time with friends.
All of which was a big part of her life just a few short years ago.
“I used to be extremely active,” the 40-year-old Maryville resident said. “I loved to play sports, work out, hike, swim, bike and run.”
Now, she does none of those things.
To look at her, though, nothing seems wrong.
But beneath the surface, she lives her life in pain.
“I rarely have pain-free days,” she said. “I have learned to fight through pain as much as possible to be able to do what I love. Some days, though, the pain wins, and I go to bed.
“I reserve my best for my family and my ministry. After that, there isn’t much left.”
She and her husband Jason, who is the Baptist Student Union minister, have three children, Meghan, Caleb and Allison. She is a homemaker and also serves as a BSU mentor.
Yarnell lives with what have been called invisible illnesses – chronic conditions not visible on the outside.
She was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s in 2005 and Celiac disease in 2008.
With Hashimoto’s, her immune system attacks her thyroid and prevents it from making enough hormones.
Celiac disease is a digestive disorder that damages the small intestine and is triggered by eating foods containing gluten.
She was on thyroid medication for several years but her body started having hyperthyroid reaction to it and she was taken off it.
Then in 2012, she was also diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia.
CFS affects many body systems making it difficult to do normal activities. Fibromyalgia includes long-term pain spread throughout the body in the joints, muscles, tendons and other soft tissues and is often linked to fatigue, sleep problems, headaches, depression and anxiety.
“I have been under the care of several doctors and functional practitioners throughout the years who have all provided me with great knowledge and have helped in various ways,” she said. “My treatment right now consists of a very strict diet, rest, managing stress, low exercise and managing symptoms with medication as they arise.”
“Fatigue is the single most life-changing symptom I have,” Yarnell said. “I can manage pain. I can manage not feeling well, but the fatigue is relentless. It’s not a fatigue that goes away with sleep. It doesn’t go away with a nap. It’s always with me. It affects me every day.”
In addition to fatigue, she is extremely sensitive to gluten and has severe reactions to even a small amount of cross-contamination. She makes her own meals, doesn’t eat out and takes food with her wherever she goes.
“I try to set people at ease, but I know some feel uncomfortable when I can’t eat what they have prepared,” she said. “I never expect anyone to cater to my needs, but I know they still feel badly about it.”
Another symptom is brain fog which has affected her ability to communicate with others.
“I used to be a confident public speaker, but now I have difficulty stringing together coherent thoughts.”
She also can’t drive for long periods of time as her eyes grow weary and her whole system wants to go to sleep.
“My family is tremendously supportive,” she said. “My husband is phenomenal. He believes me and affirms me when I tell him how I feel even though I look fine on the outside. He prays for me. He encourages me to try new things that might help my symptoms. He adds extra work on himself so I don’t have to do it and he never complains.”
She said her children are incredibly supportive as well.
“They understand I can’t do the things I used to do. They make me laugh. They are understanding and sympathetic.”
Yarnell said her church recently started an encouragement group for women with chronic illness. It is open to the public and meets at 7:30 pm on the first Monday of the month at Laura Street Baptist Church.
“It is a blessing to be around others who understand how you feel,” she said. “I read a lot of blogs and talk to people online that share my symptoms. Sometimes it’s just nice to know you aren’t alone.”
One of the biggest lessons she’s learned is how to depend on God for everything.
“I need God every day,” she said. “He is my Friend, my Comfort, my Savior. I talk to Him a lot about the pain I am feeling. I know He knows and understands. He sees my struggle that is invisible to everyone else and He is there for me. He gives me joy, peace and contentment.”
She is also continuing to learn it’s okay to not do everything that is expected.
“The reality is that I can’t,” she said. “I have to choose to not feel guilty about it.”
Despite living with these illnesses, Yarnell offers encouragement and hope.
“It’s okay and important to grieve,” she said. “Cry over what is lost, but don’t quit.
“Be kind to yourself. You don’t have to do what everyone else does. You are fighting a battle others know nothing about. Don’t compare what you can do with what healthy people do.
“You can still be happy! It might take some extra work, and you might have to cut things out in order to give your best to what you find the most meaningful, but it’s worth it.”
Background information came from the National Institutes of Health at nih.gov.